The soundbar concept has been with us a good few years now, pioneered by Polk and Yamaha in particular, but becoming more widespread as people realise that they like the idea of surround sound, but not the sometimes impractical requirements of five, six, seven or more speaker boxes stuffing every corner of the lounge with drivers. And the cables, don’t start. Of course you can hide speakers and cable in walls, subwoofers in corners. But how much better if you could get a result without them.
The worst of the soundbar breed are just big speakers which certainly give you a boost in level and impact over TV speakers, but may not even use the real surround soundtracks to generate your audio. The best of the breed use genuine multichannel signals and incorporate cunning processing to create a solid centre, powerful left/right channels, and an attempt at producing surround sound from angled drivers, usually making use of side walls to ‘bounce’ the sound around you.
We’re delighted to say that the Panorama is not only one of the ‘proper’ soundbar designs — it is a quite spectacular one.
The Panorama is remarkable for its visual presentation alone. Regular readers may remember B&W’s Zeppelin, an iPod dock that shocked the audio world not only because of its price, but by the way it justified its tag with thrilling design, all curves and chrome, not to mention a pretty darned fine sound from your choice of poddage. The Panorama soundbar has clearly come from the same team, sharing a stainless steel backside punctuated by a rubber-covered connection bay and twin down-angled bass ports that use B&W’s dimple-covered Flowport design, which aims to minimise air turbulence by the use of golf-ball style dimpling. From the front the Panorama presents as a sleek 110cm-long lozenge of smiling black-steel speaker grille, beneath which lie just one 25mm metal-domed tweeter, a pair of 75mm midrange woofers, and four more 75mm woofers for surround. Finally there’s a pair of 90mm “subwoofers”; those get an unspecified (but hopefully hi-fi, being B&W) 50W, with another 5 x 25W internal amplification for the other, er, seven drive units.
The richness in presentation extends to the supplied cabling, with the box including not one but two optical cables, a coax digital cable, a normal analogue RCA pair, plus a wall-mounting kit. We found the figure-of-eight mains cable a fiddle to get in — it needed childsized fingers to push it home — but everything else was a breeze so sweet that anyone accustomed to connecting home cinema equipment may pass out with joy at the simplicity of it. We ran one digital optical cable direct from a PlayStation 3, and one from the back of our TV, clicked them home through a little cable-tidying system on the Panorama connections bay and — oh, that was it.
You could equally connect an AV receiver, but since this is designed to replace the complexity of such a system, that’s a less likely configuration. More likely you would connect one or two separate sources, and take the rest from the back of your telly. The Panorama doesn’t extend to decoding of the latest lossless surround formats from Blu-ray, but Dolby Digital, DTS and Dolby Pro-Logic II are all covered.