- Review Date: 9/12/2013
- Bottom line: The Panasonic SC-NT10 is a solid, weatherproof portable Bluetooth speaker that outperforms some models that cost significantly more.
- Pros: Robust wireless audio performance for the size of speaker and price. NFC-enabled. Ruggedized, dust-, splash- and shock-proof design. Comes with dedicated charger. Can be used as speakerphone.
- Cons: Design isn't particularly compelling. Long recharge time.
The $100 price range of portable Bluetooth speakers is a tricky space to navigate—there's no shortage of options, but how many of them actually sound good? You might forgive the $99.99 (list) Panasonic SC-NT10 if it didn't sound superb—it's loaded with features like a splash-proof, dust-proof, shock-proof, and freeze-proof build, and speakerphone capabilities. Its low price doesn't leave much room for high-quality audio performance, and yet, it can get quite loud and deliver sound cleanly and clearly. It's not perfect, but for a speaker of this size and price, the SC-NT10 sounds far better than you might expect, and it even outperforms some more expensive models making it our Editors' Choice for budget wireless speakers.
The SC-NT10 has many strengths, but beauty is not one of them. The design favors function over style, so what we end up with is an approximately 4.7 by 2.2-inch orange-and-black disk with well-labeled buttons that's weatherproof and easy to tote.
On the top panel of the speaker, which projects upward, there are buttons for Power, Volume, and a Play/Pause/Answer Calls button, which also doubles as the Bluetooth pairing button. Both the micro USB charging connection and a 3.5mm Aux input are protected by a snap-shut, rubberized cover along the side of the disk, while in the center of the top panel, there's a Boost button that increases midrange presence.
Panasonic rates the battery life at roughly 8 hours on a full charge—but using it in Boost mode will kill the battery more quickly. If there's a downside here, it's that the SC-NT10 takes about 5 hours to fully charge. Then again, much of the faster-charging competition cannot put out sound with as much power.
The SC-NT10 ships with a dedicated charger, so you don't have to charge by connecting it via USB to your computer—though you can do this, too, with the included cable. There is no included 3.5mm aux cable, however.
The Bluetooth pairing process is quick and painless, and if your phone is NFC-enabled, you can merely tap it against the top panel of the speaker to establish an audio stream. Call clarity through the speakerphone is fine.
You can't pay $100 for any speaker and expect a sonic masterpiece, especially when the speaker in question is very small and portable. You immediately should expect less bass presence. However, it's not unreasonable to hope for some decent volume and clean performance even when things are relatively loud. In this regard, the SC-NT10 shines.
The speaker may not produce much bass rumble, but it has rubberized feet that accomplish two things: They keep it from dancing off of whatever flat surface you set it on, and if that surface is wood, you might end up getting some extra resonance out of the speaker. This is mainly thanks to the internal passive radiator, and I certainly noticed a richer low and low-mid presence, especially when the SC-NT10 was sitting on top of a wooden desk versus, say, a picnic blanket.
Impressively, at top volumes on both the iPhone and the SC-NT10, the speaker did not distort on tracks that might easily have caused problems. The Knife's "Silent Shout" is a notorious tiny speaker killer, with intense sub-bass. But not so through the SC-NT10, whether you are listening at top or medium volumes, with Boost on or off. This isn't to say that you hear much in the way of intense bass at all—you don't. But there's a nice richness to the overall sound, and with Boost selected, a bit more clarity and contour as well.
Rock, hip hop, jazz, and classical all sound pretty solid through the SC-NT10, particularly with Boost mode enabled. This mode mainly seems to make things a lot louder, but also helps add definition to vocals and the attacks of percussion and guitar strums. The only complaint I have hear is that, even with volume maxed out and in Boost mode, some quiet classical music passages never seem to get loud enough through the SC-NT10, but this is because of the wider dynamic range most classical recordings have more than anything else.
Basically, if I had $100 to spend on a portable Bluetooth speaker for traveling, I'd probably go with the SC-NT10. Its shape makes it easy to pack, and its audio performance is a steal at this price. Of course, if I had more money to spend, I'd go with the Editors' Choice Bose SoundLink Mini or the Ultimate Ears UE Boom, both of which are in a higher league of audio performance than the SC-NT10. And if you are trying to spend far less than $100, consider the $60 Xmi X-Mini Max—just keep in mind you are getting what you pay for. But the SC-NT10 flattens competition like the Boombotix Boombot Rex, which costs $20 more than the SC-NT10 and sounds $25 cheaper. In this price range, it represents a solid deal.