The Panasonic SA-BX500 is the Amy Winehouse of the budget AV receiver market: incredibly talented but not without its issues or outright weirdness.

For starters, the case is almost the same size as Sony's STR-DG820 but seems to weigh less than a DVD sleeve – without a disc in, at that. Beneath the lid there is enough fresh air to fill a small woodland park and this is wholly refl ected in the frugal features count.

Simple to set up

No RoomEQ, no onscreen display and no video upscaling. On the upside, there are plenty of operational tie-ins and one-button features between this receiver and Panasonic's latest BD players and Viera plasma TVs, plus wireless rears if you buy into Panasonic's digital transmitter option.

Setup is a doddle, although the segmented fluorescent display is strangely devoid of useful info. Moreover, there is no easy way to check the speaker parameters after the auto setup, so you have to trust its acoustic delay measurements.

In my listening room it set the centre-channel a little light but there is manual level adjustment – described somewhere deep in the latter pages of the manual.

The front-panel controls are not exactly rock-solid, the remote is festooned with huge legends, its digital amp modules put in a dismal showing in our Tech Labs and its cosmetic appeal is marred by the use of a complete rainbow of LEDs on the fascia.

But then it cracks out an electrifying edition of Rehab and you can forgive it all the misgivings...

Bass effect

Viking: Battle for Asgard has an immediate, upfront and spacious sound backed by fairly enthusiastic LFE which the BX500 nails perfectly. It comes across every bit as classy, refined and detailed as the Sony STR-DG820 but expands on the sound-stage in every direction.

The sound kicks bass butt with every crunching axe blow. The ropey dialogue in the cut-scenes is a little too smooth but it does at least buff out the rough edges.

Switch to Blu-ray movies and the elaborate guffawing of Fifth Element swells into the room with great emotional drive. The bass effect of every gunshot is utterly addictive. The Diva's operatic song is strangely enthralling, without a ragged edge or dull tone. A couple of extra dB on the centre channel
brings the dialogue up.

When the going gets tough this Panasonic clearly hasn't got the gumption of some rivals, but what
it does have is genuine all-round appeal.