Watching the original Night at the Museum on Blu-ray, I was literally knocked back by the Panorama's ability to move air in the scene where Larry (Ben Stiller) rides off on a horse with Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams). The bass had the sort of extension and impact I normally associate with a quality separate subwoofer. The surround effect also was pretty impressive, with the Panorama delivering a surprisingly room-filling soundstage for a single, centrally located unit. While it couldn't quite match the performance of a discrete surround speaker system, the overall effect was immersive and engaging. Dialogue clarity was another real strength; I rarely found myself needing to use the B&W Panorama's dialogue- enhancing "voice" mode.
The tortuous "Creaking Pipes" chapter from the DVD of The Haunting helped me explore the Panorama's dynamic upper limits. From my 12-foot seating distance, its maximum volume setting delivered 95-dB peaks - more than enough to annoy the neighbors.
Movies obviously work best for the Panorama's Surround listening mode, but with stereo music the choice isn't quite so clear-cut. Switching to Stereo mode directs most of the sound to the outermost left and right drivers, resulting in a big sound field with good stereo separation. But a problem here is that while these drivers are designed to deliver wide-range sound, they don't deliver the same high-frequency extension as the center channel's dedicated tweeter. A third mode, Wide, blends in the surround channels along with just a bit of center-channel output, but its overall tonal balance is much the same as Stereo. Both modes worked especially well with solo piano or chamber music. But with rock or blues like John Lee Hooker's "Annie Mae," I preferred the broader bandwidth I got from the Surround mode, which benefits from the center channel's added high-frequency extension.
A soundbar like B&W's Panorama is the obvious solution for audiophiles whose living situation makes a full surround sound system little more than a distant dream, but who want to upgrade the feeble sound capability of their new flat-panel TV. And while most soundbars can be best described as cheap and cheerful, it's clear that B&W has taken the challenge much more seriously, creating a single-box solution that delivers a truly dynamic and satisfying listening experience.
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