The Panasonic SC-NE5 is a wireless speaker matched with a separate side unit that houses a CD player and iPod/iPhone dock – complete with iPhone 5 Lightning connector. We went ears-on with the speaker to see if it's really worth listening to.
Sitting at the top of the NE range, the Panasonic SC-NE5 has Bluetooth and integrated Wi-Fi, letting it stream with a huge array of devices. Apple devices can use AirPlay, other Wi-Fi enabled gadgets can use the DLNA standard and any stragglers can hook up using Bluetooth.
The main unit of the Panasonic SC-NE5 features a stereo array of drivers, each side using a 3-inch subwoofer and a 1-inch tweeter, with 40W of power total. This is the same array you'll find in the step-down SC-NE3. What separates this top-end model is the breakout dock.
Aimed squarely at the iPhone crowd, this features a slide-out Lightning connector dock – rather than the old 30-pin type – and its rear opens up to reveal a vertical-loading CD player. You'll also find playback buttons on this dock.
What justifies the Panasonic SC-NE5's separate dock is that it connects wirelessly to the speaker unit, letting you place it apart from the main unit. This will come in particularly handy if you intend to wall-mount the speaker – which it's geared up for. Slim and good-looking, it's a lounge-friendly unit that is a little less attention-grabbing than some rivals.
Trying for as small a body as possible often has negative knock-on effects on sound quality. For a device this size, though, the Panasonic SC-NE5 produces a fair bass whack, although it's not without sonic compromises.
Its sound is strongly positional, with a sound stage that doesn't extend hugely beyond the Panasonic SC-NE5's dimensions. There's also some muddling of the mid-range, cutting into the coherence of the sound.
We asked Panasonic whether the SC-NE5 supported the higher-quality apt-X Bluetooth codec, but couldn't get a firm answer. However, it does apply digital processing to attempt to mitigate the sonic degradation that Bluetooth causes.
If you care about style, and like the combination of old and new that the Panasonic SC-NE5 represents, it'll make a classy addition to a lounge or kitchen. Just don't go in expecting this $450 wireless system to be able to convincingly replace a decent separates system.