Skip to main content

Bowers & Wilkins’ Formation Suite is a stylish, high-end Sonos competitor

When it comes to wireless home audio, there’s Sonos, and then there’s everyone else. Now, that growing list of competitors includes Bowers & Wilkins, which has just announced its Formation Suite, a group of wireless home audio products that is clearly aimed at buyers who desire a higher level of design, and audiophile-grade performance in a wireless audio system — and who won’t be fazed by the higher prices B&W is asking for the experience.

Running a patented mesh network, B&W claims the Formation Suite is capable of delivering perfectly synchronized sound, with one microsecond of delay between its flagship Formation Duo speakers, and milliseconds between all Formation components. The system is also capable of handling lossless high-resolution audio formats at up to 96/24 bit resolution. Rounding out its high-end specs, all components have Ethernet, AirPlay 2, and Bluetooth 4.1, with AptX HD support, and a USB port for system updates. The Formation Suite is compatible with Spotify Connect, and Roon.

Like Sonos, The system will be controlled by B&W’s Formation app (iOS/Android), though the company didn’t release any details around which music services the app will support at launch.

At launch, the Formation Suite is comprised of five products:

  • Formation Bar ($1,199): A 48-inch wide soundbar with nine drivers, six amps, each with 40 watts of power, dedicated center channel, and an optical audio input.
  • Formation Duo ($3,999/pair): Available in matte black or gloss white, these powered speakers are similar to B&W’s 800 Series Diamond speakers, with a carbon-domed tweeter on top, and the company’s Continuum cone driver. Two digital amps on board each speaker each produce 125 watts of power.
  • Formation Wedge ($899): A standalone powered speaker with five drivers, and five discrete digital amps (4×40 watts, 1×80 watts), that can produce a wide stereo soundstage.
  • Formation Bass ($999): A subwoofer with two opposed drivers, and 250 watts of amplification.
  • Formation Audio ($699): A wireless connection module that lets you stream audio to an existing hi-fi system, while also connecting non-wireless sources like turntables to the rest of the Formation system.

There’s no question the Formation Suite looks gorgeous, and it’s hard to argue with the specs that B&W has chosen for each component. We think it’s safe to assume that its audio quality will be superb, however the true test will be seeing if the company has managed to deliver the same class-leading simplicity and flexibility that Sonos is known for. We’ve been impressed by the hi-fi chops of other wireless systems, like Denon’s HEOS line of wireless home speakers, only to be let down by a less-than-ideal control app, which ultimately takes away from the ability to enjoy a system of this caliber.

We’re also curious about the choice to limit the Formation Bar to just an optical input. Without HDMI, there’s no support for Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, or lossless formats like Dolby TrueHD. There’s also no way to offer control over the TV or other components via CEC, another advantage of using HDMI. Sonos made a similar choice when it introduced its PlayBar, and PlayBase. But its newest member of the home theater family, the Sonos Beam, corrects that omission.

Check back with us in the coming weeks, as we hope to get our hands on a Formation Suite so we can give you are full impressions of this new wireless home audio system.

For now, B&W Formation Suite products are only being sold at specific brick-and-mortar retail locations, with no word on when or if the company will add online sales via its website, or retailers like Amazon.com.

Simon Cohen
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like spatial…
B&W’s Zeppelin gets rebooted as a $799 hi-res smart speaker
Bowers and Wilkins new Zeppelin wireless smart speaker.

Bowers and Wilkins (B&W) has brought back its iconic Zeppelin, and it's loaded with new features that make it a thoroughly modern wireless speaker. Priced at $799, the new Zeppelin is available starting October 13 in Midnight Gray (black) and Pearl Gray (gray).

The Zeppelin is one of the most enduring designs of the new millennium. The original, which was released in 2006, was a beautiful but extravagantly priced iPod speaker dock. It was followed by the 2011 Zeppelin Air, the Zeppelin Mini, and most recently, the 2015 Zeppelin Wireless. And while the new Zeppelin holds onto that unique ellipsoid shape, it goes much further than its predecessors both inside and out.

Read more
Bowers & Wilkins’ pricey flagship speakers get an expensive update
Bowers & Wilkins 801 Series Diamond D4.

If you're a fan of the kind of pristine audio quality that only the best loudspeakers can provide, get ready to liquidate some savings. Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) has just released its first update to its flagship 800 Series Diamond speakers since 2015. Along with a new internal design, new materials, and an intriguing new driver suspension invention comes a much loftier set of prices. The range-topping 801 D4 commands $35,000 per pair, a $5,000 (or about 17%) increase over the British audio company's current top model, the 800 D3. Similar increases apply to the entire new lineup of seven models, which will be available from B&W retailers starting September 1.

From left: Bower & Wilkins' 801 D4, 802 D4, 803 D4, 804 D4, 805 D4, HTM81 D4, HTM82 D4 Bowers & Wilkins

Read more
B&W’s first true wireless earbuds come with their own Bluetooth transmitter
Bowers & Wilkins true wireless

Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) has finally launched its first true wireless earbuds. The $399 PI7 (available in white or charcoal) and the $249 PI5 (available in white or black) both feature active noise cancellation (ANC) and IP54 dust and water protection, but the PI7 includes a feature we've never seen before: Its charging case can double as a Bluetooth transmitter for times when you want to listen to a non-Bluetooth audio source like the headphone jack on an airplane seat.

We've seen other companies try to bridge that wireless gap using a series of wired tethers, like the Motorola Tech3, but B&W's solution is both more compact and more elegant. A 3.5mm-to-USB-C cord lets you plug the PI7's charging case into any analog audio source. The transmitter connects automatically to the PI7 earbuds, but if you put the earbuds back in their case, you can also pair one of B&W other wireless headphones, like the PX7.

Read more