Just 14 inches deep, the trim XR45 can squeeze onto shelves that are off-limits for most other receivers. The box comes in black (the XR45) and silver (the XR45S).
Aside from the solid-feeling, metal volume knob, the streamlined face has few controls. Pizzazz comes in the form of a 5-inch slit illuminated in pale blue--a distinctive styling touch. At the XR45's rear is a small fan--all that power in such a compact chassis can generate a lot of heat--but we never detected any whooshing noise.
The setup rigmarole was easy enough. The large remote's button ergonomics are above par, and the control lets you adjust your sub's level on the fly.
Panasonic threw in all the up-to-the-second surround-processing formats: Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS 96/24, as well as 6.1-channel Dolby EX, DTS ES, and DTS Neo:6.
Considering the slim back panel's severely limited space, connectivity options are generous. You get component-video switching, 5.1-channel DVD-A/SACD inputs, and three composite and S-Video A/V ins. There are five digital-audio hookups: one coaxial and three optical inputs, along with one optical output. A single set of stereo analog-audio connections, plus a tape-in and -out, are also present. All the RCA jacks are gold-plated.
Panasonic gave the front-left and -right speakers banana plug-compatible speaker-binding posts, but the other channels have less desirable clamping wire connectors. The receiver lacks A/B speaker switching, but you can use the Second Audio Out jacks with a separate stereo amplifier to send sound to another room.
The XR45 and our reference NHT sub/sat system were pretty darn good together. Their slightly rich sound balance brought out the best in White Stripes' minimalist blues rock: Meg's drum kit kicked hard, and Jack's scorching guitar came alive. Miles Davis's Live at the Blackhawk CD pulled us into the club and its smoky atmosphere.
The supercreepy The Ring DVD kept us on the edge of our seats. Like other modern thrillers, the movie has a soundtrack replete with all sorts of low-frequency rumblings and disturbing, high-pitched screeching noises. Oh, and the phone that rings near the beginning of the story sounded exactly like our phone--that freaked us out more than once.
To complete our listening sessions, we compared the XR45 with the full-size Onkyo TX-SR601, using a Philips 963SA DVD player as a source. The bigger box produced more life and detail; the XR45 mellowed out the sound. When we pushed the volume fairly high, we detected some dynamic shrinkage from the XR45, but its audio improved once we backed down to moderate levels. The Panasonic's 100-watt-per-channel rating is a tad optimistic (the Onkyo claims 85 watts), so don't expect this skinny receiver to pump out the oomph of a full-size model.