Though it's not as recognised for its design aesthetic as Bang and Olufsen, UK firm Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) has been churning out sophisticated speaker designs for years. At the pinnacle of this is the company's insane looking Nautilus, but with products like the and CM speaker range they are beautiful in their own right. But when we first saw the Panorama at CES in January we must say we were a little underwhelmed at its unassuming appearance.
Unlike children, a soundbar is probably better heard and not seen, and so it should be rightly judged on how it sounds first. Is it any good?
Yes, it may look a little plain in the picture above, but it's no less well-made for it. This is a solid piece of work with a metal cabinet seemingly borrowed from the XT series and a black grille. There is a red LED readout on the front, but this stays off most of the time, and so what you'll usually see as the Panorama sits under your TV is a slab of black. The Panorama's grille hides nine separate woofers, including a dedicated centre, and the company's trademark Nautilus tweeter. At the rear of the unit is a Flowport bass port, and the company claims the Panorama's bass response is deep enough as to not require a stand-alone subwoofer.
The unit comes with a pebble remote (which is used to control the main functions) and like the unit itself it is fairly spartan. While it's kind of cute, spending extra money on a universal remote is probably a good choice.
Like Yamaha's Digital Sound Projectors, the Panorama is a soundbar that fires sound beams off your side walls to simulate surround effects. It does this with a series of angled drivers along the length of the unit including a dedicated subwoofer and 1-inch tweeter. Technically, this is a 3.1 system as it includes a centre channel as well.
Unlike its competitors in this price range, the selection of inputs and compatible file formats is fairly limited, and won't be able to take full advantage of Blu-ray movies, for example. It lacks any sort of HDMI input and so won't decode DTS-HD or Dolby TrueHD. However, it will decode Dolby Digital, Dolby PLII, DTS and PCM stereo via its digital inputs. It comes with two optical, a single coax, and two stereo RCA sockets. We would have liked to see a 5.1 analog input, though. Lastly, while B&W claims you don't need one, there is also a provision for a subwoofer out as well.
The Panorama is a "sound" bar only and lacks any video inputs or outputs, and so all of the adjustments are done via the small LED readout. Users can adjust the sound to suit what sort of surfaces or wall types you have (soft, medium and hard), distance from the unit to the listening position, and compensate for any lip sync problems.
If you're someone who likes to keep an eye on the environment as well as your hip pocket then you'll appreciate the Panorama's auto-on feature — the unit will switch on when it detects an incoming signal.