Hands on: B&W Formation Bar and Bass Review

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £1899.98
  • Formation Wireless Technology
  • Class D amplifier
  • Opposed Dual Driver technology
  • Wi-Fi, Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Roon and Bluetooth compatible
  • AptX HD Bluetooth

Bowers and Wilkins has plenty of form in the soundbar and subwoofer market. The brand’s PV1D subwoofer arrived in 2012, while the Panorama 2 soundbar emerged in 2013. However, there’s been nary a whiff in those categories since. Until now, that is.

With the reveal of the Formation wireless system, the five-strong product lineup features new efforts in the soundbar and subwoofer categories with the Formation Bar and Formation Bass. B&W’s legacy in the home cinema market is nothing if not solid, so both new products have to live up to big expectations.

Related: B&W’s new Formation Suite is coming for Sonos’ wireless multiroom crown

B&W Formation Bar & Bass – Design

Formation Bar

Similar in length to the Panorama 2 but slightly more compact, the Formation Bar is a wide unit designed for use with TVs of 65 inches or bigger. It shares an aesthetic with the Wedge wireless speaker, sporting a sculpted look that may be distracting at first, but up-close is sleek and svelte.

That isn’t the only characteristic it shares with the Wedge. The width of the soundbar allows for nine – yes, nine – drive units to be placed inside, using the same decoupled driver unit technology for a clearer, less muddied sound.

The engineers at B&W have pushed out the drivers as far as possible for a wider soundstage. According to B&W, this isn’t at a cost to clarity, with the Bar boasting a dedicated centre channel to lift dialogue off the screen and render it in a crisp and clear manner.

Related: B&W Formation Wedge hands-on

In terms of placement the Bar can be put on a shelf, table or on a piece of furniture – so long as it’s positioned directly beneath the TV. Should you want to wall-mount the Bar, a wall bracket is included.

The wireless Bass continues B&W’s unconventional cylindrical approach to design, looking more like a sweet from a Maynards Bassetts Liquorice Allsorts collection than a traditional sub. Weighing 12.5kg, you may want to roll it than carry it about.

The Bass makes use of Opposed Dual Driver technology, with the drive units placed 180 degrees apart and firing out sound from the sides. It also packs in a class D amplifier with Dynamic EQ. With all this technology in hand, it avoids distortion by having its two drivers fire at the same time, cancelling out any vibrations. B&W says the result is a cabinet that’s quiet and still, producing a cleaner bass response in the process.

For best performance the Bass is recommended to be positioned close to the Formation Bar and adjacent to any wall. You can also use the Bass in conjunction with the Formation Duo Active speakers, but this would be for use in a hi-fi setup, not a home cinema one.

Accompanying the Formation Bar is a Toslink optical digital cable for connection to a TV as well as the wall bracket. Both the Formation Bar and Bass come in black finishes.

Related: Best soundbars

B&W Formation Bar & Bass – Features

Formation Bar

Like the rest of the Formation range, the Bar and Bass support B&W’s Formation Wireless technology for swift synchronisation between Formation products and the mesh network that allows for more robust wireless connections.

The Formation Bar can stream in 24-bit/96kHz high-resolution stereo sound and supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity (aptX HD), along with Apple AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect. If you’re a user of Roon you’ll be pleased to learn that the Bar is compatible with that, too.

Touch controls are on the Formation Bar’s top panel and the user can control playback, adjust the volume and and select sources. If you’re not one for getting off the couch, there’s always operation through the Bowers & Wilkins Home app.

For connections Bowers has opted against including a HDMI port – instead, it has opted for an optical connection. On the front and back of the unit is an IR repeater ,so you can “teach” the Bar key commands and operate it with your TV remote.

Elsewhere for connections it’s a similar story with other Formation products. Both feature an Ethernet port if wireless connectivity proves to be spotty, and a USB port for servicing.

Related: What is HDMI ARC?

B&W Formation Bar & Bass – Sound

Formation Bar

For the demonstration we were treated to a scene from 2018’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout, where Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt careers around Paris on a motorbike. Watching on a Philips 65OLED803, the scale of the sound was big and solid, but it didn’t scrimp on a sense of detail, with bullet shots sounding sharp and clear.

It was a well-balanced sound. Lorne Balfe’s score can be cacophonous, especially in the action sequences. Here it was prominent in the mix, but never to the point where it threatened to overwhelm. That it can go loud without sacrificing clarity is notable.

B&W’s claims of clear dialogue rang true; it was easy to be able to pick out what was being said. While I wouldn’t say that a soundbar could ever come close to the stereo imaging of a speaker package, there was a decent impression of space as Cruise’s Hunt dodges between cars on the streets of Paris. Sounds felt as if they were accurately positioned, coming from where you’d expect them to on the screen.

Related: B&W Formation Duo hands-on

After that scene we were then shown a music performance, this time played from YouTube to see how the Bar worked in the context of music. B&W mentioned that more people were consuming music on YouTube than they were on Spotify or through AirPlay, and so plenty of consideration was put into the Bar’s music performance. The results were smooth and detailed, offering an engaging experience that’s far better than the alternative of using the TV’s speakers.

Finally, we were shown a live music performance, but this time with the Bass engaged. The character of the music shone through, something that’s been noticeable across the whole range of Formation products. Also impressive was the integration of the Bar and the Bass. Despite being placed on the floor and towards the side, you could feel the bass towards the centre of the screen, with the Bass able to accentuate the height of the bass impressively

First impressions

Twenty-five minutes was all the time we had with the Formation Bar and Bass, but even in that short time it grabbed the attention. The integration of the Bar and Bass was the aspect that intrigued the most, the scale of the sound combined with the robust bass performance making for an enjoyable listen.

The lack of HDMI will bother some potential buyers, as will the combined price of the Bar and the Bass. The premium performance warrants a premium price in B&W’s eyes, but that also puts it out of the grasp of more than a few.

Nonetheless, it was an impressive showing, as it has been for the rest of the Formation range. It’s likely we’ll see this range expand in the future, but there’s no timescale on when and what products will be added. We’ll be keeping a close eye and will look to review the Formation range in the future.

A ’hands on review’ is our first impression of a product only - it is not a full test and verdict. Our writer must have spent some time with the product to describe an early sense of what it’s like to use. We call these ‘hands on reviews’ to make them visible in search. However these are always unscored and don’t give recommendations. Read more about our reviews policy.

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