The Samsung HW-E550 ($369.99 direct) is a curious beast. It’s a soundbar speaker with a wireless powered subwoofer, which is mainstream enough. But it also converts into three other form factors, including a two-piece horizontal soundbar, a 2.1 stereo system with distinct left and right channels, and a wall-mounted stereo system. It’s far from the best-sounding system we’ve tested, though, and it’s a little expensive for what you get; we still prefer the Editors’ Choice Sony HT-CT260 for its overall performance and value.
Design, Controls, and Remote
The Samsung HW-E550 soundbar, with both speaker enclosures attached into a single unit, measures 2.17 by 42.83 by 2.17 inches (HWD) and weighs 3.75 pounds. The box contains a ton of parts, including some that go “clank” when they fall onto the floor. Those would be the silver and black metal wall mount brackets, along with some screws. There’s also plenty of speaker cable, an unfortunately large power adapter with a separate AC cable, a stereo RCA Y-cable, the remote control, two speaker stands for separating the two halves of the soundbar, a cradle for holding it when it’s in one piece, a bag of plastic screw holders, and the instruction manual.
With the two soundbar pieces connected, the right side houses a giant volume knob, with a Power button and surrounding LED light in the center. Fortunately, in this mode, you don’t need the speaker cabling; that’s only if you want to separate the two halves for a wider stereo image. The manual is extremely confusing about how to set up each configuration; prepare to spend some time with it. For this review, we did the majority of testing with the soundbar assembled as a single piece and used in wireless mode.
Unfortunately, the audio connections are on the bottom of the subwoofer’s rear panel, which makes setup a pain. You get two HDMI inputs, one HDMI output, a digital input, a 3.5mm analog stereo input, and a USB port for playing back unprotected MP3 and WMA music tracks. There are no HDMI or optical cables in the box, though; you’ll have to supply your own if you want any kind of digital connection. The HW-E550 also includes Bluetooth 2.1 support for streaming wireless music from your iPhone, Android smartphone, tablet, or portable media player. I tested the HW-E550 with an Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player hooked up via HDMI.
The HW-E550′s hidden OLED display is pretty cool; it appears from within the speaker grille just to the right of center, and indicates the input mode, various sound settings, the subwoofer level, and more. You can control all of this from the bundled, non-backlit remote, a black plastic lozenge that’s contoured and easy to hold. It has a lot of buttons, although that remote subwoofer level control is arguably the most useful, as it makes it very easy to tune the system without having to dive behind the couch to turn a knob on the sub itself.
Performance and Conclusions
In addition to the subwoofer’s amp, additional built-in amplifiers deliver 80 watts to each of the two front channels. The system supports Dolby Digital and DTS surround encoding, and delivers impressive volume levels given its size, as I saw when watching the Blu-ray version of Tron: Legacy. Dialog sounded smooth and well separated, if a bit brittle. But as can be expected with such a thin speaker bar, you can hear a bit of a hole in the frequency range between where the subwoofer’s response levels off above roughly 120Hz, and where the satellites begin taking over. That can make some vocals, electric guitars, and fuller-bodied stringed acoustic instruments sound a little thinner than they should, especially if you’re listening to straight stereo music.
There’s also very little sense of air or ambience around the instruments and actors; the overall sound is a little bland and unexciting. Rage Against the Machine’s “Fistful of Steel” had plenty of tight bass punch, but the rest of the instruments sounded closed in and recessed. Turning down the sub didn’t open up the sound like I had hoped it would.
Samsung’s 3D Sound Plus circuitry attempts to mimic the output of a proper 5-piece surround system, but it’s not particularly successful. It does widen the image considerably, as well as add some height, but without actual speakers behind you, you’re not going to be fooled.
Overall, Samsung’s HW-E550 is flexible, thanks to its multiple speaker configuration options, and it sounds decent. It certainly doesn’t banish the compromised sonic reputation soundbars have, but as a slim and unobtrusive way to add impact to an HDTV’s audio in your living room or den, it’s a respectable choice. The Sony HT-CT260 remains our favorite budget soundbar system, as it can get louder and sounds smoother and fuller than the HW-E550, although it lacks Samsung’s nifty digital display and ability to separate into left and right satellite speakers. If you’d rather have a single speaker bar, the Yamaha YAS-101 offers crisp, balanced sound for slightly less cash.
More Speaker Reviews:
|Wireless Remote Control||Yes|
|Power Rating (Left and Right, Each)||80 watts RMS per channel|
|Type||Home Theater, Wireless, Soundbar|
|Power Rating (Subwoofer)||150 watts RMS per channel|
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