The Panasonic SC-HC37DB's radio works with both FM and DAB stations. It's also compatible with the DAB+ standard, which provides better audio quality, however, that standard currently isn’t used in the UK.
To use the DAB tuner you have to attach the supplied aerial to the F-connector socket on the rear of the system. The first time you start up the DAB radio it automatically tunes-in the all the channels available in your area. After that though, some of the limitations of this system rear their head.
The most annoying is that the system's display is just too small to show the full names of individual stations. Instead the full name has to be scrolled by on the 8 character display. When you're trying to select BBC Radio 1 instead of BBC Radio 3, this can be a pain as you have to wait for the full name to scroll by before you can be sure which station you're tuned to. The single line display also makes some tasks, such a recalling stored preset radio stations, more obtuse than it really should be. For example to select a preset you first have to press the radio button, then repeatedly press the Play Menu button until you get to Tune Mode and then finally you can choose your preset. With a larger, multi-line screen this process could be much, much simpler.
The CD player part of the system is as straightforward to use as you'd imagine. Just open the sliding door, insert a disc and you can control playback using the standard transport controls. However, the USB playback feature isn’t quite as simple. The problem is that it takes a short while for the Panasonic SC-HC37DB to read the track or album names from the disc. While it's waiting to read them it just shows some obscure combinations of letters and number. This makes it very slow to navigate larger libraries of tunes, although it is manageable if you're just using a USB key filled with a couple of albums.
Of course, most people will buy the SC-HC37DB to use as an iPod dock and thankfully it's a much better performer for this task. It works with a pretty broad range of iPod and iPhones including all version of the iPhone, all generations of the iPod touch and the 2nd through to 6th generations of the iPod Nano. The iPod classic is also supported. When you've got your iPod or iPhone docked you can navigate through its menus using the controls on the remote. The up and down buttons move you through the selection options in a menu while the OK button selects an option and the iPod Menu button moves you back one step. It's all pretty intuitive stuff.
On the sound quality front the Panasonic SC-HC37DB is no great shakes, and won’t trouble the premium iPod docks on the market. However, its sound quality needs to be seen in light of its rather modest price tag. We think that when you take that into account it's actually on a par with other similarly priced micro systems, although it certainly doesn’t stand out amongst them.
It offers punchy performance in the mid-range range, so vocals and guitars have plenty of bite, and its tweeters re-create cymbals and hi-hats with a pleasing amount of crispness. However, it's not really capable of delivering deep and convincing bass, so dance tracks lack a bit of the bottom-end drive that you'd expect. Stereo separation isn’t wonderful either, although it's no worse in this area than other small micro systems that we've used.
The SC-HC37DB offers a good range of features for the price and manages to stand out from the competition due to its funky motorised dock. However, we can’t help wishing it had a bit more low-end kick and a better screen.