What is the Formation Duo?
The Duo is effectively where the Formation range dovetails with the more serious offerings from Bowers & Wilkins in the form of the 700 and 800 Series. The intention is to combine a good dose of that performance with the convenience that we’ve come to expect too. For every person who wants to take the very excellent 705 and choose the system to go with it, there are plenty of others who will happily have a sizeable pair of speakers in the room but don’t really want anything else to go with them.
There’s considerable promise here then - this is a far more traditional repository for what Bowers & Wilkins knows about speakers. The Wedge offered some impressive performance in its own right, so is this the thinking listener’s alternative to the active speakers already on the market and can it trouble the Naim Unitis as a means of delivering top flight sound with lifestyle sensitivities? Let’s find out.
Specification and Design
In the specific case of the Duo though, the latency matters more than it does on the Wedge. Each Duo is a self-contained wireless entity so, even if there are no other Formation devices in your setup, the speed of the wireless comms between the two speakers is going to matter. On a more basic note, so is stability. Much as I love the KEF LSX, when I had a pair under test, the communication between left and right wasn’t bulletproof, so it has to be hoped that the Duo’s more ornate setup is able to keep the two speakers working as they should.
The speakers themselves are an intriguing blend of the familiar and the new. The drivers are a ‘greatest hits’ of the company with a 25mm carbon dome tweeter that is used in the 700 Series, sitting in its own enclosure at the top of the cabinet. It is partnered with a 165mm example of the ‘Continuum’ type cone with its distinctive silver weave and secret squirrel combination of materials. In what is the most significant departure for a two way speaker of this size and design, the cabinet is sealed. This is logical enough as it further controls the behaviour of the speaker in any given location and doesn’t leave a port possibly interfering with that.
This is, in turn, completed with a separate module on the underside of each cabinet that holds a pair of 125 watt class D amplifiers and the wireless equipment, largely sealed off from the rest of the speaker. Each Duo has an Ethernet connection and a figure 8 mains socket (for which Bowers & Wilkins has had the good sense to supply some decently long mains leads for). What you won’t see is any form of additional connectivity. Like the Wedge, the Duo has Airplay and aptX HD Bluetooth as standard. If you want to do more ornate network audio you will need to use Roon and if you want to attach additional devices, you will need the £599 Audio which will give you an extra RCA and optical input.
No less importantly, set up is a breeze. The Formation app is limited but the set up process is slick and simple. In the time they’ve been on test, the review pair and the Audio has been unconditionally stable. The Duo can genuinely lay claim to being a fit and forget device and the relationship between the two speakers and their input device is something you stop thinking about after a few minutes because it just works. I’m sure somebody somewhere will manage to make it fall over but I can’t see it happening very often.
How was the Duo Tested?
This gives the Bowers & Wilkins a solid footing from which to win people over and it does a fine job of doing so. Perhaps the most immediately notable thing is that the sealed cabinet has no effect on the Duo’s ability to deliver truly sensational bass. Revisting Orbital’s Snivilisation, the manner in which the Duo powers through Sad But True is seriously impressive. It is possible to add the Formation Sub to a pair of Duos but unless you’ve got a truly vast room, I honestly can’t see you needing it. The claim of 25Hz is probably something that can only truly be achieved with some roll off but it hasn’t been plucked from someone’s imagination.
The upper registers are no less capable. Since the move to the Continuum cone has taken place, two notionally quite incompatible things have happened to the presentation of the company’s products. The slight but noticeable colouration that the Kevlar imparted has gone resulting in a more accurate sound but at the same time, the presentation has become more fun. Listening to R.E.M’s Radio Free Europe on the Duos is a wonderfully intense and emotive experience. The raw mastering of the track isn’t affected but it’s never a distraction.
This lack of overall hassle also applies to the Audio. Listening to my turntable via the Audio should be something to raise the hackles of some purists. To function, the analogue signal is being converted to digital so it can be turned back to analogue when it hits the Duos. The cold, hard reality of doing this is… pretty minimal really. The turntable retains its character, there’s no unwanted noise and everything works exactly how you’d expect. The same goes for watching TV via the optical input. I have no means of calculating latency with the equipment here but to a MkI human eyeball, it has been consistently perfect across everything I have watched. The same hefty bass extension and excellent soundstaging means that this is a great partner for TV viewing should you be minded to do so.
- Phenomenal sound quality
- Very well made
- Simple to setup and use
- Expensive once options are added
- Formi cabinet material not hugely attractive
- Some rivals run it close for less money
Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo Review
There’s a ‘but’ coming though - there always is. Many would-be customers for the Duo are going to make a beeline for the slightly less capable (but still brilliant) KEF LS50 Wireless at nearly half the price. Still others will accept that having an all in one system with a pair of passive speakers will not be significantly more complex to live with and go for that. Here, that near five grand price of the Duo leaves it vulnerable to some of the competition. This is an indisputably brilliant piece of kit but you are invited to pay for the privilege and, for me at least, I think that price is a little on the high side. I can’t materially fault the Duo though and for many people, it will be all the system they ever need. For this reason, the Formation Flagship comes enthusiastically Recommended.
Ease of Use
Value for Money
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