There are plenty of AI-equipped speakers to be found right now, but none excel when it comes to sound quality.
Enter the Panasonic SC-GA10. Panasonic says this is a proper hi-fi speaker, one that just happens to be armed with Google Assistant. The idea is that it has all the capabilities of Google Home – but it sounds better.
I got the opportunity to have a brief play with the SC-GA10 at Panasonic’s launch event at IFA 2017. Here are my first impressions.
Panasonic SC-GA10 – Design
One look at the Panasonic SC-GA10 and it’s clear we’re dealing with a classier product than the Google Home. Instead of plastic, it’s finished in aluminium and a fine fabric mesh. It’s a little boxy, which some might consider boring, but key is the fact that the SC-GA10’s aesthetics don’t immediately scream ‘speaker’. If you have a love for geometric decorations then this speaker will fit right in. It’s available in black or white.
On the top of the unit is a touch-sensitive control panel. Panasonic has avoided the overly simple control scheme of the Google Home; instead, you get a full suite of buttons that wouldn’t be out of place on a micro hi-fi system. Round the back are only three connections: power, Ethernet and 3.5mm auxiliary input.
The good stuff is on the inside. There are two soft-domed tweeters, each with a silk diffuser that opens at 45 degrees to the left and right. This means you should get a 180-degree soundfield. Bass is handled by a 8cm woofer with twin voice coils, as well as a long reflex port. That’s a beefier setup than I’ve seen on any other smart speaker to date.
The SC-GA10 is armed with Google Assistant, the AI helper that features in Google Home and the latest Android smartphones. That means it’s capable of pretty much anything Google Assistant can do on those other devices.
You can perform basic web searches for the weather, headlines, bad jokes and random trivia. You can also set alarms and timers, or make to-do lists. If you have smart home devices, such as Philips Hue, you can use your voice to control those too.
On the music front, Google Assistant plays nicely with any Chromecast audio product on the same network – so you can use the SC-GA10 as part of a multiroom audio system.
Compatible streaming services include Spotify, Google Music and TuneIn Radio. It’s even possible to stream music stored on locally networked devices such as smartphones and NAS drives, use Bluetooth, or go old-school with a 3.5mm input – all of which can be controlled by the Panasonic Music Control App. That lets you pair two SC-GA10 speakers for a stereo setup.
Panasonic SC-GA10 – Performance
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An exhibition show-floor is hardly the best place to judge an audio product, but even in less-than-ideal conditions, it’s clear that Panasonic is onto something. Even at this early stage, it’s clear that Panasonic’s sound-first approach has paid off.
This is clearly a speaker first, and an assistant second. The one thing that struck was how effortlessly the SC-GA10 performed at high volume. There was no sign of strain, which is something I’ve often experienced with the Amazon Echo or Google Home when either is pushed too hard. Go too loud and those speakers begin to sound harsh. Not a problem here – the Panasonic remains composed even when it’s cranked up.
Dynamism matters as much as volume, and I’m pleased to say the Panasonic SC-GA10 can properly differentiate between highs and lows, instead of crushing them together.
The speaker produces quite a big sound. When I first started listening, the soundstage was so wide that I thought I was listening to two SC-GA10 units playing in stereo configuration. I was mistaken; it was just the one. When I eventually did switch to stereo configuration, it became even wider, with a proper sense of imaging.
My demonstration of the smart element was limited to barking musical orders; there were no smart lights or thermostats around to control. For what it’s worth, this worked like Google Assistant works elsewhere. The SC-GA10 had no problem bringing up weather information and then playing some Norah Jones.
I’ll delve deeper into the sound quality and AI performance when I get the finished product in for a full review.
It’s still early, but my first encounter with the Panasonic SC-GA10 left me feeling positive. Even after a short demonstration, it’s clear that Panasonic has managed to achieve what it set out to: to make a decent-sounding smart speaker. For those who want an AI helper, but who aren’t willing to sacrifice on sound quality, the SC-GA10 is worth investigation.
It all comes down to price, which Panasonic has yet to announce. The Google Home retails at about £130; taking into account the superior audio quality of the SC-GA10, I reckon £200 would be a good price for it. If Panasonic can deliver the product in that ballpark, I reckon the company is onto a winner.