Do you want a soundbar? Or a 2.1 system with a standalone processor? Acknowledging that there’s gold in them thar TV audio upgrade hills, Panasonic has decided to attack both markets with the SC-HTB550 – a novel package that can either be configured as either soundbar with subwoofer, or a more conventional stereo speaker pair and sub. The main enclosure splits in two, you just orient accordingly.

The addition of a separate audio processor, which provides connectivity, amplification and signal processing, makes the system particularly noteworthy. This sort of gubbins is usually built into the sub.

There are two HDMI inputs (one ARC compatible), and dual optical digital audio inputs for source hook-up. The system is also Bluetooth friendly. Unlike the similarly priced Samsung HW-E551, there’s no USB media reader or any kind or readable visual display.

Simple sub

Speaker build quality is largely insubstantial. The downward-firing subwoofer, with its 6.25in driver, lacks weight. It’s a simple beast – you just need to switch it on.

The soundbar itself is flat-facing and shiny. At full stretch it reaches nearly a metre in length. Behind the unremovable grille are a pair of 2.5in woofers and a 1in tweeter.

Assembling the SC-HTB550 proves both simple and frustrating. Colour coded cabling provides few challenges, but transforming the ‘bar into a stereo pair is a faff. Still, my concerns over construction and finish were largely washed away when the system took flight. Against all the odds, it sounds rather fine. There’s unexpected snap and vigour to its presentation, which is well suited to action movies and high octane TV shows such as Band of Brothers (which I was using as a BD demo disc – those gun retorts are fierce!).

In its default mode, 3D sound processing is applied to all multichannel sources. Closer inspection reveals this to be a Dolby Virtual surround algorithm overlaid with Panasonic’s in-house soundfield processing, which adds extra width and height. The mix is a potent cocktail. While it can be switched off, the system sounds much better when this processing is engaged. Bullets appeared to ricochet around the room in convincing fashion, not bad given the physical constraints of the cabinets. Clearly more than just another 2.1 TV audio upgrade, the SC-HTB550 defies expectations to give deliver a solid, cinematic performance.


HCC VERDICT

Panasonic SC-HTB550
Price:
£400 Approx

Highs: Effective 3D sound processing; goes loud and doesn’t skimp on the slam
Lows: Plasticky build quality; rubbish remote control; not good for music

Performance: 4/5
Design: 3/5
Features: 4/5
Overall: 4/5


Specifications

HDMI: yes 2-in, 1-out
Stereo phono audio: no
Digital audio: yes 2 x digital optical inputs
Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD compatible: yes/yes
Total Amplification (Claimed): 2x 60W; 1 x 120W subwoofer
Dimensions (processor unit): 310(w) x 44(h) x 195(d)mm
Weight (processor unit): 1.1kg
Dimensions (soundbar): 956(w) x 102(h) x 74(d) mm
Weight: 1.61kg
Features: Wireless subwoofer; Bluetooth audio streaming; Dolby Virtual Surround; 3D Surround Effect; switchable between 2.1 and soundbar configuration