If you want a great sounding Bluetooth speaker, buying a model with artificial intelligence isn’t always a smart idea: Function not fidelity is the name of the game when it comes to AI sound systems – unlike the mature (dumb) wireless speaker market, there are not many options if you want credible hi-fi with a semblance of IQ.
However Panasonic’s SC-GA10 – available at £230 (around $320, AU$400) could be a game-changer: this Google Assistant-based wireless speaker can not only hold a tune like more traditional Bluetooth speakers, but it might even sound better than they do all while integrating Google Assistant.
This isn’t the first connected speaker we’ve seen from Panasonic. The brand previously touted its All Connect range as an alternative to Sonos and Heos, which used the Qualcomm Allplay platform, though, they’ve now been retired in favour of a Google gambit.
With Chromecast built-in by default, this speaker can cast directly from scores of apps, including Deezer, Tunein, Deezer, Google Play and Spotify. The GA10 will also merge into a wider Chromecast multiroom speaker network.
Does that mean it's worth buying into? Read on to find out.
Panasonic has gone for an upmarket look with the SC-GA10. The finish, from metallic base to fabric cover, is reassuringly premium.
It’s also surprisingly big for a desktop speaker. It stands taller than an Amazon Echo, at 284mm, and carries extra weight at 1.7kg. And that’s without the external power brick, which could politely be described as a tad inelegant.
If you want to get hands-on, a touchpad top controls volume, transport and input selection. Status indicators pulsate according to use. When the lights scroll, Google is processing your voice command, a simultaneous blink confirms its response.
Given that this is essentially a wireless speaker, you shouldn’t expect much connectivity. There is, however, a 3.5mm stereo input jack for a hard-wired music source (and yes, we did try it with an Echo Dot, which we realise is entirely perverse). There’s also Bluetooth, which may occasionally be more convenient than Wi-Fi or streaming from the net directly.
Setting up is refreshingly straightforward. You’ll have your Google Assistant online and yakking shortly after downloading the Google Home app. Panasonic’s own Music Control app can be used for direct control of the GA10, and offers bass and treble adjustment, but it’s not strictly needed for everyday use.
First impressions are enthusiastically positive. The soundstage is wider and more insistent than you might expect. I was startled at just how unabashed its performance is.
The SC-GA10 doesn’t just go loud, however, it has punch and musicality: The mid-range is smooth, while treble is given the headroom to shine. It’s also fast enough for rhythmic bass.
Inside the SC-GA10 is an ingenious driver stack that looks like it should be on stage at a Lilliputian Glasto. Two offset 2cm soft dome tweeters sit atop an 8cm woofer; a contorted bass reflex port has been tuned for richness and balance.
The soundstage that this vertical design creates looks like it should be narrow, but it’s actually pretty wide, a trick which has been achieved with custom diffusers which spread the output of the tweeters.
That said, the speaker can’t really distinguish instruments spatially – it basically gushes tunes out. This isn’t a particular criticism, just an inevitable consequence of the form factor.
The power output of the SC-GA10 is rated at a modest 2 x 20W, but this rather undersells its performance. It can fill the average living room, and a run through of Led Zeppelin 3 positively bristles with energy.
Obviously, there are limits to just how far you can crank the power plant - we might have pushed my luck with Babylon’s Burning (The Ruts) - but for this class of speaker, its output is respectfully prodigious.
The SC-GA10’s vocal performance is particularly noteworthy. Expensive Being Poor, by TV Smith, retains its heart and clout; when Smith emotes you can hear the indignation amid his hooks.
With pop, rock and dance, the SC- GA10 proves nigh on indefatigable. The GA10 drops low with calculated authority. Lil’ Red Riding Hood (999), for example has a plunging bass line that really travels. Is it too heavy handed? Some might argue so, but we enjoyed the beat.
The SC-GA10 is unequivocally one of the best sounding smart speakers currently available. It’s immeasurably better than (the admittedly much cheaper) Google Home, and comparable in many ways to the non-smart Sonos Play:1 and Heos 1. It warrants a thumbs up when it comes to performance.
If there is a caveat (and there is) it’s that the speaker often turns a deaf ear to voice commands when it’s busy playing your music selection. It’s as if the speaker’s noise cancelling microphone array just can’t cope with volume.
When it won’t respond to ‘Hey Google’ hails you’ll have to fumble around for more traditional control, be it by using the on-body controls, or Panasonic’s own app, and this rather spoils the illusion of futuristic control.
All said however, in the world where function often trumps fidelity, the GA10 offers a return to old school musicality. Brazen yet musical, it’s a great desktop solution if you want some rock when eating your rolls.
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