A viewing of The Hobbit on Blu-ray reveals the SC-BTT880 to be an assured performer, delivering thrills and drama in spades while side-stepping the usual all-in-one system inadequacies.
Its sound is smooth and palatable, even when faced with a challenging action scene. It brings decent dynamics and drive without making roaring dragons or clanking swords sound shrill or harsh. There is the faintest hint of straining at loud volumes but these speakers cope much better than many all-in-one systems.
We’re also impressed by its dialogue handling. Voices have good depth and detail, lending Thorin and Gandalf’s booming commands the necessary gravitas. Some all-in-one speakers can sound nasal and compressed but that’s not the case here – Panasonic’s centre is open and authoritative.
In fact, detail reproduction is superb – check the scene in the troll cave, where flies buzz crisply around the soundstage and dwarves pilfer treasure with delicate chinking and rustling noises.
Also impressive is the SC-BTT880’s expansive soundstage. Most scenes in the Hobbit are broad in scope and this system conveys that by scattering effects far and wide and steering them confidently between channels. Meanwhile background ambience and music flood the room, wrapping you in sound while maintaining the accuracy of directional effects.
This feeling intensifies when you activate 3D Cinema Surround, which makes the soundstage higher and wider while boosting the overall scale. As Bilbo and company trot through the woods in the pouring rain, the high-frequency hissing feels like it’s descending from above.
Bass performance is the SC-BTT880’s biggest weakness. The subwoofer needs to be tighter and cleaner – there’s too much overhang on pounding kettle drums and explosions, which makes action scenes a little warm and muddy. Its inability to start and stop with the alacrity of a good powered sub is cruelly exposed by energetic dance tunes – kick drums sound far too flabby.
However, there are no complaints when it comes to picture quality. As Bilbo and company ride through a beautiful montage of New Zealand landscapes, the detail in the picture is spellbinding. You can make out individual leaves on trees and blades of grass, rock textures look crisp and rolling hills are deftly coloured in seamless shades of green. Step up to 3D and these shots look even more intoxicating – Panasonic’s prowess with colours and detail clarity help the layered pictures look clean and punchy.
As flagship all-in-one systems go, the SC-BTT880 ticks most of the boxes. Tall, elegant tower speakers? Check. An obscene amount of features? Affirmative. Sound quality that trumps Panasonic’s cheaper systems? Absolutely. On that basis you certainly won’t be disappointed if you take one home.
But when you compare it with LG’s BH9430PW – a similarly-priced, range-topping 9.1 system – things don’t look quite so rosy for the SC-BTT880. LG’s system offers built-in Bluetooth, superior speaker build quality and a better line-up of smart TV content. The Panasonic’s sound quality is marginally better in some areas, achieving better composure at loud volumes, but on balance LG seems like the better proposition.
An attractive, great-sounding 5.1 system with a terrific range of features and wireless rear speakers, but you can get more for your money from rival systems.