It’s been almost three years now since the Munich High End Show when the audio world discovered that Bowers & Wilkins had changed hands. Long-time owner Joe Atkins had sold to a Californian entrepreneur with a much more forward-thinking outlook. Of course, the nay-sayers sprang into life, although it can’t have been an easy time for them when the company expanded its R&D team and moved to a new facility last year. This wasn’t the plan; what happened to “Bowers & Wilkins will be a footnote in audio, and making Internet radios within a year”? I guess the torches and pitchforks will have to wait.
While nu-Bowers retains and continues to improve all three of its classic lines, a few months back, word got out that the ‘forward-thinking’ bit was starting to bear fruit, and the Formation suite is the result. Formation is the first wireless system that the company has produced entirely from first principles, and it’s said to be only the beginning. Formation launched with five products: the Wedge, which effectively replaces the Zeppelin portable; the Bar (as in sound-); the Bass subwoofer, and Duo stereo system. The fifth element is called Audio, an analogue interface that allows you to connect regular audio sources to a Formation system. Various things differentiate these products from others of the same ilk; for a start where more than one Formation device is used, and it’s heavily geared toward multi-room applications, a mesh wireless network is created to tie them together and transmit/receive signals at up to 24/96. As such, Formation doesn’t rely on the integrity of the existing network for all-important aspects like synchronisation; room to room this is one millisecond and between stereo speakers it’s a microsecond, which is fast. This is because the devices talk to one another directly rather than via a router as is the case with regular Wi-Fi. To achieve this degree of channel matching Formation speakers incorporate multiple ‘radios’ to talk to one another and to the access point (router) at different frequencies. They also have one for Bluetooth.
The Duo is the most ‘B&W’ of the Formation products in appearance at least, with a tweeter on top in its own enclosure and a curved front baffle, from which the mid/bass driver protrudes. However, there are significant differences between the Duo and the 705/805 models it looks like. For a start, this is the first infinite baffle (sealed box) active stereo loudspeaker from the company. The presence of two 125 Watt digital amplifiers and DSP means that bass tuning can be done without a port. This gives Duo a more contemporary appearance and allows closer to wall positioning – there is a basic bass and treble tone control in the Formation app, too. The cabinet is made from Formi, a hybrid of polypropylene and wood fibre; the latter provides strength and damping, says B&W, and of course allows for freedom of form. They chose this over more typical speaker cabinet materials because of the need for wireless communication, which can be blocked by wood alone. There is a matrix structure within the cabinet to provide stiffness, very much in the spirit of classic Bowers & Wilkins designs.