Panasonic SC-ALL8 multi-room wireless speaker
This Qualcomm AllPlay-based speaker sounds best when played at a loud volume
- Room-filling sound
- Multi-room capable
- Plenty of bass
- Panasonic's app isn't great
- Overall sound was muffled
Price$ 479.00 (AUD)
The largest of Panasonic’s multi-room speakers is the SC-ALL8. It’s not an altogether unattractive speaker, and because it’s wireless except for its power cable, it can be situated anywhere in the home that’s within range of a power outlet (and Wi-Fi). However, it’s not enough for a speaker to look good and be convenient to place; it needs to sound good, too, and this is an area where the SC-ALL8 doesn’t really shine.
What you need to know about Panasonic’s SC-ALL8 is that it’s a speaker based on Wi-Fi connectivity (802.11n, 2.4GHz and 5GHz), and that it can work as part of a multi-room speaker configuration with a couple of other products in Panasonic’s multi-room Hi-Fi range: the SC-ALL3, and the SH-ALL1C. All of these products are based on the Qualcomm AllPlay standard, and they can be controlled quite easily from a smartphone or tablet when using a compatible AllPlay app.
The SC-ALL8 that we are reviewing here is the big boy of the range, offering 80W of total power from two 20W, two-way speakers (which are a combination of 8cm woofers and 2.5cm tweeters), and a 40W, 12cm ported sub-woofer. All this is housed in an enclosure that’s 373mm wide, 224mm tall, and 138mm deep, and it has a weight of 4.2kg. You probably shouldn’t expect it to put out the amount of sound that it does considering that relatively small enclosure, but the way speaker technology has advanced over the years means that it’s more than capable of filling a big room with booming sound.
That’s one of the major traits of this speaker that we noticed. It has a penchant for producing sound that is quite heavy on the low-end of the sound spectrum, and it benefits certain types of genres because of that. Rock songs, trance tracks, certain types of hip-hop, they all sounded at home on this speaker due to its willingness to produce a thumping bass.
Where the speaker faltered, in our ears, at least, was when it came to reproducing vocals and high frequencies. The abundance of bass tended to muffle the frequencies in the middle and higher ranges, making for an overall dull sound on pop songs, and overall ‘happier’ sounding forms of music. We compared it to another Qualcomm AllPlay wireless speaker that we have tested, Lenco’s PlayLink 6, and sure enough, that speaker played the same music with a lot more crispness, and had a brighter overall output at the same volume level.
As we’ve mentioned, though, the speaker’s priority is in the low end, and it makes a lot of bass for such a relatively small speaker system. It can produce a rumble that can be felt in certain situations, and it will fill a room in no time. If you live in an apartment, the chances are that you’ll be able to annoy your neighbours when you play it at above the midway point -- especially if your walls are thin. Here lies a predicament: we felt that the speaker sounded best when it was loud. When played at too low a volume, a lot of sounds seemed to be drowned out.
Set-up and ease of use
Setting up the speaker can be accomplished in a couple of ways. You can either use WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) to get the speaker to connect to your wireless network automatically, or you can connect to the speaker’s own wireless network through your phone or tablet, and then launch a Web browser to enter the settings for your wireless network into the speaker. For us, the WPS method didn’t want to work, but the second method of entering the wireless details manually was easy.
At this point, we want to note that if you ever change your wireless router or network settings, it’s not easy to change the settings on the speaker. You have to basically restore the speaker by pressing a combination of buttons at the top and then setting it up again using your preferred method (WPS or manual). This makes it a product that is better suited to a tech enthusiast, rather than a novice.
In order to play music through the speaker, you must use a Qualcomm AllPlay-capable app, and you must either have music stored on your smartphone or tablet, or music servers set up on your network. We tested it with music servers set up on NAS devices on our network (one using a Synology NAS device’s built-in music server, the other using Plex on an Asustor NAS), and we played both MP3s and FLAC files from these servers.
Read more: UE Megaboom wireless speaker
The app that Panasonic tells you to use is called Music Stream, and it’s an app that gave us trouble during our tests. At times, it was unreliable and froze, and when it worked it sluggish at browsing the file lists on our Plex server. It wasn’t able to list the files on our Synology server, even though it could actually see the server. We also noticed that it couldn’t play FLAC files. After updates to the app (and a firmware update to the speaker through the app), these issues weren’t resolved.
Which app is best?
Luckily, it’s possible to use other apps with Qualcomm AllPlay speakers, not just the app that the manufacturer has supplied. We used the AllPlay Jukebox app for our tests instead, and this app was solid throughout.
This is the standard app for AllPlay products, and it performs a little differently compared to Panasonic’s app in the way that it plays music. For example, when you select a file in a folder using the Jukebox app, it will only play that one file. In Panasonic’s app, it will continue on playing the next song in the folder. The Jukebox app is tailored for playlist usage, meaning you have to build a playlist or else hit ‘play all’ in a folder in order to get continuous music. The main playlist in Jukebox can’t be edited, but only cleared, so it’s not all that flexible.
We were able to play all of our MP3s and FLAC files through Jukebox, both from the Plex server and the Synology server, and the experience was a solid one. We could easily change from the SC-ALL8 speaker to other Qualcomm AllPlay speakers and devices on our network (Panasonic’s SH-ALL1C and Lenco’s PlayLink 6), and grouping was possible, too, so that all played the same song at the same time.
That’s the other advantage of AllPlay-based devices: you can use products from other vendors in the same environment and control them all from the same app. The disadvantage of the system is that you can’t just play anything off your phone. If you have Google Play Music, for example, unless you have downloaded all of your purchased music, you can’t just play that through your app. You can play other services, such as Spotify, though, and there is also support for Internet radio stations (using the AllPlay Radio app). Another drawback is that unlike many other music apps for Android devices (the platform on which we tested, though iOS is supported, too), controls for the AllPlay app don’t appear on the lock screen, so you can’t quickly pause or change volume.
The speaker goes to sleep when it hasn’t been used for a while, and it gets woken up the moment you select a track to play on it. Furthermore, you can turn it off at any time by pressing its capacitive power button, located at the top of the speaker).
It’s a speaker that doesn’t have any other function besides Wi-Fi, meaning you can’t use it as a Bluetooth speaker independently of the AllPlay app, and this is something that we feel lets it down. Bluetooth would give this speaker better versatility for times when you want to listen to music services that are currently outside the capability of the app.
Basically, it’s a decent speaker overall, with plenty of power at high volume, but its overall sound is not as good as we expected. Furthermore, we had issues with its own app, and instead had to use the standard AllPlay app to get the best out of it.
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