|Ratings + Specs|
The second most expensive soundbar in the group, the Samsung has a black plastic cabinet that unabashedly shows off its two tweeters and four mid/woofer drivers. Everyone who has ever insisted on removing grille cloths from their speakers can rejoice: The rest of the industry is catching up with your design acumen. The HW-D550 eschews more than a grille cloth; it also does away with visible buttons. When the unit is powered up, however, five backlit touch-sensitive controls appear on the front panel. Just below, a display keeps you apprised of operations. Very sleek.
The rear panel is well equipped: two optical inputs, one analog stereo input, two HDMI inputs, and one HDMI output (with ARC). There’s a USB port, but according to the owner’s manual, it’s only used for software updates — a pity.
With a number of useful dedicated buttons, the stylish remote is a cut above average. For example, it has buttons to trigger the soundbar’s 3D sound and Smart Volume (which controls drastic level changes) features, and you can adjust audio delay to sync sound with picture.
Seven sound modes are available, including Music, Drama, Cinema, and Pass. Wall-mounting hardware is included, along with an HDMI cable.
Samsung’s wireless subwoofer has a glossy black cabinet and a driver that fires to one side through a grille cloth. Its port is located on the rear, along with an ID set button to establish the wireless link. Incidentally, Samsung offers an optional iPod/iPhone dock (HT-WDC10) that can connect wirelessly to the soundbar.
The Samsung soundbar’s sound quality was quite nice. Its tweeters sounded relatively smooth, even when confronted by the aggressive percussion on the Eagles’ “Fast Company.” The midrange was a real winner. Instruments and vocals both sounded great; I especially liked the very natural reproduction of male vocals on these speakers.
The subwoofer was extremely well behaved, providing a solid bass foundation for music. But sometimes you don’t want subs to play nice: This one refused to play loud and kick some butt, even when its level was maxed out relative to the soundbar’s level. The system largely avoided the dreaded response gap between the soundbar and the sub; I heard an occasional weakness in there — on some tom fills, for example — but was overall quite happy with the sound. It could also play loud, but clearly didn’t enjoy doing it; when it was pushed, the sound became strained.
Samsung’s system offers a number of sound modes. Curiously, while its sub was conservatively tuned, some of the soundbar effects were overblown. Modes such as News and Cinema resulted in huge equalization changes. On the upside, I kind of liked the equalization of the Music mode, which helped to punch up pop music tracks.
The 007-esque winter scene in Inception’s Chapter 11 features a huge number of skiing and snowmobiling sound effects. Both the subtle rush of snow and the noisy engines were reproduced with good clarity, as was the copious gunfire. The very energetic music score sounded great as it increased in intensity. An avalanche gave the soundbar and especially the subwoofer a real workout, but both handled the stress well. The 3D effect was interesting and provided an extra element when watching movies. But it also served to decrease dialogue intelligibility, which was otherwise excellent
This is a very solid system that delivers great performance at a not-too-lofty price. Although I wished its subwoofer were a little less restrained, the system’s overall fidelity was unmistakable. I was bummed that the otherwise well-connected soundbar lacked a USB port for connecting an iPod, but you can buy Samsung’s optional wireless dock to overcome this limitation. If you’ve got a good TV with a sharp-looking picture, this system will match it with smooth sound and smooth style.
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