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December 2019

Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge

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This wireless speaker beats the competition by some distance

The Formation Wedge is part of B&W’s Formation series. It’s a standalone wireless speaker, but is also optimised for multi-room integration with other Formation series models, such as the excellent B&W Formation Duo active stereo speakers.

Formation products feature B&W’s proprietary wireless mesh system, which partners with your home wi-fi but works independently to enable hi-res streaming and a basically imperceptible one microsecond sync between speakers. The Wedge supports 24-bit/96 kHz hi-res audio, too.

There’s a three-way driver configuration under the silky, honeycomb-like shell. Two 2.5cm double-dome decoupled aluminium tweeters (from B&W’s 600 series) sit 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 15cm, 80W subwoofer brings the driver total to five – and the amplification up to 240W.

From the front, you’d think this was a flat-backed, half-moon ellipse, but it’s actually an interesting, if slightly divisive, 120-degree wedge design. At 23cm tall, it’s larger than you might imagine too, 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 the feel of quality craftsmanship.

For playback, there’s Apple AirPlay 2, aptX HD Bluetooth and Spotify Connect, and like the rest of the Formation range, it’s Roon Ready. B&W recommends using the Roon app as your main music playback controller, but you also need the dedicated B&W Home app for initial set-up.

While Roon is strongly recommended, it is possible to play music without it; just launch your preferred streaming service and look for the Wedge under available devices. You can also adjust EQ settings using the B&W Home app.

 

 

 

 

 

Stellia - What Hifi - ★★★★★ - 03/2019 - WHAT HI*FI?

Bowers & Wilkins PX7

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Hugely impressive noise-cancelling headphones

The PXs were among the first headphones to support Qualcomm’s aptX HD Bluetooth – a high-quality codec that enables the wireless transmission of 24-bit hi-res audio – but the PX7s and their siblings, the PX5 on-ears and PI3 and PI4 sporty earbuds, are the first aptX Adaptive headphones to hit the market.
Announced at IFA last year, the next-gen Bluetooth technology combines the 24-bit/48kHz capability of the now widely adopted aptX HD w

ith the benefits of aptX Low Latency (improved synchronicity of audio and video content between your source and headphones).

So, if you’re using the PX7s for gaming or smartphone apps, the sound in your ears should be instantaneous. The aptX Adaptive codec has also been designed to improve the robustness of the wireless connection by taking into account the external environment around you to reduce the frequency of drop-outs.

The other headline feature is noise-cancelling. Here, pressing the button on the headphones’ left cup allows you to cycle through modes (‘low’, ‘medium’ and ‘high’) by. ‘Low’ is fine for keeping office chatter and background noise out, while ‘high’ effectively cocoons you in silence, even during the noisiest real-life scenarios.

Want to hear a plane announcement or dip into a conversation quickly without having to take the headphones off? Pressing and holding the noise cancellation button for two seconds will initiate an ambient mode.

While the original PXs boasted 22 hours of wireless ANC playback, the PX7s increase that battery life to 30 hours – in line with the class-leading Sony WH-1000XM3s. A 15-minute charge via the USB-C port provides five hours of audio playback.

The PX7s are clear evolutions of their predecessors, with a branded badge and fabric finish on the elliptical earcups. There have also been some revisions to the design in the name of improved comfort.

Most crucially, the arms are now made from a custom carbon fibre composite that is lighter than the metal used in the PXs’ design. While we’ve always found the PXs comfortable, they were heavy enough to take a toll on your head during longer periods of listening – but at 310g, compared to 335g, the PX7s do feel notably lighter. The headband is well padded, while earpads clamp with a calculated pressure and provide a good seal.

Elsewhere, the cables are now hidden within the band, and the earcup’s central oval badge is now flush against the new, softer fabric for a more streamlined aesthetic. The Space Grey finish survives, although the PXs’ Soft Gold has been swapped for a sophisticated Silver. We’re pleased to see big ‘L’ and ‘R’ graphics inside the respective ear cups, too.

The PX7s look and feel a little cheaper than their predecessor, but we’d take them for their extra comfort. Ultimately, they’re still one of the more striking pairs of headphones on the market.

Apart from the noise-cancelling button, the playback buttons are located on the right earcup in a logical configuration. The power slider initiates Bluetooth pairing mode, as well as play, pause and skip track and volume controls in a three-button strip. As with the PXs, the PX7s have a proximity sensor, so when you lift an earcup from your head, music is automatically paused – while returning it to your ear conveniently restarts playback.

What’s less convenient is the PX7s’ inability to fold into a more compact form for slinging in a bag. The cups only twist flat to fit into their oval carry case.

Stellia - What Hifi - ★★★★★ - 03/2019 - WHAT HI*FI?

Focal Stellia Headphones

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Product Description

Opening the cognac-colored, simulated leather clad slipcase containing the headphones, it’s immediately apparent that Focal has paid meticulous attention to every design detail. Inside is a zippered, two-tone brown fabric, hard-sided case that’s molded to perfectly protect the enclosed Stellia headphones. Also included in the slipcase is a smaller foldout box containing an exquisitely styled leather wallet containing product information. The wallet looks like it could be from Coach.

There are also two cable options included. The first cable, intended for use with mobile sources, is four feet in length and is fabric-covered in a cognac and mocha striped design. It has a 3.5-millimeter TRS jack and a threaded 3.5-millimeter to quarter-inch unbalanced female adapter plug, along with right (R) and left (L) 3.5-millimeter TRS plugs at the headphone end that plug into their corresponding ear cups. And with an impedance rating of 35 Ohms and sensitivity of 106dB SPL / 1mW at 1kHz, the Stellia is certainly easy to drive with virtually any mobile source.

The second similarly fashioned cable, intended for use with either desktop or full-size systems, is 10 feet in length with a 4-pin XLR plug at one end and the same right and left 3.5-millimeter TRS plugs at the headphone end. Given its 4-pin XLR plug, this cable seems to have been specifically designed to mate with Focal’s new Arche amplifier/DAC.

The headband and aluminum yoke assembly of the Stellia is the same mechanical design used in the flagship Utopia open-back model. Aesthetically, however, the look of the Stellia is unique in that the padded headband and memory foam ear cups are covered in cognac and mocha colored full-grain non-perforated leather that is buttery soft to the touch. The leather just exudes quality. The aluminum yoke assembly is anodized in a matte cognac finish, as are the ear cup housings. The headband/yoke assembly is of the slide-and-click adjustable variety. The patterned stainless-steel ear cup outer lattice cover design is finished in anodized mocha and holds in place cognac leather covering the back of the ear cup. The middle of the ear cup back cover sports the Focal logo, which cleverly camouflages a tuned vent specifically designed to dissipate the lowest frequencies without disruption. Focal says this solution enables excellent decompression, removing the resonances typically encountered with closed-back designs.

The full range drivers include a 40-millimeter M-shaped, pure Beryllium dome, the same geometry used in the Utopia. Beryllium was chosen for Focal’s closed-back flagship because of its extreme rigidity, light mass, and excellent damping characteristics. The drivers in total, though, are different from those of Utopia. They have a frameless 100-percent copper voice coil with new surround that is about 50 percent lighter to account for the closed-back design and properly control their displacement. There are computer designed, pyramid-shaped indentations on the inner wall of the ear cup behind the driver that act to diffuse the extra energy, avoiding any potential back wave distortion. There is also EVA foam located behind the driver to absorb part of the excess energy as well. The frequency response of the transducers is rated at an impressively wide 5 Hz to 40 kHz.

To prevent initial reflections of high frequencies of the ear pad, the inner part was designed to consist of a 50/50 mix of acoustic fabric covering the memory foam and leather. According to testing performed by Focal, this combination results in a very linear response of those upper frequencies.