Panasonic SoundSlayer review: This compact, gaming-focused soundbar packs a punch

Panasonic SoundSlayer review: This compact, gaming-focused soundbar packs a punch

If you’re looking for an easy, relatively inexpensive way to add punchy 3D audio to your gaming rig, look no further than the Panasonic SoundSlayer. Equipped with a built-in subwoofer and small enough to sit in front of your PC monitor, the 2.1-channel SoundSlayer supports Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and DTS Virtual:X sound, and it packs in surprisingly solid audio quality given its size.

Granted, the 17-inch, $300 SoundSlayer can’t deliver the expansive soundstage or precise height cues of a full-size soundbar with upfiring drivers, nor will its built-in woofer shake the room like a separate subwoofer can. The SoundSlayer also lacks Wi-Fi, which means no AirPlay 2, Chromecast, or voice assistant support. That said, the pint-sized SoundSlayer consistently punched above its weight in terms of audio quality, and because it’s so portable, it could even do double-duty in a (small) living room.

Design and configuration

Measuring just 17 x 2.06 x 5.25 inches, the Panasonic SoundSlayer is one of the smallest soundbars we’ve ever tested, although at four pounds it doesn’t feel chintzy. It’s also easy to see why Panasonic would opt for such a small housing, given that the SoundSlayer is meant to be plunked in front of a PC gaming monitor. When you’re done gaming, you could easily move the SoundSlayer over to the TV in your living room.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best soundbars, where you’ll find reviews of competing products, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping.

At just a hair over two inches in height, the SoundSlayer fit nicely in front of my low-slung, 55-inch LG C9 OLED without blocking the bottom edge of the screen. Unlike other soundbars, however, the SoundSlayer doesn’t come with mounting hardware or holes, so you won’t be able to mount it on a wall unless you devise a DIY solution.

The SoundSlayer is a 2.1-channel soundbar, with a 4 cm full-range cone and a 1.4 cm tweeter for each of the left and right channels. For low-frequency effects (the “.1” in the “2.1” configuration), the soundbar has a built-in, downfiring 8 cm woofer along with dual passive radiators. There isn’t a dedicated center driver for dialog (which would be surprising to find in a soundbar this small, and in this price range), but the SoundSlayer combines audio from the left and right channels to create a “phantom” center channel. Unlike some pricier soundbars, the SoundSlayer can’t be upgraded with wired or wireless surround speakers or a dedicated subwoofer.

The SoundSlayer joins a growing list of soundbars that use virtualization rather than upfiring drivers (which bounce sound off your ceiling) to deliver 3D audio effects, including height cues. For starters, the SoundSlayer supports DTS Virtual:X, a popular virtualization technology from DTS that can create surprisingly realistic 3D audio effects from as few as two drivers (the SoundSlayer has four front-firing drivers, but we’re still only talking two channels here). The soundbar also supports native Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio, which (similar to the DTS Virtual:X mode) deliver their surround and height effects via virtualization.

Granted, virtualized 3D sound isn’t as precise as 3D audio from upfiring drivers or—better yet—in-ceiling speakers. That said, not everyone has the time, inclination, or cash to install physical speakers in their ceilings. And when it comes to upfiring drivers that bounce sound off your ceiling, the effect will be greatly diminished if your ceiling is too high, too short, or (worst of all) vaulted, and sound-absorbing ceilings tiles are no-nos, too. In other words, virtual 3D audio might be the best choice for those on tight budgets, or if you have ceilings that weren’t designed with upfiring speakers in mind.

Inputs and outputs

The Panasonic SoundSlayer has only a limited number of ports. On the HDMI side, there’s a single HDMI input and an HDMI output that doubles as an HDMI-ARC (or “Audio Return Channel”) port. You also get an optical (Toslink) input, plus a USB Type-A port that’s only for firmware updates.

The Panasonic SoundSlayer comes with an HDMI-ARC port, a single HDMI input, and an optical (Toslink) input.

Now, there are a few different ways to go in terms of connecting the SoundSlayer to your gaming rig. If, for example, you want to use the SoundSlayer with a game console connected to your TV, you could connect the console and your other video sources to your TV’s HDMI inputs, and then connect the SoundSlayer’s HDMI-ARC port to your TV’s matching HDMI-ARC port. Doing so makes it easy to switch between multiple video inputs without having to swap cables, given that the SoundSlayer has only one HDMI input.

The downside of such a setup is that the SoundSlayer’s HDMI-ARC port doesn’t support eARC, an “enhanced” version of ARC that can handle lossless audio formats such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. The lack of eARC support only matters if you care about the lossless audio tracks on Blu-ray discs, which you can play on current- and next-gen PlayStation and Xbox consoles equipped with optical drives. It’s also worth noting that we’ve never seen a soundbar in the SoundSlayer’s price range that does support eARC, or at least not yet. (Your TV would also need to support eARC, by the way.)

Another setup option would be to connect the SoundSlayer’s sole HDMI input to your video source (such as your PC’s video card), and then connecting the soundbar’s HDMI output to your TV or PC monitor. The SoundSlayer supports 4K/60Hz HDR passthrough (albeit only vanilla HDR10, not HDR10+ or Dolby Vision), and if you did want to play Blu-rays on a video source connected to the SoundSlayer’s HDMI input, lossless audio wouldn’t be a problem. That said, if you wanted to switch video sources on the SoundSlayer while using it in passthrough mode, you’d have to swap cables in the soundbar’s single HDMI input or use a third-party HDMI switcher.

Buttons, indicator lights, and remote

The SoundSlayer has only a few buttons on its shell, including power, volume up/down, and input select buttons. All four of those buttons sit on the right side of the soundbar.

The SoundSlayer’s remote is a small, simple affair, including a large volume rocker and prominent buttons for power, mute, input select, Bluetooth pairing, and the soundbar’s various audio modes (which we’ll cover momentarily). There’s also a “3D Surround” button that enables DTS Virtual:X processing for non-3D audio content, as well as a “CLR Dialog” button that activates the soundbar’s dialog-enhancing mode. Unsurprisingly, the remote isn’t backlit, but the logical layout of the buttons along with the fact that there’s only a few of them makes the remote easy to use in the dark.

The SoundSlayer’s small, simple remote is easy to figure out in the dark.

Just above the fabric-covered front of the SoundSlayer and beneath the lip of its rectangular housing is a series of four multicolor LEDs that tell you the current status of the soundbar as well as its volume level. For instance, the “3D SRND” and “GN-Game/AV or-TV” indicators will glow in different combinations of orange or green depending on which of the three game audio modes (which, again, we’ll describe momentarily) are available.

Features and audio modes

The SoundSlayer comes equipped with three audio modes that will sound familiar to most home theater users, including Standard, Music, and Cinema. Pretty standard stuff.

The centerpiece of the SoundSlayer’s audio modes is its Game mode, which actually comes in three variants: one for first-person shooters designed to emphasize “accurate location audio” to help you pinpoint footsteps and other “subtle” sounds; a second mode for “adventure” games that enhances voices; and a third mode for role-playing games that (with help from Final Fantasy developer Square Enix) was specifically designed for Final Fantasy XIV Online. How do those gaming modes sound? We’ll tackle that in the Performance section, so stay tuned.

The SoundSlayer doesn’t support Wi-Fi, which means no AirPlay 2 or Chromecast support, nor does it support Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri voice commands. That said, you can stream music to the soundbar via Bluetooth.

Buttons for power, volume up/down, and input select are on the right side of the soundbar.

The SoundSlayer is designed to automatically switch itself to standby mode if it doesn’t detect an audio signal for 20 minutes, a feature that can make your PC monitor flicker momentarily if you’re using the soundbar in 4K passthrough mode and you haven’t been playing games or music for awhile. Luckily, you can turn the auto-standby feature off by pressing and holding the volume-up and subwoofer volume-down buttons on the remote for four seconds.

Performance

Since the compact SoundSlayer was designed to be moved from one room to another, I tested it in three settings: in my office, sitting in front of a 4K monitor and connected to my custom-built PC; in my dining room, hooked up to an Acer Nitro 5 gaming laptop; and in my entertainment room, connected to my 55-inch LG C9 TV via ARC. For games, I switch around between a few of my favorites, including Destiny 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and No Man’s Sky. And given that the SoundSlayer’s RPG mode was specifically designed for Final Fantasy XIV, I dabbled in that MMORPG (which I haven’t played in years) as well.

Now, I’m used to playing PC games either with a pair of powered Mackie CR3 bookshelf speakers, or with the Nitro 5’s DTS:X Ultra-enabled laptop speakers. Needless to say, the SoundSlayer blew away the Nitro’s tiny drivers, but it also did a nice job compared to my Mackie speakers, pumping out rich, detailed sound and impressively punchy base for a compact, all-in-one soundbar. With DTS Virtual:X sound enabled, the SoundSlayer delivered a surprisingly wide soundstage for such a narrow soundbar, and while height cues were fairly subtle, I didn’t hear any of the harshness that too often accompanies virtualized 3D audio.

I found that the SoundSlayer’s RPG audio mode offered the most encompassing soundstage, and as promised, Final Fantasy’s XIV’s glorious soundtrack and layered acoustic effects sounded ravishing. Rolling a fresh character for the trip to the pirate port of Limsa Lominsa, the frigate creaked realistically around me (more on the sides than the rear, which is typical for 2.1-channel soundbars with virtual 3D audio), as did the booming, crashing cannonballs fired by marauding pirates.

For the SoundSlayer’s first-person shooter mode, I turned to Destiny 2, a game that I’ve sunk more hours into than I care to admit. Running a series of Vanguard strikes on my Warlock, I found that the soundbar’s FPS audio mode had a considerably tighter soundstage, although (and as advertised) sound placement felt more accurate—so yes, that’s helpful for those times when a stealthy Psion is trying to flank you. I also liked the deep, solid pops of exploding fusion grenades, the satisfying cracks of my Night Watch scout rifle, and the sizzling thwonk of my electrified Trinity Ghoul bow.

To take the SoundSlayer’s dialog-focused “adventure” sound mode for a test drive, I logged into Star Wars: The Old Republic, an MMORPG known for its fully voiced interactions with NPCs. “Adventure” mode boasts a soundstage that sits somewhere between the SoundSlayer’s RPG and FPS modes, and dialog does indeed get a substantial boost, although I generally preferred the more balanced and expansive RPG sound mode while I played SWTOR.

Of course, the SoundSlayer isn’t just for gaming. Hooking it up to my LG C9 TV and tossing in the UHD Blu-ray for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (yes, I was in a Star Wars kind of mood), I teed up the chase scene between the Millennium Falcon and a trio of Imperial Star Destroyers. Remastered for Dolby Atmos, Empire’s soundtrack now features plenty of height cues, and I could hear hints of them as the Star Destroyers crashed into each other and when circuits were fizzling in the Falcon’s cockpit. The SoundSlayer also punched above its weight with its wider than expected soundstage, and the built-in subwoofer handled the Falcon’s deep, roaring engines with impressive finesse. But while the SoundSlayer was a big step up from my LG C9’s built-in speakers, it (quite naturally) can’t compete with the 5.1.2-channel speaker setup I typically use in my living room.

Finally, I queued up some Spotify tunes (I streamed them on the Nitro 5 with the soundbar connected via HDMI), and I found myself thoroughly enjoying some Brahms violin sonatas, something I wouldn’t normally imagine listening to on a gaming soundbar. Ditto for the title track of Bruce Springsteen’s The Ghost of Tom Joad, with Bruce’s spare vocals sounding surprisingly clean and alive, while Ciara’s “Level Up” was punctuated by tight, crisp bass.

Bottom line

No, there’s no Wi-Fi support, nor can you upgrade this all-in-one soundbar with additional speakers. That said, the gaming-centric Panasonic SoundSlayer manages to crank out surprisingly impressive audio from its compact shell, making it an easy and affordable way to upgrade the sound on your PC, and it can even hold its own in a small living room.

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