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Bowers & Wilkins Formation Flex Review (Speaker)

Rate this speaker:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 47 31.1%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 88 58.3%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 14 9.3%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 2 1.3%

  • Total voters
    151

thewas

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JBL have won a lot of awards for the design of their speakers and headphones, including two generations of their Bluetooth speakers. The sound is no more important than the design and the interface.
That is not true, in their price range Harman portable/bluetooth products usually perform better than most of their competition in blind testing too:


Are seriously now comparing the £180 party JBL Pulse 4 with the £900 Naim Qb2 and £1000 Devialet Phantom 1?
 

DWI

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This is a streaming device so this kind of latency is expected. I don't know you use this device as TV sound anyway.
TV is one of its main purposes. My system works the same, each group creating a mesh, and with Roon and Apple TV+ you can group them. The set-up on the ground floor of my house is currently four zones with 6, 5, 4 and 3 speakers. As it is open plan, for music when entertaining Roon Ready will group them and I have all 18 speakers active. This system is the same and is clearly why B&W made it Roon Ready.
Apple TV+ can also group zones (for movies I use it to combine the groups of 4 + 3 speakers).

Although the connectivity is good, it could be better. A key feature is Spotify Connect, which is almost mandatory these days. My system is Alexa enabled with Amazon HD and Tidal onboard, which you don't get on this. (Naim and some others are Alexa enabled.) I'm surprised about the lack of Alexa, maybe later.

The idea is that you have it throughout your house or apartment. I think I have 9 zones, including two in the bathroom.

Personally, 50w seems a little underpowered, but for movies you are most likely to have the bass unit. My system is much smaller, 75w and -6dB at 40Hz, these look to be -6dB at 60Hz.

Screenshot 2022-05-17 at 08.57.18.png
 

DWI

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Are seriously now comparing the £180 party JBL Pulse 4 with the £900 Naim Qb2 and £1000 Devialet Phantom 1?
No. I'm not.

My son has a JBL and the Naim Qb2 and my wife the Phantom I (Reactor 900w). They are very different products aimed at different customers on different budgets and the sonics are designed accordingly. Things like the JBL primarily need to go loud, the Qb2 sound is excellent and the Phantom I dispersion is superb.

My son (when a poor student) loved his JBL, it's a party device, millions of students have them or similar. One of their main features is to be beer-resistant and drop-proof. Some are fully waterproof. The Naim Qb2 was a graduation present from me, a static device, but he loves the sound and thinks it's really cool, as do his friends. It was way beyond his finances. He uses it exclusively with Spotify Connect.

The Devialet Phantom produces a very even sound with very long throw, so works very well in her clinic. It also has a great advantage for her and no doubt in other similar environments, for example schools, gyms, sports venues, etc. because the hard surface is indestructible and easy to clean (she works with oils). The B&W wouldn't last a week. The Phantom can be wall mounted, but is also easily portable. They make a carry-case because the side speaker covers are thin metal and easy to dent. Previously she used a JBL Flip speaker. The Phantom can go extremely loud, but is not as indestructible as the JBL-type things.

JBL design awards:
 
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fineMen

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It is said that there are "gargling" sounds. Personally I experienced something similar with a badly implemented digital filter for a subwoofer. Such an error cannot be excused. So I voted for "terrible".

I wonder why You still discuss distortion and directivity? The subjective listening test is it ;)
 

bennybbbx

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I have a wireless multi-speaker system for music and AV, each unit is a similar price to this one. Mine is designed by ex-B&W engineers and people from the same design team. Using Bluetooth from a 2021 model LG TV, it is totally out of sync. Using Apple TV+ sending the sound to the speakers using AirPlay, it is perfectly in sync. These units have AirPlay. Often you can adjust the timing. These B&W units also have AptxHD Bluetooth, so even with Bluetooth they should sound pretty good, certainly a lot better than non-HD Bluetooth. The sound from my LG TV using Bluetooth is terrible, as well as being out of sync. My units also have Roon Ready and uPnP.

This review does not consider the set-up options and connectivity, but to a large extent that is what these systems are about, and it has excellent connectivity.

This product range is the successor to Zeppelin, which they still sell. If you compare the connectivity, Zeppelin only has standard Bluetooth, does not have Roon, but does have AirPlay2 and Apple TV+ 4K.

This is the best value Roon Ready system and is likely to be a key selling point.
It may be £350, but I suspect most users will have several units.

The next best value with Roon are Naim Qb2 (£900) and Devialet Phantom 1 (£1,000). We have both of those in our house and they are much loved. The Devialet's dispersion makes it brilliant for a clinic workspace. The Naim Qb2 designer is also associated with the B&W design people.

As for the importance of design, I've seen the Zeppelin being used on a $70m yacht.

JBL have won a lot of awards for the design of their speakers and headphones, including two generations of their Bluetooth speakers. The sound is no more important than the design and the interface. The Naim app and connectively for the Qb2 is one of its big selling points.
View attachment 207147

can read this B&w main usage is wifi. wlan is fast. can use with rtpmidi to play realtime midi keyboard in remote. blue tooth 4 have around 50 ms. thats 0.05 sec and not notice on TV. This speaker have more than 10 more delay as bluetooth 4. bluetooth 5 should be even more faster . so what B&W do in the speaker that it have so much delay
 

sarumbear

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My image of B&W is they produce stuff that are usable* (Note: Debatable) but don't expect measurements comparable to studio monitors.
Here we go again...
 

DWI

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can read this B&w main usage is wifi. wlan is fast. can use with rtpmidi to play realtime midi keyboard in remote. blue tooth 4 have around 50 ms. thats 0.05 sec and not notice on TV. This speaker have more than 10 more delay as bluetooth 4. bluetooth 5 should be even more faster . so what B&W do in the speaker that it have so much delay
There is no way in the world that this system has a speed issue. We would know about it as it has been selling very well for about 3 years. I looked at it about 2 years ago, at a major department store AV department, and they said it was a very good seller, especially the soundbar. It has a strong focus on AV use.

Personally, my system has about 50 wireless units, plus all the other stuff in the house, usually I have about 85 active IP addresses. I use a Ubiquiti WiFi6 system (recommended on another UK audio forum), very standard, very good price, faultless. I don't know about other systems other than Netgear Nighthawk Mesh (rubbish - went in the bin), but the only connectivity issue I had with Ubiquiti was solved by fixing IP addresses to specific access points. There is a lot of structural steel in my house and it kills wifi connections.

It really depends how you use it. There should never be a problem using Spotify Connect, because it is onboard, but if you are using Roon and have a lot of units in a house with a poor network/wifi set-up, you could easily have a few problems.

I don't know the streaming capacity of these units, mine are 24/192 PCM and I have no delay or drop-out.
 

5th element

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B&W have been working with the same design consultancy since even before Nautilus, including the curved design of the 800 series, Zepellin (a massively successful product) and their headphones. You cannot separate the design and engineering of these products.

This isn't exactly true the main designer of the Nautilus left B&W and made Vivid Audio. As far as I understood he did this because B&W started to move in a 'we like audiophool design approaches' direction and he didn't.
 

Ageve

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This isn't exactly true the main designer of the Nautilus left B&W and made Vivid Audio. As far as I understood he did this because B&W started to move in a 'we like audiophool design approaches' direction and he didn't.

That's correct. Nautlius (and the Nautilus 800 series) were the last B&W speakers designed by Laurence Dickie.

With the 800D/S series, they started using 6dB/octave crossover for the tweeter, and the tweeter was no longer "time aligned". That's why it's moved forward compared to the older 800N models.

The reason why? Apparently fewer crossover components = better sound, even if the frequency response and dispersion is worse. :confused:

They also started using "audiophile" (Mundorf) crossover parts, cables (Van Den Hul) and binding posts (WBT).

With the later 800 Diamond series, they continued their effort to reduce performance by removing crossover components, and it's gone downhill since.
 

DWI

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This isn't exactly true the main designer of the Nautilus left B&W and made Vivid Audio. As far as I understood he did this because B&W started to move in a 'we like audiophool design approaches' direction and he didn't.
After leaving B&W he set up another business and only started on Vivid some years later. His most recent project is with design people from the B&W days. I don't know where you get this stuff about "audiophool design approaches" and I can't imagine what products you're talking about. They brought out some seriously good speakers after he left, using the Nautilus technology he'd worked on for many years.

B&W seem to have been pretty innovative and the result has been a lot of success, making products lots of people like. I think the Zeppelin was the first non-Apple electronic product sold in Apple stores. But I suppose that's good reason for people to hate B&W even more.

None of which had anything to do with this product, which is designed to be a highly flexible zonal multi-unit system.

As far as Amir's comments on the app, apparently B&W were recommending people to use Roon from when they launched it in 2019, so their own app is a bit underdeveloped. As I use a product like this (but much better in several respects), there is no better system to control it than Roon.
 
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gsp1971

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DWI

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Use the link below to check the lab reports (frequency response) of the last few models. Is there anything you would buy?

I have no idea, so far as I can recall the B&W Formation is the only B&W product I've listened to for about 10 years.
 

pseudoid

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DWI

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Why? By whom?
Should it be tolerated?

May require a 0.57second delay line...

Does it come with a built-in '0.57second delay line'? :facepalm:
The answer is here:

There is a 500ms built into the mesh for audio playback, which apparently gets them all playing perfectly in time, is part of the design and done on purpose. All the AV configurations in the diagram above include a soundbar. The connects optically with no lag and then creates a mesh with any other devices, most likely a bass unit.

So I suspect that for AV you have to use the TV sound output that gets distributed by the soundbar. If you were to use Airplay from Apple TV+ you would get lag. My system is the other way - I get sync delay using the TV's Bluetooth, but not using AirPlay by Apple TV+.

So everything should be synced if you understand how it works and use it properly.

Apparently there is something called ALLM (Auto low latency mode).
 

pseudoid

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The answer is here:
Thanx @DWI,
I get it now. It's like the "55MPH saves lives" signs.:oops:
So, technically, it means that the HDMI signal should really not be routed thru an AVReceiver, that will incur another ~500mS delay.
Delays of any sort gives my brain the hibbyjibbies, like some people feel when eating processed food byproducts.
My two year old Rotel AVpre/Pro has about half a second (continuous processing) delay and probably would not have purchased it, if I had known!
Unacceptable!
 
OP
amirm

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I wonder why You still discuss distortion and directivity? The subjective listening test is it ;)
I am leaving the door ever slightly open that this was specific to use or Roon in my setup.
 

Axo1989

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This isn't exactly true the main designer of the Nautilus left B&W and made Vivid Audio. As far as I understood he did this because B&W started to move in a 'we like audiophool design approaches' direction and he didn't.
And audiophiles obviously don't care for Vivid speakers at all. Oh, wait ... :)

While he described his motivations post B&W Nautilus differently, Laurence Dickie is an interesting guy:

PR: I read somewhere that, after developing the B&W Nautilus, you felt a lack of "challenge" in the consumer marketplace, which led you to develop drivers for the professional and sound-reinforcement spaces.

LD: There was an element of a lack of challenge, although I’m sure I could have made challenges. Certainly a good one would have been to get the same performance at a fraction of the cost, or to develop a three-way system as good as a four-way. But really, [it was] just an interest in transferring my evolving philosophy into a different sphere, namely, the professional field. I was seeing a lot of bands at the time and enjoying live music. But an awful lot of those live performances, I felt, were blighted by the quality of the systems they were played through. I felt at the time, "Hang on, I can probably do something here. As long as I maintain my philosophy and go into a different area, I think I should be able to really contribute something." It seemed like a real challenge, and it looked like a lot of fun as well.

... from an interview with Soundstage (there's a part two and a video thread here as well).
 
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DWI

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And audiophiles obviously don't care for Vivid speakers at all. Oh, wait ... :)

While he described his motivations post B&W Nautilus differently, Laurence Dickie is an interesting guy:

PR: I read somewhere that, after developing the B&W Nautilus, you felt a lack of "challenge" in the consumer marketplace, which led you to develop drivers for the professional and sound-reinforcement spaces.

LD: There was an element of a lack of challenge, although I’m sure I could have made challenges. Certainly a good one would have been to get the same performance at a fraction of the cost, or to develop a three-way system as good as a four-way. But really, [it was] just an interest in transferring my evolving philosophy into a different sphere, namely, the professional field. I was seeing a lot of bands at the time and enjoying live music. But an awful lot of those live performances, I felt, were blighted by the quality of the systems they were played through. I felt at the time, "Hang on, I can probably do something here. As long as I maintain my philosophy and go into a different area, I think I should be able to really contribute something." It seemed like a real challenge, and it looked like a lot of fun as well.

... from an interview with Soundstage (there's a part two and a video thread here as well).
I'd read that a while back and it is clear from that, and elsewhere, that he is thoroughly engineering based, and a very practical engineering at that. Vivid speakers may look great, but form follows function just as it did with Nautilus.

Sure, he left B&W and set up a company designing professional drivers, but the suggestion that it was because of audiofoolery by B&W is just nonsense. He had something he wanted to do and went off and did it, simple as that.

He had another idea and has gone and done that since Vivid, but Vivid is still coming up with new products, including a new baby Vivid speaker. I've avoided listening to Vivid speakers because I'd expect to want to buy a pair.

The other idea of his is directly comparable to the Flex Formation, but is better in almost every respect. The Flex has a pair of drivers, including a 100mm mid-bass that goes down to -6db at 60Hz (per Amir). Dickie's new unit is a dual concentric 80mm driver in a 95mm diameter enclosure going to -6dB at 40Hz. The unit is invisible and has a waveguide that completely eliminates it as a point source. The sound quality is astonishingly good. It has a lot more connectivity, more than most streaming products (Spotify, Tidal, Amazon HD, Apple Music and Radio are all onboard, plus Roon Ready, Bluetooth and AirPlay2, together with Alexa, with Google Connect to follow), it is completely wireless, is more powerful than the Flex (75w vs 50w) and the DAC operates at a higher sample rate (24/192 vs 24/96 for Flex). So far as @amirm thinking 0.57s latency is to be expected, the latency between these units is 0.1 milliseconds and using Apple TV+ the sync is perfect. Plus it does more than sound. The product costs about $450, which is more expensive than the Flex in the UK, but cheaper than in the US.

So, as I have a system in my house like Formation, Formation could be better and offer a more for the money. For example, they announced Alexa control 2 years ago but I don't think it's been done.
 

fineMen

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I am leaving the door ever slightly open that this was specific to use or Roon in my setup.
I did the same with the (commercial) subwoofer I mentioned. But with a direct signal from my tablet, monitored by a headphone the grumpy residue was identified to come from the sub.
Would it be possible to double check the effect for the "Flex"? It would be, from my perspective, a no-go. Hence to confirm it seems crucial--to me at least.
 
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