Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 review: Dolby Atmos and AirPlay 2 come at a steep cost

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Earlier this spring, Bowers & Wilkins launched its new flagship soundbar in the form of the Panorama 3. Premium design aside, it also arrives with Dolby Atmos and AirPlay 2 to try and justify the steep $999 price tag. But does Bowers & Wilkins actually deliver a worthwhile home theater in the box for the cash? Let’s take a closer look.

Hands-on with the Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3

As someone who has gone from humble beginnings of relying just on my TV’s built-in speakers to getting to test out some of the most luxurious consumer soundbars on the market, I was immediately curious about just where Bowers & Wilkins’ latest fits into the picture. There’s so much to like on paper, so we’re diving in to see how it actually performs.

Right out of the box, Bowers & Wilkins is delivering the kind of premium product that we’ve come to expect at 9to5Toys. The packaging itself is already on par with the price tag, but the actual build of the soundbar keeps the pace. Panorama 3’s design isn’t all too unique and, by most accounts, is the norm for a soundbar. But the mix of the mesh speaker grill and plastic top combos well together to deliver a package that feels well crafted. Another notable aspect of the design is the integrated touchpad, which lets you adjust volume and the like without getting any of the smart features involved. But more on that later.

Bowers & Wilkins carries that over to the feature set, which is centered around an impressive internal speaker array for the Panorama 3. First up are six 50mm woven glass fiber cone bass drivers with three 19mm titanium dome tweeters that are the main components of the home theater upgrade. Then, to enable the flagship feature of Dolby Atmos support, you’ll also find a pair of 50mm woven glass fiber cone Atmos drivers on top as well as two 100mm low-profile bass units. All of that comes powered by a 400W power source.

On the smarts front, you’re looking at AirPlay 2 leading the way. There’s app support for fine-tuning the EQ settings by adjusting travel and bass. But aside from those two tweaks, you’ll have to trust Bowers & Wilkins’ out-of-the-box sound settings.

How does the Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 sound?

Impressive features set aside, how a soundbar sounds is, well, the most important aspect of the package. And on that front, there are two different experiences that the Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 will actually deliver.

The first is the most impressive and fully flexes its capable internal speaker array to dish out Dolby Atmos audio. It’s arguably the biggest selling point of the soundbar and what I was most eager to hear for myself. The most distinct thing I noticed right off the bat was how crisp all of the playback was. Everything from vocals to melodies sounds like it’s actually happening right in front of you, offering what may very well be the sharpest audio I’ve heard in a soundbar.

Though on the topic of Dolby Atmos, the praise doesn’t continue. I was expecting the soundbar to deliver an expansive and immersive experience when diving into series like Moon Knight and anything else that supports the Dolby audio standard. But in practice, through watching and listening to tons of content on everything from Disney+ to Plex, HBO, and Netflix, the soundstage was much more narrow than I’d like to see at the price point.

Otherwise, normal listening is nothing all too special, at least as far as a $999 soundbar is concerned. The same crisp audio remains, just without the full range that’s offered by the upward-firing speakers. It certainly sounds all right, but another thing worth noting is that the bass on the Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 is actually quite impressive for a system without a dedicated subwoofer. I did have to adjust the tuning in the settings to get it as booming as I’d like, but the end result is pretty solid for the sleek form factor.

9to5Toys’ Take

At $999, the Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 soundbar has a lot to live up to. With the sound profile not hitting the mark for me, you’re ultimately better off going with other systems instead. Whether that’s spending a bit more cash for something even more impressive or just going with a more affordable alternative, the price point for Bowers & Wilkins’ latest feels a bit awkward for what’s actually delivered.

The Panorama 3 may deliver some of the crispest audio on the market, but it lacks the wider soundstage that I am sure many will be searching for. I’ve personally found that the Sonos Beam paired with two Play:1 satellite speakers offers a better experience in that regard. And speaking of, you won’t be getting some of the competitor’s features like True Play tuning, either.

The bottom line here is that, in my book, if you’re going to spend $999 on a soundbar, it better wow you. And for all everything that the Panorama 3 does well, Bowers & Wilkins just doesn’t deliver fully on the steep price tag. If you’re already accustomed to the company’s signature audio profiles and tuning, this soundbar will likely continue to impress. But if you’re after replicating the theater experience at home, you’re better off spending your money elsewhere.

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