Testing the B&W Formation Duo

So this is my weekend. Wife and kid are out of town and I get to test B&W Formation Duo.

I’m in the looong process of buying new speakers. I’ve got my heart set on active bookshelf speakers with a sub if needed. My aim is less boxes but it seems that a lot of these active speakers need a box of some kind. My listening space is not optimal and I can’t place the speakers or listening position far from walls. Therefor some kind of DSP to compensate for less than optimal placement would be preferable.

I wish my budget stretched all the way to Dutch & Dutch 8C or Kii Three but 7000€ is my absolute max. Ideally I would like to find my own sweet spot for diminishing returns. A concern is spending a lot on “new” technology that may be commonplace in much cheaper speakers in 5 or 10 years. My current speakers are Genelec G Four with the F-Two Sub.

On my short list is for new speakers are:

  • Genelec 8351
  • Dynaudio Focus 20 XD
  • Buchardt Audio S400 active (Not released yet)
  • B&W Formation Duo
  • Devialet Gold Phantom was on my list but I found out that Devialet does not repair speakers. When the warranty runs out you could be stuck with a very expensive paperweight.

First impression of the Duos: Way to much bass in my room. I need to reduce bass through the app. If I keep these I will need room correction to manage bass. Voices are fantastic. Very present and goosebump inducing. Joni Mitchell on “California” or Hannah Reid from London Grammar on “Rooting for you”. The Duos also seems able to handle a lot things at the same time without losing clarity. Pneuma on the new Tool album is both delicate and hard at the same time.

I will be playing with the Duos and the Formation Audio all weekend. Feel free to comment or suggest good tracks for speaker testing or other speakers I should consider in the price range.

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I have now connected the Formation Audio box. It seems that when doing this I can no longer play wired directly to the Duos. I’m forced to use wireless from the Formation Audio to the Duos. No a big issue for me but would prefer a wired connection.

The reason for using the Formation Audio is to be able to play film sound through optical in from a computer with Plex. It works and synchronization with dialogue seems to be OK. But auto switching between Roon on the network input and the Plex computer on the optical input does not work. This means that I have to open the formation app every time I want to change between the two. That is a deal breaker for me but maybe its just an easily fixable bug.

I’ve managed to tame the bass a bit with a couple of quick measurements in REW. I had two big bass peaks.

Other observations:
The design of the speakers is not my cup of tea but then most of the active speakers aren’t great in the looks department and the Duos are not the worst.

The way the Duos handle both female and male voices continues to impress. There is also a great deal of detail even at moderate sound levels without it sounding analytical.

The imaging is very good at the sweet spot but the sweet spot isn’t very wide.

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After playing with the Formation Duo and Formation Audio over the weekend I can say that soundwise I could live with these speakers. I do have some concerns that make me hesitate to keep them.

The simplicity of the speakers with only network input is elegant but it forces you to also buy the Formation Audio if you want to use them for anything but the supported streaming formats. I my case watching films from a separate source. It’s OK to use an extra box but the limitations of the Formation Audio is a showstopper.

As already mentioned auto switching between sources does not work. That would be OK if there was a remote control that could be integrated with Harmony. But the Formation Audio has no remote. It relies on an app and that app needs some work. Watching a film last night I needed to change the volume from time to time. The volume control in the app became unresponsive. Going back to the main menu revealed that the app was busy reconnecting from time to time but the volume control interface seemed to be working it just didn’t chance the volume.

All these issues points back the proprietary system that the B&W Formation system uses. I can live with speaker, DAC and streamer in one box and thus not being able to upgrade any part of the system. But I can’t live with the limitations in controlling the system. A simple digital input on the speakers would have solved that.

A last observation: The base of the speaker is made of some sort of metal. It gets really hot when playing. I imagine it’s a sort of heatsink for the amps inside. But this morning when checking the speakers after a night of inactivity one speaker was still very hot. This is probably just a bug that will get ironed out with firmware or system updates.

For a music only system with Roon as software the B&W Formation Duo is pretty fantastic in its simplicity. For me the limitations of that simplicity, is too much when using it for other things than music.

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Not much response here – just letting you know that I like reading your user experiences. :slight_smile:

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Yes I noticed that too:) I just thought that I would keep going if somebody at later time needed the info. Thanks for reading.

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I’m enjoying this thread as well. Silently :wink:

Thanks!

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Hello Martin

Thanks for your review… I’m actually looking for a new pair of wireless speakers…
Your experiences are helping a lot…

Kind regards
Andy

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You’re welcome:)

Hi Martin,
I’m also looking for the same setup as you. The last couple of days I listened to Dynaudio Focus 20 XD, ELAC Navis ARB-51 and B&W Formation Duo.
Dynaudio Focus 20 XD has great detail in high and medium range, but lacks bass. Bass also gets distorted when playing on higher volumes. For me this sounded just not they way I like it. I think the sound will irritate me over time. PS: you might consider buying some cheaper Focus 200 XD as they will be the same speaker as the 20 XD after the latest firmware upgrade. Hardware is exactly the same according to Dynaudio.
ELAC Navis ARB-51 sounds very neutral, It has all ranges supported, but some depth is missing for me. They are very easy to listen to though.
B&W Formation Duo sounds to me like the real deal. I’ve listened to B&W 702’s too, which are great but then you also need some receiver and the size of them is pretty huge for my space. Therefor the B&W Formation DUO looks to offer everything I hoped for. I haven’t installed them in my own home yet, also I didn’t play with Formation Audio. I agree that the APP and setup with external sources is not optimal at this time. In january there seems to come a firmware release and APP-update. Let’s wait and see if it makes things better.
For support for my TV I also look into the Formation Bar i.c.w. Formation Flex. I could set them up in a different ‘room’. So when watching a movie I’ll use the Bar and Flex, and when listening to music I’ll use the Formation DUO. Of course all of this comes at a price, so I would start with the DUO and maybe in time I might add some other Formation-components.
I’m very interested in hearing further about your test and selection process.

Kind regards,
Stef

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I have listened several times to the Duo’s and find them very musical and engaging to listen to. In my setup they would replace a complete Lyngdorf with RoomPerfect setup. I still have to listen to the duo’s with the Bass before making a final decision though.

Together with my Lyngdorf system I have used Formation Audio (with Roon/Tidal, Spotify and Airplay) for the last two months. It’s very good soundning, but the app definately needs an update and support for Tidal Direct.

Thank you for your great description. I haven’t tried the Dynaudios yet but have read some reviews that speak of the same things you do. In the looks department they are pretty good looking. Perhaps together with a sub they would work out great. My guess is that perhaps the Dynaudios are very correct in represention (like Genelec) coming from a pro audio company, while the B&Ws are more pleasing/forgiving. I’m aware of the Navis but think they are in the same category as KEF LS50 which is great but I’m aiming for something a tad above.
I’m looking forward to trying Buchardt Audios first active speaker. At some point they had a release date late 2019 but I guess they are delayed.
Not so much more to say about my testing. I use tracks I know really well and that demonstrate deferrent aspects of the speaker. Usability is also important to me. Finally I need to listen to the speakers at home before paying this much money.

  1. Roon nucleus up and running with internal ssd as Music folder. It is connected with ethernet network cable to my Orbi Pro SRR60 netgear router.
  2. Bower wilkins formation duo, roon Ready are my end point. Those are on my wifi network, very good connection. I have 3 orbi Pro satellites SRS60.
  3. I have a Bower wilkins formation audio too.
  4. In Bower home app on my iOS iPad both formation duo loudspeakers and formation audio are in the same zone.
  5. Roon app running on my iOS iPad shows in audio settings my Bower wilkins formation duo and formation audio.
  6. I enable formation duo loudspeakers and chose them to stream/play to from roon app on my iPad.
  7. It seems as a choosen song from my Music folder on roon is playing, but no Sound comes out to my formation loudspeakers.
    When i chose the signal path i can see that it should stream through AirPlay.
    But When i chose AirPlay streaming from my iOS iPad Pro 12,9’’, 3 gen on iOS 13.4.1 it fails and comes with AirPlay error. The same happens on my iphone xs max too.

8.I have rebooted nucleus and erstattes roon software, and restarted my Bower wilkins loudspeakers with no resultat.
No sounds comes out even as it seams that streaming is taking place in roon.

  1. Do i have to use AirPlay to stream from roon to Bower wilkins roon Ready loudspeakers. Or is it RAAT that handels the streaming?

Please help.
Thank You very much in advance.

1 Like

Hi Frederik

Could it be that you under settings have enabled the Duo’s by AirPlay instead of Roon ready? - see below

When streaming it should be with RAAT

Yes, You are quite right duo formation are shown with AirPlay.
But it is not something i choose.
How do i change it to RAAT instead?
Now even AirPlay do not connect to my duo formation loudspeakers.
How do i use roon with my duo audio, wich i use to get CD Sound connected with optical with my ps3.

Thank You very much in advance.

Under Settings>Audio>Duo (AirPlay) click on gear and choose disable. Then under Roon ready section choose Duo and enable.

Still under Roon ready section>Duo click Duo gear tab and choose Device setup. You should see something similar to this

Click Load Defaults and then hit Save.

Return to main Roon window and choose Duo to be your output

image

Choose some music and press Play.

Try this and report back, please.

Thank You very much. Now i understand how it works.

But this is what i get

It is strange because Yesterday i could se both the roon Ready audio formation, under roon Ready section, and under other network devices formation duo as AirPlay.

I just got confused because i have to Bower Wilkins product.

Duo formation audio streaming box and duo formation loudspeakers.

It showed the same ip address for the formation duo loudspeakers under other devices as for the formation audio under roon Ready.

I presumed that something was wrong because to different devices (formation audio and formation duo) Can not have the same ip adress.

Now i have restart, and factory Reset my formation duo speakers from Bowers Home app.

I have reboot roon core and roon server but i Can not get the formation duo speakers shown as roon Ready device, only under other network devices with AirPlay as in the attached picture.

Please help.

Thank You very much in advance.

OK - have you in Bowers Home app checked that the firmware on your Formation units have the latest software? The latest software is 1.7.

Otherwise I suspect it to be a network issue. Could you try using cables from all units to a switch - just as a test?

You could also try and contact the seller of the Formation and get support from them.

Thank You very much again for your help.

HiFi klubben in Denmark, where i bought the Bower Wilkins product does not sell roon and i guess i will get no support there. I Can try though.

May be i should plug off all my Bower Wilkins duo formation and audio.

Then i Can try to just add the formation duo and once thet appear in Bower Home app i will try roon and se if it will show under roon Ready section.

I Can always later add formation audio.

I seems as i am stuck with Living room zone on Bowers Home app.

I choose to forget Living room on Bluetooth connections on iOS.

Now even AirPlay won’t connect to Living room and my formation duo.

Something must be very wrong.

Thank You very much in advance.

Do you live in Denmark? As it happens I’m Danish.

Yes, try one thing at the time - and try using a netwok cable first. You can also flag roon support, they are usually very helpful. But i suspect the issues to be network related and not Roon or Formation related.

Tak, Thank you.

Yes i live in Denmark.
I have just connected both my formation duo loudspeakers with ethernet cable to my router, the same as roon nucleus.
Rebooted roon core and roon server, factory reset my formation duo loudspeakers.
The only thing i get from roon setting audio is under other network devices, with airplay.

My network is opticalfiber 1000/1000 mbps and i am running on orbi pro SRR60 router with 3 satellites orbi pro SSR60 with very good wifi. TX/RX rate (Mbps) is 144/117 on my Netgear orbipro for my Formation duo wifi.

I do not know what to do anymore.
I am running out of options. :frowning:

Thank you very much.

P.S i am quite new to this, how do i flag roon support.