Samsung HW-N550 review: Tidy setup, tidy sound

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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