Panasonic has taken the wraps off its new range of audio products, that join the company's All Connected multi-room streaming platform.
The new products include a one-box hi-fi micro system, slimline, wall-mountable all-in-one sound system and a new soundbar with wireless subwoofer.
Panasonic has undergone extensive research and testing with the three to not only improve the sound quality, but the whole user experience, ease of use and ultimately synchronisation with other products in its repertoire.
We were invited to a private listening session of the new products, to see how things have changed and to hear about Panasonic's audio plans going forward.
Panasonic PMX-152 connected micro hi-fi system
We started with the PMX-152 [pictured above], which is the succeeding model to the PMX-100 micro hi-fi system.
At £549 it's not cheap, but Panasonic believes the sound quality and list of features more than justifies its price. It's the first Panasonic CD micro hi-fi system to benefit from the company's CD High-Res Master feature which claims to up-sample CD audio to high-resolution quality.
MP3 Re-Master and Bluetooth Re-Master technologies also aim to deliver the best possible sound from compressed sources.
The 152 is compatible with other All Connected multi-room speakers too, and Panasonic says it's tapping into a segment of the multi-room market that nobody is currently filling, or at least filling well.
Sonos may be the name that first comes to mind when you think of multi-room, but it relies on integrated music streaming services or an external source via line-in when connected to a Control or Control:Amp.
Panasonic's system lets you stream music via DLNA, AirPlay or Spotify Connect over Wi-Fi to other products, but can also re-stream external sources via Bluetooth. For example, you can play a CD on the PMX-152 and it can be streamed to another speaker in the same room, or even one in the kitchen. Although it does rely on Bluetooth, so the other product(s) will need to be in range.
Volume levels for all speakers or systems in a group can be controlled together or individually, but for now you can only play the same song on all speakers rather than separate ones in different rooms.
Panasonic SC-HC1020 connected lifestyle hi-fi system
The SC-HC1020 is Panasonic's lifestyle hi-fi system, serving up a slim design that can be wall mounted if you don't have a surface to put it on, or just prefer the overall look. The new model has received more external design changes than internal upgrades, and now sports a more symmetrical design compared to its predecessor.
Panasonic has also developed a new wall-mount sound mode, that noticeably changes the sound from it being placed on a surface, to on a wall.
When on a surface, it delivers a sound with a generous amount of bass weight, while keeping the vocals clear. Move it to a wall and that bass weight becomes a bit overpowering, turn the wall mount mode on however and a fair amount of it disappears. You're left with a clear, full-bodied sound that also benefits from wide dispersion around the room, ideal for a one-box system that may not be in the centre of your room.
Like the other products announced, the SC-HC1020 can re-stream music to any other All Connected speaker.
Panasonic SC-HTB488 connected soundbar
Finally, Panasonic has a new soundbar, the SC-HTB488, which sports a completely new design. The new model ditches the upward firing speakers from its predecessor, instead focusing on pushing sound straight at the audience rather than up over their head. This is partly to help it fare better with music as well as movies. Panasonic says a lot of soundbar owners want to use their 'bar for both purposes, but often find they can't compete with a dedicated system when it comes to music.
The new design, coupled with improvements to the internal speaker drivers and rethinking the wireless subwoofer have had a significant effect. Music has a lot more impact than before and vocals are much clearer. The bass could be a bit too much for some, but settings for this can be adjusted.
The same powerful sound is carried across to movies too. Whereas before dialogue was good, you never felt the full force of explosions or high-action scenes, fortunately that's now been addressed and the new soundbar delivers a lot more oomph. Our only niggle from our brief time listening to the soundbar was that we noticed some other sound effects, such as birds chirping in the background or glass shattering were lost a little.
Panasonic All Connected app for iOS and Android
Panasonic has made several improvements to its All Connected app for iOS and Android too. The app will automatically find any All Connected speaker or systems on the same network, and if you want to create a group of speakers to send audio to, you simply drag and drop them together. It's a nice touch and something that sets the app apart from the competition.
Also, when you insert a CD to one of the CD systems, the app will read it and access Gracenote to download album artwork and track names. Before, the app wasn't able to do this and just showed 'Track 1', 'Track 2' and so on.
We're impressed with Panasonic's new offerings, hearing the new products versus the old side by side made it clear several improvements had been made to the sound quality. The addition of the All Connected multi-room platform across all products makes them a viable alternative to the likes of Sonos and Bose as you can stream other soures such CD or vinyl around your home.