It’s been a few years since Bowers & Wilkins launched the Panorama soundbar. Over 13 years, in fact. Desipite a staggering price tag and no subwoofer it managed to surprise us with very lifelike sound. Impressive from a one-box solution!
Of course, it wasn’t quite the same as a surround system with rear speakers, nor did it have HDMI input. It should also be said that we definitely preferred to use it with a subwoofer. Since it did have the output for one, though.
Six years later came Panorama 2. With HDMI inputs as well as audio return channel (ARC) on the HDMI output. The price was lower and the sound quality was still very good. Although we missed some air right at the top, and the remote control was one of the worst we’d experienced.
The Panorama 2 was also without a subwoofer, because with it Bowers & Wilkins wanted to give us as good a movie and TV experience as possible from just one component. As simple and straightforward as possible, but with the least possible compromise on sound quality.
B&W Panorama 3: Atmos and smart features
Since the Panorama 2 arrived in 2015, a lot has happened. For one, Dolby Atmos has become the leading audio format, and you almost can’t sell a serious soundbar without it today. Secondly, the audio return channel on HDMI has been given more bandwidth and is now called eARC.
This is necessary to get high-resolution sound like Dolby TrueHD, and it’s effectively the only seamless way to get Dolby Atmos out of the TV and into the soundbar. Many also expect a soundbar today to be controllable from a mobile phone.
That’s why it’s time for Panorama 3. Bowers & Wilkins’ first soundbar with Dolby Atmos has both eARC and mobile control with the B&W Music app. It can also be multi-room connected with B&W Formation products and controlled with voice assistant Amazon Alexa.
Uses the TV’s remote control
The Panorama 3 doesn’t have a remote, because with eARC connected to the TV’s corresponding HDMI connector, you just use the TV’s remote to control the sound up and down. You can also control directly on the soundbar, which has a touch-sensitive panel on top.
On Panorama 3, you can’t choose between different sound settings; instead, the soundbar automatically tries to get the best out of the soundtrack. So we’re very curious to see what it does with a pure stereo music track, for example.
Still just one component
The product is still a standalone soundbar, with no subwoofer or rear speakers. The subwoofer output is now gone entirely, so you can’t even connect one by cable. In other words, this is not a soundbar for those dreaming of upgrading to full surround sound. They had better buy the Formation Bar, said Andy Kerr of B&W at the digital launch.
What Panorama 3 is, however, is Bowers & Wilkins’ attempt to create a large, holographic hemisphere of sound surrounding the listener. From a single soundbar that measures a modest 6.5cm in height and 14cm in depth, and is as wide as a 55in TV (121cm). And which can be hung on the wall with an included wall bracket.
13 speaker units
Panorama 3 houses a whopping 13 individual drivers configured in a 3.1.2 setup. That’s left, centre and right channels in front, a subwoofer channel plus two Atmos channels on top of the soundbar.
All three front channels have dual 50 mm midrange drivers with a 19mm titanium tweeter in the centre. That’s nine units in total on the front. Then there are two full-range units on top for the Atmos channels, which direct the sound up towards the ceiling, from where it in turn reflects down to the listener, providing sound from above.
Finally, there are two 100mm woofers on the underside, which alone take up most of the cabinet volume.
Powering it all is a 400 watt amplifier, which provides 40 watts to each speaker unit, apart from the midrange units, where each pair shares 40 watts.
For music too
Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 isn’t just for movies, it’s supposed to take music seriously too. Here you get high-resolution music from services like Qobuz and Tidal, and lossless audio (what we used to call CD quality) from Deezer and other compatible services.
There’s also a Spotify Connect feature, and services like Last.fm and SoundCloud are also supported. More streaming services will be added throughout the year.
Price and availability
Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 is available to buy now and costs €999. We have a test sample on the way, so watch this space!
Mere info: bowerswilkins.com