Bowers & Wilkins got a new Silicon Valley-based parent company three years ago, and now, the classic British audio brand has a new line of premium wireless speakers. The new Formation Suite starts at $US900 ($1,261) for a very alien-looking thing called the Wedge and tops out at $US4,000 ($5,603) with the even more alien-looking Duo. Based on the sales pitch, these new wireless speakers can do anything a Sonos system can do and cost three times as much.
Editor's Note: We don't have local pricing or availability as yet.
The Formation Suite represents the first new products by Bowers & Wilkins since the company was acquired by Eva Automation in 2016. Eva is the brainchild of Gideon Yu, co-owner of the San Francisco 49ers and former chief financial officer of Facebook. The acquisition makes a lot more sense now that Bowers & Wilkins is surging headlong into the wireless speaker world, especially since Eva’s original mission was to make “products that will change how people interact and think about the home.” These new audio products are certainly different.
Aside from the price tag—which is at the lower range of the Bowers & Wilkins product lineup, by the way—the company claims the new speakers set themselves apart with mesh networking technology. Each component of the system effectively becomes a node in a mesh network that, according to the company, “dynamically chooses the optimal path to route audio-data between products.” This enables the speakers to stream 96 kHz/24-bit high-resolution audio. A few years ago, Gizmodo’s own Mario Aguilar called this standard “impractical overkill that nobody can afford.” It’s more bandwidth than you need for Spotify playlists, but Bowers & Wilkins is aiming at audiophiles looking to modernise their hi-fi systems.
The company is offering plenty of ways to do that, too. The flagship of the new Formation Suite is the aforementioned Duo speaker pair. These speakers feature the same Continuum cone driver that’s in the famous Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamond series. They look like a bite-sized version of those speakers, too, with the characteristic Carbon dome tweeter perched above the main driver array. The Formation Duo also comes with AirPlay 2.0, Spotify Connect, and Bluetooth, although you probably want to stick to the mesh network to make the most of these bad boys.
Flanking the Formation Duo is the more affordable Formation Wedge. Featuring the same mesh networking technology and 96 kHz/24-bit high-resolution audio capabilities as the Duo, the Wedge is more of an all-in-one solution that you could stick on your kitchen counter. The drivers, tweeters, and sub are all inside of an elliptical enclosure that curves at 120-degrees to spread the sound around the room. The whole situation looks like a space ship on the wrong side of a wormhole or just a squished up version of the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin speaker.
Pulling up the rear is the $US1,000 ($1,401) Formation Bass, the $US1,200 ($1,681) Formation Bar, and the $US700 ($980) Formation Audio. The Bass, as the name implies, is a subwoofer with opposing drivers that pairs with the other Formation speakers. The Bar, true to its name too, is a sound bar with nine drivers. The Formation Audio is a little box that lets you connect a traditional hi-fi system to Formation speakers. Bowers & Wilkins also says it’s perfected speaker synchronisation so when all of these fancy toys are hooked up, everything is perfectly timed.
The whole proposition seems intriguing, if only because the idea of mesh networked speakers sounds very forward-thinking. After all, mesh networks are becoming the best way to distribute large bandwidth connections in homes. And if the dream of high-resolution audio and its buzzworthy cousin 3D audio comes true, wireless-hopeful audiophiles will need a better way to connect their speaker systems.
Then again, the Formation Suite also seems like a very niche series of products for a very niche sort of listener. To make the most of the system, this listener will need source audio that’s very high quality as well as ears that can tell the difference. Let’s be honest, though. Some very rich people are going to listen to highly compressed Spotify tracks on these things and feel thrilled about the money they spent.