Panasonic has kept a low profile in soundbars so far, but now things are starting to happen at the Japanese manufacturer, which also has the sound specialists from Technics behind it. Although their latest soundboard, SC-HTB01, is not very big! In fact, this is one of the smallest soundbars we’ve had in our hands.
The Panasonic plank is admittedly a little wider than the Polk Magnifi Mini that we have tested before, but a little slimmer so that it is smaller in total volume. Set next to another well-known, compact soundbar like the Sonos Beam, it gets tiny in comparison! But don’t be fooled by the size: Despite compact dimensions, the little fellow actually has good conditions for improving TV sound.
The soundboard that has been nicknamed SoundSlayer is especially aimed at gaming and other situations that require a compact sound solution. During intense gaming sessions, you are often glued close to the screen, which is why SC-HTB01 is tailored to provide good sound in tight environments, and for so-called near-field listening.
Panasonic has packed the soundbar with full 3D sound, with support for widespread audio formats such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. However, this involves some virtual sound processing: the speaker solution is ordinary stereo (2.1) without separate height channels as found on a full-blooded Atmos board. Instead, Panasonic engineers have devised some acoustic tricks to simulate real surround sound. Panasonic Soundslayer also does not have a separate subwoofer, but instead relies on built-in bass elements.
Please note! The edition Panasonic has sent us is a so-called Final Fantasy Edition in limited edition. It differs from the standard version with a bit of exterior decor and a few extra sound settings. Apart from this, it is identical to the standard version, which is now available in Europe.
Easy to set up
The Panasonic bar arrived at the test room in a tiny box, so small that we hardly thought it could hold a speaker. With its compact dimensions, the bar is very easy to set up. If you are looking for a speaker that fits inside a cramped bookcase, under the PC monitor or similar, this may be just what is needed. The only thing that spoils it a bit is the separate power supply.
The Panasonic speakers have five small rubber feet on the underside which ensure that it stands securely on the ground. Some LEDs on the front indicate the operating status, and with a few control buttons on the side, it is easy to operate. Panasonic has also included a credit card-sized remote control, which provides access to multiple audio settings and input options. But we found it a little annoying (and strange) that it did not come with a battery in the box. Possibly a miss?
In terms of connectivity, the SC-HTB01 can offer HDMI in and out, so you can connect a separate video source and send the image on to the TV. In most cases, it is most convenient to send the audio directly from the TV via HDMI ARC. We tested both with HDMI from a Samsung plus wireless Bluetooth from a Macbook, and both worked smoothly, with good synchronization of the sound.
SoundSlayer can work well for music playback as well, but it has no Wi-Fi/multi-room functionality or Spotify Connect, for example. Therefore, you need an audio source connecting to the speaker.
As long as you have activated HDMI CEC, the volume control will also work via the TV’s remote control. It also comes with a separate remote control for the plank, but it is mostly for making fine adjustments and source selection.
Multiple sound modes for gaming
It is no secret that SoundSlayer is specifically aimed at PC and console gaming: Panasonic has collaborated with Square Enix, the producers behind the Final Fantasy games, in the development of the sound settings. You can choose between three sound settings for different game types, be it role-playing games, shooting games or adventure games that emphasize dialogue.
Sounds bigger than it looks
When I have to put soundbars to a real test, I like to test with the Formula 1 documentary Drive to Survive. The Netflix series (now out in its third season) is an intense cacophony of engine noise, music and commentator voices alternating, with quick clips between studio interviews and the racing track. In addition, some cheeky Atmos sound effects have been mixed in from time to time. If the plank works for racing, it works for everything!
I must admit that we did not have particularly high expectations for the sound: Small speakers like this are usually associated with quite cramped and confined sound, anemic and with little dynamics. The bigger was the surprise when we let the Panasonic speaker play for the first time: This actually sounds amazingly fresh, I note.
The sound reproduction from Panasonic immediately impresses with a very clean, well-resolved and distinct treble. Small and cheap speakers are often characterized by a thin and slick harmonic reproduction, but not here: on the contrary, the treble has a lot of energy, splash and substance, which comes in handy on lively movie soundtracks as well as music. The same can be said about the midrange, which is both rich and detailed.
What about the bass, then? At first, it did not do much. But when we turned up the volume and fine-tuned the sound settings a bit, we actually got usable bass as well. It turns out that the SC-HTB01 can play quite loud, without the sound being distorted.
Surprisingly good 3D effect
Panasonic has also succeeded well with the virtual surround effects. It manages to create the impression that the sound effects coming from behind and from the side. Of course, it is not as precise as a thoroughbred Atmos plank with its own height channels, nor can it be compared to a real 5.1/7.1 setup. But it sounds far bigger than expected! When the Formula 1 cars whiz past, there is definitely a movement in the sound as well.
Inspired by all the racing, we also tested with the Xbox game Dirt 5, and also experienced here that there was good fun in the sound from the Panasonic speaker. Even when we sit less than a meter away, it manages to create a fairly clear and convincing “sound bubble” around us.
Lacking deep bass
A small speaker like this naturally also has some limitations. If you like playing the movie sound thunderously loud and with belly-massaging bass, it goes without saying that there are better tools for the job!
When we challenge the Panasonic plank with a demanding soundtrack like John Wick 3, it undoubtedly sounds a bit tame in relation to the larger solutions on the market. It should feel good on the body when Keanu Reeves fires the shotgun, and destroys another poor thing. But the adrenaline never starts to pump properly in this case: even if the bass is clear enough, it never gets particularly hard-hitting or deep.
We would have liked to see Panasonic open up the possibility of upgrading SoundSlayer with a separate subwoofer. It would probably have been spot on in a setup like this!
The Panasonic SC-HTB01 SoundSlayer is designed to fit in where other audio solutions become too heavy. And here we actually think the manufacturer has succeeded: Small soundbars often end up chewing up more than they can swallow, but Panasonic sounds surprisingly good for the size. If you are looking for an affordable, compact speaker for the office or gaming room, this is a great solution. For larger rooms and more demanding soundtracks with a lot of bass, however, it may sound a bit slim. That’s why we think Panasonic should have matched it up with “the world’s smallest subwoofer!”