I’m an “audiophile” in the sense that I enjoy good sound quality and can distinguish between most different types of audio options…which is to say I’m not really an “audiophile” at all. But no one needs to know that, at least in my family.
In my living room, I currently have a TV and a separate 5.1 sound system, where the rear two speakers are busted; so really I have front left, right, and center channels. Once upon a time before I had kids, I would blast Iron Man 2 on blu ray with the speakers nearly all the way up, shaking my whole house in the process. It was glorious, and my dogs hated it.
Dialog was never a problem in those days because if I had any trouble hearing anyone talking, I would just turn the sound up. Nowadays with a toddler and a newborn on the way, I can’t really be blasting my speakers at night. In fact, since my daughter was born almost 2 years ago, I don’t think I’ve turned on my sound system once. I usually just watch tv/movies and game through my TV speakers, which is all fine and dandy, but I keep it pretty low and can hardly hear any dialog at all. My wife and I basically spend the entire time with a remote in our hands, adjusting the volume constantly throughout the course of our TV watching night.
Needless to say, I can hardly remember what life was like where I could just set one volume and not touch it again until I was done.
The TV speakers and my sound system both had one huge issue; background noise and dialogue seemed to never sync up. I always had a situation where action would house-shakingly loud, but I had to strain to hear any talking. From what I understand, this is actually a pretty common issue, and even though my TV has a feature that supposedly makes the dialogue balance with the loud background noises a bit better, I don’t think it works like they say it is supposed to.
I never really considered a soundbar, so when Panasonic approached me to review the SC-HTB70 bar, I went into it more with curiosity than anything else. Honestly what interested me more than anything else was the Dialog Level Control, a completely separate volume control devoted solely to dialogue. Iiiiinteresting.
The SC-HTB70 is a 120 watt system that won’t break any records for sound quality, butt it served my purposes just fine. I’m not looking for another speaker set to blow my roof off; I already have one. The fact that the soundbar was actually lower power than my speaker system was a very attractive feature to me. It comes with a 4-way multi-angle position layout where you can set up the bar either completely flat, or at 30, 80, and 90 degrees by using the different sets of feet that come with the unit.
I tried all four configurations and didn’t really notice any discernible difference. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that I have a fairly open living room and the different angles at which the sound is output didn’t really have much of an effect, but between the 4 angles I could barely tell the difference. You folks may have better luck in your living rooms.
On the remote there are three separate volume controls; one for the master volume, one for the subwoofer, and one for dialog. The subwoofer and dialog levels come in four settings, whereas the master volume has a much wider range of levels. The subwoofer is nothing special, as expected from a soundbar. I would suspect there would be a way to hook up an external subwoofer to the bar, but I did not get a chance to try it out. The built in subwoofer actually has a pretty decent thump to it when pumped all the way up, but not enough to shake the house. It was perfect for my situation. Playing The Last of Us with the woofer bumped up to Level 4 resulted in some nice, deep booms when I was shooting or performing melee attacks. It was JUST enough to be a noticeable difference from my TV speakers, but not as much as my speaker system. It’s a fantastic balance for those who have volume restrictions like me.
The star of the show for me was the separate dialog control. It’s actually quite amazing how low I can have the master volume but still have crisp dialogue that I don’t have to struggle to hear. This is done not only by the separate control, but also the addition of Clear-mode Dialog, a feature that isolates the dialog track and gives it a clearer, more noticeable sound. I specifically tested out this feature with three subjects: The Avengers, Mad Men, and The Last of Us.
With The Avengers, I went straight to my test scene of choice with any audio review, the final NYC battle. I turned the master volume down low enough so that you couldn’t hear it in any other room, and pumped the dialog volume all the way up. Explosions were barely noticeable, but the jibber jabbber between the characters came through nice and clear. With Mad Men I didn’t really run into any issues; after all, it’s not a particularly action heavy show. I left the volume nice and high with dialog all the way up, and enjoyed the nice, crisp tones of Don Draper and Peggy.
The Last of Us is a better test of this feature since so much of the game jumps quickly between quite scenes with heavy dialog and loud, intense violence. With the master down low and the dialog up to the max, I had no issues whatsoever. Gunshots and melee attacks were nice and low (yet still audible), and the conversations between Joel and Ellie were clear as day. It was beautiful.
The other thing that was very attractive about this system was the easy setup. My speaker system involves a ton of wiring; seriously, it was a major pain to set up. With the SC-HTB70 all you need to do is connect the bar to your TV via one optical audio cable, the power cord, and the IR receiver for the tiny remote. It took less that 5 minutes to set up. The only downside? It did NOT come with the optical cable, which is a huge inconvenience. You would really think that this system would at least come with the cable needed to even make it work! Come on Panasonic!
For those that also listen to music via your home’s sound system, the SC-HTB70 has a feature where you can stream music from your phone, tablet, or any other bluetooth device straight through the speakers. This is also done in a very simple manner; simply push the bluetooth button on the remote, scan for it on your device, and enjoy.
For $199.99, the SC-HTB70 is a system for a very specific demographic. If earth shattering, theater quality sound is what you’re looking for, you should probably stay away from this, or any soundbar for that matter. It will never provide more than 2 channels of sound, even with all the multi-angle tricks it employs. The bass will never be deep and powerful enough to replicate the theater experience.
However, for those that are looking to upgrade from just using their TV’s speakers, or those who are in a situation like me where you have young children, this system is absolutely worth it. Just the Dialog Level Control is worth it to me, since that pretty much eliminates any issue I had with my previous two systems. I only wish I was able to keep this soundbar, since going back to constantly adjusting the volume is going to SUCK.