Can it ever be too thin?
This daring yet elegant design stands just a shade more than two inches tall. The chromed metalwork, tiny LED indicator lights, and beveled top plate lend a jewel-like appearance to this high-tech receiver. Inside, the SA-XR10 is just as different: its efficient, all-digital circuitry is responsible for radical component-parts size reduction and drastic weight loss. Instead of the average 20-plus pounds, this receiver tips the scales at just 7.5 pounds. Nevertheless, Panasonic made room for the standard surround-processing formats: DTS, Dolby Digital, and Dolby Pro Logic II. A matching DVD-Audio (DVD-A)/video player, the XP-50, goes for $349.
The downside of this minimalist styling is that it imposes its own limitations. The display is awfully small but manages to eke out the bare essentials regarding source selection, surround status, and volume level. Back-panel real estate is severely restricted. Instead of the more versatile speaker-binding posts, you get cheesy, spring-loaded wire connectors. Video-switching facilities are scarce, and component-video and S-Video offerings are nonexistent. Phono input and A/B speaker switching are absent as well, so the XR10 will be at home with more modest systems. You do get 5.1 DVD-A/Super Audio CD inputs along with a select group of inputs, outputs, and digital-audio connections.
Since the unit lacks onscreen displays, the speaker-setup hassles tested our patience, but we did figure everything out in less than 30 minutes. The remote's ergonomics are distinctly average.
We first partnered the SA-XR10 with a speaker package, and frankly, we were underwhelmed by the brash, hard sound; sitting through even a single DVD was a trial. That's funny because the Polk kit won us over when it was teamed up with our Pioneer VSX-27TX receiver. We took the hint, swapped out the Polks, hooked up our Energy Take 5.2 system, and bingo--the gritty sound disappeared. Even when we tried a less than stellar-sounding DVD such as Pulp Fiction, the XR10's sonics were quite acceptable. The lesson that we learned: The XR10 is picky about speakers, and the Energy's laid-back demeanor was a better fit. We'd guess that Paradigm, Mirage, and Infinity speakers would also work.
Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is one of the best CDs of the year, and the XR10 uncovered all of the music's dense textures and layered sounds. We next took advantage of the DVD-A inputs and checked out Bobby Short's finger-poppin' Piano DVD. The late-night jazz disc sounded gorgeous, but more demanding, higher-energy music and special-effects-laden DVDs pushed the XR10 to its limits. We felt that the 100-watts-per-channel power rating was unrealistic; this receiver doesn't come close to displaying the effortless dynamic agility of its 100-watt-per-channel brethren. That said, as long as the XR10 is partnered with a compatible sub/sat speaker system and used in small rooms, it will have the necessary moxie to handle the job.
Though the SA-XR10 carriers a suggested retail price of $599.95, you can find it online for closer to $400, which makes it easier for us to recommend. If this Panasonic had more power, we'd have worked up even more enthusiasm. That said, if you love this receiver's look and don't need a powerhouse, check out the SA-XR10 for yourself.