The Panasonic SC-HTB01PP SoundSlayer proves that Dolby Atmos soundbars don’t have to be expensive to be good.
Joining the likes of the Sony HT-X8500 in making that coveted Dolby Atmos audio technology more accessible to the masses (read: regular folks who might not want to shell out $1,000/£1,000 or more for a proper surround sound system), this soundbar is a welcome addition to a slowly broadening market. That’s especially because there’s still not a lot of soundbars out there that have Dolby Atmos support, let alone cater to gaming.
Of course, compared to most soundbars, the Panasonic SC-HTB01PP SoundSlayer is in the mid-range at $299 (about £235, AU$425). Some of the best soundbars out there will only set you back a little over $100/£100, and a few decent ones even less.
However, getting into the Dolby Atmos arena will cost you a lot more, with such soundbars going over that $500/£500 mark. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Dolby Atmos soundbar for cheap, and there’s only a handful of them that are as affordable as the SoundSlayer.
Affordability isn’t the Panasonic SC-HTB01PP SoundSlayer’s only selling point either. Although it won’t impress any hardcore audiophiles out there, it will be a robust upgrade from TV speakers, sound-wise. It delivers good sound quality, a fuller and more immersive soundstage, and even a tiny bit of rumble, which is surprising considering the lack of a separate sub.
To be clear, this little soundbar that could isn’t going to blow you away as well as its pricier counterparts or any of the fully-fledged home theater systems out there would. But, to compare it to those is unfair.
In its own right, the Panasonic SC-HTB01PP SoundSlayer does deliver where it matters. More importantly, it breaks into a market with very few decent prospects in the Dolby Atmos department.
Price and release date
As mentioned above, the Panasonic SC-HTB01PP SoundSlayer costs $299 (about £235, AU$425). As far as soundbars and soundbases go, that’s mid-range, with the cheaper models out there only selling for $100/£100 or less.
Still, you have to lump this in with those that come with Dolby Atmos support. When it comes to those soundbars, you’re looking at higher prices. The popular Sonos Arc, for example, costs $799 (£799, AU$1,399) while the epic Sennheiser Ambeo 3D Soundbar will burn a $2,500/£2,199/AU$4,00 hole in your pocket.
On the other hand, the Sony HT-X8500 is pretty much on par with the SoundSlayer at $299 (£350, AU$599), except it doesn’t actually have upward firing speakers and only offers virtual Dolby Atmos.
Looking at it from that viewpoint, we’d consider the Panasonic SC-HTB01PP SoundSlayer on the cheaper side. Though, do remember that this is a 2.1.1 system – if you want a 5.1.2 system, the Vizio SB36512-F6 is only $200 more, and it comes with a standalone sub as well as two satellite speakers.
And, arguably, if you don’t care much about Dolby Atmos, there are definitely cheaper entertainment and gaming soundbars out there to consider.
The Panasonic SC-HTB01PP SoundSlayer looks more like a small soundbase than a soundbar – though it is being touted as such – with a deeper width and shorter length at 17 x 5.25 x 2.06 inches. That said, it does have a compact enough footprint to fit in front of your TV or below it in your console.
It's a 2.1.1 system with two 4cm forward-firing woofers, an 8cm downward-firing sub, and one upward-firing speaker for Dolby Atmos. For versatility, it offers three different connections – HDMI, optical digital audio and Bluetooth. Rounding out its ports are an HDMI ARC port for 4K HDR passthrough and a USB port used specifically for updates.
It comes in a sleek, all-black package, easy to fit right in any home entertainment system. While it is one of the cheapest Dolby Atmos soundbars we’ve seen, it’s actually made of durable plastic and a grill made of cloth that’s nice to the touch. Situated at the top-center of the grill is a 6-inch gap that serves as a port for the upward-firing speaker. This enables the speaker to push the sound towards you, not just towards the ceiling.
This gap is also where you can find the four LEDs to indicate the settings you’re on: Bluetooth, Clear-Mode Dialog, 3D Surround (or Dolby Atmos), and GN-Game/AV or TV. As there are more settings than LED lights – there are four different sound modes and three different sub modes for gaming, the lights are color coded. It’s a pretty nifty system, one that doesn’t take too long to memorize, and it definitely helps the soundbar keep its minimalist look.
One cool thing about these LED lights is that you can actually dim them by pressing and holding down the mute button. It’s useful for when you’re using it to play music to fall asleep to, and you don’t want those pesky lights glaring in your face.
Also helping keep this soundbar’s minimalist look are four rubber buttons for power, volume and input, located on the right side of the soundbar. Though they're not flush, they’re small with gray (instead of white) labels next to them, so they blend well enough to go unnoticed at first glance. They feel sturdy as well, with nice tactile feedback.
While we’re in the subject of controls, this soundbar comes with a small remote – easy enough to lose so make sure that you put it somewhere where it won’t accidentally fall into a gap, never to be found again. It’s a pretty nifty remote, however, complete with everything you need to control the soundbar – from the bass volume and Bluetooth pairing to activating the Clear Dialog, sound modes and Dolby Atmos features.
There’s a lot to be said about the Panasonic SC-HTB01PP SoundSlayer’s sound quality: it’s never audiophile-level, but it’s neither too harsh nor too hollow-sounding when you’re using the optical audio and HDMI connections. It’s almost definitely a big upgrade from your TV speakers.
The volume gets fairly loud as well. It’s not meant for large spaces, but it’s enough to fill a small to medium sized room and definitely more than enough for PC gaming. The sub is surprisingly decent, especially for a small unit. Don't expect a hefty rumble, but the sub-bass present enough that you won't miss having a massive subwoofer when you’re PC gaming and it’s right in front of you.
Admittedly, a speaker this small with only two woofers is never going to give you the same surround sound experience as 5.1 or 7.1 speaker systems will, but what it does have going for it is that Dolby Atmos speaker. When you activate the 3D Surround, you're actually engaging Atmos, which allows the soundbar to deliver a more three-dimensional sound and a bigger soundstage. You won't hear sounds all around you or feel like a character sneaking up on you, but it will feel fuller, deeper and more immersive.
Naturally, since the SoundSlayer is a gaming speaker, it has three different gaming modes: Game 1 for RPG, Game 2 for FPS and Game 3 for enhanced voices. That’s on top of the Standard, Music and Cinema modes.
To put it to the test, tried these modes with three games on PC – Marvel Avengers, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Final Fantasy 14 (Panasonic partnered with Square Enix to bring this game to life on the SoundSlayer).
With Marvel Avengers, which has a lot of audio happening at once, the RPG mode makes it sound very cinematic with a wider soundstage, while the FPS mode makes it sound less cluttered, making it a bit easier to distinguish everything that was happening.
As for RDR2, RPG mode is obviously the most appropriate for this game, adding to the game’s cinematic quality. Meanwhile, the enhanced voices mode does make voices pop out more, offering a better soundstage than FPS, but it’s at times a bit too much in the mids. The FPS mode, unfortunately, flattens the sound of the game and actually makes voices harder to hear.
We appreciate the Clear Dialog feature here, as it does help give dialogues a bit more clarity. However, it’s not always effective. It seems like the Panasonic SC-HTB01PP SoundSlayer does this by boosting the frequencies where voices typically sit, giving it a mid boost. So, in effect, it will simply boost everything in that frequency, including backing music and environmental sounds.
Testing this feature on the TV with the big battle at the end of Black Panther, the dialogue isn't any clearer because the score and all those fighting sound effects are boosted as well. That said, Clear Dialog would work 75% of the time, just not in situations like this.
Sadly, when you’re listening to music on Panasonic SC-HTB01PP SoundSlayer via Bluetooth, you’ll notice some harshness. It tends to bring out the highs in music, often resulting in an unpleasant listening experience. Music also sounds a little muted like there's a blanket over the speakers except in the midrange where vocals, especially those with modern production behind them.
Finally, it seems that when connected to the PC via HDMI, the soundbar’s 3D Surround Sound won’t turn on unless you have Dolby Atmos media playing. We actually tested two different units for this, thinking that the first one was just a defective one, but the second unit has the same idiosyncrasy as well.
Should you buy the Panasonic SoundSlayer Gaming Speaker?
Buy it if...
You want a Dolby Atmos soundbar with an entry-level price tag
At $299 (about £235, AU$425), the Panasonic SC-HTB01PP SoundSlayer will get you that coveted Dolby Atmos experience for much less than the price of the competition.
You’re looking for a decent soundbar for gaming
There may be cheaper soundbars out there, but this one has good sound imaging, decent bass and Dolby Atmos support, not to mention three different connectivity options.
You’re trying to cover a small to medium space
This soundbar is loud and reliable enough to cover small to medium rooms, and it has the footprint for it too.
Don’t buy it if…
You want a more immersive surround sound experience
While the Panasonic SC-HTB01PP SoundSlayer has a wider soundstage and good sound imaging, it simply can’t compete with 5.1 and 7.1 speaker systems.
You have a large room
It’s meant to cover small to medium spaces, so if you’ve got a much bigger space, look elsewhere.
You want a lot of rumble
While its bass does a decent job, it’s never going to be as good as soundbars that come with a standalone subwoofer.
- Ready to upgrade your TV speakers? Check out our guide to the best soundbars!