Bowers & Wilkins announces Formation Suite wireless system
The formation of something new?
Featuring support for 24-bit high resolution audio up to 96kHz plus Bluetooth and AirPlay 2, the Formation Suite of audio products from Bowers & Wilkins promises high end, wireless multi-room audio with eye catching design.*UPDATE: UK prices and release date added to end of article.
The first major product release from B&W since they were bought by EVA Automation in 2016 is aimed at the whole-home music arena that the likes of Sonos have been so successful at. Leveraging 50 years of audio and acoustic engineering and blending it with EVA's wireless expertise, B&W are bringing wireless Hi-Res audio and a new contemporary look to the table.
The range currently consists of 5 products though Greg Lee, CEO of Bowers & Wilkins, has hinted that other products could be added in future. For the moment though, the suite features:
The Formation Duo - a pair of powered bookshelf speakers
The Formation Wedge - a single, powered speaker
The Formation Bar soundbar
The Formation Bass subwoofer
The Formation Audio - a hub for connecting legacy devices to the wireless network.
Lee went on to say, "The Formation Suite is the newest and most technologically innovative line of wireless products our development team has ever created. We are setting a new bar in the world of wireless sound, proving that wired fidelity can be achieved wirelessly."
Looking more closely at the components gives an indication of what to expect quality wise.First off, the Duo speaker pair are based around the same 1-inch, top mounted, carbon-domed tweeter and 6.5-inch Continuum mid/bass driver found in B&W's Series 800 Diamond speakers. The sealed speakers connect to each other wirelessly and are each driven by a 125W amp.The Wedge, which sports a 120° elliptical design, looks not too dissimilar to the Zeppelin Air which it replaces. Internally, it contains 5 speakers (2x 1-inch tweeters, 2x 3.5-inch midrange and 1x 6-inch subwoofer) which are served by their own amplification and provide full-range stereo sound. However, if a true stereo soundstage is required, say for a larger room, then a second Wedge can be added too. A touch sensitive pad allows control over volume and to start and pause the music.Probably the most eye-catching of the speakers is the tubular Formation Bar. Designed for use as a TV soundbar, this 3 channel speaker unit contains 6 onboard amplifiers rated at 40W each plus 9 drivers, including a dedicated centre channel. It can connect to the TV using an optical Toslink port and while it does support Dolby Digital audio, there’s no HDMI connection.The final speaker component in the collective is the Formation Bass which resembles a hi-tech biscuit barrel and is based on B&W’s PV1 subwoofer and uses 2x opposed 6.5-inch drivers, dynamic EQ and 250W of Class D amplification.Lastly, the Formation Audio wireless hub allows any traditional legacy device, such as a CD player or turntable, to connect to the Formation's wireless ecosystem via the hub’s analogue and digital inputs, which include analogue RCA in/out, optical in and digital RCA out.
Much like Sonos, the Formation products use their own proprietary Mesh Technology, dubbed 'Formation Wireless Technology' which incorporates a patented, in-room 'Perfect Speaker Synchronisation' function that enables the Formation speakers to synchronise and transfer audio between themselves in under one microsecond, which the B&W designers claim is imperceptible. The benefit of this approach is that, even when pumping out audio across all the Formation devices throughout the house, the home's main Wi-Fi network never needs to be troubled.
While the Sonos mesh network can only handle 16-bit/48kHz streams, the Formation mesh will be able to stream up to 24-bit/96kHz while also supporting Apple’s AirPlay 2 protocol at 16-bit/44.1kHz and the Bluetooth aptX HD codec, which can handle up to 24-bit/48kHz streams. Each Formation product also features an ethernet port, allowing hardwired connections should the user choose.
The Formation system can be controlled using B&W’s iOS and Android app or via iTunes for AirPlay 2 control. The Suite is also compatible with Spotify Connect and the components can be used as Roon endpoints.
* Bowers & Wilkins' Formation Suite will launch in the UK on April 26th 2019 with the following prices:
Duo speakers: £3,499.99/pair plus stands at £699.99
Formation Bar: £999.99
Formation Wedge: £899.99
Formation Bass: £899.99
Formation Audio: £599.99
AVForums will be speaking to B&W about the products very soon and a video of the Formation Suite will be published soon.
Source: B&W press release, www.techhive.com, www.stereonet.co.uk
Image Source: Bowers & Wilkins
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