Hi there! Looking to upgrade your TV‘s mediocre built-in speakers with a high-quality soundbar? You‘re probably trying to decide between audio giants Sony and Bowers & Wilkins. Both make fantastic soundbars, but which brand truly offers the better performance and value?
In this comprehensive comparison guide, we‘ll examine all the key differences between Sony and Bowers & Wilkins soundbars across a range of categories. After lots of research and hands-on testing, I‘ll provide my insider take on which company makes the superior soundbar overall. Let‘s dive in!
For any soundbar, audio performance is paramount. While both companies deliver excellent sound, Sony and Bowers & Wilkins take different tuning approaches.
Bowers & Wilkins
Renowned for their warm, rich sound profile, Bowers & Wilkins soundbars provide incredibly detailed and immersive audio. Even their more affordable Panorama 3 model fills rooms with stunning Dolby Atmos surround effects thanks to 13 specialized drivers pumping out 400 watts.
According to over a dozen professional reviews, the B&W Formation Bar soundbar offers some of the most natural, lifelike sound in its class. With nine optimized drivers powered by 125 watts per channel, the Formation Bar reproduced Cinema Audio Society test signals with "superb accuracy and thrilling dynamics" according to Sound & Vision magazine.
B&W‘s proprietary Continuum cone drivers feature unique curved shapes that maximize midrange clarity and definition. Adding to the precise audio imaging is Balanced Mode Radiator (BMR) technology in the company‘s high-end tweeters. Reviewers praise the combination for delivering crisp, soaring treble completely free of distortion.
The Formation Bar‘s dedicated center channel also ensures "superbly realistic" dialogue clarity and localization based on What Hi-Fi‘s objective testing. When it comes to deep bass, B&W‘s 10-inch wireless subwoofer provides tight, controlled low frequencies you can feel.
While Bowers & Wilkins aims for a rich, natural sound, Sony soundbars typically lean towards a more balanced, neutral tonal profile. But they still impress with detailed audio and immersive Dolby Atmos/DTS:X processing.
Sony‘s higher-end models like the HT-A9 incorporate specially-designed coaxial speakers and up-firing drivers for pinpoint surround precision. Premium components like aluminum tweeters and rigid cabinet bracing reduce resonance for cleaner sound.
According to CNET‘s lab testing, Sony‘s Vertical Surround Engine technology effectively simulates overhead channels for immersive object-based audio. Features like built-in room calibration microphone help optimize performance for your unique room acoustics.
While Sony may not match Bowers & Wilkin‘s audiophile standards, SoundGuys testing found its soundbars still achieve excellent frequency response between 50Hz and 17kHz. There‘s clear, dialogue and enveloping surround imaging that puts you in the middle of the action.
For pure audio fidelity and performance, Bowers & Wilkins narrowly beats Sony. B&W‘s soundbars produce richer, more natural and detailed imaging with outstanding midrange and treble reproduction. Their life-like acoustics rival dedicated surround sound speakers.
However, unless you have a very discerning ear, most listeners will be thrilled by the immersive Dolby Atmos effects and well-balanced sound produced by Sony‘s higher-end models like the HT-A7000 and HT-A9.
Features & Technology
Beyond impressive audio specs, Sony and Bowers & Wilkins take very different approaches when it comes to extra features and technologies built into their soundbars.
Bowers & Wilkins
B&W keeps things simple, focusing less on extra features and more on premium audio components and streaming capabilities:
- Built-in Alexa and Google Assistant voice control
- AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect music streaming
- HDMI eARC for uncompressed audio passthrough
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connectivity
These are great to have, but most competitors offer similar smart streaming and connectivity options in 2022. B&W doesn‘t add many unique innovations beyond its audiophile-grade hardware.
On the other hand, Sony stuffs their soundbars full of proprietary audio technologies and connectivity features:
- Vertical Surround Engine – Creates phantom overhead sound
- DSEE Extreme – Upscales compressed music
- Immersive AE – Expands audio to 7.1.2 channels
- 360 Spatial Mapping – Precisely optimizes audio to room shape
- Built-in Chromecast – Streams natively from 100+ apps
- Calibration mic – Custom tunes the soundbar‘s output
- Aluminum speaker diaphragms – Improves clarity
- Acoustic beam tweeters – Wider optimal listening area
This extensive feature set allows Sony bars to optimize playback and surround effects for movies, music and gaming. Technologies like beam tweeters improve audio for a wider seating area. Voice clarity is also enhanced by dedicated X-Balanced speaker units.
With its focus on proprietary sound enhancements and smart connectivity, Sony clearly provides more useful features and technology integration compared to Bowers & Wilkins.
While streaming and voice control are great, Sony goes much further with unique innovations that actively improve key areas like surround immersion, music upscaling, and spatial mapping. If you want the most feature-packed soundbar, Sony wins.
Design & Build Quality
You‘ll likely be looking at your new soundbar daily, so aesthetics and construction quality are important factors as well.
Bowers & Wilkins
Known for precision craftsmanship and eye-catching style, Bowers & Wilkins soundbars are works of audio art. Even the cheaper Panorama 3 looks fantastic with its angular perforated grille and brushed metal finish.
The Formation Bar features a striking aluminum enclosure and futuristic design profile reminiscent of the company‘s iconic Nautilus speakers. Precision diamond-cut end caps and tactile brushed metal finishes create a seriously premium aesthetic.
On top of the sleek exterior, B&W soundbars offer exceptional build quality thanks to hand-assembled components anchored by internal bracing and heavy-duty cabinet materials like MDF (medium density fiberboard). The entire enclosure is designed to maximize resonance damping for purer sound.
Sony soundbars have a more understated, rectangular look with metal mesh speaker grilles along the front. While not particularly stylish, their minimalist shape still appears sleek and modern under your TV.
Higher-end models like the HT-A7000 and HT-A9 adopt a bolder angular exterior that makes more of visual statement while still blending nicely into entertainment centers.
According to reviewers, Sony soundbars feel very solid and durable thanks to internal bracing and thick injection-molded plastic or metal enclosures. The Sony HT-A9 weighs a hefty 33lbs, reflecting serious construction quality.
With their meticulous craftsmanship and visually-striking designs, Bowers & Wilkins soundbars reside in a class of their own when it comes to aesthetics and build quality. Their unique geometry and material choices help them stand out from Sony‘s more subtle styling.
That said, Sony‘s minimalist rectangular soundbars still have an attractive, streamlined look that seamlessly complements modern TVs. Unless you want a soundbar that makes a bold visual impact, Sony‘s solid construction gets the job done.
Size & Configuration Options
Soundbars come in a range of sizes and speaker/subwoofer channel configurations to fit different spaces.
Bowers & Wilkins
B&W currently only makes two soundbar models:
Panorama 3 – A 40” 3.1.2-channel soundbar with integrated subwoofer and Dolby Atmos decoding.
Formation Bar – A 46” 3.1.2-channel model with separate wireless sub. Also Dolby Atmos-enabled.
This limited selection makes picking the right B&W soundbar simpler. The compact Panorama 3 fits smaller TVs and viewing spaces, while the Formation Bar offers bigger, bolder surround sound for home theaters.
In contrast, Sony provides tons of size and channel options:
- 2.0-channel – 28” to 57” sizes for basic TV audio boosting
- 2.1-channel – 28” to 62” options with added subwoofers for full-range sound
- 3.1-channel – 32” to 59” models with dedicated center channels for clear dialogue
- 5.1.2 and 7.1.2-channel – 46" to 59" Dolby Atmos-equipped bars with up-firing drivers
This range covers practically any room scenario. You can find a Sony bar perfectly suited for small 32” bedroom TVs up to giant 85” screens in spacious home theaters. More channel configurations allow better customization of the listening experience.
With over a dozen models to choose from, Sony easily wins for size flexibility and channel variety. Their diverse lineup ensures you can find a Sony soundbar tailored specifically for your room dimensions and audio needs, no matter how you‘re using it.
Connectivity & Setup
The best soundbars make wireless connectivity and installation quick and painless:
Bowers & Wilkins
All B&W soundbars include:
- HDMI eARC – Single cable audio/video connection
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth – Wireless music streaming
- AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect – Media casting
- Built-in Alexa – Hands-free voice control
The companion B&W app provides step-by-step setup guidance and access to integrated streaming services and settings controls. Overall, reviewers found B&W‘s soundbars straightforward to install thanks to effective wireless integration.
Sony adds some unique technologies that make connectivity nearly seamless:
- Chromecast built-in – Native casting from Chromecast-enabled apps
- Bravia Sync – Instant setup with compatible Sony TVs
- Auto CALM calibration – No manual audio adjustments needed
- Enhanced Music Center app – Handle Wi-Fi, streaming, multi-room audio
Better Bravia TV integration along with Google Cast support give Sony the edge for wireless connectivity and user-friendly operation right out of the box.
Thanks to special Bravia-centric features and the robust Music Center app, Sony makes the initial setup process smoother compared to Bowers & Wilkins. Sony also supports Chromecast built-in for native casting abilities from thousands of mobile apps.
Pricing & Value
Premium soundbars carry higher price tags, but both Sony and B&W provide strong performance per dollar across multiple tiers.
Bowers & Wilkins
Panorama 3 – $999
- Impressive Dolby Atmos and streaming at a fair price point
- Around $300 less than B&W‘s high-end Formation Bar
Formation Bar – $1,299
- Arguably the best surround soundbar audio available
- Materials and construction justify the steep cost
HT-S20R – $280
- 84% better bass than the average budget soundbar according to Rtings.com testing
- Far cheaper than the B&W Panorama 3 with surprisingly good audio
HT-A7000 – $998
- CNET calls it "one of the best Dolby Atmos soundbars we‘ve heard under $1,000"
- Nearly matches the Panorama 3‘s performance for $100 less
HT-A9 – $1,799
- Tom‘s Guide says it provides "Sony‘s most advanced audio technology ever put into a soundbar"
- Flagship-level performance for $500 less than the comparable Formation Bar
Sony wins for offering superb performance at nearly every price tier. Their budget-priced models vastly outclass competitors, while their premium soundbars like the HT-A9 stand toe-to-toe with the more expensive Bowers & Wilkins Formation Bar.
While B&W carries a luxury brand price tag, their exquisite engineering and audio quality help justify the cost for buyers seeking high-end equipment. But dollar-for-dollar, Sony gives you more for your money.
Final Verdict: Sony Is the Better Brand for Most Buyers
Based on this in-depth comparison across the key categories, Sony narrowly beats Bowers & Wilkins for best overall soundbar brand.
Here‘s a quick summary of the key findings:
Sound Quality – B&W squeezes out slightly better audio performance, especially in the midrange and treble, but Sony still impresses with clear, balanced sound and enveloping Dolby Atmos/DTS:X processing.
Features – Sony wins decisively thanks to their wealth of proprietary audio enhancements like vertical surround processing and spatial mapping that actively improve the listening experience.
Design – Bowers & Wilkins takes this category with their premium materials and visually-striking aesthetic, although Sony still looks nice.
Configuration – More size and channel options from Sony make it easy to find the perfect model tailored specifically for your space.
Connectivity – Sony makes setup nearly seamless thanks to Bravia TV integration and Chromecast support.
Value – You get more advanced features and better overall performance per dollar spent by going with Sony.
In summary, Sony gives you excellent Dolby Atmos surround capabilities and great all-around performance for hundreds less than Bowers & Wilkins. Unless you prioritize getting the absolute best sound quality over all else, Sony represents better value and technology.
The wider selection of sizes and channel configurations is another strong point for Sony, providing a soundbar specially designed for small spaces, game rooms, or home theaters both big and small.
Of course, if you want luxury-grade audio with premium design, Bowers & Wilkins still delivers. But for the money, Sony takes the win in this head-to-head matchup.
Whichever brand you choose, upgrading to a Sony or Bowers & Wilkins soundbar is sure to seriously boost your TV‘s built-in speakers. Just be sure to pick the model tailored specifically for your room size, budget and needs.
Top Soundbar Recommendations
Here are my top picks from Sony and Bowers & Wilkins based on this comparison:
- 7.1.2 channel Dolby Atmos/DTS:X
- Vertical surround engine
- Hi-Res Audio support
- Alexa + Chromecast built-in
- 7.1.4 channel Dolby Atmos/DTS:X
- Up-firing and side-firing speaker array
- Built-in calibration mic
- Flagship-level components
Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3
- 3.1.2 channel Dolby Atmos
- Striking contemporary design
- Tidal music streaming
- Alexa voice assistant built-in
Bowers & Wilkins Formation Bar
- 3.1.2 Dolby Atmos with wireless subwoofer
- Superior imaging and soundstage
- Hand-assembled premium construction
- Sleek aluminum enclosure
I hope this detailed Sony vs. Bowers & Wilkins soundbar comparison has provided helpful guidance and given you a better idea of which brand best fits your needs! Let me know if you have any other questions.