Review: Panasonic SC-HTB01 Soundbar Aids Hearing For Games
Panasonic isn’t exactly known for its gaming expertise, but it has been known for decades as an expert at developing excellent sounding audio equipment, often at a very good value.
In that tradition, the company’s recently introduced the SoundSlayer Gaming Speaker (SC-HTB01), which impressed us as a very compact soundbar with convincing (Dolby Atmos) 3D audio and an expansive sound stage for laptop or notebook PC gamers.
Panasonic actually introduced the SC-HTB01 last year as a gaming speaker developed in collaboration with gaming resource Square Enix, and at CES 2021 Panasonic revealed that it will soon offer a special edition of the SC-HTB01 that has been graphically enhanced and optimized for use with Square Enix’s popular Final Fantasy XIV Online gaming franchise, to deliver an immersive surround sound experience, particularly from role playing game (RPG) adventure games and first person shooters (FPS).
A forthcoming special edition of the speaker will have Final Fantasy XIV artwork on top and will offer three game modes co-developed with Square Enix, including a role-playing game (RPG) mode that adds a sense of realism and intensity to the experience to better immerse the player in the action.
Another game mode is First Person Shooter (FPS) mode, which produces accurate audio location sensing to help the listener hear subtle sounds like approaching footsteps to give players a slight advantage over incoming enemies.
The third mode, called Voice Mode enhances human voices for greater clarity against sound effects, especially when playing adventure games, where clearer dialog can yield additional clues to the action.
The Panasonic SC-HTB01 SoundSlayer is billed as a 2.1.1-channel Dolby Atmos soundbar offered at $297.99, which is a considerable value to many other Dolby Atoms Soundbars on the market. In addition, the SC-HTB01 supports DTS:X and DTS Virtual:X for similarly immersive 3D effects from a wide variety of content options.
The soundbar builds in a subwoofer with surprisingly effective and punchy bass for a one-piece solution that measures just 17 × 2 × 5.1 inches.
We also found the soundbar to be surprisingly good was presenting music, including high-resolution audio files with support from PCM up to 192kHz/24bit files.
For those who want to use the soundbar for movie watching, either through a TV or even via a connection to a PC, the SC-HTB01 supports pass-through of 4K/HDR video via the units an HDMI input and an HDMI output. It also provides the option to wirelessly connect to a supporting PC or laptop via Bluetooth.
At the $299 price, this is positioned as a step-up from entry level soundbars that tend to start at around $99, but this adds nice value with the extra sound modes, particularly the 3D Audio file format support.
The sound dynamics here are impressive as many wireless speakers and soundbars go, although the small one-piece form factor puts it at a disadvantage up against some other soundbars with separate subwoofers and wireless rear-channel surround speakers. Those will cost you considerably more for a complete package, however.
The sound presented here was very full, and with 3D audio mode activated unusually convincing that a pair of right and left channel front speakers are positioned several feet off to either side of the listener. This worked with with both gaming titles, and surprisingly well with many stereo music recordings.
The psycho-acoustic virtual 3D effect is not perfect, of course; You don’t get the full punch you’d get from most separate subwoofers. Neither do you get very convincing overhead or rear-channel sound effects you’d get from full 5.1.2-channel systems, but for listening to stereo music, which is the case for the vast majority of what we expect most people will be listening to through a laptop or notebook PC, we were pleasantly surprised at the experience.
In short, we find this to be an ideal solution for anyone looking for better sound from a PC — particularly a notebook or laptop. Better yet, it was pleasing simple and intuitive to set up and use.
The Panasonic SC-HTB01 SoundSlayer looks like what it is — a compact soundbar that is easily placed in front of a table-top placed TV set or on a desk in front of a PC monitor. For laptops, its easily positioned about six feet in front of the user when connected via Bluetooth that eliminates the tether between the computer and the soundbar. You’ll still need to plug it into a wall outlet for power, however. At just 2.06 inches tall it’s unlike to interfere with any screen real estate. At just of 5 inches deep, the sound bar should seat flat on the table surface in front of a display without any overhang. Alternatively, it is easily positioned in a credenza below a television set.
The soundbar is equipped with two 1.58 inch forward-firing drivers, a 3.1 inch downward-firing sub, and one upward-firing speaker for Dolby Atmos effects. The physical connection package includes an HDMI ARC port, and HDMI input with 4K HDR passthrough and digital optical input and a USB port for use with firmware updates. It supports wireless Bluetooth connectivity.
The non-Final Fantasy version of the SoundSlayer has a flat-black plastic cabinet with a front-facing cloth grill covering the forward firing speaker drivers. At the top-center of the grill is a 6-inch-long front-firing port opening that sends height effects for Dolby Atmos up and out toward the listener.
Just below this central port gap is are four color-coded LEDs to indicate the status for settings including: Bluetooth, Clear-Mode Dialog, 3D Surround (Dolby Atmos, DTS:X), and GN-Game/AV or TV. The SC-HTB01 has four different sound modes and three different sub modes for gaming.
The soundbar has a diminutive flat 3.5 (L) x 2 inch (W) remote with 12 buttons. It fits comfortably in the hand to operate all of the soundbar’s control settings. There are no physical buttons on the soundbar, so it’s important not to lose the remote.
One of the buttons offers a mute/dimmer control that will enable dimming the LED lights on the front of the soundbar by pressing and holding it. It’s useful for when you’re using it to play music to fall asleep to, and you don’t want those pesky lights glaring in your face.
Other buttons are provided for power, volume, subwoofer volume, input, clear dialog, Bluetooth pairing, 3D surround and four sound mode buttons marked standard, music, cinema and game.
As mentioned, the size of the Panasonic SC-HTB01 SoundSlayer belies the power and fidelity of its sound quality. Although this is unlikely to wow audophiles who know Panasonic for its high-end Technics products, it isn’t weak, dull or harsh, either. Many soundbars have a decidedly hollow sound which this unit tends to minimize with a wide sound stage (particularly in 3D Surround mode) when using the physical HDMI connections. It’s also adds significant improvement over the tiny speakers that typically come built into most TV sets today.
The unit offers a significant amount of volume although the quality of the music or soundtrack being play will impact the quality of the sound delivered. We detected some clipping of peak volume in the up register on older mono track files of the great Billie Holiday and Lester Young.
The size of the room will also have a lot to do with the overall listening experience. For the most compelling surround sound effects it’s best to listen in a small to mid-sized room where sound can reverberate off of walls. Overhead height effects were not very convincing, and will be less so in rooms with high ceilings.
The ideal location for this is on a desktop in front of a PC monitor, and just a few feet from the listener/gamer. The bass from the subwoofer is a bit thin as many soundbars go, but there is enough rumble to intensify the gaming or movie experience sitting in front of a PC. It’s also nicely balanced for most music listening.
We found ourselves looking for the left channel speaker as the opening organ notes of began on Santana’s classic Oye Como Va. We also enjoyed the hard rocking power of the bass and mid-range from The Doobie Brothers’ Evil Woman off of the Captain and Me album.
The performance with streaming audio varies by the quality of the recordings being played. Watching general YouTube channels were found a diverse range of sound support from extremely hollow dialog to expensive crystal clear verbal commentary depending on the quality of the microphones used and editing or the clips being played. We found the ability to switch between modes here using the remote helped us fine tune the effect when channel surfing between vloggers.
We came to appreciate the full dynamics of Dolby Atmos for its ability to enhance the experience for a lot of content by engaging 3D Surround, even if we didn’t notice much in the way of the overhead effects that a lot people look for in a Dolby Atmos experience. However, the wider sound stage it produces is a welcomed enhancement for most of the material we sampled.
Panasonic positions the SoundSlayer as a gaming speaker, first and foremost, and this is delivered by offering three different game modes for RPG, FPS and enhanced voices on top of obligatory Standard, Music and Cinema modes.
The RPG mode tends to open up the sound stage for a more movie-like effect, while the FPS mode brings more clarity and distinct effects to better concentrate on threatening assailants lurking on the periphery. For increased clarity over background effects, we found the clear dialog enhancer function worked well in certain situations. The button is conveniently placed in the top right-hand corner of the remote for fast access when it’s needed.
Although the Panasonic SoundSlayer SC-HTB01 is positioned as a gaming speaker, we found it was quite well rounded for enhancing entertainment sound from movies, music and spoken word as well. It’s compact size makes it easy to carry around and move from room to room, or even to add music out on the deck.
For those who like to play online games from a laptop or notebook, this is a great complementary solution for immersive audio, as it is easily moved with you as you go from house to house for neighborhood competitions. At $297.99, we find this to be a very reasonably priced as gaming accessories go, and we believe a lot of users will find this an enjoyable alternative to the tinny half-audible speakers that are offered on many of today’s laptops and notebooks.
In addition, it’s a great solution for someone looking to add better sound to a TV set in a bedroom or dorm.
The Panasonic SC-HDTB01 SoundSlayer is an HD Guru recommended buy as a gaming soundbar, and we award it 4 out of 5 hearts.
|Total Output Power||80 W|
|Output Power||Front (L/R)||25 W+25 W (1 kHz, 6 ohms, 10% THD)|
|Subwoofer||30 W (100 Hz, 3 ohms, 10% THD)|
|Front||Configuration||2-way 2 speaker|
|Speaker Unit||Full Range: 4.0 cm Cone Type x 2 Tweeter: 1.4 cm Dome Type x 2|
|Subwoofer||Configuration||1-way 1 speaker, Dual Passive Radiator|
|Speaker Unit||Woofer: 8 cm Cone Type|
|HDMI Output||Y(1) (TV)|
|HDMI Input||Y (1) (AV/Game)|
|Optical Digital Audio Input||Y(1) (TV)|
|USB||Y *Only for Software Update|
|Dimensions (W x H x D) *Excluding the projecting parts||[Approx.] 17 × 2 × 5.1 inches|
|Weight||[Approx.] 4 pounds|
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By Greg Tarr
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