A few weeks ago, I started reviewing the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge wireless speaker and it wasn't hard to fall in love with what that amazing little speaker could do in my new, albeit temporary, living environment. While a bit pricey at $899, the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge wireless speaker's Midcentury Modern industrial design paired with audiophile sound emitting from a one box solution (which doesn't sound boxy or bright at all) was just a revelation. All that was missing was some truly deep and impactful bass.
For $999, Bowers & Wilkins has the solution to your deep-down desires and it's called, appropriately enough, the Formation Bass. It is a wireless, dual-driver subwoofer that uses Class-D amps to provide low end support for any number of products, but specifically the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge, Formation Duo wireless speakers, or Formation Bar (review pending). The first thing to note about the Formation Bass is its very striking industrial design. Most subwoofers are blah-looking cubes. The Formation Bass is more like a small barrel or cask with a flat bottom so that it rests nicely on the floor. It is not a huge subwoofer, but it does pair nicely with the aforementioned speakers, which understandably can't dive to the depths that say a Bowers & Wilkins 800 Diamond D3 speaker can.
Setup of the subwoofer is a breeze, as is the automated EQ system. You will need to download the Bowers & Wilkins app for your iPhone or Android, but once you do, the sub set up is a one-time project. The only issue I had was fumbling around in the app long enough to find the level for the sub so that I could match it with the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge. Once I had that nailed, I was set. There is an issue of latency with all of the Bowers & Wilkins Formation speakers in that when using Airplay 2, you likely have to wait to get the music started. Andrew and I both found this to be the case in our recent reviews. Thankfully, the Formation Bass is synched with the speaker so that the bass information comes out when the speaker finally engages. That can be a good 10 to 15 seconds, mind you.
In terms of placement, there really weren't any issues beyond aesthetics. I located the Formation Bass under an open table, to the side but still on plane with my Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge. I was careful to tidy up the AC power cable with the attached Velcro tie, which made the installation even more neat. Unlike more traditional front-firing or ported subs, this Bowers & Wilkins Formation Bass just didn't give me that much grief as to where it was located, which just makes life easier.
I commented extensively about how amazingly open the imaging was on the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge in my review of that speaker, but with the Formation Bass added to the equation, I found the sound to be that much fuller--the type of sound that you would expect out of a small audiophile system but without all of the boxes, wires, etc. I started my serious listening tests with The King of the Quarter Note, Michael Anthony from Van Halen. On "Runnin' With the Devil" (AIFF 1440) the depth added from the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Bass was game changing.
In looking for a bit punchier of an audio test, I went with what should be my own personal theme song, "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver" by Primus, from the CD of Sailing the Seas of Cheese. Les Claypool's funky bass line is well articulated by the Formation Bass. In the cacophonous break at about 1:39 into the track, the details in the low end were amazingly clear considering the size and scope of the Formation Bass subwoofer.
A good example of the nearly seamless blend between the Formation Bass and Wedge was heard on "Matte Kudasai" from King Crimson's Discipline album (AIFF 1440). Adrien Belew's weepy guitar melodies float in the air with newcomer Tony Levin's Chapman Stick making up the low frequency goodness on the track. The updated sound of King Crimson for the 1980s has passed the test of time in my music collection and sounded pretty fantastic on this new-school wireless audiophile system.
The High Points:
The Low Points:
Comparison and Competition
Given that the Formation Bass is a wireless subwoofer designed for a specific ecosystem, sorting out the competition is a little tricky. If you want to add wireless bass to a Formation system, this is your option. And if you have another wireless streaming ecosystem of choice, the Formation Bass won't work with it.
That said, similar products include Sonos' $699 Sub, also a dual-driver solution that relies on Class D amplification. The Sonos Sub's style is distinctive, though not as refined as that of the Formation Bass, and its low-frequency extension of 34 Hz is a far cry from the B&W sub's 20 Hz low end.
At $599, the HEOS Subwoofer is a functionally similar offering if you have a HEOS wireless system, although it again doesn't dig nearly as deeply as the B&W, and its design--while slim – just doesn't have that "I just walked out of Brioni" well-dressed look that the Formation Bass does. You can read Dennis' review of the HEOS Bar for more thoughts and observations on the HEOS Subwoofer.
Bass-heads can find more boom for fewer dollars if they want, but the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Bass isn't designed for that audience. This subwoofer is designed for applications where more traditional subwoofers might just not fit in. It's designed for the new school, wireless set who demand great sound as well as good looks. And yes, it's an expensive subwoofer for what it is, but you get what you pay for in a top performing, gorgeous sub.
• Visit the Bowers & Wilkins website for more product information.
• Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge Wireless Speaker Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo Wireless Loudspeakers Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.