Recently, I was lucky enough to test out the Panasonic SoundSlayer Gaming Speaker, or more specifically, the Final Fantasy 14-branded version. And as an avid player of the popular MMORPG, I was eager to hear how the game’s eclectic soundtrack would sound through a bespoke speaker that’s more than a little different from your traditional pair of headphones.
The FF14 version of Panasonic’s device is the same GN01E neck-mounted speaker, however, it’s emblazoned with Final Fantasy 14 iconography and features recognizable sound effects from the game upon powering the device on or switching between the various sound profiles.
First impressions of the Panasonic GN01E-FF were strong, largely owing to the excellent build quality and comfy, lightweight fit. However, after testing the speaker on both PS5 and PC versions of Final Fantasy 14, as well as for listening to music in general, the overall experience is rather disappointing.
To address the elephant in the room, yes, Square Enix likely partnered with Panasonic to offer an audio product that Final Fantasy 14 players would get a kick out of using, largely owing to the game’s wonderfully diverse soundtrack. We’ve seen the two companies collaborate before with the SoundSlayer HTB01FF Limited Edition Gaming Speaker. In reality, though, the Panasonic GN01E-FF doesn’t really seem like it was designed with Final Fantasy 14 players in mind.
As mentioned, this Final Fantasy 14-themed speaker is an existing Panasonic product, the GN01E, which means it has identical specs, from its 4.0 surround sound channel speakers to the various sound profiles available at the touch of a button. As such, that loftier $249 / £199 price tag for the limited edition speaker gets you nothing but a logo design and some fancy sound effects taken straight from Final Fantasy 14.
The major upside to using the Panasonic GN01E-FF, though, is the speaker’s excellent build quality. The device is impressively lightweight, and rests easy around your neck, almost like a travel pillow. It’s comfy, too — not once did the device strain my neck or put undue pressure on my shoulders during extended periods of listening. In that regard, the GN01E-FF can be viewed as a solid headphones alternative, especially if earbuds or over-ears can sometimes irritate your ears after long play sessions.
In the Balance
With excellent build quality to its name, then, the Panasonic GN01E-FF was set up for a home run if it could nail the sound. But this, sadly, is where it all falls apart, because the GN01E-FF’s audio quality is serviceable, at best. While certain sound profiles like Stereo and RPG feature strong, enjoyable bass, others often sound flat or cramped.
This was especially noticeable with some of Final Fantasy 14’s heavy rock-infused tracks. The chunky guitar riffs of Footfalls (the Endwalker main theme), On Blade’s Edge and The Black Wolf Stalks Again weren’t as pronounced as they should be, while other notes weren’t even picked up by the speakers at all. This meant that these usually adrenaline-pumping tracks were left sounding more than a little muddled and slightly anemic.
Orchestral tracks like The Worm’s Tail and Revenge of the Horde also brought attention to the Panasonic GN01E-FF’s poor balance across all audio profiles, with the normally pronounced choirs drowning in the mix of the other instruments playing.
It’s not all bad news, thankfully. Tracks with a single, pronounced vocalist like In the Balance and Return to Oblivion sound great. Vocals are much clearer and cleaner than the backing instruments, so if (like me) you enjoy singing along to the Final Fantasy 14 songs that have lyrics, then the Panasonic GN01E-FF wearable speaker might be a good fit for you.
Interestingly, Panasonic’s wearable speaker also features a microphone, allowing you to voice chat, but we absolutely wouldn’t recommend it. In my testing, I found that the speaker made no attempt to isolate my voice or dampen game audio while I or someone else was talking.
This meant that the other person was practically inaudible during gameplay, and worse still, my voice was accompanied by sudden outbursts of the Final Fantasy 14 soundtrack. Still, voices had clarity when no music was playing, so the speaker presented a decent voice chatting solution, so long as you’re not playing music through it simultaneously.
Echoes in the Distance
One last thing to note is that the Panasonic GN01E-FF actually fared much better on PC than it did on PS5. So much so that if you only play Final Fantasy 14 on console, I wouldn’t recommend you purchase the speaker, especially when the PS5’s 3D audio capabilities mesh so well with the game’s in-built equalizer settings.
On PS5, the speaker’s audio is frustratingly quiet, even with volumes set to max in Final Fantasy 14 along with the PS5’s audio settings. Audio from the speakers can go much louder on PC, which will allow you to really get the most out of it, those being the superb bass and vocal clarity.
Ultimately, though, the Panasonic GN01E-FF neck-mounted speaker is a disappointment. All-round muddy audio betrays the device’s incredibly comfy fit. The relatively high price tag doesn’t beat the best wireless headphones, which are much cheaper and sound a whole lot better, such as Sony’s last-generation WH-1000XM3s and even Sony’s own Pulse 3D wireless headset.
Even if you’re a massive Final Fantasy 14 fan, then, I think you should steer clear of the Panasonic SoundSlayer Gaming Speaker. Its novelty quickly wears off in the face of subpar, muddy audio quality and practically unusable voice chat while you’ve got music playing. On both PS5 and PC, I’d still recommend your favorite pair of headphones over the GN01E-FF, which part of me thinks is a massive shame for a device that had bags of potential.