Bowers & Wilkins, best known for its luxurious Nautilus and 800 Series Diamond speakers, is launching a wireless audio system called Formation. The company is starting with a soundbar, two bookshelf-style speakers, a cheaper single speaker, a standalone subwoofer and an audio box that gives older devices streaming capabilities. All five pieces will work separately or in tandem for a multi-room experience similar to Sonos.
The collection, unsurprisingly, is for audiophiles and serious hi-fi enthusiasts. Formation promises “high-fidelity performance” underpinned by 24-bit audio and 96kHz sample-rate streaming. (Sonos, for comparison, tops out at 16-bit and 48kHz audio.) In addition, all the new hardware will use a mesh networking system co-developed by EVA Automation, the parent company of Bowers & Wilkins, that keeps speaker synchronization at roughly one microsecond. “This software is patented,” a Bowers & Wilkins spokesperson told Engadget. “It’s not built on anyone else’s patents. It’s not licensed from anyone. It’s built 100 percent in house.”
That technology, combined with the company’s long-standing expertise in building high-end speakers, should trump any other wireless system.
Or that’s the claim, anyway.
The soundbar, logically called the Formation Bar, contains three 25mm tweeters and six 65mm woofers for bass and mid-range sound. On the music side, it supports Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, Apple’s AirPlay 2 standard and Roon, an audio player that combines Tidal and locally stored files with media-rich metadata. Film lovers, meanwhile, get Dolby Digital and a few basic ports including Toslink optical-in. Notably, the Bar doesn’t have a HDMI slot and, therefore, can’t use your TV’s HDMI-ARC port.
Bowers & Wilkins calls the Formation Duo, a pair of bookshelf or stand-mount speakers, its “concept car.” They look and sound like the company’s classic wired speakers, such as the 705 S2 and 805 D3. Each Duo has an isolated tweeter on top and a larger bass and mid-range woofer in the center, which uses the company’s special Continuum-branded cone design.
The Formation Wedge speaker, meanwhile, is a spiritual successor to the oval-shaped Zeppelin that was first introduced in 2007. The wide 120-degree shell houses two 25mm tweeters, two 90mm woofers and one 150mm subwoofer. Both the Duo and Wedge support regular Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, Apple’s AirPlay 2 and Roon, like the Formation Bar.
The barrel-like Formation Bass can pair with any of these devices for better low-end sound. Finally, the Formation Audio is a conduit for older hardware that was built before wireless streaming took off. The small, sloping box has multiple audio-in ports so that you can hook up a CD player or turntable and hear the music through any Formation speaker in your home. Audio-out ports, meanwhile, let you stream to wired speakers, including those built by Bowers & Wilkins. The company says its high-performance DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) and ADC (Analog-to-Digital Converter) will eliminate any lag or disruption during audio playback.
Formation isn’t the company’s first attempt at wireless audio. Bowers & Wilkins already sells the Zeppelin and T7 Wireless speakers, as well as a few wireless headphones. The new range is a broader, multi-pronged push toward mainstream adoption. Bowers & Wilkins is still a luxury brand, but one that is inching closer toward Sonos and other, more accessible rivals.
Bowers & Wilkins demoed all of the products at a launch event in West Sussex last week. The sound quality was, unsurprisingly, superb. It was a controlled environment, though, and the company was hesitant to talk about the mobile app that will presumably control every speaker in your collection. None of the new hardware supports voice control, either, or “smart” third-party services such as Alexa and the Google Assistant.
The Formation line goes on sale today in the US and on April 27th in the UK. The Wedge and Duo will be available in black and white finishes; everything else will only be sold in black. The Wedge will cost $899 while the Duo speakers and Bass subwoofer will set you back $3,999 and $999 respectively. The Bar, meanwhile, will go for $1,199 and the Audio box will be pitched at $699. That’s a combined price of $7,795, if you haven’t gone wireless yet or fancy the full Formation experience in your home.