I saw a Dolby Atmos home theater room using a reference Bowers & Wilkins system and it was mind-blowing

 Home theater with large sceen .
Home theater with large sceen .

AWE is a distributor that works with some of the most acclaimed AV and hi-fi brands including Bowers & Wilkins, Sony, Panasonic, Marantz and Denon. One area of specialty for the company is custom install equipment such as ceiling and in-wall speakers, subwoofers and big, cinema-style screens.

I recently visited AWE’s office and got to experience what home theater truly can be - if you have the space and the money.

I was able to experience not one, but two home theater setups that focused on sound quality and discreet design using in-wall and in-ceiling speakers to make it feel like a bona fide movie theater. The one that made the biggest impression was AWE’s reference home theater, the more premium of the two.

The setup

Bowers & Wilkins CWM8.3 in wall speaker
Bowers & Wilkins CWM8.3 in wall speaker

Walking into the room, the plush leather seats and spotlights with walls edged in blue lighting immediately made me feel like I was at the movies. All I needed was popcorn.

After settling in, we received a run-down of equipment in the setup. The 15.4-channel speaker configuration uses  Bowers & Wilkins CWM8.3 Diamond Series in-walls as the front speakers, which were angled towards the central point of the room.  CWM 8.5 Diamond series speakers serve as the surround and in-ceiling overhead speakers for the full Dolby Atmos experience. A CTSW15 15-inch in-wall subwoofer was also placed in each of the room’s four corners. The speakers were powered by Marantz AMP10 200W per-channel power amplifiers, with a Marantz AV10 used as the surround preamp-processor.

Visuals were provided by a Sony GTZ-380, a native 4K laser projector capable of a staggering 10,000 lumens - significantly higher brightness than most of the best 4K projectors. The Sony was projecting onto an Adeo MovieMask LR, a cinema screen capable of changing aspect ratio from 2:4:1 to 16:9.

At just over £45,000 (roughly $57,000 / AU$85,000) for the speakers, subwoofers and amps, plus £79,000 (roughly $100,000 / AU$150,000) for the Sony projector, I expected this system to be impressive.

The Experience

Home theater at AWE office
Home theater at AWE office

The demo started with a clip from A Star is Born where Ally (Lady Gaga) sings I’ll Always Remember Us This Way in front of a crowd. This scene was intended to demonstrate the setup’s musical prowess, and boy did it.

Lady Gaga’s soaring, powerful vocal range was on full display, echoing around the room to the point where it felt like we were front row at one of her concerts. Even the more delicate, whispered vocals came through crisp and clean. Each note from the piano sounded warm, swelling throughout the room. As the band kicked in, everything was well balanced, with no instrument overwhelming any other, and the surround effects made the crowd off-screen seem like they were actually behind me (I swore I heard someone whisper in my ear).

The Sony GTZ-380 revealed impeccable levels of detail in faces. Contrast was incredibly rich, with the stage lights perfectly illuminating Ally as she performed.

Next up was Top Gun: Maverick. Watching the opening scene where Maverick (Tom Cruise) pilots the Darkstar hypersonic jet, a meaty, powerful rumble from the four CTWS15 subwoofers shook the room when the engines kicked in. As the jet flew over the head of Rear Admiral Cain (Ed Harris), the placement of sound effects in the immersive Dolby Atmos soundtrack was impeccable.

During flight, with the wind whipping around the jet and through the cockpit, I felt as if I was there, desperately trying to wrangle the jet. The blazing roar of the rear engines came from behind, and the CWM 8.3 speakers at the front projected serious power along with detailed dialogue.

Visually the movie was breathtaking. When Maverick finally hit the sky, a panning shot showing the Earth’s curvature showcased the GTZ-380’s spectacular contrast. Black levels were easily the deepest I’d ever seen from a projector and motion was expertly handled as the jet careered through the sky. For Sony's projector to produce an image that sharp and detailed on an ultra-large screen was nothing short of breathtaking.

Final thoughts

Bowers & Wilkins CTWS15 subwoofer
Bowers & Wilkins CTWS15 subwoofer

AWE’s reference system will remain a pipe dream for most people, but it showed just what can be achieved at home. Even if you won’t be able to recreate this setup, if you combine one of the best TVs, the best 4K Blu-ray players and even the best soundbars into an affordable setup you can experience movies as they were meant to be experienced. Streaming on a laptop doesn’t cut it in comparison.

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