A mere 10cm deep and wall-mountable - if you so desire - the Panasonic SC-HC40DB is a decent all-rounder. In truth the build quality of the SC-HC40DB is not standout stuff, though it does fit together a decent combination of built-in tech, including door-covered iPhone dock and CD player with DAB, USB playback and Bluetooth streaming from a phone, that could tempt a few in.
iPod/iPhone playback is good, though some of the gloss is taken from the motorised door effect by a small - and rather “analogue” - lever that must be used to push the dock connector forward before an iPod or iPhone can be slipped on top. Otherwise it’s excellent, with full control over internal menus, including access to playlists.
The CD player is similarly excellent (if a little retro? We jest …) and it’s nice to see both a DAB tuner and a top flap-hidden USB slot for playing back MP3s. The latter could be considered digital overkill, perhaps, but what shouldn't be ignored is the SC-HC40DB’s very finest feature - Bluetooth streaming.
It’s so good it virtually renders the built-in iPod dock and CD player pointless. Engaged via the remote, the SC-HC40DB immediately looks for any Bluetooth device, and it’s a cinch to pair it via an iPhone’s “settings” app. From that point it’s quite the idiots guide to modernity; anything you select on your iPhone will instantly play on the SC-HC40DB. And if you get a phone call, the music fades out - and back in again when the call is done.
Since the SC-HC40DB is aimed at those with an iPhone, it would arguably be more useful to lose the CD player and iPod dock altogether, in favour of slightly meatier speakers. That’s an especially good idea since the speakers, while half-decent, are the SC-HC40DB’s weak link.
It’s not a serious issue if you plan to use the SC-HC40DB in a relatively small room. A run-through of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon reveals some excellent stereo imaging, with the guitar hook lively and detailed over the lush harmonies and strummed backing, while the wandering bass is just about spot-on - not falsely dominating, but just bold enough in the mix. That’s at a relatively quiet volume, and it’s where the SC-HC40DB excels. Push the volume up only a few notches and the world falls apart; the treble highs are still there, but there’s a touch of distortion and the bassline suddenly seems separate.
Overall the sound volume is actually better than we’d expected considering how flat the speakers are, while the stereo effect is sensational if you engage the “surround” mode. What you mustn’t do is playback very lo-res MP3 files - they suffer badly.
There’s a shortcut for that particular mode on the remote, which is itself almost identical to those remotes used by Panasonic for its TVs. It’s split into CD and iPod functionality, with separate commands for opening and closing the motorised door, playing and pausing. Additional controls are also onboard for playing songs via a USB stick or from a Bluetooth device, and for setting alarms, clocks and other bedside frippery. It’s a slightly haphazard warts ‘n’ all approach and certainly not the sleek remote it could be, but it just about holds it together.
Panasonic has come up with an do-it-all hi-fi whose cutting-edge features are more desirable than its slim design; its combination of a motorised door-covered iPhone dock and CD player with DAB, USB playback and Bluetooth streaming from a phone makes for quite some package. If you're after a big-sounding system look away now, but those after something for a small room will love the sensational stereo.