Review: This Bowers & Wilkins Speaker Is the Perfect Upgrade From Sonos
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When Bowers & Wilkins announced its Formation line of wireless speakers, it was clear they were designed to be a conversation piece as well as a speaker. But that doesn’t mean they’re form over function. The Formation series consists of a pair of active powered speakers, a soundbar, a wireless subwoofer, an audio box and wireless speaker, and they all can work together in a multiroom system or as standalone devices. Using B&W’s proprietary wireless mesh network technology, called Formation Wireless Technology, the speakers can also stream up to 96/24-bit audio, which B&W claims this is twice the fidelity of many other high-end wireless speakers.
The Wedge ($900) is the small standalone speaker in B&W’s Formation series and it’s arguably the most interesting. It’s unmistakable with its 120-degree wedge-shaped design and woven grille. With the ability to play full-range stereo that can easily fill a room, it’s a cousin to the Sonos Play:5, but for serious audiophiles who also have a little more cash to splash.
The Good: The Wedge is an all-in-one speaker with five drivers that are each individually amplified, and it has no problem filling a room. Just like a Sonos speaker, the Wedge is also super easy to use. It works with Spotify Connect so you can stream music directly from the app, is Roon Ready, supports Bluetooth aptX, so your guests don’t need to be connected to wi-fi to play music, and supports Apple AirPlay 2 so you can group it with any other AirPlay speaker. Ultimately, it’s designed to play in a multi-room setup with B&W’s suite of other Formation speakers, but the flexibility is key, especially if you don’t want to spend any more money.
And while the design is certainly striking, the sound quality is definitely its standout feature. In my testing, I found myself revisiting older albums by Florence and the Machine, and the clarity of the midrange and vocals on tracks like “Spectrum” and “Breaking Dawn” were impressive. The Wedge has a built-in sub, too, so it’s able to bring the bass.
Who It’s For: You have to want a top tier, high-end wireless speaker with a bold design. Seriously, you better love that design. It’s also anything but cheap, so you have to be someone who is serious about hi-fi as well as speaker design.
Watch Out For: There are three things to watch out for with the B&W’s Formation Wedge, and the first two are obvious. First, it’s expensive. Second, the design won’t be for everybody. It looks sort of like a Fabergé egg, or something out of some 50s sci-fi concept art. Lastly, a detail that’s a bit smaller but still worth knowing, the Wedge cannot be designated as right or left channel speaker like some other wi-fi speakers, such as a Sonos One. That, and there’s no analog way to play music. There’s no 3.5mm jack and the USB-C port located on the bottom of the speaker is for service only.
Alternatives: There are plenty of high-end wireless multiroom alternatives to B&W’s Formation Wedge. The Sonos Play:5 is a more affordable option that sounds good and supports AirPlay 2. The Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless ($700) is effectively the older and cheaper version of the Wedge, although it’s not able to sync with other Formation speakers in a multiroom system. If you’re looking for something on the high end, Naim’s Mu-so Qb ($699) and Mu-so 2 ($1,599) are both excellent wireless speakers with a distinct design.
Verdict: The Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge is a prime example of a traditional hi-fi speaker seeing the success of Sonos and throwing its hat in the ring. The Wedge is without a doubt a terrific-sounding wireless speaker that’s easy to use and versatile, thanks to AirPlay 2 support as well as built-in Bluetooth. Yes, it’s fairly expensive. Yes, its looks won’t be for everybody. But if you’re in the market for a standalone hi-fi speaker that you also want to be a statement piece, for maybe your living room or kitchen, this is definitely a conversation starter that sounds good enough to justify its high price.
What Others Are Saying:
• “The Spotify streams sounded impressive. Bat for Lashes’ “Laura” was summoned from the music streaming service and the sound was bigger than you’d expect from a speaker of that size, easily capable of filling the room. In this instance, the Wedge was able to go loud without losing a grip on clarity or detail.” — Kob Monney, Trusted Reviews
• “Bowers & Wilkins has an excellent track record when it comes to producing curiously-shaped, excellent-sounding wireless speakers. So we have high hopes the Wedge can follow in the Zeppelin’s footsteps. The size and price tag will deter some, but if you’re willing to pay to get the best possible wireless sound, we’re pretty sure you’ll want to audition the Formation Wedge.” — Anonymous, What Hi-Fi?
Speaker: wireless music system
Drivers: 1″ double dome tweeter (2x), 3.5″ midrange (2x), 6″ subwoofer
Frequency response: 35Hz to 28kHz
Weight: 14.3 pounds
Connectivity: Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Roon Ready, Bluetooth aptX HD
Bowers & Wilkins provided this product for review.
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