Bowers & Wilkins, one of high-end's most notable brands, has arguably spurred a movement among its fellow manufacturers by being among the first to focus its efforts upon more lifestyle-oriented products. While Bowers & Wilkins will always be known for its 800 Series loudspeakers or for being the speaker of Abby Road Studios, it's the company's headphones, Air Play and other lifestyle-oriented products that seem to be garnering the most attention lately. While this may cause some of the Bowers & Wilkins faithful to groan, it has opened up the brand to scores of new listeners, both young and old. This is a good thing, as AV needs new enthusiasts to come aboard and usher in a new era within the hobby. If it has to be done via headphones and soundbars, so be it. A love of music is a love of music, no matter what the delivery system. But Bowers & Wilkins isn't churning out lifestyle products aimed at a lower demo with tighter budgets just because it's en vogue. No, the company is bringing decades of knowledge and research in ways few others can and the results more than speak for themselves. Bowers & Wilkins' headphones have been widely well-regarded among consumers and the media alike. The same is true for the company's iPod-centric speakers such as the Zeppelin, and as for the soundbar, well, it is many a manufacturer's benchmark. Whether or not you wholly agree, the fact remains that when the competition wants to see how their products compare to other real-world solutions, they often compare themselves to Bowers & Wilkins.
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As familiar as I am with the Bowers & Wilkins brand, I have never before reviewed or even spent a great deal of time with the company's first soundbar, the Panorama. Unfortunately, now I never will, as the Panorama has since been replaced by the Panorama 2, reviewed here. From the outside, not much appears to be different between the outgoing Panorama and the current Panorama 2. The look is largely the same, as are its dimensions, measuring 44 inches long by five inches tall and seven-and-a-quarter inches deep. It tips the scales at a stout 31 pounds, no doubt partially aided by its smooth, curved stainless steel shell (cabinet). Even the Panorama 2's price of $2,200 is in lock step with the outgoing Panorama. The Panorama 2's outward appearance, like virtually all of Bowers & Wilkins products, is a thing of beauty. The Panorama 2 possesses the same sculptured lines as its predecessor, which you can get a feel for in pictures, though its real-life presence is far more impressive. Also, when installed, the Panorama 2 has a way of making other components around it, mainly HDTVs, feel more upscale - in my opinion of course. There is a small display window located along the top edge of the Panorama 2's fascia. It is motion-activated and touch-sensitive, granting you control over input, volume, power, etc. These controls are a notable improvement with the Panorama 2, as the Panorama featured traditional hard controls.
Around back, the small input/output plate features three HDMI inputs and one HDMI out (with Audio Return Channel). There is an auxiliary/digital audio input (3.5mm) as well as a 3.5mm jack for RS-232 service/support. The Panorama 2 also has a subwoofer output (RCA) in case you wish to add a subwoofer to augment its low-frequency performance. The previous Panorama did not have any HDMI inputs or outputs. This means version 2 is far more simple to set up and also potentially cuts down on cable clutter.
Behind the scenes, the Panorama 2 boasts Bowers & Wilkins' trademark Nautilus tube loaded tweeter technology, as well as the latest Flowport tech. The Panorama 2 utilizes digital amplification throughout, which is powered using a switch mode power supply. Sound is "filtered" through a sophisticated DSP which, along with surround sound-like performance from a single speaker (the Panorama 2), is responsible for decoding Dolby Digital, Dolby PLII, DTS and stereo soundtracks. The Panorama 2 plays host to two three-and-a-half-inch-diameter subwoofers, powered by their own 50-watt amplifier. It also houses two three-inch midrange drivers, as well as four three-inch surround sound drivers or "channels" mated to a single center-mounted one-inch metal dome tweeter. The remaining drivers, apart from the subs, utilize one of five internal 25-watt amplifiers.
As for the remote, it is basically the same as the old remote and shares more than a few similarities with remotes found accompanying other Bowers & Wilkins products, mainly the MM-1 desktop speakers, as well as the Zeppelin Air. It's shaped like a smooth river rock, only larger, and features a few key controls. While not backlit, it's easy enough to operate without having to glance at it, though figuring out which way it's pointed may require a quick look-see.
Unboxing and installing the Panorama 2 atop my shallow console that rests below my 70-inch Vizio E-Series HDTV was a breeze. I went with a table mount installation versus an on-wall one because, well, I review a lot of soundbars and if each one was wall-mounted, my wall would resemble Swiss cheese at this point. However, it should be noted that the Panorama 2 does come with the necessary hardware to accommodate a wall-mounted installation out of the box, at no extra charge. I flipped the Panorama 2 over and attached the four included rubber feet that help raise it up a good inch or so off of whatever surface it's resting upon. With the feet attached, I routed all of my attached devices through the Panorama 2's three HDMI inputs, which included a Sony BDP-S580 Blu-ray player, Dish Network Hopper DVR and Vizio Co-Star GoogleTV device. My Dish Network DVR ran into the Co-Star and then the Co-Star into the Panorama 2, as that is how GoogleTV works, so technically I had an HDMI connection left open for, say, a gaming console or other source component if need be. From there, I simply ran a single HDMI cable from the Panorama 2's HDMI out to one of my Vizio's side-mounted HDMI inputs and was in business. All of the cables were from Monoprice, though they varied in length from one to three meters.
With the Panorama 2 acting more or less like an AV receiveran AV receiver, it meant I never had to switch inputs on my display. Also, because the Panorama 2 has an auto sensing circuit, it also meant I never really had to switch inputs on the Panorama 2 either, so long as I powered down one device and powered up another - pretty cool. Because the Panorama 2 has an HDMI out, it also means that its control and/or setup procedures are now handled via an onscreen GUI, which is rare among soundbars. It's not that the GUI is flashy or even particularly sexy, but it gets the job done and showcases the Panorama 2's ultimate flexibility. As with an AV receiver, you have to tell the Panorama 2 what it's working with, beginning with your distance from it and the makeup of your room, as well as whether or not it is wall- or table-mounted, as all of these factors play a huge role in how the Panorama 2 will ultimately sound. From there, you can mess around with tone controls (treble and bass) and, if you choose to run an outboard sub, even levels. Be prepared to experiment with these various setup features, including side-wall makeup, as each does change the sound a bit here and there. Also, don't think that because you're choosing to table- or wall-mount your Panorama 2 that you should automatically use the requisite setting to reflect such an installation. For whatever reason, even though I mounted the Panorama 2 atop a table, I found selecting its wall-mount option resulted in better sound, at least, in my room.
I'm not trying to suggest that the Panorama 2 doesn't sound good out of the box or that it needs a lot of help and/or tuning. It's just that, with any loudspeaker, experimentation is only going to help extract the most out of your investment, which is worth doing at $2,200.
Once I had everything set and sounding good in my room, I didn't really mess around too much with break-in and simply dove right into my listening sessions.
Read about the performance of the B&W Panorama 2 on Page 2.