At the beginning of this year we went to Worthing in the UK to get acquainted with Bowers & Wilkins’ new Formation line-up. In Worthing we have already been able to listen extensively to the speakers in the line-up, but real testing is only now. In this review we look at the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge speakers, which is perhaps the most striking speaker in the multiroom line-up of Bowers & Wilkins in terms of design.
Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge speakers?
The Formation line-up of Bowers & Wilkins is a line-up that consists of wireless and active speakers that together form a multi-room system. You can link the speakers together in different rooms and stream music from streaming services to all or individual speakers. And all this with the well-known audio quality from Bowers & Wilkins, plus one of the most advanced wireless technologies for multiroom audio. The goal of Bowers & Wilkins is therefore to make True Sound wireless possible.
Formation has been developed in-house and must enable high-quality wireless streaming without limitations in an own ecosystem; a platform to which products can be connected and can communicate with each other. Formation works with six different radios, each with their own frequencies for stable and fast connections. Synchronization is an important component for multiroom; Bowers & Wilkins has ensured that this is almost perfect with a delay of 1-2 microseconds. In addition, the technology allows 24-bit / 96 kHz hi-res audio streaming.
The Formation products offer support for bluetooth aptX, Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect and Roon. Via Roon it also offers support for high-res streaming services such as Tidal and Qobuz. Operation takes place from the Home app. In this app you can add speakers, change settings and also place speakers in specific rooms in your home. You can use the app to play music in one or more rooms, but in addition all Formation products have a Form button to bring music to the room where you are.
The Formation line-up currently consists of the Formation Wedge (a compact stereo speaker), the Formation Duo (a pair of stylish stereo speakers), the Formation Bar (a soundbar that can be connected to the TV), the Formation Bass (a subwoofer that can be used with any Formation product and the Formation Audio (a hub to which you can connect, for example, a record player or CD player to make it part of the Formation system).
In this review we look at the Formation Wedge, which is in a black and white / gray version on the market and received a price of 999 euros.
When seeing the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge speakers, the Bowers & Wilkins connoisseur immediately thinks of the Zeppelin, the most famous wireless speaker of the British brand that was launched on the market in 2011. And that is for good reason because Bowers & Wilkins has indeed used that design as a basis. The 120-degree elliptical housing is combined with a honeycomb structure and a fabric grille over it.
Viewed from the front, it looks like a speaker with a flat back, but it is a rounded corner. The rear is very tightly finished with laminated wood, and the angle makes it easy to place or hang the speaker in the corner of a room. It is just a shame that you do not see the beautiful wooden finish that gives that sense of craftsmanship. The shape of the speaker is not only aesthetic. Due to the elliptical shape, the drivers can be placed further apart and at a slight angle, thereby creating a wider sound image.
On top of the speaker we see a small touch display, with the basic buttons for volume. , play, pause and the Formation button for linking speakers. The speaker stands on a rubber base, which contains connections for power and a network cable. Unfortunately, a USB port for local music is not present. With a height of 23 cm, the Wedge is not a small speaker, but its design is certainly an enrichment for the interior. All in all, the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge speakers is very nicely finished, both at the front and the back, and the weight of this model (6.5 kg) also gives a sense of quality. For 999 euros you can expect a unique and premium design, and that is exactly what you get. For 59 euros you can purchase a wall bracket that the speaker can be hung on the wall.
Not only design and audio quality play an important role in Formation products. Ease of use is also at the top of the list. According to Bowers & Wilkins, you must be able to use and manage Formation products without really having to think about it. And that of course starts with the installation.
Fortunately, the promise of Bowers & Wilkins also comes true right away, even if it took some searching for the corresponding app. We were looking for the “Formation” app but Bowers & Wilkins gave the app the name “Bowers & Wilkins Home”. Furthermore, nothing has changed so the installation process is child’s play. You turn on the speaker, download the app and you search for speakers directly. Positive; you don’t have to create an account and you can get started right away. Once the speaker is found you can connect it by pressing the Formation button and then it’s a matter of entering the password for your WiFi network, adding the speaker to a room (or creating a room) and the latest firmware download and install the update. It is a very user-friendly process that you can walk through in a few minutes.
Bowers & Wilkins Home app (Formation app)
The Bowers & Wilkins Home app is the app that lets you install Formation products, where you can create spaces, where you can group speakers or spaces and where you can control active music. It is not the app where you can search and start music and therefore not directly the app that you will often use. You can play music directly from your Apple device via AirPlay 2 on the Wedge, you can control the speaker directly from the Spotify app with Spotify (Connect), and you have Bluetooth as the (last) option. Hi-res services such as Qobuz and Tidal will be added in the future through an update, but must now be played via AirPlay 2, bluetooth or Roon.
The advice of Bowers & Wilkins is to choose Roon for the speakers to serve. Through Roon you have access to almost all streaming services, you can search and play music from your own network, you can achieve the highest audio quality (direct integration of Tidal and Qobuz, among others), create rooms and music in different (or the same) rooms with Formation play speakers. Roon, however, is software that needs to be paid for ($ 500 for a lifelong subscription, or $ 120 a year), so probably a lot more interesting if you also purchase a complete Formation system. Then the $ 500 is a little less heavy and you get the most out of your music, both in terms of sources and quality.
In this review we only use the Home app and we send the Wedge through AirPlay 2 and Spotify (Connect). The Bowers & Wikins Home app itself does not contain very many options and possibilities, certainly if you only use one Formation product. Then you will not switch between rooms and the app remains especially important for the installation. In the app you also have the option to adjust the spaces, add a new speaker, download firmware updates and adjust the equalizer per speaker (bass and treble). It would be nice if Bowers & Wilkins also came up with a Trueplay-like function in the future, which would adjust the audio reproduction to the acoustics of the room. The Home app is a rather austere and simple app, although that is not necessarily a disadvantage because it keeps the app manageable. We would have liked the Home app to be the focal point for your sources (also locally) such as Sonos has. That you can call, play and control everything directly from that one app. The fact that you now need an external (paid) app for this is a minus point.
Once set up, the use of the Formation Wedge is therefore mainly done on your own devices, such as your smartphone and your computer. Here you can display music on the speaker using AirPlay 2, Spotify (Connect) and Bluetooth. With AirPlay 2 you can even control multiple rooms, if you have multiple AirPlay 2 speakers. The space in which you have placed the speaker (s) automatically appears on both Spotify and on your Apple device (AirPlay 2), so you can play music directly in the room concerned. Once you have selected a source, you will immediately see what is currently being played in the Home app. In the display screen of the relevant room you can also switch with other rooms, if you have more Formation speakers.
You can of course also operate the Wedge using the buttons on the device itself . Simple buttons for play, pause and volume are available. In addition, by pressing the Formation button you can take over the music reproduction of a Formation speaker from another room.
The Formation Wedge is a stereo speaker and the placement of the 3 system, the speaker must be able to place a wide sound field. The speaker is equipped with two 2.5 cm aluminum tweeters that are located on the right and left and offer 40 watts of power. Two 9 cm midrange drivers are placed under those tweeters, also with a capacity of 40 Watt. In the middle we see a 15 cm subwoofer with a power of 80 Watt.
When we start listening, we immediately hear that we are dealing with a Bowers & Wilkins speaker. The Wedge is extremely balanced, without much coloring and with the focus on the most natural display possible. Thanks to its design, the speaker manages to create a sound stage that is much wider than the average speaker of this size. No, it will never be a true stereo system with two individual speakers at an appropriate distance from each other, but it is a broad audio reproduction that can convincingly fill a space such as a small living room, bedroom, study or kitchen.
The Wedge provides clear vocals that are full of emotion, with subtle details that come out well and give extra layering to the reproduction. The reproduction of details is impressively good anyway, which makes the music lively and dynamic. A good balance is found in the combination of low, medium and high, without low dominance or high snow cover. The low notes are presented tightly and accurately, with a tasty but not predominant punch, while the highs appear sparkling and clear. Nowhere is it too sharp, too hard or too woolly. It makes listening to the Wedge very comfortable. The placement in the room is also impressive despite the size of the speaker and the fact that it is one speaker. Instruments come to the fore around the speaker and are easy to distinguish, including the detailed characteristics of the various elements. In our case, ‘Hold the line’ by Toto was a good example of this, in which the music surrounded the loudspeaker, creating a lively performance with a clear distinction between the instruments and vocals.
rougher and more intense music, such as ‘MK Ultra’ from Muse, then the Wedge effortlessly holds its own. The display remains controlled, sleek and clear. Vocals retain their characteristic elements, while being surrounded by a detailed palette of color and sound. If we open the volume a little further, the Wedge seems to feel even more comfortable and the whole itself comes to life a little more. At no time is it, however, too much for this compact speaker and it is actually just to sit back and enjoy.
Conclusion of Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge speakers
Of course you can expect a lot from a 999 euro speaker and fortunately the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge speakers did not disappoint. This uniquely designed and tightly finished loudspeaker is easy to use and offers an audio reproduction that is not easily matched at this price point. The Wedge provides a very comfortable listening experience with a relatively broad sound stage and does justice to your favorite music without difficulty. The Formation system makes it easy to expand to other rooms in the house and, thanks to the integration of Roon, Spotify, AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth, you can effortlessly stream music to where it is desired. In the future, there will be direct integration of services such as Tidal. However, there are also minuses or areas for improvement, such as the fact that Roon ($ 500!) Is required to play local music and the lack of a USB port. We prefer to see the Home app in the future as the central place for all your sources and the operation of the multiroom system, so that Roon is an extra option for the real enthusiasts. All in all, we can only be positive about the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge. Are you looking for a streaming speaker that is located in the upper regions of this market segment in terms of performance and can be used within a premium multi-room system, then the Formation Wedge is an absolute must.