Bowers & Wilkins vs Bang & Olufsen: which premium speaker brand deserves a place in your home?

We look at two premium audio giants to see which wins out in design, audio power, and more

Bang & Olufsen Beolab 18
(Image credit: Bang & Olufsen)

When it comes to the best home theater systems, pricing tends to be as little or as much as you want to spend, with quality varying wildly across the board. Want a $20 speaker that sounds a bit tinny but does the job? There are plenty of those. But there are also brands that have a stellar reputation for quality and luxury in equal measure, as long as you have the cash.

Two of the most well-known are Danish brand Bang & Olufsen and British brand Bowers & Wilkins, which have both produced iconic speakers in association with top designers and whose names have become synonymous with products for the design-savvy audiophile.

But which one is the smartest choice when you're in the market for the best surround sound system or Bluetooth speaker? We've looked at what each brand has to offer and which wins out in key areas.

Bang & Olufsen Beoplay A9

Bang & Olufsen Beoplay A9 Bluetooth speaker with optional Google Assistant

(Image credit: Bang & Olufsen)

Bowers & Wilkins vs. Bang & Olufsen: Bluetooth and smart speakers

Both Bowers & Wilkins and Bang & Olufsen offer a range of Bluetooth speakers, though the latter has more choices of smart speakers in its lineup. This is presented as an optional extra for many otherwise non-smart Bluetooth speakers, such as the Beosound Balance, Level, and striking Beoplay A9. Upon purchase, you have the option to include Google Assistant.

Bowers and Wilkins have the iconic Zeppelin speaker, which comes with built-in Alexa. The exception to B&Os commitment to Google is the Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 (2nd Gen), which comes with stripped-back Alexa, as well as being a portable Bluetooth speaker.

Bowers and Wilkins have two basic Bluetooth speakers - the Formation Wedge and the cheaper Formation Flex.

Directly comparing the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge ($999) and the Bang & Olufsen Beosound Emerge ($799), the former beats out the latter in terms of sound quality, with a better frequency range and extra drivers. Both have AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect, while B&O adds Chromecast.

Bowers & Wilkins Formation Bar, subwoofer and Flex Duo

Bowers & Wilkins Formation Bar

(Image credit: Bowers & Wilkins)

Bowers & Wilkins vs Bang & Olufsen: Surround sound and home cinema

If you're looking for the best of the best TVs, then Bang & Olufsen has you covered. The brand currently has three impressive models - the Beovision Harmony (which made our list of the best 8K TVs), the Beovision Contour (opens in new tab), and the Beovision Eclipse (opens in new tab). All have their own built-in soundbar and cost anywhere between $7,000 and $19,000.

While Bowers & Wilkins doesn't have TVs, it has a lot to offer the home cinema more generally. Starting with the best soundbars, B&W has the Panorama 3 and the Formation Bar (opens in new tab), the latter of which is part of the brand's larger Formation range of speakers. The two differ quite a lot in style, with the Panorama 3 opting for a more demure aesthetic.

Comparing the Formation Bar with Bang & Olufsen's Theater (opens in new tab) soundbar - one of two offerings from the brand - B&O's offering is clearly designed to integrate with the rest of the home's design, with a speaker cover, wall bracket, table stand, and additional decorative covers all included off the bat.

And, while the Beosound Stage (opens in new tab) is a sleek, flat, fabric-covered speaker that doesn't necessarily stand out, both the Panorama 3 and Formation Bar are clearly intended to be statement pieces and are both much larger than the average soundbar.

Bang & Olufsen Beolab 18

Bang & Olufsen Beolab 18 floorstanding speakers

(Image credit: Bang & Olufsen)

Then there is the matter of surround sound, which is a specialty of Bowers and Wilkins, with a large range of bookshelf speakers, subwoofers, floor-standing speakers, and built-in units to pick and choose from. The Formation range alone has the Duo bookshelf speakers (opens in new tab), Formation Bass (opens in new tab), and previously mentioned Formation Bar - everything you need for a sleek yet powerful surround sound system.

All of this said, Bang & Olufsen wins for aesthetics in this arena with a range of distinct, flashy floor-standing speakers that could be said to eclipse the more utilitarian design that Bowers and Wilkins have gone for. If the B&O soundbars are designed to blend in, floor-standing speakers like the Beolab 90 (opens in new tab) and Beolab 18 (opens in new tab) do the exact opposite.

Bowers & Wilkins 607 S2 Anniversary Bookshelf Speakers

Bowers & Wilkins 607 S2 Anniversary Bookshelf Speakers

(Image credit: Bowers & Wilkins)

Bowers & Wilkins vs Bang & Olufsen: Our verdict

Bang & Olufsen has a broader range of speakers, whether that's Bluetooth, Google-enabled devices, TVs, or home theater speakers. Though some of its offerings are stripped back and more minimalist, many are big and bold and would work well as statement pieces in a lounge or home cinema room.

Meanwhile, Bowers & Wilkins has a better reputation for sound quality, and its smaller selection of products adds to this aura of quality over quantity. While the Zeppelin and items in its Formation range have a lot of visual pizazz, the brand produces a lot of surround sound elements that seemingly prioritize sound quality over aesthetics.

Of course, both brands produce speakers that look and sound fantastic and have the price tag to match. If you want a single speaker - with or without smart home integration - we would recommend Bang & Olufsen, while Bowers & Wilkins is probably the best choice for audiophiles looking for the ultimate surround sound setup.

Caroline Preece
Smart Homes Ecommerce Editor

Caroline is the smart homes ecommerce editor for Livingetc, covering everything tech for the home, from smart speakers to air purifiers and everything in between. She is passionate about the role that technology and smart devices can play in daily life, enhancing the home without sacrificing personal style and carefully chosen interiors. In her spare time, she can be found tinkering with bulbs, soundbars, and video doorbells in an effort to automate every part of her small home. Previously, she lent her expertise to the likes of Expert Reviews, IT Pro, Coach, The Week, and more.