The HW-H550 is Samsung’s mid-range soundbar, which sheds the premium features of the top-end HW-H750 to hit a more attractive price point. The soundbar itself is slim and discreet, perfect for anyone who wants to improve the sound of their TV without cluttering up their living room, while a wireless subwoofer beefs up bass from anywhere in the room.
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From afar the main speaker looks like a nondescript black bar, but up close you’ll spot some lovely attention to detail, like the mirrored caps at both ends and the row of touch-sensitive controls on top that govern volume, input and standby. Build quality is impressive, too – it’s clad in a robust metal mesh and feels weighty.
The soundbar’s thin, rectangular shape – 59mm deep by 55mm high – lends itself perfectly to wall mounting using the supplied bracket, and is best suited to 40-inch TVs and above. When placed on a tabletop it sits nice and low so as not to obstruct your TV’s remote sensor, while angled feet tilt the speaker upwards and project sound toward the listener.
Fire up the soundbar and the word ‘Hello’ slides affably onto the front display. The large digits indicate the current input and volume level when adjusted, but disappear after 15 seconds of inactivity.
The welcome inclusion of HDMI input and output on the back allows you to feed audio from a Blu-ray deck to the soundbar and pass the pictures to your TV – 3D passthrough is supported but not 4K. The ARC-compatible HDMI output will receive audio back from your TV too, which is useful if you want to listen to sound from the TV’s built-in tuner.
Alternatively you can simply rig up your TV to the HW-H550’s optical digital input, and it’ll play whatever you’re watching on your telly. This is the best option if you don’t have any external kit to connect and your TV doesn’t support ARC. Owners of Samsung TVs with SoundConnect can use the built-in Bluetooth to beam audio to the soundbar.
The USB port on the back lets you play MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, OGG and FLAC audio files, and there’s a 3.5mm jack input for portable devices. All of the sockets are located in a recess that allows the cables to hang downwards, and there’s an L-shaped USB converted in the box for plugging in devices when wall mounted.
The rear-ported subwoofer is attractively styled in a dappled matt black finish, with a glossy top panel that houses a tiny status LED. There are no controls or cables other than the power lead – its levels are controlled via the soundbar – but there’s a reset button in case it loses connection with the soundbar. At 370mm high by 290mm deep, it’s not the most compact bass bin we’ve encountered, but the wireless connectivity gives you the flexibility to place it wherever’s most convenient.
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True to form Samsung throws in a decent range of features. Aside from the aforementioned Bluetooth connection and built-in Dolby Digital/DTS decoding, there’s a Surround Sound Expansion mode (courtesy of Sonic Emotion) that attempts to add depth and spaciousness. Four presets – Music, Voice, Sports and Cinema – offer different EQ settings to best suit their nominal material.
You can adjust the subwoofer level using the dedicated S/W Level buttons on the remote, plus you can adjust bass and treble from -3 up to 3. Audio sync corrects sound timing errors and Smart Volume keeps the output at a consistent level to guard against sudden jumps in loudness.
The subwoofer packs a 160W amplifier, while the main unit delivers 80W per channel.
The beauty of soundbars is that they’re blissfully simple to set up, and the HW-H550 is no exception. It gets a little more complicated if you’re using ARC – you’ll need to activate CEC in your TV’s setup menu – but it’s hardly rocket science. When connecting a TV via optical input, make sure the TV is set to ‘external speaker’ in the audio menu otherwise you might not hear anything.
When we hooked up our Samsung UE55HU75 set to the soundbar via SoundConnect, they paired instantly and the connection was consistently stable. Another nifty feature allows you to turn the system on and off using a Bluetooth device.
The clear front panel display leaves no room for confusion and the remote is easy to master. It’s short and stumpy but fits snugly in the palm, and sports a helpful button arrangement. The crucial volume and subwoofer level keys are prominently placed and clearly labelled, with useful buttons to control MP3 playback and Samsung TVs.
Like Samsung’s other 2014 soundbars, the HW-H550’s lively and powerful performance will quickly banish the memory of your TV’s weedy speakers. Whether you’re listening to TV shows, movies or music, it tackles the material with clarity and confidence.
The lack of a valve amp means the sound isn’t quite as rich and velvety as the step-up HW-H750, and won’t dazzle or engross you like the very best soundbars, but we like its robust, even-handed way with movie soundtracks. Crisp treble, a full-bodied midrange and deep bass result in an engaging sound.
Tonally it errs on the bright side, but this brings excitement to Pacific Rim’s brutal battle scenes – provided you stay at a sensible volume, as it strains a touch when you push the volume high. The thumping sub and spacious soundstage add a pleasing sense of scale when monsters and robots tower over you.
The sub’s solid bass locks tightly to the midrange and follows the action with impressive agility. It needs taming out the box to prevent booming but it’s not too hard to find the right balance. Charlie Hunnam’s opening narration is clear and full bodied, thanks to some subtle bass support from the subwoofer.
Surround Sound Expansion does a decent job of opening up the stage and placing effects beyond the edges of the screen. The presets are perfunctory – we stuck with the Standard setting.
So far so good, but the thorn in the HW-H550’s side is the competition. For around £50 more you can pick up the marvellous Q Acoustics Media 4, which wipes the floor with Samsung sonically. Its sound is bigger, wider-ranging and more detailed, making this a no-brainer if sound is top priority – but its lack of HDMI sockets might make Samsung’s effort more appealing, depending on your needs.
There’s no denying that the HW-H550 is a terrific soundbar that ticks a lot of boxes. Its slim design is the epitome of living-room friendly and there’s a generous range of connections and audio modes on board. In terms of performance, its direct, universal sound is ideal for movies, music and TV shows, with a crisp, attacking character and cohesive bass.
But when you consider what else you can get for a similar price, the Samsung isn’t quite the shoo-in it was shaping up to be. For a little extra cash Q Acoustics’ Media 4 offers a more sophisticated, authoritative and detailed sound, which could sway discerning listeners. That said, the Samsung’s slinky design, HDMI ports and USB music playback – none of which are found on the Q – could be too tempting to turn down, particularly if you can find it discounted online.
Samsung’s chic soundbar marries a busy feature list with impressive performance, but bear in mind that you can get even better sound quality for similar money.
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