Let me remind you what this is all about: Bowers & Wilkins was one of the first to make a luxury audio system for the iPhone, it was the cult Zeppelin, but the company did not have a full-fledged multiroom. Experiments with systems with the first AirPlay are not taken into account. Not so long ago, B&W was bought by the startup Eva Automation (very strange so far). It was also announced that it was developing the ideal multiroom for a generation of people who are used to streaming everything and everything but do not want to lose high sound quality. Then there were rumors about Formation, then the announcement, the official page of the product opened, I wanted to unpack it and try it as soon as possible. I’ll start with the Formation Bar, later I’ll tell you about other system products.
Yes, be sure to watch the video on our channel – we have Formation in our studio together with Flex and Bass, we watch movies and football, very good:
Formation Bar Audio Review: Design
In the world of soundbars, the design is as complex as it is in the world of smartphones. Initially, soundbars are just some long plastic things that are not striking, black, and nondescript. Later, manufacturers began a great era of experimentation: Bose began to use a glass panel on the top, Dali created a soundbar similar to an ice cream stick (this is my personal association), many played with colors.
The entire Formation line continues the ideas embodied in Zeppelin, which seems to be nothing like that, but it looks original, strict, bourgeois. All system elements are similar in decoration, type of fabric, the color of elements, and details, such as button illumination. At my house, of course, everything is not as beautiful as in official photographs, but you can understand how deftly the fabric collects dust.
The kit includes a wall mount. In the office, we did just that. At home, I had to put Bar on a box from IKEA for the time being. There is no sense in replacing furniture yet: we are waiting with my wife for the keys to the apartment, and there I will have to think about where to hang or put the soundbar … Of course, it is hardly worth putting acoustics on some boxes, but a soundbar is an unpretentious thing, and I hope you will forgive me.
Connecting the system is elementary: you need an optical cable. In my case, it’s AudioQuest, a power outlet – put the Formation application on your smartphone and follow the instructions. I have an AirPort Extreme at home. There were no problems with the connection – you need to indicate in which room the soundbar is located, you can immediately add a branded subwoofer and rear, adjust the volume, and train the remote control. Since there are only optics from the connections, you cannot immediately control the volume from the TV remote control. It would help if you had an IR remote control. The instructions are clear. I was able to teach such an accessory from a Sony TV quickly.
There are volume control buttons on the soundbar, but for two months of use, I have not touched them even once – I used either adjustment through the application or a trained remote control. If suddenly you do not have a single IR remote control at home, some universal option will be your salvation.
Inside the sleek body are nine drivers designed by Bowers & Wilkins. There is a lot of talk about the dedicated central channel both in press materials and on the official website – judging by the developers’ assurances, it should help transmit voices while watching films perfectly.
Here, too, a caveat is needed: in soundbars and other Bose multimedia systems, a hundred years ago, there was a mode of increased speech intelligibility, aka night mode. What does this mean, and how did it work? For example, if you watch “Saving Private Ryan” in the living room at night, you don’t want to disturb anyone, but you don’t want to wear headphones either. We turn on a special mode. All loud sounds are muffled. The voice, on the contrary, sounds clearer.
In a universe where everything is perfect, everything should work like this. In life, each Bose product had its own characteristics: some were doing very well, others were strange – the main thing is that you really could watch a movie without headphones and not interfere with your home. What’s Bowers & Wilkins?
The formation does not have such a regime, so I try on Friday night, drink wine from two hands, eat cheese, and watch the movie “Outpost” – and what does my wife say to me from the next room? DO QUIET, PLEASE! Okay, of course. But then the dialogues disappear, and they say a lot. I make it a little louder. My wife again asks me to do something with the sound. So some time passes, I take AirPods and calmly watch the movie.
Alas, the night mode is sorely lacking here.
Of course, if no one is at home, or if it’s not night, then there are no questions about Formation – great sound, there is no desire to constantly turn up the volume because there is no dialogue behind the effects music. This is a problem with many soundbars. Together with the Formation Bar, I watched Joker for the tenth time – and this is a difficult film for any audio system – I revised Argument, and it is even more difficult. I listen to the soundtrack together with the Formation Bar and get great pleasure. It’s just unrealistic. However, let’s talk about the sound a little later.
Yes, a few words about connection. Sonos had such a product, Sonos Boost – if you have many Sonos products at home, it was Boost that plugged in and then raised its grid for audio components. This reduced the load on the home network, making the system immune to interference. The formation has about the same story. Only it doesn’t need an additional product – for example, Bar connects to a router using a 2.4 GHz network and then raises its mesh using the 5 GHz band. All data between audio systems and components are transmitted there. This means that more data can be transferred. It can be transferred faster and without delay. Cool? Yes.
You can also read: Sonos Arc Soundbar & Sonos Move: Review
But in real life, we at the studio noticed one problem: the system is demanding on the network’s quality. The Formation system (soundbar, subwoofer, and rear) is located quite far from the router in our office. If the connection to the network was lost or the signal was weakened, there could be problems. Once I had to reset the system and set it up again – the subwoofer was not connected. The question was solved very simply: one of the Flex was connected using an Ethernet cable, and everything was instantly perfect. That is, the quality of the connection is essential for the correct operation of Formation.
Otherwise, there are no questions. The Bar is swift and easy to connect; it is easy to add rear and sub; a wall mount is included, which is great. While the system is available in one color: black fabric and bronze lining on the side, perhaps a white version will appear later (this is just my speculation). In any case, the black version is practical, even if the child decides to touch his father’s technique with his hand in the jam – it’s not scary.
Formation Bar Audio Review: Features
I’ll try to answer a few popular questions about the Formation Bar. If you are thinking about buying this system for setting up a home theater, keep in mind that Formation shelf units can be used together with Bar – not as rear or front speakers, but simply in a general multi-room system.
Accordingly, at home, you can put the Formation Duo in the office, sit there with a glass of cognac, listen to techno loudly, put the Formation Wedge corner in the kitchen, and hang several Flex in the nursery, in the bathroom, and other rooms. All this will play in unison – the components between a patented grid is raised, where it is easy to drive through the air as much as 96 kHz / 24 bit.
But if you decide to build Formation houses, you liked the sound. Then I would recommend Bar as the foundation. Firstly, everyone has a TV, we all watch movies, TV shows, YouTube, and TV, Bar is perfect. Secondly, among other soundbars, the Formation Bar works amazingly with music. Thirdly, the Bar has AirPlay 2 support, Bluetooth with aptX, you can add your Spotify account here, Roon ready system. The thing is packed with features – but as you can imagine, every word on the box means additional costs, and something had to be sacrificed.
And I’ll tell you what exactly. As you may have noticed, there is no HDMI connection, no ARC or eARC support. There is no word about Dolby Atmos. Honestly, I myself thought it was all nonsense. But let’s move on to the next chapter, and there I will dwell on the nonsense in more detail.
Formation Bar Audio Review: Together with Xbox Series X
I have already told in other articles that I have an Xbox Series X at my house now. I play Valhalla and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Cyberpunk will be played on PC, PS5 is still in the box – I don’t know what to play it. As you know, the Xbox Series X and Sony PS5 have powerful acoustic capabilities, surround sound, and much more. Modern games are also doing well with the sound. For example, Cyberpunk 2077 supports Dolby Atmos, but with caveats: only Xbox or PC, and you also need to pay a little money for it in the Dolby app (as far as I understand). More details on the link.
Accordingly, you need to unlock the application and have a device with Dolby Atmos support – for some reason. Many people think that this is a software setting. No, devices with “Atmos” also have physical differences – a couple (or more) of drivers look at the ceiling to create reflections, and pink gnomes bring you volume and beauty.
And so I’m playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare with the Formation Bar and Xbox Series X. The soundbar is connected to the TV by optics. Everything is great, but oooh, I understand that if the system was very good with films, there is clearly room for improvement with games. I don’t understand where the enemy is running from. The shots don’t make you press your head into your shoulders – yes, the sound is excellent, but I want more. By the way, I tried to play at home and at work, where we have Flex and Bar. Everything is cool, but I want more!
I will not dwell here in detail on my searches and samples – everything will be in a separate article about Sonos Arc. But Arc, especially together with the branded sub and rear, is the perfect setting for modern consoles at the moment. And this is largely achieved thanks to supporting Dolby Atmos and the presence of eARC. I hope to have time to write a review of Arc with accessories by the end of the year, but for PS5 or Xbox Series X, I advise you to pay attention to this system.
If you are looking for a soundbar and system in general, primarily for movies or games, I recommend Bowers & Wilkins Formation Bar.
Formation Bar Audio Review: Films and Music
A complicated “Argument” was worked out with a bang. The soundtrack is breathtaking – well, not like in a movie theater, but goosebumps are the main thing. And everything is straight into the vein, and the TV is big, and somehow the Bar got up successfully – and not high, and not low, great. Every day I turned on music using AirPlay 2. I go in for sports with a trainer, without energetic albums anywhere – well, sit and sleep with a selection of new ones from Apple Music is very good. I tried to transfer music from Tidal and Vox via AirPlay 2 – honestly, I didn’t notice a dramatic difference on the same tracks. Everything is fine.
It is precisely this intelligence in working with music and cinema that Sonos Arc is lacking – it sometimes gives too much volume, which is not always necessary.
Formation Bar Audio Review: Verdict
Nowadays, it is tough to choose a multimedia system, and sellers do not always let you listen properly – and all these stories about “this is Bowers, like a buzz” should be ignored. It’s not about how good the system is – it’s about what you need.
You can also read: Home testing of: Samsung HW-Q70T Soundbar (Complete Review)
For example, if you have a PS or Xbox, think twice about whether to build home “music” based on Formation: the receiver will not save you, and Dolby Atmos will not appear with the help of additives. If games do not matter and you often watch movies, TV shows using the soundbar, plan to listen to music on this system’s components – then feel free to start with the Formation Bar. I see only one clear minus: okay, there is no Dolby Atmos, but ARC was definitely worth adding and not saving on it.
To learn more about the system, you can follow the link.