Like previous generations of its maker's single-box systems, the Panasonic SC-BTT182 delivers a clean and enjoyable performance with Blu-ray soundtracks, without blowing your socks off like the best 2.1 systems do.
Take the Dolby True HD soundtrack of Super 8 for example. At the start of the train crash scene (chapter 3 if you want to check it yourself), the build-up is nicely handled – as the kids prepare to shoot their scene, dialogue is conveyed with pleasing clarity, the wind rumbles delicately in the background and the score hums away smoothly beneath it all. And as the train starts to approach, the menacing rumble is a precursor to the carnage that ensues.
Effects are crisp and clear, with the speakers teasing out most of the scene’s little details, and when the train collides with the van it makes a dramatic impact. Even though there’s no centre speaker, speech is generally audible with a nice tone, although it gets a little swamped during scenes with lots going on. If you’re making the step up from flat panel TV speakers then the SC-BTT182’s energetic, dynamic sound will certainly satisfy.
But with our more critical hat on, the explosion and the aggressive effects that follow cause the speakers’ single full range driver to strain under the pressure at loud volumes, making it a little too hard and sharp for comfort. The sound of the train smashing through the building and metal parts crashing into each other have a sharp, spitty edge that’s all too common among budget speaker systems.
And because the subwoofer is passive, it lacks the control and tightness of an active unit, which means its bass output is on the boomy side. It rumbles indiscriminately whenever it’s told to without any real agility or subtlety, but again that’s par for the course with budget passive subs.
Although it won’t make you start hearing sounds from above and behind, the 2.1ch Cinema Surround is more effective than expected. We could detect certain effects being projected wide of the listening position, giving the stereo soundstage a pleasing width and making everything sound fuller than the straight stereo mode.
Musically the Panasonic SC-BTT182 is a little lacklustre, lacking the crispness and refinement in the high-frequencies to make songs sparkle, and the unresponsive sub doesn’t help with timing and agility. But for day to day listening or a bit of background music at a dinner party it’s more than adequate.
One area where the SC-BTT182 isn’t found wanting is picture quality. Like its standalone players, the system serves up hi-def images so deep, lustrous and sharp that it’s almost impossible to look away – and that goes for 3D and 2D discs. It also loads up Super 8 in the blink of an eye – well, if you blink for 24 seconds.
The Panasonic SC-BTT182 may not be the most sonically assured 2.1-channel system we’ve auditioned, straining slightly under duress from a boisterous action scene, but what it lacks in sound quality it makes up for in picture performance and features. Viera Connect is a much-needed upgrade and media streaming is useful, plus it supports a wide range of formats and iPod/iPhone support is always a bonus. It’s also a good looking system that will blend discreetly into your living room. That said, the need to add an optional dongle to access the good stuff wirelessly is a bit of a pain – if it’s greater convenience and connectivity you crave then it might be worth stepping up to the SC-BTT282.