Capable audio and the convenience of a wireless subwoofer, but limited connectivity makes the HTB520 less than ideal for large home cinema setups
Surround sound systems are great if you’ve got the room for lots of satellite speakers, but anyone with limited floor space can still upgrade their listening experience with a slim-line sound bar. Panasonic’s HTB520 is a mid-range 2.1 model that combines two 60w speakers into a bar designed to sit above or underneath your TV with a powerful subwoofer to provide the bass.
With a mirror-effect glossy black plastic finish, the sound bar should match most TVs. The subwoofer is even shinier, and something of a magnet for fingerprints, but shouldn’t prove too distracting when hidden away in the corner of a room.
In order to reduce the number of cables snaking across your floor, Panasonic has decided to make the subwoofer wireless; a small dongle plugs into the back of the sound bar and communicates with the bass bin, letting you position the subwoofer without having to worry about wires. It’s been pre-paired, so there’s nothing to do apart from plug it in. Also on the back of the bar are two HDMI ports, one for connecting a Blu-ray player and the other for your TV, and a single optical S/PDIF input. This is enough for a basic home cinema setup, but if you have multiple set-top boxes or games consoles you’ll have to change cables frequently.
If you have a set that supports Audio Return Channel (ARC), you won’t need to use the second HDMI input – the TV will send audio information down the cable that connects it to the Blu-ray player. We had no problems playing audio from our reference TV once we’d enabled the setting in the TV’s options menu.
The very basic remote control switches between active inputs and controls volume. Two separate controls handle the subwoofer separately from the sound bar itself, so you can adjust the amount of bass to suit whatever you’re watching without having to change the overall volume of the system. If you also own a Panasonic VIERA TV, its existing remote control will be able to control the sound bar after a quick trip to the settings menu.
Overall sound quality was decent, with plenty of volume for a fairly small room. In larger spaces some of the finer details were lost, but the system should be well suited to most living rooms. We had to turn the subwoofer up to its maximum setting to get a satisfactory amount of bass when watching movies; at the default setting, explosions and gunshots had little presence, but increasing the volume improved things noticeably. Even so, the virtual surround sound effect couldn’t match the accuracy of a dedicated 5.1 system.
We found that the HTB520 was much better suited to music; from a listening position directly in front of the speakers, rock and electronic tracks sounded very clear and precise, with solid mid-range notes and a crisp high end.
Its sound quality is a definite step up from the integrated speakers on most TVs, but the HTB520 can’t compete with a dedicated surround sound system when it comes to films. However, if you want a space-saving set of speakers that sound great and you don’t mind missing out on 5.1 audio, it’s still a great choice at a reasonable price.
|Total SCART sockets||0|
|SCART socket type||0|
|Stereo phono inputs||0|
|Stereo phono outputs||0|
|Coaxial S/PDIF inputs||0|
|Coaxial S/PDIF outputs||0|
|Optical S/PDIF inputs||1|
|Optical S/PDIF outputs||0|
|Main unit end speaker connection type||N/A|
|Speaker end speaker connection type||N/A|
|Wired network ports||N/A|
|Wireless networking support||N/A|
|Supported playback disc formats||N/A|
|Audio format support||N/A|
|RMS power output||240W|
|RMS power centre||N/A|
|RMS power front||120W|
|RMS power surround||N/A|
|RMS power subwoofer||120W|
|Centre speaker cable length||N/A|
|Front speaker cable length||N/A|
|Surround speaker cable length||N/A|
|Power consumption standby||2W|
|Power consumption on||18W|
|Warranty||one year RTB|