Keeping a low profile
What is the Panasonic SC-HTB680?This a mid-range soundbar and wireless subwoofer package which, at the time of publishing (January 2015), can be had for around the £230 mark. It boasts HDMI connectivity, Panasonic’s ‘Delta Form’ design and a 3.1 channel output. The SC-HTB680 is also capable of streaming via Bluetooth with NFC compatibility.
Who is it for?It’s for anyone that wants a really convenient solution to improve the sound from their TV but doesn’t fancy the idea of separate speakers or a full surround setup. Bearing in mind its place in the market, the HTB680 will suit those who want something better but don’t have to have the absolute best.
DesignThe aforementioned ‘Delta Form’ design refers to the fact that the SC-HTB680 sports a fairly flat design. That gives the advantage of it being very unlikely to get in the way of the bottom of the TV screen, which is a very good thing, but we also think it looks pretty stylish too. The supplied remote control is of the familiar ‘inverted tombstone’ style and provides all the control buttons you need in sensible, easy to find locations with good spacing between them. Due to its compact size, you may find it will go missing down the armchair from time to time, however.
ConnectionsWe’ve written a guide specifically designed to help you through the world of soundbars and how to connect them but the simplest way with the HTB680 – provided your TV supports ARC (Audio Return Channel) – is via the HDMI out connection. You are then able to run one HDMI cable to the TVs appropriate input and everything connected to the TV will then send audio to the soundbar. You also get an HDMI input for anything you want to hook up directly (e.g. Blu-ray Player/STB) and a S/PDIF (Toslink) Digital audio input too. The SC-HTB680 also features NFC capable Bluetooth connectivity, for streaming from mobile devices and PCs but more on that below.
HDMI connectivity is unusual at this price point
Panasonic SC-HTB680 Set upYou can have the HTB680 on top of your unit or on your wall. The SC-HTB680 should detect the orientation but there’s a setting in the menu system should you need to do it manually. Like the flagship HTB880 we recently covered, there is an added advantage in the wall-mounted configuration in that you can actually read the display panel when it’s in use; we struggled to make it out from our seat when placed on a table top. The menu system itself isn’t the most easy to use, either but once you get used to the scrolling and toggling nature, it’s not too bad. There is an explanation in the user manual, should you find yourself going round in ever decreasing circles.
FeaturesThe SC-HTB680 benefits from Panasonic’s Music Stream app, which is quite a powerful tool. It can be used in conjunction with any DLNA server on your home network and can also stream via Bluetooth too. The app supports Qualcomm’s AllPlay technology, which is capable of creating a multi-room wireless audio system from any assembled compatible products, so you can mix and match brands, with up to as many as 10 devices able to be added and control them from your Android or Apple smartphone or tablet. Additionally, the SC-HTB680 can pair by Bluetooth connection instantaneously, thanks to NFC (Near Field Communication) capability.
Panasonic SC-HTB680 Sound QualityWith the sound mode set at Stereo, we have to say we were impressed by the spacious audio of the HTB680, which is a high as it is wide. Obviously the design and orientation of the drivers plays a part in the verticality of the sound, much as it does with Panasonic’s present flagship soundbar, and in all honesty there’s not much to choose between the HTB680 and HTB880 with a standard stereo output. OK, the HTB880 fares slightly better with multichannel material but there’s not really an awful lot in it or, to put it another way, there’s certainly not a £250, or thereabouts, differential between the two.
Thanks to the inclusion of a dedicated centre channel, dialogue in movies is always clear and pinned to the middle of the screen, whilst effects are well presented at the sides. The subwoofer fights its corner pretty well, too, with reasonably impactful low tones that can be delivered at carpet troubling volumes. It’s certainly not the fastest or tightest bass you’re going to hear but in this sector of the market you can’t really expect that.
It really isn't very far behind Panasonic's flagship soundbar
If we do have a criticism, it would be that the SC-HTB680 isn’t a particularly gifted musical performer; there’s just not quite enough depth of sound or nuance there for it to be as convincing as it is with TV and movie soundtracks. On the plus side, the Bluetooth connection seems very solid and if you’re just intending to use a soundbar for some casual, background music streaming, it’s very unlikely to offend. The general tone is perhaps a little brighter than I would like but we’re all different in that regard. although I was left with the feeling that it just lacks that bit of get up and go.
Like we’ve said in as many words, however, when you consider the price point the SC-HTB680 is managing to hit there is really very little cause for complaint.
- Practical & attractive design
- Solid stereo sound
- Good bass
- Impressive connectivity
- Display is tricky to read
- Menu system is outdated
Panasonic SC-HTB680 Soundbar Review
Should I buy the Panasonic SC-HTB680?
At its current asking price we think the Panasonic SC-HTB680 is a very solid contender indeed. For your money you get what we consider a very stylish and practical design, very good connectivity options, including HDMI, and a nice set of features too. Like all soundbars it’s easy to set up as well, although perhaps the menu system could do with a rethink and the display is difficult to read if you place it on a unit. There is the option of wall-mounting, however, and the HTB680 has sensors built in to detect the orientation, so sound will be projected accordingly. The audio quality is also very good against others at this price-point with a clear and spacious sound underpinned by solid bass, courtesy of the included wireless subwoofer. All of the above adds up to a comfortable AVForums Recommended Award but be quick as they won’t be available for much longer.
What else is there?
You’re not short of options in this marketplace, that’s for sure, although not too many of them come with HDMI connectivity. The LG NB350 is roughly comparable as it features a separate subwoofer and it it’s available for around £200, but the sound is a little thinner than the Panasonic. The Yamaha YAS-152 is another for your consideration and despite it lacking a sub, still packs in a very full sound for under £200. For a look at other solutions, see our numerous buyers guides.
Ease of Use7
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
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