Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge are the best wireless speakers consumer reports 2020. Find other wireless speakers under $100 dollars, and under $50 with Bluetooth connectivity.
How about having just one speaker as your whole hi-fi system, streaming music, looking great, sounding fine. It’s a tempting proposition, especially with premium wireless speakers like these bringing the latest music and multiroom tech to your home.
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Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge Best Wireless Bluetooth Speakers Under 100
The Wedge builds on B&W’s past Zeppelins to deliver great sound from its silky diamond frontage. Nothing much round the back, though.
The Bowers & Wilkins Wedge is part of the recently-launched Formation series, a collection of products which can form a B&W multiroom system throughout your home, all connected at high resolution, and using their own wireless network to do so. The Wedge is one of the Formation highlights, a roughly elliptical multi-driver wireless speaker curving around the front, displaying the silky cloth-formed diamond patterns used across the Formation range, and its rear almost equally beautiful in curving polished wood. It’s a beautiful thing — does it make an equally beautiful sound?
While B&W has come late to the multi room party, it is no newcomer when it comes to wireless speakers. Indeed the company pretty much defined the premium section of that market with the Zeppelin, which began life as an iPod dock before evolving into a wireless model.
There are clear connections between the most recent of those and this new Wedge in both design and sound, and we gather the amplifiers are updated versions of those used in the Zeppelin.
We love the look. From the front, you’d think this was a flat-backed, half-moon ellipse, but it’s actually an interesting 120-degree wedge design.
At 23cm tall, it’s larger than you might imagine, and as such, sits well in a corner. On top of the unit, there’s a small light-up display for basic volume and play/pause functions, while the rear panel has a real feel of quality craftsmanship.
Under that silky diamond cover there’s a three-way driver configuration, with two 2.5cm double-dome decoupled aluminum tweeters (from B&W’s 600 series) sitting top right and top left, with 40W of amplification apiece.
Underneath each of those is a 9cm midrange driver similarly amplified by 40W, and in the middle a single mono 15cm 80W bass driver, bringing the driver total to five — and the total quoted amplification to 240W.
B&W says the drivers fire at angles calculated so that its sound spreads well to every part of a room.As with most of the Formation range, the Wedge is curiously under-equipped when it comes to connections.
Physically, indeed, it doesn’t have any audio inputs at all. There’s an RJ45 Ethernet socket underneath to connect to your network, in addition to the Wi-Fi option. But analogue inputs: zero. Optical or coaxial digital inputs: zero.
Streaming is the only way the Wedge plays.So in that regard there’s Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2, and Bluetooth including the aptX HD codec. It can play from a network share via DLNA, though see below — it doesn’t make this easy, unless (and this seems to be an official recommendation from B&W) you use Roon, which is third-party music-organizing software.
Like the rest of the Formation range, the Wedge is ‘Roon Ready’. B&W even recommends using the Roon app as your main music playback controller, because as we’ll see, the dedicated B&W Home app doesn’t do a whole lot in that area, though you need it for initial set-up, and in a B&W multiroom context.
We’re fans of Roon, but we don’t think it’s for everyone. For starters, it’s pricey for something which organises your music but doesn’t actually give you any. You can subscribe for $119 a year or have a lifetime membership for $699.
It requires a computer or a Roon server component to be permanently on and running its core software, and we find that Roon can run slow if you have an under-powered computer and/or a large music collection (where Roon can take the best part of a day to set up and index your music).
Otherwise yes, it’s a great cross-platform interface, and it connects all networked devices in your home which have AirPlay, Chromecast or Roon ready abilities. But if you’re just buying a Wedge alone, adding Roon is a bit much to ask.
If you’re getting a whole house of B&W Formation (or, given Roon’s mixed-system abilities, other kit), then the solution is more realistic. Anyone less than tech-savvy should, however, consider getting their dealer to install the system, and Roon with it.
Without Roon, you’ll be using your smart device to access the music or music service of your choice, and then streaming it to the Wedge. Apple device owners can use AirPlay, while Android users can use Bluetooth, which supports SBC, AAC, aptX and aptX HD, so that if your phone supports the aptX codec, you should get a near-CD quality stream.
The Wedge can also use Spotify Connect to stream direct from the internet, with your smart device controlling rather than forwarding the stream, which is a preferable solution. Spotify fans should note, however, that Roon doesn’t yet integrate with Spotify; it prefers Tidal.
“With your Formation Wedge in set-up mode” says the nicely brief and well-written manual, “with its Form button illumination pulsing slowly orange, launch the Bowers & Wilkins Home app on your iOS or Android device…” But our Wedge’s Form button, which is at the back of the top, was a steady purple, possibly because the review unit had been used before.
The app didn’t like it — “The Form button must be pulsing orange!” it insisted, suggesting we unplug it, which we did, and reset it using the button underneath for good measure. The Form button was still purple, but after a couple of attempts it deigned to talk to the app anyway.
We told it what room it was in, and gave it a Wi-Fi network (only 2.4GHz, not 5GHz surprisingly). All good. Once you’re connected, the Home app then gets entirely out of the way, preferring a list of things to try — AirPlay, Spotify Connect, Bluetooth — with none of these options linking through to anything; it’s just a list of suggestions, the last being to go and buy a Formation Audio preamp ($1149) if you want to connect anything physically.
We quickly realized also that we wished we hadn’t told the Home app it was in the living room, because now it was named ‘Living Room’, and our Google Home app had already named half a dozen other things ‘Living Room speaker’, which makes targeting rather a lottery.
But that’s our speaker-congested test room rather than a common scenario! We eventually found an edit screen in the Home app and renamed it ‘Wedge’. And as the app suggested, off we went, AirPlaying from Tidal on our iPad Pro.
We were instantly attracted to the sound, which was wide, expansive, underpinned but not swamped with bass, and that bass was punchy and tight.
Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer made an early appearance, its kick drum snap-tight, Tony Levin’s Stick bass full yet clicky on the strings, the horns and harmonies projected wide, bright and airily, and we pushed the level right up — what a level the Wedge can push out while the sound just gets bigger, not thicker, not compressed.
Only at the very last couple of notches was the sound affected so that we quickly nudged it back down. A remaster of Blondie’s Denis sounded clean yet compact, and when a right-channel tambourine played on the bridge, off to the right it was; this is a wireless speaker that not only has stereo speakers, it actually sounds like it does! Streaming John Coltrane’s My Favourite Things, his sax was clearly separated on the right, the drums to the left, while the bass was kept central by that single bass driver.
You could easily use the Wedge right in front of you on a desktop, where you can then also reach out and stroke those silky diamonds; the quality and the openness of the sound thrive with such proximity.
But we’d wondered since first seeing it whether the Wedge would be ideal for being wedged in a corner, since the 120-degree rear curve fits nicely there.
For our tastes this position over-supported the bass, which became dominant and softer, while the distance took much of the stereo sound-staging and width away; we couldn’t enjoy its quality.
We eventually found bass and treble sliders deep in the Home app under device settings, and dropped the bass a couple of notches to tweak it. Better, but we soon brought it back to the front-of-house position to enjoy its true abilities.
It was rather pleasant not to have a product that has so many playback options that it takes a week to try them all! Here there’s Spotify Connect, AirPlay, Bluetooth (aptX HD, if your phone supports it), and there’s network playback joy from Roon if you pay for the software.
Since the manual implied you could play tracks from a network share but doesn’t help you find a way to do it (other than Roon), we tried running a UPnP app (UPnP Extreme) to stream from our storage to our iPad Pro, and then AirPlayed it over to the Wedge.
This worked OK, and since the connections between different units in a B&W Home system allow playback at 24-bit/96kHz, we assume that’s the resolution at which high-res files were playing back, though without detailed information, it’s hard to be sure.
But the Wedge’s clarity again made the most of music arriving this way.Our iPad or the Wedge or the combination wasn’t keen on us switching tracks in Tidal; most times fine, but regularly the next track simply wouldn’t get through, as if jammed in the tubes.
Hard to judge what’s at fault there — Tidal, the network, the iPad Pro, the Wedge? — but it didn’t happen with the other speakers. Going to another track and back usually fixed this glitch.
“We pushed the level right up —what a level the Wedge can push out while the sound just gets bigger, not thicker, not compressed…”
Sonically, then, the Wedge is a hit. Visually it’s a stunner. Operationally, it doesn’t always make things easy — particularly the lack of physical inputs, and the overt minimalism of the Home app. If you’re investing in multiple rooms of B&W Formation gear, the whole thing makes more sense, in order to enjoy integrated music throughout the home, and maybe a Formation Audio preamp somewhere to take physical inputs (though even then, not many of them). Used alone, it’s a lovely-sounding and premium wireless speaker —if you’re sure that all you want to do is stream.