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Samsung HW-N550 review: Tidy setup, tidy sound

The Samsung HW-N550 sound bar offers sophisticated design and high-quality sound in an affordable, easy-to-set-up package.

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Ty Pendlebury
Steve Guttenberg
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Ty Pendlebury

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Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

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Steve Guttenberg

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.

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How much do you want to spend on a sound bar? Up to $500 there are some very good products to be had, but we maintain that between $300 and $400 is the sweet spot. For this amount you can expect competent sound quality combined with HDMI connectivity and a wireless subwoofer. As such, the Samsung HW-N550 ticks all of the boxes.

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7.8

Samsung HW-N550

The Good

The Samsung HW-N550 offers a decent selection of features at an affordable price. Performance in both music and movies is as good as you could expect for the money.

The Bad

The Samsung HW-N550 is not as enveloping as the best for the money, and has no center channel control. The sound bar's display is hard to read on an angle. No Wi-Fi features for streaming media.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung HW-N550 sound bar offers sophisticated design and high-quality sound in an affordable, easy-to-set-up package

The Samsung is a solid performer and will play back both movie soundtracks and the latest pop release with flair. Is it the best value for money at the price? No -- for $50 less you can get either a Yamaha YAS-207 with its superior surround emulation or the Polk MagniFi Mini, which throws in Wi-Fi streaming. What the Samsung does is look good, and it's a natural fit with your new Samsung TV -- with its TV streaming-over-Bluetooth capability. It also offers easier wall-mount capabilities than either of the two competing models. 

The Samsung HW-N550 is available now for $399 ($350 street) and AU$699, with UK pricing and availability to be confirmed. Expect somewhere around £399 however.

Design

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Sarah Tew/CNET

When Samsung released the HW-K950, it established the blueprint for every sound bar the company has released since. With that model the company moved away from cheap-looking housings toward something more sophisticated. While the N550 borrows the look with its metal grille and brushed gray color scheme, it is still at its heart a plastic sound bar -- though that's not surprising for the money. The edges of the main speaker are tapered, and instead of capacitive touch controls, the bar features some still-swanky push buttons. The bar features an onboard display, but it's only a couple of characters wide, and a combination of too-fast scrolling and poor off-axis viewing mean its usefulness is limited.

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When viewed off-axis, the onboard display is a little difficult to read

Sarah Tew/CNET

The main bar is 41.7 inches wide and a fairly discrete 2.32 inches high. If you want to wall-mount the speaker, it comes with a metal bracket to support its kinda-awkward 3.44 inches of depth. Meanwhile, the wireless subwoofer is decently compact (8.46 by 15.14 by 11.97 inches) and finished in a similarly downtempo gray-and-black color scheme.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The likeable remote control is fashioned after the ones that ship with the company's televisions with its volume toggles and satin finish.

Features

The N550 is a 3.1-channel sound bar with a wireless subwoofer. It offers both Dolby Digital and DTS decoding, but stops short of advanced formats like Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio, much less Dolby Atmos.

The Samsung website promises the HW-N550's "Surround Sound Expansion expands the listening area both sideways and up to emanate sound," but we found turning the surround mode on and off made only a slight difference.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Inputs include HDMI 2.0a in and out, digital optical, 3.5mm auxiliary, USB and Bluetooth. And you can ignore what it says on the company's specs page -- the N550 doesn't have Wi-Fi. If you own a Samsung TV the N550 is able to connect via Bluetooth for sound from the onboard tuner or smart TV apps.

While this is strictly a front-firing sound bar, you can add rears if you wish. Samsung makes a compatible wireless rear kit, the SWA-8500S, that retails for $129.

Setup and listening

The HW-N550 was a breeze to set up -- plug in an HDMI cable from our reference UDP-205 Blu-ray player and one out to a Samsung 4K TV -- and we were playing movies within just a few minutes.

The HW-N550's sound was perfectly competent while playing the straight drama, Phantom Thread, which is set in early 1950s London with renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) wield power in the fashion world. The HW-N550 just went about its business and sounded fine.

So far so good, and so we went for something a lot more challenging with Mad Max: Fury Road; the HW-N550 dished out sounds of the onscreen mayhem with considerable gusto. It's good, but to put the HW-N550's abilities in context we brought out a Yamaha YAS-207 sound bar, which immediately sounded more potent than the HW-N550. That one has a slightly bigger subwoofer, but the YAS-207's bass was more muscular, which came in handy with the film's road raging machines tearing up the desert. After a full dose of the YAS-207's exuberant home theater skills and returning to the HW-N550, the sound was a bit of a killjoy.

While the HW-N550 is a 3.1-channel system and has a dedicated center channel for dialogue. It doesn't let you separately turn up the center channel volume to improve intelligibility. Still, we're happy to see you can adjust the subwoofer volume on the fly from the remote, and the HW-N550 sports bass and treble tone controls.

That's good, because we found the sound at the default settings a tad lackluster, so we turned the treble up to +3, and the bass down to -3. As for the subwoofer volume, sometimes we left it at 0, but more often than not we adjusted it to taste from one movie to the next.

Still, the YAS-207 packed a bigger wallop with Mad Max, so while the HW-N550 can play loud, it doesn't seem as forceful or project as big a soundstage as the YAS-207. The HW-N550 was no slacker, it sounded clear, it could play loud, and the sub was pretty powerful in its own right.

On the upside, the HW-N550 sounded good with all music genres -- it never sounded bright, thin, or hard with music played up to moderately loud volume. Neil Young's newly released Paradox film soundtrack alternates between gentle acoustic and hard-rocking tunes. The HW-N550 sounded credible with them all.

Should you buy it?

The Samsung HW-N550 faces stiff competition from the YAS 207, and frankly we'd be hard-pressed to find something about the sound of the HW-N550 that we preferred. Oh, and the $299 YAS-207 is cheaper than the HW-N550. That said, the Samsung is still a decent performer and matches well with Samsung televisions.

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7.8

Samsung HW-N550

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 7Value 8