I am a minimalist. I love simplicity. And the older I get, the more value I put in the having less. I also love technology. And I particularly love that, because of technology, things that used to require more now require less. Fewer boxes, fewer cables, fewer remotes--less of everything. My need to be minimal and my love of technology haven't always gone hand-in-hand, as there always seemed to be a sacrifice here or there that I had to contend with. In the early years, streaming media, while convenient, wasn't very good. Most wireless speakers weren't, to be frank about it, very well-built. So, a minimalist tech junky like myself was forced to endure: live with lesser components or forgo my need for simplicity and welcome back all the boxes and cables the industry could throw at me.
That was then, though, and this is 2019. This year, one of my personal favorite brands, Bowers & Wilkins, may have just created one of the best all-around wireless sound platforms for those wanting something a bit more high-end. Say hello to the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo ($3,999.99 a pair): a powered pair of two-way bookshelf or monitor loudspeakers that you connect to your existing system via some form of wireless connection, or via Bowers & Wilkins' own adapter, the Formation Audio (more on that in a bit).
The Formation Duo isn't quite a powered 805 D3, nor is it a powered 705 S2. It actually sits somewhere in between, though it arguably has more in common with the 800 Series products than the more budget-conscious 700 Series. The styling cues definitely evoke the 800 Series. A Nautilus-style tweeter sits atop the main cabinet à la the 800 Series (admittedly the tweeter itself is from the 700 Series), and the fit and finish of the entire loudspeaker screams class and sophistication.
The one-inch carbon dome tweeter sits above a six-and-a-half-inch Continuum bass/midrange driver, which is good for a reported, and rather shocking, 25Hz to 33kHz frequency response. The drivers are driven by dual 125-watt amplifiers found within each Formation Duo, meaning that each loudspeaker is effectively bi-amped internally.
The Formation Duo comes in two finishes, black and white, though the base plate on both color choices remains a sort of rich graphite. The finishes themselves are decidedly matte in sheen, and the cabinets seem to be made from a sort of soft-touch composite material that I found to be rather nice indeed. The Nautilus-style tweeter is finished in gloss, however, which gives it a bit of distinctive visual flair. Each loudspeaker measures 15.5 inches tall by nearly eight inches wide and 12 inches deep, and tips the scales at a respectable 23.4 pounds.
As for connection options, there aren't many. There is a bottom mounted Ethernet jack as well as a USB port (service only). In other words, the Formation Duo lacks any sort of "legacy" input options. Hell, it doesn't even have a 3.5mm analog audio jack like some other powered speakers do. Nope, the Formation Duo is taking a page from the Apple playbook and just saying no to superfluous input/outputs. Wireless connection options include Bluetooth v4.1 Class 2, with support for AptX HD, AAC, and SBC; Apple AirPlay 2; Spotify Connect; and Roon, with a maximum resolution of 96kHz/24-bit.
The Formation Duo utilizes Bowers & Wilkins perfect speaker synchronization technology, allowing for the speakers themselves to achieve an imperceptible, single-microsecond in-room sync between them. This is all courtesy of a mesh network that is created between the speakers themselves, as well as other Formation branded products. It should be noted that this mesh network runs independent of your home's WiFi, meaning you can still keep the music or party going during pesky outages.
For those not yet willing to cut the cords, you can adapt non-Formation product through the use of the Formation Audio. The Formation Audio is a standalone wireless transmitter of sorts that enables passive components to interact flawlessly with new Formation branded speakers. The Formation Audio retails for a hefty $699.99, and looks positively gorgeous as far as its industrial design is concerned, not to mention its rather small profile, measuring 8.5 inches wide by 10.4 inches deep and a hair under two inches tall. It has all the same capabilities as the speakers themselves, but adds a few legacy connection options, such as a single digital audio input (optical), analog audio input, analog audio output, and digital audio output (coaxial). The Formation Audio also has both analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters inside--though no more specifics are given on either by Bowers & Wilkins.
It should be noted that despite the Formation Duo and Formation Audio having touch sensitive buttons for items such as sync and volume adjustment, control over the whole Formation ecosystem is meant to be handled via the Formation App, which is available for iOS and Android free of charge.
The Formation Duo arrived on my doorstep shortly after taking delivery of Sony's latest LED-backlit LCD display, the XBR-X950G. I bring this up because unlike the other display I had in-house, Vizio's latest P-Series Quantum, the Sony had a few nice features that allowed me to utilize the Formation Duos to their fullest extent.
Before we get to that, though, let's discuss the matching Formation Duo stands for a moment. While the Formation Duo can be placed on a table, shelf, or third-party stand, the matching stands from Bowers & Wilkins do go a long way in completing the Formation Duo's look, while also hiding the one and only cable each speaker needs: a power cable. Alas, the stands themselves, while gorgeous, are not cheap, retailing for $799.99 a pair. The stands are available in your choice of black or silver, the latter of which is likely meant to be paired with the white finish Formation Duo.
After assembling the stands, and bolting (yes, bolting) each speaker to its chunky top plate, I began the Formation Duo's setup procedure, starting with downloading the free App from the App Store. Setup is the epitome of simplicity, and is largely an automated affair, whereby you follow the onscreen prompts until you reach the end. Plugging in each speaker starts the process, after which the app identifies the speakers, asks which room they reside in, and what your WiFi network name is. No WiFi passwords are even required (at least on iOS), as it pulls them from your phone's memory banks. With everything connected, you're ready to start streaming via your service of choice.
The Formation Audio sets up in exactly the same way, only you get one or two additional questions depending on which inputs it senses being used. Tell it what type of product is connected to which input and boom, you're done. It is the easiest, most straightforward setup and pairing scenario I've encountered to date. Period. Oh, and between the various Formation products, the handshake is rock-solid, at least in my experience.
So, what does the Sony display have to do with anything? Well, the newest Sony displays have the latest Bluetooth tech, as well as finer controls over that type of connection. I was actually able to connect the Formation Duo to the Sony X950G via Bluetooth, and fix the minor sync issues within the Sony in order to have the Duos serve as the Sony's default speakers upon power up. This meant I had a wireless 2.0 (I could've added a Formation Sub for 2.1) home theater setup that consisted of four cables: three power cables and one Ethernet cable. It was the simplest home theater setup I've assembled to date, and spoiler alert: it didn't suck. Sadly, when the Sony left, so did this unmatched audio capability, since the Vizio P-Series Quantum required the use of the Formation Audio, which ended up not being much of a bother, since it meant I could connect my U-Turn Orbit Plus turntable to the system as well, so that I could enjoy my record collection while going sans wires.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...