Dolby Atmos Soundbar on a Budget
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo In case you couldn’t guess by the name, the Panasonic SoundSlayer is…
In case you couldn’t guess by the name, the Panasonic SoundSlayer is a soundbar for gamers. Specifically, gamers who might be living in cramped spaces but aren’t keen on settling for their TV’s dinky speakers or buying a potentially complicated setup.
The whole gaming angle of the SoundSlayer, aside from the cheesy name, is that there are three distinct modes depending on the type of game you’re playing. There’s an FPS mode, dialogue mode, and an RPG mode that was made in partnership with Square Enix and optimized for Final Fantasy XIV (though, it’s fine for other RPGs). But gaming aside, the “big” thing for this teeny soundbar is that it’s Dolby Atmos compatible and a mere $300. That’s not exactly cheap for a 2.1 channel sound system, but it is much cheaper than the average soundbar with Dolby Atmos. Plus, at 17 by 2.04 by 5.25 inches, it should fit easily under most monitors, unless you have such limited desk space that you barely have room for a keyboard let alone a soundbar (aka, me).
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On paper, this seems kind of nifty—especially if you primarily use your computer to consume your media. In practice, there are a few quirks with the SoundSlayer that aren’t necessarily deal-breakers, but might make you think twice.
Out of the box, the SoundSlayer is pretty straightforward to set up. If you want to use it with your TV, you basically just stick the HDMI cables where you want them to go, adjust your TV’s audio settings accordingly, and that’s about it. It’s much simpler than setting up the Sonos Arc, which involves tuning the soundbar to your home’s acoustics, pairing within a companion app, and creating a Sonos account. The SoundSlayer also has 4K HDR passthrough, which is helpful for set-top boxes like the Apple TV that only have a single HDMI port.
For connectivity, the SoundSlayer supports optical digital audio, HDMI input/output, HDMI ARC for 4K HDR passthrough, as well as Bluetooth. There’s also a USB-A port for updates.
As far as design, what can I say? It’s an inoffensive boxy black box. On my TV console, it simply blends in. I’d forget it’s there if not for the LED indicator lights on the front, which are there to help you figure out what mode the SoundSlayer is in. I appreciate that it’s got a low profile, so it’s not going to obstruct your view if your TV has stubby legs and again, should fit under most monitors.
The SoundSlayer also comes with a little remote. I hate it with every fiber of my being. Not only is it easy to lose, several times during testing it just did not cooperate. Once it failed to turn the soundbar on or off. Another time, the volume controls just did not work. Yet another time it shat the bed when it came to switching between different sound modes, which was frustrating because that’s the only way you can. The problem usually fixed itself if I turned the soundbar off and on again, but that was annoying. I tried replacing the coin cell battery the remote came with, just in case that was the issue. Nope. It’s possible I got a wonky remote, but at the very least there are physical power, volume, and input/Bluetooth pairing buttons on the left side of the soundbar. I only wish there was a button for switching modes too.
Performance-wise, I’d say the SoundSlayer is somewhere between “incredibly fine” and “huh, that’s not too shabby.” It packs an 80W built-in subwoofer and two tweeters into one soundbar, which are more than capable of filling a small or medium-sized room. I live in a 550-square foot studio and it was more than sufficient at filing the whole apartment.
Whether you like how the SoundSlayer sounds, however, will probably come down to your preferences and what you intend to use the soundbar for. If you want it to replace your gaming headphones, it does a decent job. Full disclosure, I am not what they call a “hardcore” gamer but to test the SoundSlayer I made my husband play several hours of both Halo 2: Anniversary and Final Fantasy XV.
Without Dolby Atmos, Final Fantasy XV sounded fine. It wouldn’t please audiophiles by any means, but it was infinitely better than what it sounded like on my TV’s speakers. I may not really understand the point of Final Fantasy XV, but the car these four emo Backstreet Boy wannabes rode around in went vroom vroom just fine. The bass was also pretty good. Explosions rumbled. In Halo 2, my husband going pew pew pew with his plasma pistol sounded sharper than it did on the Sonos Arc. That’s impressive considering the Sonos Arc sounds pretty good and costs $300 more. There was a noticeable improvement once Atmos was enabled, but this is also where the SoundSlayer’s limitations became more apparent.
Namely, you don’t get quite as much of a surround sound feeling even though this is an Atmos-compatible soundbar. The Sonos Arc isn’t perfect, especially without satellite speakers, but you do get a pretty clear sense of cars zooming left and right, and when there’s dialogue, you can feel a sense of depth and distance depending on where a character is standing. Even without ceiling speakers, it has upward-firing speakers so you do get the feeling that sound is coming from above you. On the SoundSlayer, spatial audio is more muddled. You’ll get the general direction—like a spaceship is flying overhead, or that you’re beating up an enemy on the left side of the screen—but there’s not that Dolby Atmos “bubble”. Again, there’s no upward-firing speakers or satellites behind you, but the SoundSlayer is meant to be a single soundbar solution.
Likewise, if you’re expecting to be wowed by the different game modes—don’t be. There are audible differences between each, but they’re subtle. The claims that the FPS mode is going to enhance your footsteps or that RPG mode is more immersive is very much marketing speak. The music is marginally louder in RPG Mode. The voices and music are definitely much louder in the voice mode meant for dialogue-heavy games. Ambient sounds are more noticeable in FPS mode, but everything else sounds flat. For most people, I don’t think it’s going to make that much of a difference in terms of gameplay. My husband died in Halo just as often in FPS mode as he did the other two—Master Chief’s death groans were just louder in voice mode.
The same limitations apply to TV and movies. It’s definitely better than having no soundbar at all, but I didn’t get that immersive feeling while watching Dolby Atmos movies. I hooked up the SoundSlayer to my Apple TV and watched all the spaceship battle scenes in both Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi via Disney+. The Dolby Atmos symbol was there in the Disney+ app. The Apple TV’s audio settings confirmed I was indeed, Atmos-enabled. So I double-checked and triple-checked so I know I was getting Atmos. And yet, my directional sound was nowhere to be heard. Spaceships nyoomed overhead on screen but I didn’t really hear it coming from above me. In the Battle of Crait, I watched the scrappy rebels in rickety fighters zoom from the right side of my screen to the left over the salt fields. I could kind of hear that, but again there wasn’t much depth or a sense of 3D space. Explosions as Finn and Rey escaped from Jakku didn’t sound quite right—both dampened and a little distorted. These are busy scenes with a lot going on. Quieter scenes, like when Rey is spelunking through ruins at the beginning of the Force Awakens, sounded clearer. Dialogue was also decently crisp, especially if you put on the Clear Dialogue setting, but otherwise? It was okay, not mind-blowing.
Again, you could attribute this to the lack of satellite speakers. But the Sonos Arc also is meant to be a standalone Atmos soundbar, and while it didn’t get it completely right, it did a much better job of creating an immersive environment. (To be fair, it has 11 speakers to the SoundSlayer’s three.)
The SoundSlayer’s soundstage fared better with music. While I found the spatial audio somewhat lacking for both movies and gaming, the sound stage was decent while listening to my tunes. It was very easy to distinguish the various instruments and where they were during Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and it handled the shift between quiet and loud without distortion. However, I wasn’t a big fan of how the SoundSlayer emphasized the highs over mids and bass—Jurassic Park’s theme song sounded clear, but not as majestic and soaring as it should. Mitski’s Your Best American Girl sounded thinner than a rock song ought to be. Again, the SoundSlayer did alright with bass. The extremely busy bass lines in Thundercat’s Uh Uh and It’s Strange (feat. K. Flay) by Louis the Child sounded clean—but I didn’t really feel like it was as rich as it could have been.
Getting Dolby Atmos for $300 is hard to beat, especially if you’re not keen on spending over $500 and for space reasons, don’t want a separate subwoofer. For that reason, the SoundSlayer is best suited for your desk or in smaller spaces. If all you’re looking to do is replace your gaming headset without sacrificing audio quality, this is more than adequate. I also found that if you sit up close to the speaker, as opposed to a few feet away on a couch, it’s also easier to forgive the muddled directional audio. But its limitations are a major reason I wouldn’t opt for this as my go-to living room soundbar for movie night. As far as single-soundbar Dolby Atmos goes, the Sonos Arc is better at giving you an immersive experience and playing music‚ though it is an extra $300. Really, the only reason to get the Panasonic SoundSlayer over say, a more affordable 2.1 or 5.1 channel gaming, is it gets you Dolby Atmos for a cheaper-than-average price. If you don’t care about Atmos at all, or want a top-of-the-line Atmos experience, then this probably isn’t the soundbar for you.
- A small, $300 standalone Dolby Atmos soundbar… for gamers!
- Definitely a step up over your TV’s speakers, but there are better-sounding speakers out there.
- While you do get a sense of directional sound, it’s muddled for busier action scenes.
- Supports optical digital audio, HDMI Input/Output, 4K HDR passthrough, and Bluetooth.