Samsung's HT-DM550 system caught us by surprise. Everything about it is just a bit different: the sats are nice 'n' solid and the slim line receiver/DVD player goes about its business with a rare confidence. The DM550's sensual sound has the gravitas of a larger component setup.
The receiver/DVD player's combination of gentle curves and a mirrored finish struck us as '60s moderne, but it's not exactly small--you should make sure that your shelf or your cabinet can accommodate its near 16-inch depth. The component's face is dotted with buttons, and the volume knob is encircled by a blue halo. All five 7.25-inch-tall sats are two-way designs with both woofers and tweeters, while the sub is compact.
We weren't crazy about the remote. It gets the basics right, but some oft-used buttons--such as Menu and Surround Mode--are awkwardly placed. Fast-forwarding CDs tried our patience; instead of just speeding up the sound, the player sputters ahead in 5-, 10-, or 20-second increments. More groans: The receiver is cooled by a fan, and we noticed a slight air-rushing noise during our auditions.
If style is your top priority, you can check out more distinctive kits such as Panasonic's ingeniously tidy SC-DM3. If you just look at photos of the DM550 or peruse its specs, the kit doesn't appear to be all that different from Samsung's lower-priced system, the $399 (list) HT-DM150. But the DM550's sats, sub, and receiver/DVD player are, in fact, upgraded versions of the DM150's components. The receiver belts out 60 watts to each of the sats and 100 watts to the sub. Surround-processing abilities include Dolby Digital, Pro Logic II, and DTS.
Our attempt to run through speaker-setup chores was frustrated by the DM550's unusually quiet test-tone levels, although the factory-preset balance sounded fine.
Connectivity options are routine, except for a set of component-video inputs and outputs (the outputs are switchable between progressive and interlaced). This means that you can run a source such as a satellite receiver though the DM550. The DM550's audio quality immediately made a big impression on us. Its poise while cranking out big, special-effects-driven movies such as Star Wars--Episode 2, Attack of the Clones was remarkable. And this kit's full-bodied naturalness on the Wonder Boys DVD made it easy to keep our attention on the film itself, which is rarely the case with modestly priced kits. We attribute the DM550's smooth sound to its keenly balanced sub/sat blend, and we never detected any of the threadbare sonics that are common to lesser systems. This potency also makes the DM550 suitable for use in moderately sized rooms of up to 400 square feet.
Ry Cooder's multicultural-infused Talking Timbuktu CD also sounded rich and detailed. Even when we listened in stereo, the DM550 delivered a good sense of ambiance and space. We next tried the newly released surround DVD of Yes's classic, Fragile. The low end was exceptional for a nonpowered subwoofer, giving Chris Squire's punchy bass lines some real kick.
MP3 playback was free of glitches, though keeping track of songs might be a challenge since the DM550 displays only the first eight characters of each filename.