The Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 is a big, fairly expensive Dolby Atmos soundbar that the company has designed to beat the Sonos Arc on at its own game. To help Bowers & Wilkins achieve its aims, the new soundbar has a lot of speaker drivers, a lot of power, and a lot of control options.
The quality of materials, construction and finish are typical Bowers & Wilkins – that’s to say, they’re pretty much flawless. Connectivity, both wired and wireless, is good – though HDMI passthrough wouldn’t go amiss.
Performance, though, is profoundly impressive almost without exception. The Panorama 3 has scale, fidelity and dynamic potency on its side, as well as a winningly harmonious attitude towards music. If control with abandon, punch with finesse, and scale with precision sounds like your sort of thing, the Bowers & Wilkins will float your boat. But, if you first and foremost came for full-on Dolby Atmos sonic height, it’s possible you’ll be a little underwhelmed.
Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 price and release date
- Available now in the US
- UK and Australian availability in late April
- $999 / £899 / AU$1,599
The Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 Dolby Atmos soundbar available now in the US for $999. UK and Australian availability will come in late April, where it will cost £899 / AU$1,599. No matter the market in which you’re shopping, this is undeniably serious money.
And, more pertinently, it brings Panorama 3 into more-or-less direct competition with the Sonos Arc. The price is very similar, the configuration is very similar… and Bowers & Wilkins will be hoping the eventual acclaim is very similar too.
- 3.1.2 configuration with Atmos Elevation drivers
- 400 watts of power
- Multiple control options
As far as straightforwardly descriptive words go, ‘soundbar’ is right up there. So it will come as no great surprise to learn Panorama 3 looks exactly as a soundbar is supposed to: long and low and full of speaker drivers.
At 65 x 1210 x 140mm (h x w x d), the Panorama 3 is quite a big ‘bar – certainly it’ll look oversized and a bit daft sitting beneath a TV of less than, say, 55 inches. Thanks to a judicious combination of wrap-around acoustic cloth and tactile, perforated plastic, though, it wears its bulk pretty lightly. And that fairly minimal height means it should sit beneath most TVs without getting in the way.
There’s a functional wall-bracket in the packaging, too – so if your TV is wall-mounted your soundbar can be as well. Of course, it’s important to remember this is one of those soundbars with upward-firing Atmos Elevation drivers – so wherever you choose to position it, don’t put it beneath a close surface.
Those two 50mm Elevation drivers peeking through from behind the perforated top surface of Panorama 3 form the ‘.2’ of the soundbar’s 3.1.2 configuration. The three forward-firing left / right / center channels are each made up of a decoupled 19mm titanium-dome tweeter and a pair of 50mm midrange drivers, while the ‘.1’ is in fact two 100mm subwoofers – they utilize an acoustic enclosure that takes up most of Panorama 3’s internal volume.
This extensive complement of drivers is powered by a total of 400 watts of amplification. Each tweeter, both subwoofers and the two upward-firing drivers get 40 watts each, while each pair of midrange drivers across the front of the bar share 40 watts between them.
Physical connectivity is housed in a little recess at the back of the soundbar. As well as a socket for mains power, a ‘reset’ button and a USB-C input, there’s an Ethernet socket, digital optical input and HDMI socket. We’re aware the Sonos Arc is a good benchmark for a product like Panorama 3, but copying its lack of HDMI passthrough is, it should be said, a step too far.
There’s also wireless functionality in the shape of Bluetooth (with aptX Adaptive support), Apple AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect, showing that Bowers & Wilkins is confident the Panorama 3 is as effective for music as it is for movies.
The Panorama 3 is compatible with the Bowers & Wilkins Music control app – in all honesty, as far as movies go it’s really only useful for adjusting volume and confirming the type of soundtrack you’re listening to. But it allows you to integrate numerous internet radio providers and music streaming services, which is nice. And at some point in the not-too-distant future, the app will allow you to build multi-room systems using Panorama, Zeppelin or Formation wireless speakers from the Bowers & Wilkins line-up.
Control is also available via Amazon Alexa, and there are a few capacitive touch controls on the soundbar’s top surface that wake up using a proximity sensor. Plus, of course, if your connection to your TV is via HDMI, you can use your television’s remote to adjust Panorama 3’s volume.
- Dynamic, perky and engrossing movie sound
- Delivers music with proper unity and expression
- Dolby Atmos effect is, at best, subtle
We’ll start with the less good news, if for no other reason than there’s not much of it. When given a Dolby Atmos soundtrack to deal with, Panorama 3 offers an unarguable suggestion of height to the sound – but it’s nothing like as pronounced as that served up by Sennheiser’s Ambeo soundbar, let alone comparable to the effect of having actual overhead speakers. Then again, the Ambeo is way more expensive, and having overhead speakers is quite a bit more of a commitment than buying a soundbar. And anyway, it’s not as if the Sonos Arc is streets ahead in this respect.
Now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dig into the (far longer) list of all the stuff Panorama 3 does admirably. Fire up the Atmos-assisted soundtrack to 6 Underground (which is a barnstorming listen and a mind-numbing watch) and the scale, dynamism and enveloping nature of the Bowers & Wilkins’ performance is hard to overstate.
In terms of tonality it’s naturalistic and convincing. From the rapid, punchy and extensively detailed low frequencies, through the spacious, eloquent and similarly detailed midrange, and right to the bright and substantial top end, the Panorama 3 is confident, coherent and beautifully balanced.
The soundstage it generates is substantial, with significant width to the presentation and – provided you don’t have ostentatiously high ceilings – appreciable height too. At the risk of laboring the point, the height effect here isn’t overt – but it’s undeniable. The soundstage is solidly defined, and effects are steered with real confidence – movement from wide left to wide right is obvious and pronounced.
This is a film that’s dynamic for the sake of it, seemingly scripted to move constantly from a quietly reflective moment to a shatteringly loud gunfight. The Panorama 3, it’s safe to say, absolutely laps up the opportunity to demonstrate its credentials – and, sure enough, it’s able to switch from virtual silence to colossal set-piece overload in a heartbeat. And it remains controled, authoritative and composed throughout.
As far as music is concerned, Panorama 3 is similarly talented, with an even and sophisticated tone and vaulting dynamic potency. Detail levels, too, are every bit as impressive when the soundbar is dealing with music as they are with movies.
The Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 handles rhythms with real confidence, too. Those straight-edged, swift and chunky low frequencies are an excellent foundation on which to build, and they allow Panorama 3 to display genuine sinuousness where audio content of all kinds is concerned. If you’re hoping for a soundbar that doubles as a music speaker, you could do far worse.