Recognising their growing popularity among the buying public, Panasonic has increased the number of soundbars in its range this year. Heading the line-up is a pair of versatile systems (SC-HTB570 and SC-HTB770) that allow you to split the soundbar and create a traditional 2.1 or 3.1 setup, but as the entry-level model, the SU-HTB527 sticks to the usual single soundbar formula. It does, however, come with a wireless subwoofer that keeps mess to a minimum.
Design and connections
Not only is the SU-HTB527 a gorgeous-looking soundbar but it's also remarkably slim, taking up little room whether it's mounted on the wall or in front of a TV. The front is styled in brushed silver, which gives it an air of luxury and elegance, while its build quality is robust. At 1,018mm wide, it's designed for TVs between 47 and 55in.
Through the front mesh you can just about glimpse the small speaker drivers at either end. At the top of the front panel is a row of LEDs indicating the audio format and selected input – although to know what they mean you have to come close and read the logos on top.
Running along the top are buttons for power, volume and input selection. The back end measures just 44mm deep and has a black matt-textured finish. On the back are a couple of recesses that house a few sockets, including 3D-compatible HDMI input and output (the step-up models feature two inputs), and optical digital audio input.
The HDMI output supports Viera Link CEC, which means TV and soundbar can be controlled with a single remote, and Audio Return Channel, which lets you input sound from a TV over a single cable. There are no analogue inputs however, which may disappoint those wishing to connect MP3 players and the like.
A word of warning – if you have thick or stiff HDMI cables it can be a little tricky feeding them into the sockets on the back, given the limited amount of space. It's possible, but I had to bend my high-quality Peerless cable to get it in the slot. Thin cables are fine.
Rounding up the sockets is a slot for the wireless transmitter, which you'll find in the subwoofer box (the sub's receiver is built-in). The two components communicate using a frequency of 2.4GHz.
The down-firing subwoofer is also styled in a fetching silver finish, although it feels plasticky – particularly the base. There's a power switch at the top, but there are no controls as its performance is governed by the soundbar.
The SU-HTB527 is a basic soundbar and lacks the frills of Panasonic's step-up models, which means no Bluetooth for wireless music streaming and no USB port.
But there are a few things to report. First up, it features built-in Dolby Digital and DTS decoding from both HDMI and optical inputs. There's no HD audio decoding on board, but it's not a huge loss because it'll accept an LPCM signal from a Blu-ray player. When fed with an HD audio bitstream, the Panasonic will extract the Dolby Digital or DTS 'core'.
It also supports Dolby Pro Logic II and Dolby Virtual Speaker, while Panasonic's 3D Sound mode adds 'sound field controlling technology' to Dolby Virtual Speaker to expand the soundfield in all directions and match what the 3D pictures are doing.
Panasonic claims a power output of 240W – that's 2 x 60W to the soundbar and 120W from the sub. The soundbar uses a two-way, two-speaker design, with two 6.5cm woofer cones and two 2.5cm semi-dome tweeters. The active sub uses a single 16cm woofer.
There's no display on the soundbar, which means you're at the mercy of the tiny lights on the front to know what settings are applied.
It's all a bit clumsy – to change sound modes you have to hold down Mute and when the lights start blinking press it again to toggle through the modes (which are explained in the manual). You'll probably get used to it, but it's a pain.
Also, your only reference for the volume level (apart from your ears of course) is the flashing light on the front, which stops when maximum is reached.
Setting up the SU-HTB527 is easy though – you get all the wall-mounting bits in the box and for tabletop placement there are rubber pads on the bottom. The sub and soundbar pair up automatically and the sub's reasonably slim dimensions make it easy to hide away.
There's also a remote in the box, which is small and sparsely populated with just seven buttons. It enables you to specifically adjust the sub volume as well as the main volume, toggle inputs and mute the sound.
What I'm looking for from the SU-HTB527 is a sound that fills the room while offering depth and detail, and it delivers the goods with an enjoyable performance. It's not the most powerful or refined soundbar I've ever heard, but it pumps out movie soundtracks with enough gusto to make any shortcomings seem trivial.
I fired up The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on an Oppo BDP-831 Blu-ray deck and was surprised by how immense the action scenes sound through the Panasonic's speakers. The volume goes nice and loud, effects are fast and snappy, while the subwoofer lends a solid foundation to the pounding score. This all gives the sound a much larger scale than its slim dimensions would suggest.
Dialogue is articulated clearly, even without the presence of a dedicated centre speaker, and it reproduces high frequencies with decent clarity. When characters speak, you can hear subtleties in their voices, and during quiet scenes like Riddles in the Dark there's lots of eerie background detail and convincing echoes.
Another plus point is the subwoofer's rumbling bass, which integrates well with the soundbar without making everything sound muddy. I found it worked best on the lowest volume setting – up higher it can get overpowering. It lacks agility and slam, but in the whole it does a good job.
Its work can be heard in the Pale Orc's voice, which has pleasing depth, or the thumping footsteps when the Orc pack chases Radagast across the plains.
On the downside, roaring Wargs and shrieking goblins sound a little raspy in the midrange, and when the action gets too frenetic it can sound a little brash – particularly when you have the volume up high – but not to the point where it's unlistenable. Overall, a good show.
The SU-HTB527 ticks most of the boxes – its sound is more dynamic and powerful than any TV, while its discreet, elegant design will integrate into your décor with minimum fuss.
Some sonic shortcomings and a basic operating system stop it reaching top honours, plus the feature list is disappointing for the money, but the SU-HTB527 still has enough style and quality to merit your attention.
Manufacturer and model
Component video output
Composite video output
Digital audio inputs
3.5mm minijack input
Analogue stereo input
Dolby TrueHD decoding
DTS HD Master Audio decoding
Dolby Digital decoding
DLNA media streaming
Dimensions (soundbar) W x H x D
1,018 x 75 x 44 mm
Dimensions (subwoofer) W x H x D
180 x 408 x 306 mm
Audio Return Channel support
Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby Virtual Speaker, 3D Sound