Panasonic SC-ST1 & SC-HT900 HTIB Page 3
The SC-HT900 did it all just a little better. Dances with Wolves exhibited more center-channel clarity, more depth, and better dispersion. Although there wasn't much more bass or surround information and the master volume was still settled near its peak, the center-channel speaker made the soundtrack seem louder and more vibrant. The exploding grenades still sounded a bit lightweight in Windtalkers, but bass tightened just enough in the Antwone Fisher disco to make the scene more dramatic. "The Breaking of the Fellowship," which would probably dazzle with earbuds plugged into a laptop at 20,000 feet, seemed even more menacing, with the Uruk-Hai snarling through the center-channel speaker with renewed vigor. The SC-HT900 played sufficiently loud, at least with The Fellowship of the Ring, without the master volume pushed to its extreme.
Although DVD-Audio is an attraction for both systems, the SC-ST1 DVD receiver's display doesn't automatically note that you're playing a high-resolution disc. You have to hit the remote's display button to see if you're getting 24-bit/96-kilohertz surround or a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The SC-HT900's DVD receiver displays "DVD-A" in red on the front panel.
My favorite disc in my extremely limited DVD-Audio inventory, Jimmy Witherspoon's The Blues, the Whole Blues & Nothing but the Blues on Silverline, didn't favor either system. Bass was ill-defined through the SC-HT900, but the SC-ST1 couldn't play "You Got a Hold of My Heart" loud enough for me to fully appreciate the DVD-Audio feature. Another Silverline DVD-Audio disc, the Desmond Dekker anthology Israelites, favored the SC-HT900. The center-channel speaker gave this recording more-up-front vocals and more body. Through the SC-ST1, the vocals sounded distant and vague. On material with little bass, however, like the Chieftains' Dolby Digital Live Over Ireland: Water from the Well, the music sounded as relaxed as the musicians looked sitting in Matt Molly's Pub.
Did someone say separated at birth? These two systems are so physically similar, with the shared satellites and subwoofer, and so close sonically that it's hard to tell the $1,000 system from the $500 system. The SC-ST1's towering DVD receiver declares it the more-extravagant system, but what about the SC-HT900's super-slim DVD receiver, superior technological features, and more-potent center-channel speaker? Yes, the SC-ST1 would look nice next to a plasma, but it's much better suited to a smaller screen (like a nice LCD set) in a smaller room. For all of its good looks, the SC-ST1 supports only the most basic home theater functions. The SC-HT900 does more, even with its trim DVD receiver, and has an ever-so-slight sonic edge. It'll fit comfortably into more rooms than the SC-ST1, as well. These systems are so similar that you'll ultimately choose between the DVD receivers: Is the SC-ST1's glamorous tower worth $500 more than the SC-HT900's silver pizza box? The SC-ST1 gets all the stares, but, however you slice it, the SC-HT900 is the better value.
• Towers of power
• Touch-the-sky DVD receiver
• $1,000 system trapped in a $500 system's body?
• Dashing little DVD receiver