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Bowers and Wilkins Panorama 3 review: Competitive soundbar with Dolby Atmos

In the Panorama 3, Bowers and Wilkins strikes the perfect harmony between sound performance, build quality, and price.
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Written by June Wan, Tech Editor on
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The Bowers and Wilkins Panorama 3 soundbar offers a powerful driver system in a well-kept exterior.

Bowers and Wilkins is synonymous with studio-grade loudspeakers and audio systems used by industry professionals, including the sound engineers behind Marvel's Avengers. Most notably, it's the brand of choice within Abbey Road Studios, the home of music legends The Beatles.

What does this all mean for the company's newly-released Panorama 3 soundbar? Well, besides carrying a heritage of experience and industry backing, there's a lot riding on the third-generation soundbar to excel at its sole purpose: Being a high-fidelity, all-in-one audio product with a cost that's more competitive than ever.

Over the past few weeks, I tested the Panorama 3, watching blockbuster movies, gaming, and jamming to my favorite tunes. Here's how my experience went and why I think it's third time's a charm for the Bowers and Wilkins soundbar.

Pros
  • Sleek and minimal design
  • Dolby Atmos spatial audio
  • Capacitive touch screen controls
  • 13 speaker drivers produce a rich sound
  • HDMI eARC future-proofs the soundbar
Cons
  • App pairing process can be quicker
  • 3.1.2 channel benefits smaller rooms than large
  • Volume control can be more intuitive

The Panorama 3 is a self-reliant soundbar, to say the least. It's designed so that you don't need to set up additional satellite speakers or wireless subwoofers to acquire a full and immersive audio experience. Bowers and Wilkins achieves this by implementing 13 drivers across the 47.6-inch soundbar. See below for the Panorama's key specs.

Specifications

Dimensions

Height: 65mm (2.5in), width: 1210mm (47.6in), depth: 140mm (5.5in)

Weight

6.5kg (14.3lb)

Drivers

3x 19mm Titanium dome tweeter, 6x 50mm Woven glass fibre cone bass, 2x 50mm Woven glass fibre cone Atmos drive unit, 2x 100mm low profile bass unit

Power output

400W

Frequency response

43Hz - 48kHz

Connection ports

1x HDMI eARC, 1x Digital Audio In, 1x RJ45 Ethernet, 1x USB-C

Bluetooth connections

Bluetooth 5, aptX Adaptive, AAC, SBC

Technical features

HDMI eARC, Dolby Atmos 3.1.2, Dolby True HD, Amazon Alexa, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect


On paper, the Panorama 3 looks rather promising. Bowers and Wilkins has managed to squeeze in a wide range of speakers throughout the soundbar, capable of up to 48kHz in frequency response. That means the device can output more natural and precise audio, especially when listening to higher-frequency sounds like cymbals and shattering glass. More on the soundbar's performance later.

Design

Believe it or not, soundbars come in all shapes and sizes. Beyond aesthetics, the industrial design of the products plays a significant role in audio output and how sound travels from it and into your ears.

Bowers and Wilkins takes a more minimal and chic approach with the Panorama 3. The soundbar is hexagonal, with a mesh cloth and aluminum build that make it fashionable with most TVs setups. I'm particularly a fan of how slim the soundbar is. At 2.5 inches, the Panorama 3 is shorter than its closest competitors: The Sonos Arc (3.4in) and Sony HT-A7000 (3.25in). That gives you all the more flexibility with placement -- both on and off a mount.

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The slimness of the Panorama 3 makes it easy to mount against a wall.

June Wan/ZDNet

Speaking of which, a wall mount comes included with the Panorama 3, though most users will probably keep the soundbar on a tabletop. Either way, I'd advise you to station the unit a couple of inches in front of your TV to get the most unobtrusive and surround sound experience.

Housed on the front side of the soundbar is an array of six 50mm woven glass fibre cone bass drivers with three 19mm titanium dome tweeters. This front-facing setup ensures that you'll be hearing an accurate sound output from left to right. And above those speakers are two 50mm woven glass fibre cone Atmos drive units and two 100mm low-profile bass units. In short, that's where you'll hear the lower 43Hz frequencies and get that deep and bass-heavy Dolby Atmos sound stage.

Also on top of the soundbar is a capacitive touch screen, with controls for volume, play and pause, and an indicator for app pairing. The LED uses motion-sensing technology to light up when it detects your hand above it and dims down when left idle. However, I didn't find myself using the touch panel all that often because the Panorama 3 was paired wirelessly to my phone for remote controlling.

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A capacitive touch screen provides essential controls at a tap.

June Wan/ZDNet

That said, the soundbar does not come with a dedicated, physical remote control but instead lets you pair your TV remote to the Panorama via the phone app. During the initial setup, the app will prompt you to press and hold the volume keys of your remote to match the functions with the soundbar. Afterwards, you can adjust the volume levels like how you normally would on the TV. The issue that I have with this feature is that my TV would only indicate volume up or down when pressed and not the specific numeric value. This made it difficult to tell where the audio level was whenever I booted up the TV.

I tested the Panorama 3 with a 75-inch Samsung QLED, and the two looked and worked harmoniously. In general, the 47.6-inch soundbar should suit TVs that are 50-inches or larger. It also helps if your TV supports HDMI eARC connection, as there is only one HDMI port at the back of the soundbar. That's alongside an ethernet port for network controls, a power slot, a USB-C port for servicing, an optical in port, and a reset button. With a single HDMI cable being the only thing needed to pair to a TV, I had no trouble setting up the soundbar, and you likely won't either.

Also: ZDNet's most recommended 75-inch TVs

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Stored in the back of the soundbar are various ports and a reset button.

June Wan/ZDNet

App experience

Given the minimalistic nature of the Panorama 3, you'll have to resort to the Bowers and Wilkins app to fine-tune the treble and bass levels of the soundbar and other audio settings. Just make sure you're downloading the right one; There's a Headphones app, DB Sub app, and Music app -- all labeled with the Bowers and Wilkins branding in the app store. The latter is what you'll want.

Once that was downloaded, and I prompted the connection between my phone and the soundbar, it took approximately 15 minutes to fully pair. That's a long time for a Bluetooth connection, and at a certain point, I was questioning whether the app, my phone, or the soundbar had an issue.

Besides the slow pairing, I found the Music app functioning as intended, with some minor stutters here and there. The app lets you stream hi-res music, podcasts, and playlists from services like Deezer, Tidal, TuneIn, LastFM, Qobuz, and Spotify Connect. You can also use AirPlay 2 and Amazon Alexa to broadcast and control the soundbar's audio. All of this makes the wireless listening experience of the Panorama 3 burdenless and intuitive.

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The Bowers and Wilkins Music app lets you tweak the equalizer settings of the soundbar.

June Wan/ZDNet

As I mentioned before, the Bowers and Wilkins Music app can be used to dial the amount of treble and bass that the soundbar produces. I'm more of a mids and highs kind of guy, so I increased the decibel (dB) meter from the default level while keeping the bass value a couple of dBs lower. That made dialogues and tinnier sounds come off clearer and explosions ever so resonant.

Performance

I tested the soundbar in an average-sized, 350 square-foot living room, which seems to be Bowers and Wilkins ideal environment for the Panorama 3. The soundbar's Dolby Atmos 3.1.2 channel thrives in low-flat ceilings, with its top-firing speakers doing most of the heavy-lifting for immersion.

When watching Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse, I was able to hear and almost feel the elevation of the masked hero as he swung from building to building. Towards the end of the movie, when Miles Morales fights Kingpin, the destruction of the trains and collider is enhanced by the two Dolby Atmos drive and low-profile bass units. The sound wasn't uncomfortable to listen to -- which some bass systems can be at higher volumes, and I generally found Bowers and Wilkin's sound signature pleasing to the ears.

Also: The best soundbars to buy

I also used the Panorama 3 as an excuse to binge the latest season of Netflix's Formula 1: Drive to Survive. While immersing myself in the drama and heated exchanges between F1 drivers, the soundbar's titanium dome tweeters made on-track dialogues and voice comms easy to understand, even without subtitles. The Panorama 3 also picked up the finer details, like pebbles and sand when F1 cars skid off the track. In the episode Growing Pains, there's a scene where several cars get into an accident during the first turn of the Hungarian Grand Prix. Not only were the sounds of cars colliding and debris flying all over the place realistic, but I was able to hear the droplets of rain in the background.

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All the Panorama needs is power and an HDMI cable to get going.

June Wan/ZDNet

Surprisingly, I didn't miss having a subwoofer or extra speakers for the traditional, multi-directional sound experience. Instead, the Panorama 3 did a reliable job at making movies and TV shows all the more absorbent to watch, with just enough rumbling to satisfy even bass-lovers. Thanks to the 400W of power output, the soundbar had no trouble covering the larger half of my living room. If you plan on using the Panorama 3 in a high-ceiling room or a wider and more open space, then don't expect it to deliver as full of a sound as conventional home theater systems.

Bottom line

Overall, the Bowers and Wilkins Panorama 3 is an exceptionally well-designed soundbar, with all the wireless chaps that a cord-cutter would need. At $999, it's the first Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbar from the company and carries an array of speakers that make it just as reliable without external subwoofers. For a living room or bedroom entertainment, I'd say the Panorama 3 is a worthy investment. It's also from a brand that has a demonstrated track record for high-quality audio products.

Alternatives to consider

Being priced around $1,000 means that there are some formidable competitors to Bowers and Wilkins' Panorama 3. Here are the best for overall sound quality, performance, and design:

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