If you want to add some power to your HDTV’s sound, you need a home theater system. But if you want to do it without running wires all over your living room, you need a soundbar. The Panasonic SC-HTB70 is one of the most budget-friendly soundbars we’ve seen that still manages to perform well. Its sound isn’t the best we’ve heard, and it lacks true low-end bass extension because it doesn’t have a subwoofer, but at $199.99 (direct) it delivers solid output along with Bluetooth connectivity for your smartphone or tablet. If you can spend a little more and don’t mind setting up a subwoofer, the Editors’ Choice Sony HT-CT260 offers noticeably better audio quality, but if you want simplicity and savings, the SC-HTB70 is a good buy.
One note up front: Panasonic touts the 120-watt soundbar as a “home theater system with subwoofer,” but since it’s all integrated into one unit and there isn’t nearly enough room for low end to properly resonate like in a conventional subwoofer, I can’t honestly describe the HTB70 as having a subwoofer. It’s more comparable to the Yamaha YAS-101, another soundbar with all of its components, including low end drivers, in one cabinet.
The HTB70′s design is minimalist to a fault. The 37.4-inch-long soundbar is a plain black rectangle measuring 4.2 inches high and 2.7 inches deep, with a black metal grille that wraps around from most of the front to the bottom side of the bar. Power, Input, and Volume Up/Down buttons sit on the right side of the bar.
The only display is a row of LEDs that indicate the active input, volume level, and other information. Instead of a read-out with numbers and letters, the LEDs are just points of light over labels that are almost impossible to read without having your face a few inches from the soundbar. Some of the LEDs light up in easily recognizable patterns when changing the volume or adjusting dialogue and “subwoofer” levels, but if you want to know which input is active or what sound mode the soundbar is currently on, you’ll have to either squint or get closer. The back of the soundbar holds only an RCA stereo audio input, an optical audio input, and a USB port used for servicing the soundbar.
The remote is similarly minimalist, looking like a regular Blu-ray player or HDTV remote that’s been chopped in half. It has volume, subwoofer level, and dialog level controls in addition to buttons for selecting input, selecting sound mode, muting audio, and using Bluetooth. The remote feels unresponsive and laggy, and I sometimes had a problem getting the soundbar to detect my commands when I was only a foot or two away.
Like the Editors’ Choice Sony HT-CT260 and the Toshiba SBX4250, the HTB70 has built-in Bluetooth, letting you stream music from your smartphone or tablet directly to the soundbar. Pairing is a simple process of pressing the Bluetooth button on the remote and then scanning for the soundbar with your mobile device. I had no problem pairing the soundbar to my Samsung Galaxy S III to stream music to it.
Interestingly, the HTB70 boasts a “4-Way Multi-Angle Position Layout,” which means the soundbar can be mounted on a wall or placed on a flat surface either facing forward or facing up with the grille pointing at the ceiling. It automatically switches how sound is processed when the soundbar is turned up or back, and lets you gain another inch and a half of clearance if your HDTV’s bezel is too low. The soundbar seemed to work equally well in either position on a table, with the low end getting a bit more power from having the soundbar face upward at the cost of losing some midrange punch.
The HTB70 suffers from some distinct flaws when playing music, but for the price it performs satisfyingly well. The soundbar lacks a subwoofer, which limits its ability to put out bass, and its high end tends to get a bit overly bright at times. I listened to Dragonforce’s “Die by the Sword,” and Herman Li’s already razor-edged guitar riffs sounded just slightly too sharp through the soundbar, and the drums and bass both sounded a bit soft compared to it. In Queens’ “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the vocals sounded satisfyingly clear and full and the drums came through well, but there wasn’t as much bass as most soundbars that come with wireless subwoofers. To its credit, the HTB70 put out slightly cleaner low end and rounder sound than the Toshiba SBX4250, which does come with a subwoofer. Compared to the non-subwoofer-equipped Yamaha YAS-101, though, the music seemed slightly muddled.
The lack of a subwoofer really comes into play when watching movies, which often require plenty of low end to lend a sense of power to action scenes. I watched the Tyrannosaurus rex scene in Jurassic Park, and while the dinosaur’s stomps and roars sounded full in the midrange, there wasn’t any real feeling of furniture thumping (or cups of water shaking). The HTB70 filled the test room will clear audio and I could hear the full range very well, but there just wasn’t any force in the low end. Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill’s dialogue was easy to hear with the Dialogue setting turned low, and turning that level up only made them sound overly sharp and more artificial. The best balance I found was the Dialogue setting on the lowest and the “Subwoofer” setting on the highest. These settings didn’t offer the most powerful sound or the most crisp dialogue, but they produced the roundest and most generally satisfying audio.
If you want to give your HDTV’s sound a boost without paying more than $200 or finding a place for a subwoofer, the Panasonic SC-HTB70 soundbar is a good choice. Its audio quality isn’t stellar and it’s unsurprisingly lacking in bass, but it sounds loud and clear enough to make your home theater stand out without much hassle. Plus, built-in Bluetooth gives you a wireless sound system. If you can spend a bit more, the Bluetooth Sony HT-CT260 is still our Editors’ Choice for its excellent all-around performance and powerful wireless subwoofer.
|Wireless Remote Control||Yes|
|Type||Wireless, Portable, Soundbar|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc