New Panorama 3 promises an immersive sound bar experience
By Jim Bray
Looking for a sound bar with audiophile credentials? If so, you might want to take a look at a brand new sound bar from British high end audio company Bowers & Wilkins, a bar the company claims "delivers the ultimate one-box immersive audio experience."
That's quite a boast, but is it true?
Well, alas, I have no idea because this sound bar is so new I haven't actually heard it, let alone played with it. But the company has a long and honoured history of making quality speaker products, from the tiny but exquisite P15 wireless ear buds I reviewed last year to the gigantic and lusted after Nautilus floor standing speakers that look and sound spectacular – and retail for a whopping $70,000 Canadian dollars (for the pair, fortunately!).
And, naturally, there's a lot in the middle there, too, including the M-1 satellite speaker you can team up with a subwoofer for a great 2.1 system. They've even made some darn fine computer speakers, such as the MM1's I use currently despite them being over a decade old, and they also make some very nice conventional, over the ear headphones.
And now they're back in the sound bar biz. Why? Well, a good sound bar is a nice way to up the ante from your TV's built in speakers (most of which, in my experience, have crummy sound regardless of manufacturer claims), without having to redesign your viewing room for multiple speakers mounted all over the place, and without having to shell out for separate amplifiers, etc.
Sound bars can be had as smaller, more entry level units, such as Roku's Streaming Soundbar that not only ups your TV's audio but which also turns "dumb" TV's into "smart" ones, thanks to it coming with Roku's streaming capabilities. As a bit of an audio snob, I think the Roku isn't up to the task of offering high end audio performance, but in a smaller and less critical installation it can be just what the doctor ordered.
But a Bowers & Wilkins sound bar! Now, I have never heard a Bowers & Wilkins sound bar, but I've heard enough of their other products to figure this new one is going to be a peach. And for $1399 Canadian it had better be, right?
Yeah, that's a potential sticking point, because you can buy an entire Dolby Atmos system, with speakers, for that, if you look around. But I daresay that would be an apples-to-oranges comparison, like comparing a Toyota Corolla to an Audi A4.
Anyway, the new Panorama 3, the company claims, delivers "powerful, room-filling sound with films, TV, and games from just one elegant, ultra-low-profile and easy-to-use component." Ease of use is nice, of course, and so is the convenience of not having to string wires and speakers all over the place, which is an area in which sound bars shine. Not just B&W's, of course, but any decent one.
So why spring $1399 for one? Obviously, it depends on your budget and your taste and your lifestyle. If home theatre is something you like but don't live for, you may be able to get by with a lesser system. Personally, I prefer having a roomful of speakers for my home theatre, but to each his/her/its own, right?
The Panorama 3 which, as its name implies, is merely the latest in Bowers & Wilkins' sound bar offerings, boasts Dolby Atmos spatial audio capability, which is the current state of the home theatre art and often (if not usually) requires even more wire stringing and speaker mounting than your traditional 5.1 home theatre does (and some of that mounting of speakers – i.e. on the ceiling – could be a real treat to install!). If it works as advertised, and I have no reason to think it won't, the Panorama 3 could be a nice way of getting that spatial sound without all that adapting of your room to the system.
The company says it achieves the Dolby Atmos stuff via upwards-firing drivers that they designed and engineered specifically for that purpose. There's also a Dolby Atmos decoder and processor built right in.
Installation and set-up should be straightforward; Bowers & Wilkins says the Panorama's low profile (2.5 inches tall) "makes it easy to place on a piece of furniture in front of your TV without obstructing the bottom of your screen," and they also throw in (well, include in the price) a metal wall bracket that gives you more choices in mounting options.
Connection also promises to be quite simple: "just one HDMI cable is all you need to link your Panorama 3 to your TV and to share the sound from any other sources you may also have, such as a set-top-box or games console," said the press release. And you can supposedly also use your TV or satellite/cable box's remote to operate the Panorama 3's volume and power functions, which is nice.
The Panorama 3 contains 13 individual drive units, including a pair of subwoofers built right in and 400 watts of amplification.
There are also capacitive-touch 'hidden until lit' buttons on the Panorama 3's top surface, for those who want the extra physical activity of actually getting up and out of your chair to play with the equipment.
And if you want Jeff Bezos to know your every move, you can take advantage of the built in Alexa, which also gives you voice control.
Further adding to the Panorama 3's perceived value is the inclusion of both AirPlay 2 and aptX Adaptive Bluetooth, which means iOS and Android users can stream their favourite tunes to it from their mobile devices – which is as it should be. You also get Spotify Connect, which not only ensures "both high-quality sound and convenient, easy operation," but which is guaranteed (thought not in writing, I daresay) to piss off Neil Young.
That may be worth the price right there!
The Panorama 3 also supports the company's own music app, which they say gives you instant access to such streaming services as Deezer, Last.fm, Qobuz, Soundcloud, TIDAL and TuneIn.
The Panorama name, by the way, is a tip of the old-time Hollywood hat to two film technologies that upped the enjoyment ante back when movies and their theatres were fighting back against the influence of that new beast, television: Panavision and Cinerama.
Bowers & Wilkins isn't just blowing smoke here, either, with its "movie tech" naming; the company has a long and storied history of providing (well, selling, I daresay…), high quality studio monitors used by the folks who take care of the audio for the entertainment industry, including such films as Return Of The Jedi, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, The Lord Of The Rings and The Avengers – all of which offered excellent audio tracks in theatres and at home.
Sure, it's just a sound bar as opposed to a fully-equipped audio studio or an honest-to-goodness Atmos setup but, given Bowers & Wilkins' history, I expect the Panorama 3 (available now) will perform as advertised. So, if you're looking for a product like this for a price like this, you should check out the Panorama 3's during your auditioning sessions.
Copyright 2022 Jim Bray