A home cinema soundbar from a company that manages to make iPod docks look stylish, sound great and cost less than a fortune sounds like a great idea.
See the B&W Panorama in the flesh, as it were, and it looks a great idea for those with flatscreens sized 40in and above. Peek at the price, however, and wonder if this is such a good idea after all.
The stainless-steel cabinet is lustrous and agreeably swoopy. The spec sheet yields some promising information – a total of 175 Watts of power, for example.
Two 9cm low-frequency drivers receive 50W between them, and there are five helpings of 25 divvied up between two 7.5cm midrange drivers, two sets of two 7.5cm surround drivers (positioned at the curved ends of the bar) and the 2.5cm metal dome tweeter (bang in the middle). There's a discreet wall bracket supplied too.
No HDMI input or HD decoding
For £1500, though, the provision for Dolby Digital or DTS sound via one of two digital coaxial inputs or a single digital optical socket isn't quite the up-to-the-minute arrangement we were expecting. The B&W also has a pair of stereo RCA inputs and a pre-out for a subwoofer.
No HDMI input means no LPCM, or HD decoding, so the Panorama needs to do what it does to a high standard. And it's immediately impressive where low frequencies are concerned.
They can be a little ponderous, no matter how you attempt to trim the sound, but it digs deeper than seems feasible for a product of this type and offers fine tonality.
Problems in the midrange
High frequencies are similarly expressive. Beyond the low end it's a fast, attacking listen with plenty of dynamic shove and it goes plenty loud enough.
The midrange, though, where so much crucial movie information resides, has a strangely nasal quality to it, leaving actors sounding like they're making megaphones of their hands before delivering the dialogue.
The surround sound effect the Panorama manages to achieve is half-hearted. It's a wide stage, certainly, but effects never seem to be even alongside, never mind behind, your seat.
The contradiction of the B&W is not, it turns out, that panorama is a visual noun when Panorama is an audio product. It's more that B&W is charging a premium price for what appears to be a premium product, but is in fact no way to make the best of a Blu-ray player's audio abilities.