Multichannel home cinema speaker systems are all well and good, but let’s face it: you might not have the money for one, or the inclination to rearrange your living room around a telly. So what to do if you still want to beef-up your flatscreen’s inevitably woeful sound?
Enter the soundbar. At £400, this Samsung HW-E551 (opens in new tab) model sits in the middle of the price range. But while it might look basic, it has a few tricks up its sleeve to help justify the price.
First, the subwoofer, which houses all the connections, is wireless, making positioning easier (pairing with the soundbar itself is automatic, too). Second, it supports Bluetooth audio streaming. And third, the soundbar itself splits in two – so you can have stereo speakers sitting on stands or even on the wall.
The remote control is comprehensive, and can also control your telly if it’s compatible. It also lets you choose from a variety of processing modes, which includes ‘Music’, ‘Game’, ‘Cinema’, ‘Sports’ and ‘Off’. Guess which one we preferred.
Samsung HW-E551: Sound quality
To get started we put the HW-E551 to work with a Blu-ray of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol in an external player (the Samsung doesn’t have one built in) and try to set some trousers flapping.
We have to say: for such a stripped-down system it does a pretty good job. Turn all the processing off and dial in the subwoofer volume, and there’s a nice, natural tone to voices. Big bangs, likewise, thud fairly convincingly and dynamic shifts are handled without too much trouble.
There’s an inevitable disconnect between the sub and the soundbar (pardon the wireless pun) due to their size difference, but it’s nothing you can’t moderate by playing about with the volume levels. A good, well-thought-out effort all round, then.
The Samsung HW-E551 might not set your world on fire, but it does a far better job than a TV’s internal speakers – and its versatile configuration means it could be ideal for students moving digs every year, especially as it's available online for nearer £300.