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Sound bars are a great alternative to a surround-sound system for anyone with limited room or concerns about the aesthetics of having speakers and cables littered around the lounge room.
If the latter is your main concern, then you'll love the Samsung HW-F571, which not only sports a rather beautiful design, but also has a wireless subwoofer to boot.
The sound bar itself is made from aluminium that's been perforated across its top and front face. The F751 incorporates the valve amplifier that Samsung has been putting into some of its premium range of devices, and there's a window on the bar that lets you see the vacuum tubes glowing away when the device is operating. It doesn't serve any real purpose, but it looks great. The subwoofer is a little more unobtrusive — it's basically a silver box on legs.
Like most sound bars, the FW-751 is simple to set up. The sound bar itself only weighs 3.5kg, and the sub is just over 7kg, so you don't need Charles Atlas to help you unpack the unit.
There's optical in, a USB port, plus HDMI in, HDMI out and a standard auxiliary audio jack — it's really that simple. We'd note, however, that the cutaway where the ports are located isn't huge. HDMI cables that sport the large plugs we've seen on some might be tricky to get set up. It does, of course, support audio return channel (ARC).
One of the cleverest elements of the sound bar is the orientation options. You can lie it on its flattest side, with the valve amps facing up, and the sound will blast from the speaker facing the front and the display (which sits under the aluminium and is visible through the holes) will face out.
However, you can sit it on its narrower side (or wall mount if you prefer) so the valve amps face forward. In this case, the FW-751 switches to a second set of speakers so the sound is still coming from the front and uses a second display on the same orientation. It's really quite clever.
It's always a cliché to refer to valve amps as providing "warm sound", but it's hard to come up with a better descriptor for the performance of the sound bar.
For both high-action movie sequences and more subdued "talk fests" with loads of dialogue, we found that the FW-751 produced rich and clear sounds, with excellent bass, thanks to that hefty subwoofer.
Like all sound bars, the surround emulation is better suited to smaller rooms, where you get a nice sense of depth. It's certainly not the same as a full surround system, but it's pretty darn good. We found that there was maybe a little distortion at very high levels, but at normal listening volume, the overall effect was quite remarkable.
Music wise, the FW-751 uses Bluetooth to connect to mobile devices. We tested across a few devices and found the sound to be very good. Undoubtedly, true audiophiles won't like the Bluetooth factor, but this is a more general device, so we imagine audiophiles probably have a dedicated music set-up, anyway. They're like that.
There's also USB for audio, with the bar supporting MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, OGG and even FLAC.
If we had one complaint about the FW-751, it's that the remote feels a little plasticky compared to the build of the sound bar itself. There's nothing wrong with the remote or its functionality; it just doesn't have a very "premium" feel.
In all, the FW-571 is a top-notch sound bar that looks good and sounds better. The RRP is AU$799, but we've seen it both in-store and online for at least AU$100 off that price, making this quite a bargain.
If you're in the market for a sound bar, we'd highly recommend you check out the Samsung HW-751; you won't be disappointed.