Panasonic has a plan to fix our biggest problem with small OLED TVs

Panasonic Z90A soundbar
(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

This week I had the pleasure of having an opening look and listen to Panasonic’s latest line of step-down OLED and new Mini LED / LCD TVs.

But in this sea of demos one thing in particular caught my ear – Panasonic’s insistence that people want a built-in soundbar bolted on to the bottom of their TV.

Specifically, its decision to add its latest Technics-tuned soundbar to every size of its step down Panasonic Z90A OLED TV caught my attention. 

The new soundbar has even got a fancy title, with Panasonic referring to it as a Dynamic Theatre Surround sound system. Don’t expect Dolby Atmos or side firing speakers, though; this is a basic unit comprising an undisclosed number of front firing drivers and a built in subwoofer.

The big news is that it will adorn the bottom of the 48 and 42-inch models of the Z90A as well as the larger 55 and 65-inch variants.

Panasonic’s head of digital training, Neil Loyd Meek told me at the demo that this decision was based on “extensive research” and customer feedback:

“In the Z90A, we have a front speaker – but not just in the 55 and 65 like we had last year on the MZ1500B and in previous years on the other 1500 models. You now have her in the 42 and the 48-inch sets as well.

“We did that for our customers. It’s for people that are looking for major picture and sound quality, but are tight on space; a person who doesn't have the ability to maybe add a soundbar or speaker system, or who just doesn’t want to deal with cable management. Being blunt I’m one of those people.”

On the one hand I completely get that argument, especially given our recent experience reviewing smaller TVs. Due to the design limitations of their smaller form factors, audio quality is usually one of the biggest compromises we experience when we review smaller TVs. 

We haven’t tested the smaller LG C4 models yet, but last year’s smaller LG C3’s has pretty poor audio. Going down a price point, the same is true with the Amazon Fire Omni QLED range, where we find that sound quality drops with each size of set. Indeed, poor sound is a key reason the 43-inch model isn’t currently in our best cheap TV guide.

So if Panasonic can pull off it off and offer a small OLED TV with good sound, that would be a major achievement and unique selling point for the smaller Z90As.

My only concern is, we are yet to find an inbuilt speaker package, even in the larger form factor, that can match, let alone beat, the performance of a good dedicated soundbar. This was the case last year when we tested the MZ1500B: all our reviewers concluded that even a basic soundbar, such as the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) provides better audio. 

In these instances, for home cinema fans, a cheaper unit that doesn’t include the soundbar makes more sense: the money they save can be reinvested in a better, separate soundbar or speaker package of their choice. 

Still, despite this I can’t help but be a little curious to see if Panasonic will buck this trend with the Z90A. Especially as, though the conditions were far from ideal, I did hear some positives during my demonstration, with the set providing a surprising amount of volume and low-end heft during my early listening session.

Here’s hoping it delivers the goods when we get it into our viewing rooms for proper testing.


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Alastair Stevenson
Editor in Chief

Alastair is What Hi-Fi?’s editor in chief. He has well over a decade’s experience as a journalist working in both B2C and B2B press. During this time he’s covered everything from the launch of the first Amazon Echo to government cyber security policy. Prior to joining What Hi-Fi? he served as Trusted Reviews’ editor-in-chief. Outside of tech, he has a Masters from King’s College London in Ethics and the Philosophy of Religion, is an enthusiastic, but untalented, guitar player and runs a webcomic in his spare time.