Having recently reviewed Samsung’s highly impressive 2013 flagship HW-F850 soundbar, today we’re taking a look at the Korean manufacturer’s brand new for 2014 HW-H550 2.1 sound bar package. It doesn’t have valve technology or other bells and whistles that grace step-up models, but can it still impress? With a street price as low as £335 already on a product with an RRP of £400, we’re very keen to find out!
Samsung has a knack of bringing to market high-quality products in terms of appearance, and their recent soundbars have been no exception. Upon unboxing the H550 we were once again instantly impressed with the look, feel, and build quality of the soundbar. Its look and size is almost identical to the HW-F551 we tested back in February, with a few minor but beneficial upgrades.
The stylish perforated aluminium mesh and LED display are still there, but underneath the bar are two tiny feet that angle the soundbar more towards your listening position by raising it approximately half an inch at the front. This is a trick that home cinema enthusiasts tend to do with their centre channel speaker. By raising the centre channel and angling it more towards the listening position, dialogue can become clearer, so hats off to Samsung for adding this feature.
There’s also more space for connections at the rear. Samsung soundbars are usually a bit fiddly to hook up since all the connection inputs are crammed so close together, but this is not the case on the HWH550 as each HDMI port has its own separate chamber. HDMI in, DC in, and AUX in are in one chamber, and HDMI out, optical, and USB are housed in another chamber. These separate chambers make hooking up sources to the Samsung HW-H550 a lot less fiddly, though it’s a shame that the company hasn’t included a second HDMI input.
We’ve always felt that the look and feel of the Samsung subwoofers wasn’t quite on par with the stylish look of Samsung soundbars, but that’s now changed, as the H550′s wireless sub looks great. Gone is the cheap looking plastic from before, and welcomed is a tasteful new gunmetal matt finish. The top of the subwoofer is finished in glossy black, which works really well with the gunmetal casing. This is one sub you just might not want to hide away.
The Samsung HWH550 comes with an AUX in, optical in, HDMI in, HDMI out, ARC (audio return channel), and a USB slot which will play AAC, MP3, WAV, WMA, OGG, and FLAC files from your USB stick. The soundbar will also allow you to stream music via Bluetooth technology, as well as power on the unit with one touch on your smartphone or tablet.
Everyone wants the cleanest, tidiest installation possible, and if you own a Samsung TV you can have just that, thanks to Bluetooth technology and the Soundshare feature. No more trailing wires, as you’ll be able to connect the soundbar wirelessly to your Samsung display. For anyone who doesn’t own a Samsung television, the easiest setup is to connect your Blu-ray or DVD player to the soundbar, and then feed an additional HDMI cable into the ARC HDMI on your telly. You can then connect any additional devices to your TV, and let the television switch the sources and output the correct audio via the ARC HDMI to the soundbar.
The Samsung HW-H550 doesn’t come with auto-calibration feature, so you’re on your own in striking a good balance between the sub and the main speaker. Once fired up, the wireless connection between the sub and the soundbar was almost instant, as is the case with all Samsung soundbars that have passed through our test room. If it doesn’t connect first time, you can do a manual reset, but we’ve never once had this problem.
Those who have read our review of the HW-F850 will recall that we used our Radioshack sound meter and some pink noise test tones to obtain an accurate balance between sub and main speaker. We applied the same test here, and actually got a more accurate result than on the flagship model. We hit our target of 75dB on the meter with the master volume at “18“. When we played the test tone through the sub at the same volume, we only had to adjust the sub volume down to “-2” to get the same reading of 75dB, which was excellent.
Before we get on to movie playback, we wanted to hear how the HW-H550 handled music sources – the results were mixed. Like its predecessor the HW-F551, the absence of the valve is a big loss for stereo music reproduction. The sound, although clear and well detailed, aired on the thin side. The more we turned it up, the harsher it got, with midrange falling apart. There’s a treble and bass control, but even with the treble backed off to “-3” it didn’t really help matters. Another issue was that the whole soundstage sounded very centralised and lacked stereo separation. Vocals were very clear, but very prominent, and could almost overpower the other instruments in music tracks. Bass, however, was a much better story with a tight response that never sounded boomy or bloated.
With movie playback, we encountered the same issues as we did with music, the main one being that everything sounded very centralised and dialogue-heavy. Dynamics were reproduced well, but the H550 just didn’t push the soundstage as widely as it should do, which was a real shame. The Samsung HWH550 comes with pre-set sound effects, including “Music“, “Voice“, “Sports“, “Cinema” and “Standard” which is the original sound with no added effects, accessible via the [Sound Effect] button on the remote.
We tried engaging “Cinema” to see if that added any width to the soundstage, but it just made the sound more compressed. In fact, all of these sound effects in our opinion have a detrimental effect on the sound, so we advise against using them. The HW-H550′s [Surround Sound] function was even worse, making the whole soundstage echoey and shrill. However, as was the case with music, bass response was first rate, and the subwoofer handled all the LFE (Low Frequency Effects) torture tests we threw at it without a rattle or hiccup to be heard.
The Samsung HW-H550 certainly looks the part, but is let down slightly by its sonic performance. If you’re currently just using your TV’s speakers, or have never heard a soundbar before, you’ll be impressed with the H550. However, for us who have heard many soundbars, we can’t help but feel that the HWH550 didn’t perform as well as some of last year’s models. For anyone looking to spend this kind of money on a soundbar, a better option would be the Samsung HW-F751 that we reviewed last year, which you can now pick up from around £359. The F751 has a much better soundstage, with the added warmth of the valve technology, as well as a host of other features. Or even better, if your budget can stretch it, the Philips HTL9100 is a fabulous choice too.