Budget Bars: Soundbars from Vizio, Samsung, LG, and Harman Kardon Page 4

Samsung HW-E550

Price: $449

The HW-E550 confuses me a bit. In one form, it’s a thin, round soundbar. If so desired, you can split it in the middle and have two small speakers to mount on stands or on either side of the TV. At this point you have a 2.1 system, so I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just go with a real 2.1 system. It’s an option, though, so I’ll give Samsung credit for that.

Each bar section is powered by 80 watts, while the wireless sub gets 150 watts of its own. No driver sizes are specified, so we’ll assume “small.” Even the driver on the sub is covered, though to judge from the indent visible when I pushed in the cloth with my finger, it’s around 5.5 inches. Two HDMI ins and one out (with ARC), are joined by a USB port (again, for USB thumb drives, not iPods). There’s also an optical digital input and a 3.5mm analog minijack. All of these connections are located on the lower rear of the subwoofer. This is interesting: The Samsung is the only bar here that locates all the connections on the sub and sends audio wirelessly to the bar, not the other way around. This configuration might require longer cables, but it certainly simplifies installation, especially if you’re planning on mounting it to the wall.

The Samsung soundbar also has Bluetooth connectivity for streaming music from your phone and an Audio Sync feature to minimize lip-sync issues.

The system’s remote ties with the LG for the Most Buttons award in this group. The intent here, seemingly, is to allow you to use it as a smallish universal remote. There’s also a volume wheel on the right edge of the bar that’s as discreet as it is handy.

Performance

Sooooo much bass. Even at the subwoofer’s minimum setting, there’s way too much bass, and that’s coming from someone who loves bass. Consider subwoofer placement carefully; you don’t need to put this baby in a corner. It’s a bit boomy and lacks definition, but like I’ve mentioned, none of the subs here is very good.

There’s a limit to how much technology can really fool physics. As a result, the (presumably) tiny drivers in this tiny bar produce a midrange-heavy sound. There’s very little upper extension, and it’s a little shouty. As with the LG, it feels like you’re only hearing pieces of the entire frequency range.

Samsung’s 3D sound feature increases soundstage size vertically and horizontally, but it also makes the vocals sound very forward. The other bars here showed more overall improvement with their “surround” modes active. The system plays fairly loud, though with a bit of compression — and distortion — at the top of the volume range.

Billie Holiday’s voice sounded very forward, and there wasn’t much treble. The Faces were all vocals and guitar. Everything else came across as quite mushy. With John Carter, the Samsung’s characteristic vocal emphasis made dialogue easy to understand, but unlike with the LG, that clarity came at the expense of music and sound effects. It was like the Samsung bar had a voice-only bandpass filter.

The HW-E550’s Bluetooth wireless connection synced up with my phone perfectly, and its HDMI jacks passed 1080p video without problem. Experimenting with the split-speaker setup (which requires running speaker cable from the right half to the left), I found that the sound opened up more naturally, which is what you’d expect when there’s more distance between the drivers. The improvement wasn’t huge, though.

Bottom Line

I’m of mixed mind about the Samsung HWE550. On one hand, it’s got HDMI switching (with ARC), a svelte form factor, and room-filling bass (enough for several rooms, really). I can imagine that many people would be perfectly happy with it. From a strict sound-quality point of view, though, it’s not great. The colored sound produced by the tiny drivers would not, in any circle, be considered “high fidelity.” In a product category marked by endless compromises, Samsung’s soundbar offers some feature pluses to go with its sound-quality minuses.

Soundbar
42.84 x 2.17 x 2.17 in; 3.75 lb

Subwoofer
11.41 x 11.41 x 14.52 in; 15.98 lb

Power(soundbar/subwoofer combined)
310 watts

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