Denon Home Sound Bar 550 review

hcchighreccomendThe handsome, compact Sound Bar 550 is compatible with HEOS speakers and a wireless subwoofer for optional 5.1 playback, but Mark Craven discovers it cuts the mustard on its own

The soundbar market is saturated, but amongst the myriad models it's possible to see trends, as brands coalesce around specific price points and feature sets. A disadvantage for Denon's Home Sound Bar 550 (beyond the somewhat clumsy name) is that its basic specification – a compact 'bar with no subwoofer, Atmos/DTS:X decoding with no upfirers – is mirrored by models around the £300 price point. And it sells for £550.

Box-tickers may therefore not give it a second glance, choosing instead to eye soundbars from the likes of JBL and Yamaha. But I think they'd be missing out. Firstly because the Sound Bar 550 has some handy additional features, and secondly because it sounds pretty damn fantastic.

HEOS, Meet Alexa
So what are those features? One is built-in Alexa functionality, meaning you can ask the soundbar to tell you jokes, read you the news and play specific music tracks. More importantly, the Sound Bar 550 is a member of the HEOS fraternity.


Three passive bass radiators back up the stereo driver array

This proprietary streaming music system, established by Denon in 2014 and now also found on Marantz hardware, enables multiroom audio via HEOS speakers, soundbars and AV receivers. It also comes with a well-engineered app that integrates third-party sources (Spotify, Amazon Music, Deezer, Tidal) and your own files stored on your phone or home network, while doubling as a touchscreen controller for the Sound Bar 550.

You don't have to take advantage of the bar's HEOS skills if you don't want to, of course: it comes supplied with a dinky IR remote handset that's clearly labelled but has slightly clicky buttons.

HEOS setup isn't quite as slick as that of Google Chromecast-enabled soundbars, because at one point you do actually have to heave yourself off your sofa to tap the connect button on the soundbar's rear. Other than that, it only took a few minutes to get going.

The Sound Bar 550's connections are just about standard, although purely based on price you might think the lack of a second HDMI input (there's just one input and one eARC output) is a bit stingy. Optical and 3.5mm audio are fallbacks.

With an eARC connection to your TV, day-to-day operation is laughably easy – all you'll ever need to do is turn your TV on and use its own remote for volume control. It's also a doddle with an HDMI source into the soundbar, or streamed music.

The zapper offers buttons for three preset modes (Movies, Music, Pure), plus bass and treble adjustment. These provide 10-step control, and I found them useful to dial in the sound a little to my preference, particularly as my unit was set to maximum treble out of the box, which seems an odd default setting).

Getting In The Groove
I began my audition with music, because I found myself within the HEOS app, and the soundbar's performance quickly earned my attention. Arrows in Words From The Sky, pounding groove metal from Machine Head (Tidal, 16-bit/44.1kHz), is the sort of energetic track that can trip up soundbars. Yet this Denon has a blast with it. Notable is the tightness, impact and believability it brings to the kick drum and tom-tom hits, perhaps a benefit of its single-box design. With other models that rely on an outboard subwoofer to handle bass, there's often the feeling that timing and poise have been traded for depth, and bass transients become woolly. That's not the case here.