The Panorama is Bowers and Wilkins’ (B&W) first high-grade soundbar, with convenient designs and superb build quality.
Basically, uses will agree that this submarine-shaped chassis is different from the others out there in the market. The Panorama is designed for wall mounting underneath a flatscreen TV, and boasts a 5.1 surround sound experience.
The soundbar has a 1” dome tweeter, six 3” mid/bass drivers and two 3.5” woofers. It sports 6 channels of digital amplifier. For such a compact design, it weighs 31lbs and measures 43” x 7.5” x 5.25”. The mirror-black stainless steel finish makes this another B&W stylish design model. The Panorama may fit nicely with any 42” to 47” flatscreen tv, but its curved ends allow it to match perfectly with any bigger panels.
There is no video input in this system. Users are paying the high price to get a fully concentrated quality in audio performance. While it does not support video input, it does support TV to one of the analog inputs, and perhaps a Blu-Ray player or set-top box to one of the digital inputs.
Inside, the Panorama has nine drivers to deliver a 5.1 channel surround experience. The center speaker is the most important with two 3” cone midrange drivers flanking its sole tweeter. A pair of 3.5” ported woofers handles all the bass, followed by four additional 3” drivers for the front left, right and surround channels. The last four drivers are placed around the Panorama’s curving ends to allow sounds direction towards the room’s side walls and reflects back to the listener.
There is a small, central panel that features a display to show volume level, selected input and surround mode information, together with a row of four buttons to control basic functions.
Setting up the B&W Panorama
This is probably one of the easiest sound bars to set up. There is no video circuitry, hence the system is ready to play the moment it connects to the source. It is designed to either sit on a table or wall mounted with its own bracket. A switch in the menu recalibrates the speaker for each position. Purchase comes with a pebble-shaped remote control and it is this remote control that will turn on the menu for recalibration. There is no on-screen menu, but the Panorama display panel is large enough to be seen.
Audio signals are handled with the Panorama’s three digital and two analog inputs. The user’s tv has to act as a switcher since there is no video connection. Users simply need to run an audio output from the tv to one of the Panorama’s inputs and it automatically handles the audio for whichever source that is active. The multiple inputs means users can connect to an iPod or CD player without having to turn on the TV to listen to music. This is a simple set up that users can and will appreciate.
For basic operation, users only need to select the correct input and choose between three available surround modes. There are also additional menu options that leads further refine setup to improve performance. Users may let the system know the position of the soundbar as opposed to the walls of the room, compensate for off-center placement, adjust tonal balance and even compensate for reflectivity from walls. The bass management settings allow users to configure an optional external subwoofer and tweak its bass response for shelf or wall mounting.
The good playback for the audio seems like a compensation for its lack of video connections. All six channels are active in surround mode, and sounds are crisp too. The front and center speakers face directly forward, while the rear speakers mounted on the curve of the speaker use the side and back walls to bounce soundwaves.
Without rear speakers, Panorama does not really deliver a true 5.1 channel surround sound experience. However, it does disperse the audio to create a tangible sense of spatial depth. The sound reproductions are clear and the separation is impressive. While most other sound bars may make some action packed movies sound muddled and compressed when there are too many objects at the same time, Panorama is able to keep the sounds of these objects clear and distinctively different from each other. Dialog enhancement is available but not often necessary. Dialogs are clear and there is no real need to use Panorama’s dialog enhancing voice mode. The voices, effects and music are clearly differentiated within the mix and projects well into the room. Basic tone adjustments can also be done to suit the space with hard or soft furnishings. These adjustments do make quite a difference.
The diminutive subwoofers are excellent. There is no necessity for an additional subwoofer, and bass volume is quite impressive. Overall, the sound is generally well balanced without the need for any additional bass enhancement. The system is able to provide bass that is usually available only with a quality separate subwoofer. Although it does not match the performance of a real surround speaker system, the overall effect was immersive and engaging.
The stereo mode cuts out all but the front left and right channels. The result is an impressive 2.1 channel that projects well into the room. The sounds penetrate a wide area. The downside about Panorama is that it cannot handle the latest loss-less surround format such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. Support is only provided for legacy 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS, Blu-Ray and DVD player’s downmixed stereo PCM output.
Panorama works better for movies than for music. Switching to stereo mode directs most of the sound to the outer left and right drivers, resulting in a big sound field with good stereo separation. Yet, the system does not deliver the same high-frequency extension without the center channel’s dedicated tweeter.
Pros and Cons
Setup is simple and the design is a real winner. The system pretty much matches with any flatscreen tv and monitors available in the market, and delivers quality sounds that will make audiophiles happy.