A home cinema soundbar from a company that manages to make iPod docks look stylish, sound great and cost less than a fortune sounds like a great idea.
See the B&W Panorama in the flesh, and it looks an even better proposition – particularly for those with a flatscreen sized 40in or above. Indeed, on first meeting the only negative appears to be that its price will fray your purse strings to breaking point.
Sadly, that’s not the only down side with the Panorama, but more on that later. First, we must pay homage to its design; the stainless steel cabinet is lustrous and agreeably swoopy.
The spec sheet is promising, too, with a total of 175W of power. Two 9cm low-frequency drivers receive 50W between them, and there are five helpings of 2 divvied up between two 7.5cm midrange drivers (positioned at the curved ends of the bar) and the 2.5cm metal dome tweeter (bang in the middle). There’s a discreet wall bracket supplied as well.
For £1,500, though, the provision for Dolby Digital or DTS Sound via one of two digital coaxial inputs or a single digital optical socket isn’t quite the up-to-the-minute arrangement we were expecting. The B&W also has a pair of stereo RCA inputs and a pre-out for a subwoofer.
No HDMI inputs means no HD decoding or LPCM (uncompressed audio), so the Panorama needs to do what it does to a high standard. And it’s immediately impressive where low frequencies are concerned.
They can be a little ponderous, no matter how you attempt to trim the sound, but it digs deeper than seems feasible for a product of this size.
Problems in the midrange
High frequencies are similarly expressive. Beyond the low end it’s a fast, attacking listen with plenty of dynamic shove and it goes plenty loud enough.
The midrange, though, where so much crucial movie information resides, has a strangely nasal quality to it, leaving actors sounding like they’re making a megaphone with their hands before delivering the dialogue.
The surround sound effect the Panarama manages to achieve is half-hearted. It’s a wide stage, certainly, but effects never seem to be alongside, never mind behind, your seat.