Soundbar Test

B&W Formation Bar Review

With their new "Formation" series, B&W launched a new era for the British company – not just technically but also optically. We've taken a closer look at the new soundbar that is simply called "Formation Bar".

Michael Lang

Design meets Sound

"We didn't just want to make yet another 'me too' product, but to use as many of our high-end genes as possible to bring great sound to the special-effect heavy market of soundbars". This or similar could be read in the official announcements of B&W and some other loudspeaker manufacturers, who want to get their share from the lucrative field of "flat screen supplemental loudspeakers". And indeed, the manufacturer, who is famous for its high end loudspeakers, has packed a whole lot of technology into the very artistically designed "Bar", some of which one would be happy about even in a serious loudspeaker.

The small, barely eleven centimeter high cabinet contains not only three of the British manufacturer's famous double-layer aluminum tweeters but also six 65 millimeter bass/midrange drivers made of fiberglass. Each of these triple units is assigned to a channel – left/right and an independent centre channel – to ensure the highest possible speech intelligibility. But there is more to it than meets the eye, making this soundbar a very pleasing and practical solution. It even receives signals wirelessly, has various streaming options on board and is prepared for multi-room applications.

Bluetooth signals according to the 4.1 and aptX HD standard are just as much a part of it as Apple's Airplay2 technology, Spotify Connect, Dolby Digital and the ability to ally with Roon. Of course, there is also a DSP control and a digital amplifier that can handle 6 x 40 watts. To make sure that it sounds nice and full even at low volumes, the technicians also added a circuit called "DynamicEQ", which adjusts the bass and high-frequency range as required to the reduced sensitivity of our hearing at low volumes.

Here, the connection to the TV is not established via HDMI, but with a Toslink cable. The TV remote control or the B&W Formation Streaming App – which can also be used to set the equalizer functions – is used for controlling. B&W also shows a sense of practicality by including a wall mount as standard.

Useful addition

As a reader of our magazine, you are likely rather demanding with sound in any situation. For this target group B&W has also developed a subwoofer in the Formation series, which greatly extends the low frequency range of the soundbar. The patented cylindrical design is absolutely convincing. On the sides there are two 16.5 cm bass speakers, each of which can easily cope with the long strokes its 250 watt amplifier demands. The oppositional arrangement of the drivers is intended to ensure lowest possible distortion values and thus a clean, structured bass sound.

From a technical point of view, the combination of Formation Bar and Bass are a 3.1 system in two separate cabinets. In this constellation, the Bass not only significantly improved the sound, but was also a noticeably enriching element for movies.

It should be clear that with the noble appearance and clean workmanship together with the multitude of high-quality drivers plus the variety of equipment the Bar didn't turn out to be particularly cheap. However, at 1250 Euros the price of the "Bar" is  absolutely competitive, especially because the delicate bar sounds far more mature than the visual impression would suggest. Largely free of discoloration, with the sound tending slightly towards brightness, the B&W quickly makes the original sound of a flat screen seem unbearable. However, it is important to remember that this soundbar is not a replacement for a hi-fi system worthy of the name, but is designed to save space and ensure a reasonable TV sound, which is particularly useful for movies. With music, there is a system-related lack of spatial reproduction and locatability. Movies as well as music take another big step towards to a holistic pleasure in combination with the compact and easily hidden "Bass", which costs 1100 Euros. Even in very loud and demanding passages, the subwoofer showed almost no weaknesses but convinced with powerful reproduction while keeping voices losing intelligible and clear. All the better that this step can be retrofitted at any time.

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