Samsung HW-F551 Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer Review

And the beat goes on...

by hodg100
Home AV Review

3

Recommended
Samsung HW-F551 Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer Review
SRP: £329.00

Introduction

On the face of it, there’s very little to separate the HW-F551 we have for review from the HW-F751 that was tested earlier in 2013. The two packages share almost identical appearances, both boast 310W of audio output from a speaker bar and wireless subwoofer combination and feature the same codec compatibilities and connections. When we look a bit deeper, we can see the F551 lacks Samsung’s valve amp technology and the auto-calibration feature but since we didn’t think the valve amp brought very much to the party and there’s enough scope for adjustments in the menus to compensate for the lack of a calibration mic, it could just be that the HW-F551 represents better value for money. So does it?

Design and Installation

The main speaker bar of the HW-F551 retains the fine silver mesh design of the 751 and it feels well-crafted despite its fairly light construction. For traditionalists, there’s a black version available – the HW-F550 – but the F551 looks good, even with a black bezeled TV. At under 5cm in height, it’s a very low slung design that should comfortably sit below almost any TV without obscuring the bottom of the screen or infra-red receiver? What effect this has on the soundstage remains to be seen.

Samsung HW-F551

To accompany the main speaker-bar, Samsung has considerably bulked up on the size of the subwoofer this year and with dimensions of 291 x 369 x 291mm (W/H/D) it takes up a fair amount of floor space by all-in-one package standards. The sub is rear ported unit and communicates to the main unit speaker using the 5.2/5.8GHz band, giving it a claimed range of around 9m. Whilst we wouldn’t expect many would need such a distance between the two, there’s no doubt of the convenience of being able to place it pretty much wherever you want without having a wire trailing.

The HW-F551 packs plenty of connectivity options with choices of HDMI, an auxiliary 3.5mm input, a S/PDIF digital optical audio connection and there’s also a USB adapter included for a connection on the rear. Having the HDMI connection means the HW-F551 is Audio Return Channel (ARC) capable, so those with compatible TVs can send audio ‘upstream’ to packages like these and AV Receivers, cutting down on the number of cables behind the TV and also meaning you can use the TV’s remote to control the volume.

Samsung HW-F551

You’re not limited to wired connections, however, and the F551 will communicate by Bluetooth with your enabled PC, Smartphone or Tablet to stream your music collection or even as an accompaniment to games and other apps. For owners of Samsung TV’s of Series 6, and above, from 2012 onwards, there’s also the ability to replay the TVs audio using the Soundshare feature which employs Samsung’s own HD audio codec.

Operation

The Samsung HW-F551 doesn’t feature any OSD (on-screen display) so operationally one is pretty much totally reliant on the remote control and feedback from the visual display panel. Initial set up of the HW-F551 was simplicity itself and once you have the sources connected, it’s just a case of establishing a wireless connection with the woofer and the bar before you get going. We found the F551 connected automatically with no problems but if you do experience any difficulties, there’s a ‘reset’ operation described in the user manual but we had no cause to access the process. The connection is indicated by the Link LED on the top of the subwoofer, which lights up blue.

Samsung HW-F551

Besides some rudimentary touch-sensitive controls on top of the main speaker bar for standby, volume and input most of your interactions with the package will be via the remote control. Samsung has hardly performed a major redesign from last year’s version – which was fiddly – but they have increased the overall surface area of the facia, giving a welcome boost to ease of use. We’d still like to see a backlight but it’s a definite improvement.

Samsung HW-F551

Selecting your input is done via the Source Button and the display gives feedback as you cycle through the available options. Conveniently there are independent volume controls for both the subwoofer and main unit on the remote and a shared mute control that will hush them both. There’s also a control for setting an audio delay in case you have a ‘laggy’ display, a DRC (Dynamic Range Control) for more low-level listening and buttons for engaging the DSP (Digital Sound Processing) modes of the HW-F551 that are labelled 3D SOUND and SOUND EFFECT. We’ll discuss the merits of those later in the review but the sound modes available from the Effect button are Music, News, Drama, Cinema, Sports and Game. Should you so wish, the Speaker button switches between the TV and Soundbar audio output in an ARC set up and there’s also the ability to dim the brightness of the visual display, via the Dimmer button. Like last year, we’d suggest the capability to pass audio and video via HDMI whilst in standby might prove useful.

Features

The HW-F551 with the ability to decode AAC, MP3, WAV, WMA, OGG (Ogg Vorbis) and FLAC files which does set it apart in terms of versatility when bringing to mind comparable products we’ve covered and the fact that it will happily accept 5.1 DTS movie soundtracks – as well as Dolby Digital – is also fairly rare in the Soundbar market.

Audio Quality

When we reviewed the HW-F751 we were left wondering what benefits its valve amp technology really brought to the table. Having spent quite a lot of time with the HW-F551, which doesn’t have it, leaves us questioning it even more, which is good news for prospective F551 customers in all honesty. The HW-F551 clearly shares much of the DNA of its more celebrated team mate, which means it has a very clean and precise sound which many will love. What it does lack is a little mid-range dynamism and overall power but unless you’re going to push it loud, those differences aren’t likely to be that discernible in the living room.

Used in its primary purpose – as a purveyor of TV and movie audio - it’s hard to seriously fault the HW-F551. Dialogue was always extremely clear, even late at night at low volumes, and ambient effects pleasingly located. Whilst the sub isn’t exactly what you’d term thrilling, it certainly provides enough clout to convince and there was never a sense it was lagging behind the action. You might want to experiment with the Music mode if you fancy adding a bit of warmth to the default settings and this is where we generally settled.

Samsung HW-F551

Speaking of music, like so many soundbars that have gone before, the HW-F551 seems more suited to that of the electronic variety but it certainly has impressive timing. As per everything else, the Music pre-set definitely adds a touch of honey to acoustic tracks. As a lot of what the HW-F551 will no doubt end up playing will be streamed via users' homes, it’s good to report that it established and maintained a Bluetooth connection to our Nexus 7, iPad 4 and Samsung smartphone with absolute ease and consistency and it certainly coped with the compressed music very well. As the 551 also supports FLAC, we fed it a spot of lossless too with the perhaps slightly unexpected result that it didn’t really sound a great deal better than the MP3 equivalent.

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Low slung design
  • Clean and precise audio
  • Some good DSP modes
  • ARC compatibility
  • Bluetooth
  • HDMI input

The Bad

  • Bass is a bit lacking at times
  • Might seem a touch expensive against some of the competition
  • No OSD setup

Samsung HW-F551 Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer Review

The Samsung HW-F551 is a slender, silver slice of sound and measuring under 5cm in height, will easily nestle under your TV unobtrusively without blocking the remote or screen. The silver mesh design is very attractive in the flesh but there’s always the slightly mundane black version – F550 – if your tastes are more traditional. The wireless subwoofer is of a much more bulky construction but it’s still quite lightweight and thanks to a communication range of up to 9M with the main speaker bar, finding somewhere good to put it should present no issues.

The HW-F551 packs plenty of connectivity options with choices such as HDMI (including ARC compatibility), a 3.5mm analogue input and a S/PDIF digital optical audio connection. The F551 will also communicate by Bluetooth with your enabled PC, Smartphone or Tablet to stream your music collection or even as an accompaniment to games and other apps. The bulk of your interface with the HW-F551 will be via the included remote, which, whilst petite, isn’t too small to make itself un-useable. As a minor criticism, we’d like to see a backlight but it gets the job done.

Perhaps the big question for many reading this is, how does it compare to the HW-F751 which carries a more substantial price-tag? At a base level, they sound very similar and the loss of the valve amp, fitted in the 751, doesn’t really seem to be a material one. Like its flagship contemporary, the HW-F551 is as clear as a bell, responsive and agile but with a slightly clinical sound. That’s not a criticism, really, many will love that kind of timbre and it really did perform very convincingly with almost everything we threw at it.
True to form, we found the F551 was better suited to movie and TV content than it was to music that wasn’t heavily electronic based but it’s certainly no slouch in any way. We found dialogue to be very clear, even at low volumes, and the F551 is certainly capable of very creditable effects delivery and localisation. The sub isn’t a room-shaker, nor a chest beater, but it’s quite agile and certainly makes the low-end efforts of your TVs speaker’s pale in to insignificance.

The HW-F551 is pretty much everything you would expect from a Samsung product. It more than looks the part, possesses clever features and processing, whilst ultimately delivering the goods. Some might want to seek out a slightly warmer sound than the F551 is capable of but it’s one of those products where’s there’s very little of any significance to actually criticise. There are those who might consider it a little expensive against some of the competition but ultimately it’s certainly worthy of its Recommended Award.

Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Connectivity

.
.
8

Ease of Use

.
.
8

Sound Quality

.
.
.
7

Features

.
.
.
7

Value for Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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