Setup and operation is aided considerably by an onscreen menu system via HDMI, which is quite rare for a soundbar. It’s not pretty but it is very useful, affording you an unusually high level of flexibility to get the best results in any room.
A click of the menu button on the remote brings up a basic grey box with four categories – Sound, Room Setup, Tuning and Device. Under sound, you can adjust the bass and treble levels, select between ‘Table’ and ‘Wall’ Bass EQ modes and set the level and distance of an external sub if you have one connected.
Under Room Setup, you can set the viewing distance, shift the sound for off-centre listening and choose what type of walls you have in your room (soft, medium or hard). Tuning allows you to alter the gain, delay and activate the Night mode. When you adjust the volume, a display appears onscreen showing you the level, which is also very useful.
The remote is that rarest of beasts – a zapper that’s stylish and practical. It’s a gloss-black, egg-shaped device, which sits snugly in the hand and features just seven buttons arranged in a cross. These include volume, input, sound mode, power and mute, but when navigating the onscreen menu they double up as direction controls.
In action the Panorama 2’s sound quality is simply astonishing. Close your eyes and you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between this and a separates system. Its sound has a heft and potency you simply don’t expect from a soundbar.
We played The Dark Knight Rises on Blu-ray, and during the movie’s epic action scenes it easily fills the room with powerful, large-scale sound. As Bane blows up the city, the explosions are rich and meaty, engulfing the room in waves of bass that never feel stifling or muddy.
Remarkably, this achieved without the help of a separate subwoofer, as the built-in drivers do a remarkable job of reproducing bass on their own. It’s deep and pounding but expertly controlled. Gunshots are tight and punchy, while the brutal sounds of Bane and Batman scrapping it out in the sewer are dispatched with gusto. Were you to add a sub then it would probably take things to the next level, but in our opinion it would be overkill.
At the other end of the spectrum, Panorama 2’s high frequency reproduction is a thing of beauty. Every speck of detail sounds crisp, from the whirr of Batman’s flying machine to the delicate beep of the nuclear bomb’s timer, while the stirring orchestral score is smooth and silky. It’s hands-down the most refined performance we’ve heard from a soundbar.
What’s more, all-important dialogue is clear and layered with bass, making Bane’s prominent voice sound even more warped than usual.
The only downside is that it doesn’t completely convince as a substitute for a surround sound system. Yes the wide sweet spot and powerful sound make it feel immersive, but you don’t get the precisely placed rear effects and atmospheric steering of a physical 5.1 system.
It’s a lot more expensive than most soundbars, but the Bowers and Wilkins Panorama 2 justifies the additional cost with its luxurious build quality, chic styling and astonishing sound quality. Bowers & Wilkins’ sophisticated speaker tech delivers a refined, large-scale sound with potent, agile bass, while the addition of HDMI sockets brings it up to date with today’s sound sources. The only real downside is the price, which could get you a pretty decent 5.1 separates system. But if your heart’s set on a soundbar and have that sort of money to spend, we doubt you’ll be disappointed.