Advice needed for starting new wireless ecosystem (B&W Formation vs. Naim Muso in reference to SONOS)

I have not able to find direct comparison of B&W Formation line product vs. Naim Muso. Also these in relative to SONOS or perhaps Bluesound line. It looks like Roon community have some who have experience in these products so can you kindly help me decide?

Background
I’ve owned SONOS playerbar (sold). Currently own HEOSBar, HEOS 5,7 and Denon AVR, and two SONOS One.

I am at the stage like to get better, perhaps best sound quality multi-room wireless speaker system but won’t be buying or replacing all at once rather plan to start either from bedroom or living room.

My daily use currently involve

  1. Local music from NAS
  2. Amazon Music HD
  3. Alexa voice control
  4. Roon music play
  5. Spotify (Amazon HD is taking this over, so not as important anymore).
    *6. Hi-Res support (debating).

With extensive online research daily for past couple weeks, 5 product lines came to my attention.

  1. B&W Formation
  2. Naim Muso
  3. Denon Home series
  4. SONOS
  5. Bluesound

Sonos - lack of Hi-Res
SONOS seem to be out due to lack of Hi-Res support. However, honestly, I am not sure if I have enough skill/talent to be able to appreciate Hi-Res quality over CD quality but mentally, I feel I’d be keep regretting if I purchase product that does not support Hi-Res. Part of me hates such thinking. So Sonos is out.

Denon home - Seeking for better sound than HEOS line
Denon Home series is releasing this month, and it will have built in microphone, Airplay 2 support, but I’d assume the sound quality are similar to HEOS line. May be it is decent but I wonder I have better option.

Alexa built in vs. Works with Alexa
Alexa compatibility is important for me and built in Alexa sounded great which there are only two options: Sonos and Denon Home with future upgrade. However with a recent purchase of Sonos One, I learned that built in voice control are limited version. For instance, Alexa does not support drop in, routine nor Alexa skills. It is still better than having echo and separate speaker next to each other for voice recognition while playing music but not as good as echo device itself running solo. In fact, by placing the speaker and echo dot far enough, I feel I can get full function Alexa with Hifi quality audio without much interference from playing Audio to hinder echo input initiation. So I’m ok with product lines that does not have built in Alexa as long as it works with Alexa.

Bluesound - better but not the best sound quality?
Bluesound seems a straight upgrade of Sonos but latter two may have even better sound quality gain from what I read. I’ve tried Bluesound Pulse 2 before committing to HEOS line and compared to HEOS 5, Sonos playbar and Pulse 2. I recall liking the Pulse 2 sound the best back then. Audio input latency via Aux in was so important back then and hence I went for HEOS where had the least delay.

So I feel like two primary contenders are B&W Formation line and Naim.

B&W Formation

The Wedge has few direct rivals on the market, but we reach for the excellent, and more expensive, Naim Mu-so 2. Both are superb in their own right, but offer a different sound character, so while you’ll get more bass clout from the Mu-so 2, there’s greater refinement, detail and clarity with the Wedge, which offers a more layered, hi-fi sound by comparison.

Source: [https://www.whathifi.com/us/reviews/bowers-and-wilkins-formation-wedge]

The Formation Flex is certainly one of the best-sounding “compact” speakers you can buy right now.

Source: [https://gearpatrol.com/2019/10/15/bowers-wilkins-formation-flex-review/]

There aren’t many online reviews but from what I read, it sounds like most reviews highly praise sound quality and I read many implying best sound quality of all wireless speaker lines, but software limitation is major reason for negativity. I’ve got burned so many times with the assumption of software limitation will be fixed in the future.

So I needed official statement from company. B&W blog recently indeed made a statement of Alexa skill for early Q1 of this year. Further more it sounds like almost Sonos like app for early Q2.

Naim Muso

Belying its box-like dimensions with a punchy bass alongside sparkling and rich tones across frequencies, the Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation scooped up our most recent 2019 What Hi-Fi? Award for the best home wireless speaker over £500.

Source:[https://www.whathifi.com/us/best-buys/best-wireless-speakers-wonderful-wi-fi-speakers-for-all-budgets]

if this is to be your one source of music in the house, we can think of few combinations of separates able to both better the sound and match or undercut the price. It has its innate limitations in terms of upgrades and stereo imaging, of course, but the Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation is not just another expensive wireless speaker.

Source: [https://www.whathifi.com/us/reviews/naim-mu-so-qb-2nd-generation](What Hifi Muso Qb 2)

T3 ranks Muso 2 as the best multi-room wifi speaker.
Source: [https://www.t3.com/features/best-multi-room-wi-fi-speaker]

Naim Muso line sounds another one of the top in line sound quality product. Extreme feature rich with extensive connectivity options and great streaming support. Combination of sound quality and features put Naim Muso second gen product as the best wireless speakers one can buy right now if money is not a concern. However, Muso line sounds to lack stereo pairing option of Muso Qb2 and despite fantastic sound Muso-2 still won’t match dedicated stereo speakers. So reading between lines, I interpret B&W formation line has better sound performance.

At this time, I am willing to restart entirely new ecosystem. I may start either for my bedroom or perhaps living room depending on what I purchase. But in a longer run, I’d like to keep adding the same product line device throughout house including office, entertainment zone (perhaps more serious/expensive speakers), family room (sound bar) and kitchen etc.

Question

  1. What is the best sound quality product line for those have experience with above product? Especially, formation line such as Formation Wedge vs. Muso Qb2 or perhaps Muso 2.
  2. If one can compare to SONOS, is other product significant upgrade? Especially from cost stand point of view, 2 Play 5 (for stereo) may be purchased for 1 Formation Wedge or Muso Qb 2, and latter cannot be used in stereo pair.

Thank you for your help in advance

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I’m also looking at B&W Formation and/or Naim Muso Qb 2 to replace a Sonos system, and recently listened to the Formation Wedge, the Flex and the Qb 2 back to back (in the same place). The Qb 2 and Wedge both sounded excellent (to me) for small, stand-alone speakers: the Qb 2 was a little more lively and “in your face” while the Wedge was more “laid back”, arguably smoother and better balanced overall. It would be a matter of personal taste to choose between them, I’d say. Not surprisingly, the Flex is not quite in the same class as either the Qb 2 or the Wedge, but nevertheless sounded very good for its size: it certainly knocks spots off a Sonos Play:1 which is what it would be replacing in my set-up.

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Hi,

I’ve just been through this same selection process. We had 2 B&W Zeppelin Airs one in the home office and one in the kitchen that have been superb for many years. One of them failed so was looking for a replacement. As we still had the other we could do A/B tests to see what we liked. I use the DAC in the B&W Zeppelin Air via Toslink from Google CCA hidden round the back fed by Roon, this setup can do up to 88.1Khz limited by the CCA.

Tried a B&W Formation Wedge vs the Play 5 and there was no contest, the sonos was muffled compared to the detail delivered by the Wedge.

We bought the B&W Formation Wedge after trying it in the dealer. Its very detailed especially in the high end but A/B testing with the B&W Zeppelin Air it lacked the low end that the Zeppelin can deliver from its 2 x ported setup. But the Wedge was ultimately disappointing, it did not fill the room like its predecessor and was just not as fun or lively to listen too, so it was returned. I think if you liked a lot of classical it might be great, but the low end is just not the same as the Zeppelin.

Next up was the Naim Muso Qb (mk1’s) as that what the dealer had. The detail, refinement and low end on this unit was excellent, the software also seemed more stable than the B&W and the set of real inputs was good to see, I’m worried about future proofing with only the B&W via network inputs. The Naim in this smaller form factor lacked the wide soundstage that the B&W Zeppelin could make, but otherwise we really liked them. We did not try the larger Muso as the cost was getting up there and in the kitchen the large flat surface would just attract us to stick junk/mail on it too often.

In the end I moved the one working Zeppelin into the Kitchen to replace the failed one and went with a pair of B&W 607’s in my office. Nothing like a one box solution but they give me the sonic result I wanted.

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Thank you guys,

I’ve had a chance to listen B&W Formation series and Sonos Play 5 at Best Buy but in different set up, and different selection of music. Interestingly Sonos had only 1 choice of song, B&W Formation has 4 from different genre. I liked clear sound from Formation series, especially Wedge (over Flex). But they don’t have Muso line.

Both of you sound to describe more Bass power on Qb than Formation Wedge, which I think I read on some review as well. As far as clarity of sound, which one do you feel has a edge?

For me, bass is not the highest priority. I really want to have crystal clear sound for vocal and instruments on my daily POP music listening. As Gordon pointed out, Sonos One feel muffled, and even my HEOS speakers don’t sound perfect clear.

It’s a close call between them, they have different characters and given our needs may be different I think you need to hear the Naim yourself. It’s quite a bit smaller, but that volume control is a work of art! If pushed I’d say the Naim had more definition but the wedge filled more volume, the sound stage is wider with the wedge. The big downside on the Naim is it is like a mono point source, but a fantastic sounding one.

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Although trusted review gave 5/5 acclaim to Muso Qb 2, it stated followings:

most obvious competition comes from Bowers & Wilkins’ Formation Wedge speaker. it sounds, if anything, even wider and better focused than the Naim and is capable of similarly startling volume levels.

Source: Trusted Reviews Naim Mu-So Qb 2

Since there is only one store in my town that carries Naim Muso series and B&W official site says 30 days trial (essentially free return policy of 30 days), I’ve decided to give a try to Formation Wedge.

I will give thorough personal review once I get it.

Thanks

Let us know how you get on. All the best.

Yeah it’s probably ideal to try to get them both hands on, let us know how you end up liking it. The Wedge and QB2 are both very good and I think the difference in sound merely comes down to a personal preference decision. As long as you’ve aware/ok with their respective limits (physical connections/application limitations/single speakers as opposed to stereo pairs/etc.) I don’t think you could go wrong with either. With Roon/Airplay2 playback I’ve been very happy with both as well as the Flex.

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George_R

Do you have any experience with two flex in stereo when compared to Wedge?

I do have a pair of Flex but unfortunately I’ve not found the time/motivation to pair them together, I have them in two different rooms currently so there hasn’t been any benefit to even testing the pairing functionality.

I’d guess that the Wedge might still have a fuller feel overall (three way vs two way, greater amplification, etc) but in the end I don’t think any dsp/drive angle magic will recreate a true stereo experience. It’s still an amusing sound (almost like the music is coming from everywhere) so it’s not a bad thing at all but if stereo is an absolute requirement it could be a challenge.

I use them all as single speakers in locations like my kitchen/office desk/bathroom/closet/bedroom/etc. so I’ve been quite happy with them with that usage

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Hi there

Really interesting thread. I’m at a very similar crossroads. I’ve been using Sonos for a while (as in since Gen 2 One’s). Then I paired two together and was really impressed, so that got me wondering about lossless and hi-res (limited to MQA for me). Sonos does to lossless FLAC now which is a bono’s but not MQA.

That led me to Bluesound Powernode 2i with an old set of speakers and again was really impressed by the quality.

Now I want to create a multi-room setup. I was going to use Sonos and Airplay 2 however Bluesound and the discovery of Roon got me thinking differently. I don’t like the Flex 2i, I compared them to the Sonos in my home and with my music tastes and felt Sonos was much more detailed. I was gutted as I like the Bluesound and its ease of use (I need to train the Mrs on using Roon on the iPad as a remote control and using her iPhone with Airplay so simplicity is a must).

Now I’m thinking of using the B&W Formation Flex’s to replace the Sonos 1s. But the question is would two Flex’s in stereo be better than getting a Wedge or a Qb 2nd Gen (for the office)?

I was planning on selling the Sonos1 then eventually getting a few Flex’s to dot around as @George_R has done. Have you found the Roon/Airplay combo stable?

Hello there @Sunjay_Vyas

For an office space setting my preference between the Naim and B&W lines has been the Naim QB2. The QB2 has manual controls for volume and track control and the volume wheel feels extremely satisfying. Being home more often has highlighted how convenient having the manual controls is in areas where you’re likely up close and interacting with the space (kitchen and office for me). The extra connectivity options are also helpful if you want to output audio from a computer or other device.

I’ve continued to be quite happy with both the Naim Mu So and B&W Formation ranges and I find that different models have worked out for me in different spaces. Both ranges have performed well with Roon and Airplay 2 so no complaints there.

Funny enough I still haven’t tried to create a stereo pair of with my Flex speakers so I can’t offer any insight on that question. I’d be happy to answer anything else you might be curious about so let me know if you think of anything else.

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Hi @George_R thanks for the reply to an old thread! So based on various forums and your comments I have “borrowed” a pair of Formation Flex’s from a local hifi dealer (who are closed but allow home testing!).

I currently have them paired up and I must say I am impressed with the sound quality. Very crisp and clear but lacking low end compared to Sonos (I’m not a bass head but if you are these might not satisfy without a sub).

Having said that I am now even more impressed with Sonos 1s as a stereo pair. I do not think the B&W Formation is worth double the Sonos1. The DSP that Sonos uses is quite smart and does sound good (but this depends on what music you listen to).
The one massive downside of Sonos is the ability to play MQA which is important to me in my main listening rooms (office and living room).

I agree that having manual controls is quite important in smaller spaces especially when you have other people who will need to use the gear (hence Airplay is important as the wife knows how to do this from her phone, ipad, laptop).

Eventually I would like to replace the Sonos with something like the B&W so I have full Roon Ready devices everywhere.

I do like the Muso line a lot and the ability to connect a TV or computer is appealing for the living room (I’m not that fussed about Dolby or 5.1 just want an upgrade to the TV speaker which of course this would be). And it all will sit nicely within the Roon/Airplay ecosystem.

I have also been experimenting with a Raspberry Pi with RoPieee which works nicely with Roon. Of course I need to factor in amp and speaker costs. I’m waiting for the amp hat for the RPi which I will connect to a pair of passive speakers and compare against the B&W/Sonos. Will post an update when I have done this although I think I know who will win that fight.

Big BUT: RoPieee is Airplay compatible it doesn’t allow you to group the RPi with other Airplay speakers which is kind of a deal breaker for the Mrs. Whereas the B&W/Sonos/Muso all have native Airplay2 which work nicely with each other when using Airplay.

The next step is to try two RPi’s running RoPieee and see if they can be grouped together using Airplay.

It all suddenly gets complicated and the simplicity native Roon/Airplay products is appealing!

Here is an update.

Current SETUP:
Living room: B&W Formation Flex stereo pair with Sub
Office: B&W Wedge, Sonos One Gen 2, HomePod Mini
Entertainment Area: Sonos Formation Arc in 5.1 setup
Family Room: Sonos Move

Experience

It would be a lie if I say my ears can distinguish intricacy of Hi-Res music. But I just love Roon’s interface. However, even with someone like myself I still appreciate B&W Formation suites sound signature. They are just more clear/clean/crisp while listening to the same music.

I have gone back and forth with Sonos, but this is the first time I have owned so many Sonos. Their primary strength to me are two. One is good value. The real benefit to me is continued evolution of the products. For example, the latest addition of Sonos Roam is cool. I use Amazon Music HD. Although Sonos do not support HiRes on Amazon yet, it support Amazon Music. B&W had a promise of updating its software but that took a long time and only just couple months ago they have finally added direct streaming support without a Roon, but their library are abysmal compared to Sonos. I don’t know when if ever they will add Amazon Music.

From Roon side, both B&W and Sonos seems to work well but despite Sonos currently supporting 24 bits/48kHz, Roon and Sonos still only stream at CD quality. Also, Sonos are not Roon ready, and at this point I think it is safe to assume it will never be.

So in summary, I like B&W Formation sound quality and Roon integration, but two combination still lacks my primary streaming source support. Sonos are good value but lacks full Roon integration, and highly likely I would see Amazon Music HD support someday. I wish I could go with a single product line, but I don’t think there is no single best platform.

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