Using the HW-F551 is a piece of cake, thanks largely to the easy-to-read front display panel. Having tested several soundbars that rely on tiny LEDs to indicate volume levels and the like, you’d be surprised what a difference this display makes to ease of use.
Here you get numerical volume levels and large lettering that make it easy to see what inputs are selected from the comfort of your sofa.
The curvy, gloss-black remote is compact and ergonomic. Although a little cluttered it poses few problems for day-to-day use. The crucial volume and sound mode buttons are separated out at the bottom (the volume, SW level and mute even glow in the dark) and you can use it to control a Samsung TV.
The remote also features dedicated controls for the subwoofer level (-6 up to 6) and audio sync, which adds a tiny delay to marry up the mistimed audio with the picture. We’d have liked some buttons to jump directly to an input though – as it stands you have to toggle through them to reach the one you want.
Pairing the sub and Bluetooth devices with the soundbar is quick and hassle-free. In fact the sub connects automatically as soon as the two components are turned on.
After listening to a range of movies, music and TV through the HW-F551, it proves to be an accomplished performer by soundbar standards.
Its sound is punchy and energetic, showing the sort of dynamics most flatpanel TVs can only dream of, while its clean, crisp character makes high frequency detail sparkle. With TV material, the HW-F551 delivers dialogue with good clarity and depth, even when you’re listening with the volume down low.
But movie playback is where it really earns its corn, reproducing the epic Hobbit soundtrack with a decent, if not room-shaking amount of power and scale.
Smaug’s attack on Erebor at the start is packed with feisty effects. Whether it’s the blast of the dragon’s fire, the crash of toppling buildings or the clank of armour as he sweeps dwarves to one side, the HW-F551 fires them out with relish and poise.
The wireless sub adds solid bass to the mix with no lag and fuses tightly with the soundbar, although it’s not as thunderous as it could be. In fact the system as a whole could do with being a bit more aggressive, but for most people it should be powerful enough.
It’s not always a comfortable listen though, particularly during the battle flashback between the orcs and dwarves. The sound of swords hitting shields and Azog’s frenzied wail are a little shrill, which gets worse when you turn up the volume.
The HW-F551’s clean, detailed sound is perfect for music playback. We fed it a variety of tunes from an iPod via Bluetooth, plus MP3s from a pen drive and CDs from a Blu-ray player and in every instance the sound was highly enjoyable.
Instruments and vocals sound smooth, while drums are tight and precise. The subwoofer’s natural agility means it handles kicks and basslines with virtually no lag, which is a nice surprise.
We didn’t really miss the HW-F751’s valve amp characteristics either – yes the sound isn’t as warm but it’s still deep enough to satisfy. That’s great news given how much money you can save choosing this model over the HW-F751.
With its super-stylish design, convenient features and enjoyable sound quality, the HW-F551 has ‘must-buy’ written all over it. Sure it lacks the frills of the step-up Samsung HW-F751, but you can probably do without them considering when the HW-F551 is identical in every other respect and costs a whopping £200 less.
Its sound isn’t perfect – it distorts slightly with certain sounds and could do with a bit more oomph – but on the whole performance is impressive, while Bluetooth, USB music playback and HDMI sockets on board pretty much seal the deal. There are one or two that will give the F551 a run for its money at the same price - it you're short on space the Orbitsound M9 is worth a look - but it's a damn good soundbar all round.
For more alternatives, take a look at our best soundbar round-up.
The HW-F551 is a top-drawer 2.1 soundbar with excellent features, a drop-dead gorgeous design and enjoyable sound quality from any source, although it’s slightly pricier than its closest rivals