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Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 review: A standout standalone Atmos soundbar

Andy White
22 Apr 2022
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
899
inc VAT

An attractive design and impressive sound quality help make the Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 one of the best standalone soundbars on market

Pros 
Premium design and build quality
Room-filling sound
Built-in Alexa
Cons 
Only one HDMI port
Height effects could be more pronounced
Currently no multi-room support
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Much like the B&W Zeppelin (2021), the Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 breathes new life into a product that was first launched over a decade ago.

In keeping with its 2009 and 2013 progenitors, the Panorama 3 is a standalone soundbar, designed to function as an all-in-one audio solution for your TV. It’s the first Bowers & Wilkins bar to support Dolby Atmos and sound quality – an area in which B&W products rarely disappoint – is impressive.

The Panorama 3 also scores well on the smart and streaming fronts and, despite missing some features at launch, gives our favourite standalone soundbar, the Sonos Arc, a run for its money.

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Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 review: What you need to know

The Panorama 3 is a 3.1.2-channel soundbar housing 13 speaker drivers powered by a total of 400W Class D amplification. There’s no way to add a discrete subwoofer or rear speakers – if you’re after a modular setup, B&W’s Formation range includes a soundbar and all the components needed to create a surround sound home entertainment system.

Support for Dolby Atmos means you can enjoy immersive audio complete with height effects, while AirPlay 2 compatibility makes streaming from Apple devices a doddle. There’s Bluetooth connectivity, too, and supported codecs extend to the high-resolution aptX Adaptive, in addition to SBC and AAC.

Built-in Alexa enables voice controls, once you’ve linked your Amazon account via the B&W Music app, and the app also provides integrated access to streaming services, which include Tidal, Deezer, Qobuz and TuneIn. Spotify isn’t available via the app but doesn’t need to be as the bar supports Spotify Connect.

Rather than overwhelm you with numerous modes and audio options, the Panorama 3 keeps things very simple. There’s no room optimization technology like Sonos’ TruePlay or Bose's ADAPTiQ, nor will you find any EQ presets tucked away in the app. Instead you get simple sliders for adjusting bass and treble levels. Things are very straightforward on the connection front, too: you’ll either hook up the Panorama 3 to your TV via the solitary HDMI (eARC) or optical digital input on the back of the bar.

Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 review: Price and competition

The Panorama 3 will set you back £899, putting it in direct competition with the Sonos Arc and Bose Smart Soundbar 900, both of which cost the same price. The Arc has the advantage of support for Google Assistant in addition to Amazon Alexa and sounds fantastic, too. It’s currently our favourite standalone soundbar but, like the Panorama 3, only incorporates a single HDMI port. The Bose option benefits from room calibration technology and sports a stylish design, though reflections off its glass top prove particularly distraction at night.

Samsung typically pairs its more expensive soundbars with subwoofers but does have a non-Atmos standalone option in the Samsung Terrace. The Terrace costs £999 and has an IP55 rating that certifies it water resistant, meaning you can use it indoors and outside. It’s specifically designed with wall-mounting in mind and works with Amazon Alexa, although this isn’t built-in so you’ll need a compatible smart speaker to access voice controls.

Sony’s high-end standalone Atmos soundbar – the HT-A7000 – is rather more expensive at £1,299. It combines a 7.1.2-channel arrangement with proprietary Sony digital signal processing technologies and delivers an extremely immersive Atmos experience. You can also add a wireless subwoofer and rear speakers to the package, although doing so will push the total price above £2,000.

Another pricey option is the Bang & Olufsen Beosound Stage, which has a list price of £1,499. It’s beautifully designed and sounds great, though low frequencies aren't as well controlled as they might be, leading to explosive action scenes and bass-heavy songs sounding a touch flabby.

Dearer still is the Sennheiser Ambeo, an enormous all-in-one soundbar that has 13 drivers, a huge range of connections and a 3D sound experience boosted by Sennheiser’s Ambeo virtual speaker technology. At £2,199, it’s the priciest standalone bar we’ve tested but sounds phenomenal and supports DTS:X in addition to Dolby Atmos.

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Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 review: Design and features

The design of the Panorama 3 is sleeker than its predecessors but it’s still very much a soundbar designed for use with a large screen TV. Measuring 1,200 x 140 x 65mm (WDH), the Panorama 3 spanned the entire width of my 55in Philips OLED 806/12; anything smaller than that and your setup will look a little ridiculous.

Despite weighing 6.5kg, it’s surprisingly slender, and that height of just 65mm means it can be slipped under most TVs with minimal fuss. The Philips 806/12 I tested the Panorama 3 with lacks the necessary clearance under its panel but the bar still proved slim enough to avoid obstructing the screen.

Regardless of the TV it’s in front of or under, the Panorama 3 looks smart. You’d expect as much from a soundbar costing £899 but I think it has the aesthetic edge over its Sonos, Bose, Sony and Samsung rivals. While a soundbar of its size is hard to think of as discreet, the Panorama 3 looks good enough to get away with how much space it takes up.

If you’d rather wall mount the Panorama 3, B&W includes a wall bracket to do that, which is praiseworthy given you don’t get one with either the Bose Smart Soundbar 900 or Sonos Arc. Also included are an HDMI cable and a power cable for connecting the bar to the mains.

One thing you won’t find in the box is a remote control. You do, however, get capacitive touch buttons located on a hidden control panel on top of the soundbar. These only become visible when you move your hand close to them and cover basic actions such as increasing and decreasing the volume, muting the Alexa microphone and playing or pausing audio.

The buttons work perfectly but you’re more likely to use the voice controls or your existing TV remote which can operate the soundbar via HDMI eARC. Alternatively, if you’re using the optical input, you can have the soundbar learn your TV remote’s commands in the B&W Music app.

I praised the app in my review of the Zeppelin, and the Panorama 3 makes use of it in much the same way. Streaming services you subscribe to can be linked to the app and accessed directly through it, with support currently extending to Qobuz, Tidal, Deezer, TuneIn, Last.fm, NTS and SoundCloud.

The built-in Alexa feature works effectively, too, with the soundbar set to a moderate volume, the microphone picked up my commands consistently without me having to ever raise my voice. You’ll have to speak rather louder to compete with the bar at full volume but, unless you’re hosting movie night in a dedicated home-theatre room, you shouldn’t need to push the Panorama 3 to its volume limits.

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Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 review: Connectivity and audio formats

Bowers has taken a minimalist approach with the Panorama 3’s physical connections. While the second-generation Panorama housed three HDMI inputs, an HDMI output, AUX-in and subwoofer out, the Panorama 3 makes do with a single HDMI eARC socket along with Ethernet and optical ports.

I’d personally like to have seen a couple of HDMI inputs enabling 4K passthrough but the Panorama 3 doesn’t lose ground on similarly priced competitors in this regard. Both the Sonos Arc and Bose Smart Soundbar 900 are also limited to a single HDMI eARC socket.

Streaming over your Wi-Fi network is the Panorama 3’s bread and butter but, for the time being, it can’t be included in a multi-room system with speakers in Bowers’ Formation range. The company says this feature will be added in the coming months, though.

There’s Bluetooth 5 connectivity in addition to wireless streaming and support for the aptX Adaptive codec means you can stream high-resolution formats as well.

Dolby Atmos is the headline-grabbing audio format when watching TV, but Dolby Digital TrueHD and Dolby Digital+ are supported, too. There’s no support for Atmos’ big rivals, DTS:X or IMAX Enhanced, however.

Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 review: Sound quality

Although the Panorama 3 doesn’t use any components taken directly from B&W’s prestigious loudspeaker range, it does come with a sophisticated arrangement of 13 drivers in a 3.1.2 configuration.

The forward-firing left, centre and right channels each have a pair of 50mm mid-range cones alongside 19mm titanium dome tweeters. These tweeters are decoupled from the rest of the system to avoid energy interference from the other drive units and deliver the cleanest treble possible. Two centrally mounted 100mm subwoofers deliver the Panorama’s low-end response, while a pair of 50mm drive units, angled upwards, are dedicated to delivering Atmos height effects.

Each tweeter, pair of mid-range cones, Atmos driver and subwoofer is powered by an individual 40W amplifier module, resulting in a total power output of 400W. That’s plenty for most living rooms and enough to fill larger spaces as well.

An impressive speaker arrangement and lots of power are all well and good but without any method of tweaking the EQ or optimising audio based on the layout of the room it's in, the Panorama 3 needs to sound great out of the box. Fortunately, while there is room for improvement in a couple of areas, it performed admirably across the various types of content I exposed it to during testing.

Unsurprisingly, it’s at its most immersive when delivering Atmos content and did a good job handling the soundtrack of Marvel’s new superhero miniseries, Moon Knight. The first three episodes feature a fair amount of dialogue interspersed with action sequences, including a frantic car chase and the titular antihero being pursued by the Egyptian god of the Moon.

Dialogue was well articulated, with the comical nuances of lead actor Oscar Isaac’s English and American accents clearly evident. There were a few occasions when voices sounded a little recessed and not quite as sharp as they could have been but never to the point where I struggled to understand what was being said.

Disparate elements of demanding scenes with lots going on sounded defined yet pleasingly cohesive and the bar handled rapid switches in tone very smoothly. One minute, the Panorama 3 would deliver delicate whispers with appropriate airiness, and the next it would be flexing its muscles as a bloodthirsty jackal crashed through a pair of wooden doors.

The subwoofers added decent impact to the latter event but they don’t deliver that hit to the chest you get from a beefy discrete sub. The same can be said for any standalone soundbar, however; this is ultimately a sacrifice you make for the practicality of an all-in-one unit.

It’s a similar story when it comes to how well Atmos effects are articulated. In one scene, during episode two of Moon Knight, the protagonist is scaling and jumping between rooftops on a dark London evening. The swooshes and swoops from the upward-angled Atmos drivers helped accentuate the vertical motion but I felt the effects could be more pronounced. That proved the case with Atmos content more widely; it’s effective without being jaw-dropping.

The Panorama 3 is physically pretty wide and it generates a decent sense of sonic width but it’s no match for the breadth of sound created by the side-firing beam tweeters on Sony’s HT-A7000. Stereo separation is impressive, however, and it always felt like sound was coming from the correct side of the bar based on what was happening on screen.

TV soundbars often fall down when playing music but the Panorama 3 impresses on that front, too, both while streaming over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Treble clarity is first-rate and there’s plenty of punch in the low-end without the pair of subwoofers upsetting the audio balance. Bass is tight and controlled, vocals crisp and the bar remained dynamically composed no matter what genre of music I threw at it.

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Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 review: Verdict

The B&W Panorama 3 is an impressive all-in-one soundbar that will appeal to those seeking a premium Atmos option that sounds good across various content types without requiring user adjustment. Movies, music and TV shows all get a big boost in audio quality with the Panorama 3 connected and the Atmos effects, while not as impactful as those delivered by the Sonos Arc, help elevate the sense of immersion.

The limited audio customisation options might be off putting for some, and the inclusion of just one HDMI port means other external devices will need to take up the precious ports on your TV, but the positives far outweigh these drawbacks. Alexa proves a trusty assistant, the B&W Music app is an intuitive hub for music streaming, and the soundbar itself delivers room-filling sound in a good-looking package.

If you want voice assistant flexibility and class-leading Atmos height effects, the Sonos Arc remains the standalone soundbar to beat in its price bracket. But the Panorama 3 isn’t far behind on the Atmos front, and for looks and musicality, has its number.

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