Big on bass and slender in stature, the Panasonic HTB490 is a reasonably priced soundbar with a couple of key drawbacks
Pros Slender profileImpactful bass reproductionEasy to set upCons Narrow soundstageLimited connection optionsNo Dolby Atmos or DTS:X
The Panasonic HTB490 sits slap bang in the middle of the Japanese manufacturer’s soundbar range and is an affordable way to upgrade your TV’s audio.
It’s extremely easy to set up, won’t take up too much room on your AV cabinet, and the wireless subwoofer puts in a sterling performance, adding real impact to explosive action sequences and bass-heavy music.
Disappointingly, that bass response is let down by some sound quality quibbles and a limited selection of ports. Unless you prize weighty low-end reproduction and a compact footprint above all else, you can find better options for the money.
Panasonic HTB490 review: What do you get for the money?
Launched last year with a list price of £349, the HTB490 is now available for £249 from various outlets, including Amazon, Currys and John Lewis. It’s a 2.1-channel soundbar and subwoofer combo boasting 320W total amplification: 80W apiece from the soundbar’s two full-range drivers and 160W from the wireless subwoofer, which connects to the bar via Bluetooth.
The bar is designed to slot neatly under the panel of various Panasonic 4K televisions and measures 800 x 101 x 56mm (WDH). Those dimensions mean you’ll want to pair it with a 43in TV or larger, and it fitted perfectly under the elevated stand of my 55in Samsung Q80T. Should you wish to wall-mount the HTB490, mounting brackets are included in the box, along with optional feet that can be used to raise the bar by an additional 16mm.
While the soundbar is compact, the accompanying subwoofer has some real heft to it. It weighs 5.7kg and measures 171 x 363 x 382mm, so you’ll need a decent amount of space to accommodate it. As the sub connects to the bar via Bluetooth, though, you’re free to position it wherever you like as long as it remains within Bluetooth range and close to a mains socket.
In terms of connectivity, the Panasonic HTB490 is pretty basic. There’s a single HDMI (ARC) port, an optical input and a USB-A port that can be used to play locally stored files. You also get wireless connectivity courtesy of Bluetooth 4.2, but bear in mind that codec support is limited to SBC.
Panasonic doesn’t supply an HDMI cable, but you do get a pair of mains cables for the bar and sub along with the aforementioned mounting brackets and feet, and a small remote control that comes with a battery preinstalled. Should you lose this down the back of the sofa, the HTB490 can be controlled using four buttons located on top of the bar: these turn the bar on and off, adjust volume and switch inputs. You can also use your TV’s remote if you’re connected via HDMI ARC, though you won’t be able to access the various sound modes or adjust the level of the subwoofer.
Panasonic HTB490 review: What do we like about it?
Most soundbars are simple to set up these days and the HTB490 is no exception: it takes just a few minutes to get it up and running. Simply connect both the bar and sub to the mains, hook up the bar to your TV using an HDMI or optical cable and you’re good to go. The sub connects to the bar automatically and, as long as you’re connected via HDMI, your TV should switch audio output to the bar as soon as it detects the device.
It’s not the most luxurious-looking soundbar, but the HTB490 looks pretty good on an AV cabinet and has a relatively modest footprint. It’s also not too tall, so it’s less likely to obstruct the screen on TVs with minimal clearance under their panel.
The wireless subwoofer adds some welcome flexibility. As long as it’s not too far from a mains socket, you can position it anywhere to the left or right of the TV or even alongside you by the sofa if you want closer proximity to its low-end rumble.
READ NEXT: This month’s best soundbar deals
Low-end reproduction is where the HTB490 stands out from the affordable soundbar crowd. The sub delivers sub-bass frequencies with power and precision and this makes for heart-pounding action sequences. Explosions, car crashes and gunshots feel weightier than any sub-£300 2.1-channel soundbar I’ve tested.
This is particularly evident at higher volumes, and the HTB490 is capable of making a real racket. You’re unlikely to ever need more than 70% volume in a reasonably sized room; anything louder and the experience becomes overwhelming. Even at moderate volume, the subwoofer creates a room-filling rumble that really serves to aid immersion in the onscreen action. Those with delicate sensibilities may prefer to dial the subwoofer level down a tad, but those craving a more cinematic experience will lap it up.
The Panasonic HTB490 also delivers impressive stereo separation for a 2.1-channel system. Positional cues to the left and right of the soundstage are defined and easy to locate, which lends an additional level of realism to onscreen events.
Panasonic HTB490 review: What could be improved?
Unfortunately, the HTB490’s soundstage is relatively narrow, meaning you don’t get the same sense of scale as you would from the Wide mode offered by the Creative Stage 360. The Stage 360 also features support for Dolby Atmos, which is lacking on the HTB490. For that, you’ll need to step up to the more expensive HTB600, which will set you back £399 and also adds support for the rival object-based surround-sound format, DTS:X.
While I’ve lauded the power of the HTB490’s subwoofer, it has a tendency to overpower the mid-range frequencies. This causes dialogue to lose clarity, and sadly there’s no voice enhancement option to remedy the issue. You can reduce the volume of the subwoofer but doing so feels like you’re missing out on one of the HTB490’s best qualities.
There are a handful of sound modes available via the remote, but the Standard mode is the best pick for most situations. The News mode pushes mid-range frequencies forward in the mix but can sound tinny; the Music mode sounds inferior to the default Standard mode when listening to music; and while the Cinema and Sports modes add virtual surround-sound processing, the effect isn’t very impactful. The Sports mode did improve the clarity of football commentary significantly, however.
My last couple of gripes relate to the included remote and the LED display. The former is a similar size to a credit card, which makes it easy to misplace, and it feels rather flimsy. Its size also means that instead of having buttons for every mode and input source, certain buttons have secondary functions that require you to hold the button down.
The display on the front of the bar uses two five-colour LEDs, which can be confusing until you’ve learned which colours relate to which sound modes. Also, flashing yellow lights indicating whether you’re increasing or decreasing volume aren’t all that helpful; a volume number would be preferable as it would allow you to quickly select a volume you know suits a specific streaming service or source.
Panasonic HTB490 review: Should you buy it?
The Panasonic HTB490 is an easy-to-use entry-level soundbar with a subwoofer that delivers a bombastic performance. At this price, no other soundbar that I’ve tested can match the HTB490’s bass impact in high-octane, big-budget movies.
Other aspects of its performance are disappointing, though, and it’s also let down by a limited selection of ports. For less money, you can pick up the Creative Stage 360, which doesn’t look as sleek, but has two HDMI inputs and supports Dolby Atmos. If you’re after an affordable soundbar and subwoofer package, that remains our top pick.