Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Panasonic's long-standing commitment to the DVD-Audio (DVD-A) format is evident in its ever expanding line of DVD-A-capable home-theater systems. The SC-HT95 also includes a five-disc changer, Dolby Digital and DTS processing, and a six-speaker package. Its sound quality is distinctly above par, although style-conscious buyers may want a snazzier system.Panasonic's long-standing commitment to the DVD-Audio (DVD-A) format is evident in its ever expanding line of DVD-A-capable home-theater systems. The SC-HT95 also includes a five-disc changer, Dolby Digital and DTS processing, and a six-speaker package. Its sound quality is distinctly above par, although style-conscious buyers may want a snazzier system.
The conservatively styled receiver-cum-DVD changer is about the size of a standard receiver--17-inches wide and just 14.5 inches deep. Its power ratings are rather odd: the left/right channels get 46 watts each; the center speaker receives 106 watts; the surrounds wind up with 56 watts apiece; and the subwoofer is fed by 190 watts.
The stealthy remote hides most of the lesser-used buttons behind a slip-down cover, which makes for a simplified layout of the main controls.
The HT95's elevator-style changing mechanism can swallow five discs. This kit is compatible with DVDs, DVD-A discs, Panasonic's DVD-Rs, CDs, hybrid Super Audio CDs, CD-Rs, CD-RWs, and MP3 CDs. Surround processing is limited to just Dolby Digital and DTS, along with the usual selection of synthesized disco and hall ambience settings. The subwoofer's five-step level control is accessible by remote control and on the main unit.
Connectivity choices are above average and include progressive-scan video output, along with a smattering of analog and digital connections.
We started our evaluations with the Fight Club DVD. The intense, fantasized airline collision at the start of chapter 8 unglues most midpriced kits, but the HT95 took that major dose of sonic mayhem in stride. We did notice the DVD player's fast-forwarding to be unusually quick, so it was hard to zero in on exactly the scene that we were looking for.
When we moved on to the sweet-sounding Piano DVD-A disc from jazzman Bobby Short, the HT95's refined and sophisticated sound came into play. Even Short's difficult-to-reproduce grand piano was nicely presented and well balanced. The subwoofer was warm yet well defined, so Frank Tate's juicy stand-up bass came across with real verve.
CD sound was also impressive--with the volume pumped to a healthy level, we reveled in John Lee Hooker's low-down blues. The raw energy and power of the music belied the actual dimensions of the system; the HT95 can easily fill midsized rooms with sound. One snag: The disc-changing mechanism is noisy and clunky and needs 27 seconds to switch CDs, which is an awfully long time.
Fashion-conscious buyers may prefer Panasonic's more lifestyle-friendly and extracool-looking SC-DM3 kit, but the HT95 comes out on top in most performance-related respects. Yes, it retails for $549--just a bit more than the DM3--but it has larger, better-sounding sats; a more powerful sub; a five-disc changer; and progressive-scan outputs. We've seen the HT95 going for less than $350 online, and at that price, it represents a good value.