How hard can it be to buy a mini hi-fi? I was looking for a small Panasonic CD player with DAB radio, as the one that caught my eye had good reviews for sound quality, was very compact and easy to use and I’ve got on well with the Panasonic brand for forty years.
Having picked a model, then the fun began – comparing specs., shopping for prices and (last but not least) checking that I’m buying the right product.
Some reviews said the system had DAB, others said it didn’t work very well [No signal? Poor aerial? I mused...] whilst others said it did NOT have DAB radio. Eventually I deduced that the current model [-BEBS] does have DAB and some customers must have bought (or been sold) the older FM-only version.
Checking the Panasonic website to confirm the specs then, and I was shocked by how woeful it was. All I could see was the (old spec.) Panasonic SC-PM250EB and the SC-PM250BEBS did not appear anywhere at all. A none-too-helpful Panasonic reviewer said the DAB doesn’t work – maybe because his didn’t have DAB anyway, or maybe he’s as confused as I was. Worse was the fact that product manual PDFs could not be downloaded, though I did find some specs. here.
Argos were as bad, and I found their website had a useless search engine with no details of Panasonic’s stereo at all. I eventually found this Argos link on Google - aha! It’s the SC-PM250B model alright (with no ‘E’ in it?) but to their credit at least they had a PDF manual which might give me some idea of the spec. – or would it?
Well, it got worse: Argos claimed it had an FM/AM tuner [ie the old 2014 model]. However the PDF manual claimed it has 30 FM and 20 DAB+ presets! The Argos customer reviews were very mixed: although most agreed the sound was good for the size, one claimed he’d been sold a non-UK version, one claimed it was FM only and several stated theirs did not have DAB as advertised. Later I would learn that the UK model has ‘EB’ in its name.
Clearly the web site data, descriptions and manuals were all out of sync. and to be honest, I ended up more confused than ever. Looking around, John Lewis had a Panasonic SC-PM250BEBS as did Currys. So it was evident that I should pick the UK DAB version with the ‘BEBS’ in the product part number.
Last resort, I logged into Tesco’s website here and – lo and behold – they listed the DAB+ version and (even better) the website knew that I had some unused Tesco vouchers on my account that I could use. I could order and collect from my favourite store, which is exactly what I did, 48 hours later.
It goes to show how you have to cross-refer and double check before buying, and not rely on a single source of information. Both Currys and John Lewis did a good job of presenting these Panasonic units online. Sadly, Argos and Amazon between them failed to offer accurate information. If anything, customer reviews made things worse, but if nothing else they highlighted a problem in the spec. that needed investigating.
Panasonic’s website I found pitiful, hard to navigate around, too many slidey, fancy graphics and inadequate data to help prospective purchasers. As a discerning buyer who knows what I’m doing, I want to see a 360 degree view of a product (sockets, knobs and all) and download a proper manual with a full tech. spec.
Full marks went to Tesco for offering the right product at a right price, spending my Clubcard vouchers at the same time and offering the most seamless checkout experience. John Lewis, though, states they include a 2 Year guarantee.
The Panasonic SC-PM250EB stereo unit itself is as you’d expect in this price bracket. It looks smart enough sitting on a shelf and does the job, having a surprisingly decent sound quality (10W per channel) for its size and good DAB and FM reception. The main box is an all-plastic construction with hardly a shred of metal in it and it’s very lightweight therefore: you can pick it up between finger and thumb.
The CD drive is a typical lightweight plastic affair and a bit noisy at times. It will play MP3 CDs. The DAB+ tuner responds quickly and the bookshelf speakers are standard-fayre vinyl-coated chipboard (an idea invented by Alan Sugar!), hosting a single loudspeaker.
On the rear are stereo speaker terminals, a proper threaded F-type antenna socket and a mains a.c. input socket – and that’s it. Allow several inches of spare space behind, to accommodate these connections.
The remote control is very simple to use with high-legibility printing. The control legends on the silver front panel, though, I found to be poor contrast and hard to read. The LCD display is a basic alphanumeric scrolling single line with a narrow-ish viewing angle and sometimes hard to read. It can be dimmed one level for night-time use.
Having stuck the T-shape DAB aerial wire under a nearby wooden rail, I could tune in and skip through DAB+ channels, storing presets with the (must-have) help of the instruction sheet. Unlike some stereo systems, a separate indoor aerial could be connected using the threaded F-socket.
A USB port will handle the playback of MP3s. I was not able to pair Bluetooth with a TV soundbar although it was within the 10m operating distance. The most surprising omission is a headphone socket which ruled out my using a separate audio Bluetooth transmitter to hook to the soundbar.
Overall, it’s a decent lower-end stereo system that looks smart on a shelf and it's simple to use. It has all the features you need in a compact CD/ DAB+ radio. If you definitely want to use headphones, though, you’re out of luck unless you have some Bluetooth ones.
- Note the part number on the rear panel still shows just SC-PM250EB. The 'EB' means the UK model. When buying, look for -BEBS- in the part number - that's the later DAB model.
- A link to the previous (FM, not DAB+) version is here: http://www.panasonic.com/uk/consumer/home-entertainment/hi-fi/sc-pm250eb.html
- Details were correct at the time of writing, December 2016. Links and availability might have changed.