- Low-ish price tag
- Cool motorised dock
- Good range of features
- Could have done with a better screen
- Lacks bass
- Review Price: £170.00
- CD Player
- Dab/FM tuner
- USB port
- iPod/iPhone dock
The SC-HC37DB is a essentially a micro Hi-Fi that has a built-in CD player, dual mode FM/DAB radio tuner and a dock for your iPod or iPhone. There’s also a USB port so it can be used to playback MP3 files from USB keys or hard drives. The system is completely integrated, so the speakers are built-in and can’t be detached from the main unit.
Taking the Panasonic SC-HC37DB out of the box, it doesn’t feel quite as sturdy as a lot of Panasonic’s premium products do, partly because the case is made entirely from plastic. Nevertheless, it’s still relatively attractive to look at from the front. There’s a neat Perspex trim that runs around the outer edge of the system, and we also like the way the speaker grills are semi-transparent so you can just about see the two speaker drivers on either side staring back at you. Unusually the tweeters are mounted at the bottom while the main speaker drivers, which are made from bamboo fibres, are found at the top. All four of the speakers working together produce a total power output of a fairly modest 40 watts.
The showpiece of this model’s design, however, is the sliding door at the front. When you press the Eject CD button it slides left to reveal the vertically-mounted CD mechanism to allow you to load a disc. However, even cooler is that when you press the Eject iPod button the door slides right and then a motorised tray extends out to accept your music player or phone. Press the Eject button again and the tray retracts into the body of the SC-HC37DB and the door closes over the front of it. However, as this door is made from semi transparent plastic you can still see and read your iPhone’s screen when it’s tucked away inside, although with the backlight off it’s neatly obscured. The motorised system looks cool and adds a lot of extra desirability to what would otherwise be a pretty straightforward micro Hi-Fi.
Across the top of the system there’s a line of buttons for switching between the iPod, CD player, Radio and USB functions. There are also basic playback and volume controls here, as well as a button for turning off and on the Dynamic Bass mode. However the system comes with a small credit card sized remote that actually offers more control, as it includes some additional buttons to allow you to move through the menus on your iPod, mute the system’s sound and enter the set-up menu.
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.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 7