Samsung HW-D550 HT Sound Bar

Table of Contents

Sound bars were created to bring home theater sound to match HD TVs without the complexity of amps, receivers, multiple speaker boxes and wires running between them all. Our first sound bar review: Samsung’s slick, modestly priced HW-D550 2.1 system.

Dec 8, 2011 by Mike Chin

Product Samsung HW-D550
2.1 Home Theater Audio Bar System
Manufacturer Samsung
MSP $450

High definition TV is a cash cow for the consumer electronics industry. With the wealth of high definition media hitting theaters, Blu-ray discs, broadcast and Internet TV, a HD TV has become mandatory for any self-respecting modern. But HD does not end there. There’s the need for a Blu-ray player, media content purchases, subscription to HD TV services, and once you get a bit into it, a home theater sound system, which often requires an AV receiver as well as multiple speakers. Some people want better sound than what their spanking new HD TV delivers — is it any surprise that the sound quality of these TVs is never good enough to match the video? — but without the expense or complexity. Hence the creation of “home-theater-in-a-box” sound systems, of which the Sound Bar is a variant.

As the moniker suggests, a sound bar is a single long (or wide) speaker system that sits under or directly in front of the big screen TV, usually with a separate subwoofer off to the side. This is considerably less cumbersome than a typical 5.1 system (with five speakers and a sub) or even a 3-piece stereo speaker and sub 3.1 system. The amplifier is usually housed in the sub, so no receiver is necessary. This is not a bad solution if you’re pressed for room or don’t want the headaches of a higher end discrete system.

At $450, the Samsung HW-D550 2.1 Home Theater Audio Bar System is relatively affordable. Sound bars can run thousands of dollars, but start as low as under $200, so it’s modestly priced. It has a couple of features that make it stand out a bit. First, the connection between the soundbar and its subwoofer is wireless, which is not unique, but a nice bonus for WAF. Secondly, its remote works with most current Samsung AV products. The remote doesn’t give you the full range of function for every Samsung component, but the oft-used features are accessible. For the many Samsung TV owners out there, this is a very handy bonus.

The Samsung HW-D550 carton is nearly four feet wide.

Contents include 42″ wide sound bar, 14″ tall subwoofer (about 0.7 cubic foot or 20 liters in volume), small infrared remote control, and analog audio cable. A mini-HDMI to HDMI cable and a simple wall mounting bracket should also have been in the package, but they were missing in our sample… most likely because they were not returned by the reviewer who last had this unit.


Samsung HW-D550 Features
Feature & Claimed Benefits Our Comment
Dolby® Digital delivers high-definition sound that’s just as stunning as your TV’s picture. With advanced lossless, multi-channel audio codec technology, you’ll be immersed in sound that’s identical to the studio master recording. The benefits are a bit overstated. Dolby Digital would be expected in an AV product of this price.
Sync movies from PC with DivX HD
Watch downloaded movies on your TV, in all their big-screen glory. With DivX playback, your Blu-ray player can read DVDs and CDs containing DivX movie files you’ve downloaded to a PC-without needing an adapter.
It doesn’t seem that fantastic when you consider what <$100 media streaming devices like the WD TV Live can do.
Take all your remotes and condense them into one simplified solution. With Samsung’s Anynet+ you’ll enjoy one-touch control for all your HDMI-connected compatible devices like your Samsung TV, Blu-ray Disc player, AV Receiver and Home Theater.
This is possibly very useful. Anything to reduce the clutter of multiple remotes!


Samsung HW-D550 Specifications
Number of Channels 2.1
Total Power (W) 80W x 2 + 150W
Audio Processing Dolby Digital – Standard audio signal format used on DVDs and other purely digital media. This surround technology delivers high-quality digital audio of up to 5.1 discrete channels to produce a
directional and more realistic effect.
DTS – provides a discrete 5.1 CH digital audio signal for both music and movie content and uses less compression than Dolby Digital for richer sound
Smart Volume
– Regulates and stabilizes volume level (compression for reduced peaks, useful when others may be disturbed by the program sound)
Front Speaker two 3-way
Subwoofer yes; wireless connection
Inputs/Outputs Analog in – 1
Optical in – 2HDMI in – 2HDMI out – 1
USB – only for firmware update
Width, Height, Depth 41.6″ x 3.2″ x 1.8″ (sound bar)
6.89 x 13.78 x 11.61″ (sub)
Optional Accessory Wireless iPod & iPhone Dock HT-WDC10 – $99
Weight 4.5 lbs (sound bar)
12 lbs (sub)
Finishes Gloss Black, Gloss White

The usual range of specifications for loudspeakers, such as frequency response, crossover frequency points, distortion or maximum output level are conspicuous by their absence. It is clear that the sound bar must have a D/A converter within, to convert the digital signal from HDMI or optical connections into an analog signal for the speakers, but no details are provided. It’s also not clear whether the radio signal to the subwoofer is analog or digital; the latter would require another D/A converter in the sub.


Samsung HW-D550 sound bar is very slim, under 2″ in depth, from front to back. Its 42″ width suggests a good match for TVs 40~50″ wide, which correlates to TV’s with a diagonal screen size of 46~50″. It appears to be made entirely of plastic, finished in the usual glossy black, presumably to match the vast majority of big screen TVs that are similar fingerprint magnets.

Samsung HW-D550 sound bar on cabinet in front of TV. Its depth is just 1.8″.

The sound bar contains six speaker drivers, three each for left and right channels. The drivers are plain to see; they have no grill cover. Each 3/4″ fabric dome tweeter is flanked on either side by a 2″ midrange driver. The specs say they are 3-way speakers, so one assumes the two midrange drivers don’t cover the same frequencies. They look similar, but the two drivers are not identical. It is hard to tell whether the cone material is plastic or metal.

A 3/4″ dome tweeter flanked by 2″ midrange cone drivers.

The input and output connections are all on the back panel, in two recesses, and the cables plug in sideways. This is to enable flush wall mounting; round pegs on the back of the unit allow hanging the unit on a wall beneath a TV. There is also a permanently attached AC cord and 2-prong plug.

Analog audio mini plug, and optical digital inputs in recess on back panel.

Two Mini-HDMI inputs and one Mini-HDMI output in another back recess.


The sub is quite small, with no connections except an AC cord/plug. It is ported to the rear, and a non-removable cloth grill covers the side with the driver on it. The speaker driver is just barely visible through the grill; it looks to be about 6″ diameter.

The Samsung HW-D550 remote control has power buttons for itself and any Samsung TV. When the HW-D550 is powered up, a set of display LEDs and indicators light up in the center of the unit, showing inputs and other settings. This is very difficult to photograph; hence the line-drawing capture from the manual below.

The remote control is small, with just 19 buttons, but its functionality is fairly extensive.

The remote provides access to basic functions of most current Samsung TV.
A full tour of the remote control functions, from the manual.


Before you read my subjective impressions of the sound, one disclosure must be made: The Samsung HW-D550 sound bar had the challenge of following in the footsteps of a truly exceptional speaker system. The last audio system in the media room was a Paradigm MilleniaOne and MilleniaSub 3.1 speaker system powered by an Anthem MRX-300 receiver, with the frequency response of the system fine tuned to the room acoustics using the computer-aided Anthem Room Correction system. The sound quality of this system was superb, as I reported in my recent review of the Paradigm Millenia home theatre speaker system, and the manufacturer’s suggested prices of all this gear totals nearly $3200, many times the $450 MSP of the HW-D550. I tried to put the audio performance of the Samsung sound bar in balanced perspective, but this can be a difficult task without other products of the same price and class to compare and contrast.

The Samsung HW-D550 was hooked up as the center component in the small 10 x 12′ media den with…

  • a Samsung 58″ 1080p plasma TV
  • a WD TV Live media streamer
  • a HTPC
  • Shaw HD PVR

HDM-to-mini-HDMI cables were used, mostly. The digital optical input was used between the HTPC and the HW-D550. At first, the HW-D550 was placed directly on the TV equipment stand, a 5′ wide Ikea stand which uses hollow honeycomb door panels for the shelves. There are two very small rubber feet near the center along the front edge of the unit and a couple of matching hard plastic nubs that act as back feet. The right and left extremes of the sound bar are basically unsupported, as those four points are where the unit makes contact with the surface upon which it sits.

The subwoofer was set on the floor to the left of the TV, and plugged into AC. As mentioned earlier, there is no cable to the sub because the signal is sent wirelessly from the sound bar.

Samsung HW-D550 sound bar on cabinet 6″ in front of 58″ TV.

The first thing I tried was a bit of channel surfing on the cable TV. The absence of a center speaker or channel did not leave any subjective “hole” in the middle of the sound stage; the left and right speakers are close enough together to prevent this effect.

Seven different sound modes are available: Music, News, Drama, Cinema, Sports, Game, and Pass (untreated original sound). I started with the PASS mode, to establish some baseline reference before trying any of the other settings, using some HD movies in my media collection. The sound was fairly clear overall, with plenty of volume, but the quality not exceptional.

  • Music mode seemed to boost both bass and highs, which generally did improve the sound on pop music. With music, only Music or Pass mode sounded acceptable to me. In these modes, the overall sound was pleasant, but with softened transients and a distinct lack of sparkle with sounds like the shimmering of cymbals or bells. The midband was smooth enough, but with traces of a shouty quality at times. The bass was adequate in overall volume (and it was easy to set the sub level with the remote control), but lacking in definition so that sometimes the exact type of bass instrument used or the unique way it was being played could not be discerned clearly.
  • The best dialog clarity was achieved with Cinema or Drama. Which mode worked better depended on the program material. There were some midband tonal colorations that sometimes made dialog a bit difficult to follow. With either of these modes, the sound was always superior to that of the TV’s own internal speakers.
  • News, Sports and Game modes boost the midband dramatically, lending an unpleasant “shouty” quality to the sound. I found them all unusable with any program material.
  • Switching between modes causes the sound to blank out momentarily, for an annoying second or two. To avoid the annoyance, I fiddled a bit with the mode at the beginning of a movie or program to get the best setting, then restarted the movie and did not change the mode again. With live TV, I usually set it to Cinema or Drama and did not change it unless the dialog was really difficult to follow.
  • 3D Sound can be activated in any mode. It typically enlarges the sound field, often resulting in improvements, but the realism or effectiveness varies. It automatically turns off when switching from one mode to another.
  • S. (Smart) Volume is a compressed mode which reduces the sonic peaks. Generally useful only to reduce the annoyance factor of the soundtrack for others in the house.

The sub is not really a sub; it is a woofer. I doubt there is any useful output below 50Hz, at any volume level. It’s not highly defined but OK with most video soundtracks as long as the volume is not set too high, and there isn’t much deep bass in the signal to overload the speaker. The transition between sub and sound bar seemed smooth enough, as long as the sub volume was not set too high.

Music by itself is listenable through the Samsung HW-D550, but more acceptable when it is the soundtrack for a music-intensive movie or a music video. The visual stimulus of the video reduces my focus on the audio, and makes me more tolerant of less than great sound. This probably applies to a lot of people.

The Samsung sound bar suffered some resonance effects that hindered clarity in the midband, especially, I’d guess, in the 150~400 Hz region. This is the octave and half where the bulk of spoken voices lie, and unfortunately, there are some audible tonal peaks in this band. At higher volumes, occasional buzzing at higher frequencies were also noted. Both of these effects seemed directly related to the plastic construction of the sound bar itself. Holding the sound bar in my hands reduced the “hummmm” resonance that afflicted some male voices, and made dialog more intelligible, and the higher frequency buzzing effects also disappeared.

At this point, I realized that the top surface of the equipment cabinet was exacerbating the resonances in the Samsung sound bar. On a hunch, I placed a couple of magazine-style books under the sound bar, hoping to reduce the mechanical/acoustic coupling to the cabinet.

Samsung HW-D550 sound bar on on a couple of books to help reduce acoustical & mechanical coupling with the cabinet.

This impromptu “stand” helped the overall clarity of the sound, although there were still traces of the resonant effects in the lower midband. A more effective stand or other method of decoupling the sound bar from the cabinet would probably help further. Still, after the books were introduced, the system was used for both music playback as well as watching videos for several days, and the experience was generally pleasant.

Compared to the sound of the $250 Soundscience Rockus 3D | 2.1 speaker system by Antec, the Samsung HW-D550 was smoother overall, and generally superior for video soundtracks but sometimes a bit muted. The Rockus suffers from a “hole-in-the-middle effect”, with no center speaker for dialog. The Rockus has much hotter top octave that generally made it sound more open, especially with music, and it also had a more dynamic, punchier sound. By comparison, the Samsung sounded too hemmed in; there is little “expansiveness” to the sound.


SPCR is a couple of big steps ahead of other PC hardware review sites in acoustics metrology. We have…

  • our own home-built, hemi-anechoic chamber, an environment that is extremely quiet and almost completely without reverberation above ~150 Hz.
  • a lab-reference, calibrated, ultra-low noise microphone with ruler-straight frequency response that cost over $2,000
  • a sophisticated PC-based sound measurement system

Our audio measurement / spectrum analyzer system consists of…

For testing loudspeakers, a signal generator is needed to drive the speakers. As the speakers have built-in amplifiers, this was provided with software via the integrated sound card of a second PC, a silent PC with no moving parts, inside the anechoic chamber.


1. SPL: The sound pressure level at which measurements are done is extremely important. A common procedure is to provide the sensitivity with 1W input, and also test the frequency response at the same power input. For a typical passive speaker (one that does not have a dedicated amplifier built into it), this might be something like 90 dB/W, which means when driven with 1W input at, say, 1 kHz or with white noise, the speaker output measures 90 dB SPL one meter away. In fact, 90 dB@1m is a fairly common level for frequency response measurements.

Two considerations:

What is the right baseline SPL? I have already tested some other speakers in the chamber using 85 dB SPL at 1m as a reference, so it makes sense to continued using this level. It’s 5 dB lower than the usual 90 dB used for hi-fi speakers. 90 dB is much louder than you might think: Typical SPL scales suggest that 90 dB is about what you hear from a diesel truck 10m away, inside a moving subway train, or from a food processor directly in front of you.

What is a realistic volume for actual use? A check of SPL levels was done at the listening position with movies and other video material in the small media room, with seated position 6′ from the speakers. The results are summarized below.

SPL @ 1m, Typical Use in Media Room
HT/TV Drama 70~85 dB
Action 75~95 dB
Documentary 75~85 dB

The SPL @1m in the TV room averaged about 80~85 dB, with some peaks reaching 95 dB or higher. Spot checks with other family members, friends and visitors confirmed that this is fairly typical: It is not likely that many people actually watch videos on their TV with higher SPL than indicated above. There are always exceptions; remember, I am just trying to establish a reasonable baseline.

2. Frequency Response: This is the single most widely cited specification in audio, especially with mechanical devices like loudspeakers, which traditionally have the greatest deviations from flat frequency response. It is best shown in a frequency vs sound pressure level graph. In the simplest terms, frequency response tells the ability of an audio device to reproduce sounds of different frequencies at the correct relative levels (loudness). (Here is a good primer on the topic.) A perfect device has a frequency response that looks like a ruler straight line; hence the term “flat” (not flat as in B-minor flat.) Alas, there are many complex issues around this much-cited parameter.

It is highly dependent on the acoustics of the room, the position of the speaker(s) in the room, and the position of the microphone. If this test is performed in a live room, then sophisticated calculations must be used to remove the effect of room reflections (echoes). Otherwise, it must be performed in an anechoic chamber.

Frequency response of a loudspeaker generally does not stay constant with loudness level. Typically, there is a range of SPL in which a speaker is most frequency-linear; go outside this range, especially above it, and the speaker will exhibit frequency non-linearities that lower fidelity.

Frequency response also changes with the angle of perception, both vertically and horizontally. How smoothly the frequency response changes as one moves off axis is a key to better sound loudspeakers.

Given the complexities, dozens of frequency response graphs could be plotted and posted… but their usefulness would be questionable for most readers. So… this is the procedure established for frequency response testing:

  • Place the speaker at the front edge of the 28.5″ (72cm) tall table in anechoic chamber.
  • Place the microphone 1m directly in front, at the same height.
  • Set the output level to 85 dB@1m SPL using white noise.
  • Capture the frequency response graph at 1m distance, on axis, and at 30 degrees laterally off axis
  • Treat one satellite + subwoofer as a single speaker, with bass unit directly under the satellite.

NOTE: Normally, only a single speaker (or single speaker + center woofer) is tested, as there are many complications that arise when trying to measure a stereo pair together at the same time. In the case of the Samsung HW-D550, testing was done with the left channel speakers plus sub as well as all speakers.

3. Harmonic Distortion: This is a relatively easy parameter to measure. A pure sine wave tone is fed into the speaker, and the spectrum analyzer sums up all the aspects of the signal that are not this pure tone, expressed in a percentage of the total signal. Harmonic distortion is not particularly important, however, as it occurs naturally in music and is thus difficult to perceive. Even 10% THD at 50 Hz is probably not audible to most people if it occurs in the context of music — and I am not talking here only about a heavy fuzz bass guitar. Amplifiers and other electronics are capable of minuscule levels of harmonic distortion (say 0.01%), but it is much higher in mechanical devices like speakers, especially when large cone excursions are involved (necessary for high volume at low frequencies). Again, the SPL at which HD is measured has a serious impact on the result, as does the frequency. Simply put, the louder and lower the test tone, the harder a speaker has to work to reproduce it. Longer cone excursions almost always result in greater signal anomalies.

After much experimentation, this is the procedure established to test for harmonic distortion:

  • Place the speaker at the front edge of the 28.5″ (72cm) tall table in anechoic chamber.
  • Place the microphone 1m directly in front, at the same height.
  • Set the output level to 85 dB@1m SPL using white noise.
  • Leave the gain unchanged while running test tones at the following frequencies: 10kHz, 5kHz, 2.5kHz, 1kHz, 500Hz, 250Hz, 100Hz — and lower, to the lowest frequencies where distortion does not exceed 20%.
  • Tests were kept as short as possible: It is easy to damage speaker drivers with steady state pure tones, even at low power levels!


1. Frequency Response

The three lines represent the maximum, normal, and minimum (+6, 0, -6) settings for the sub volume available on the remote control

  • As predicted, the bass response is not impressive. There’s hardly anything below about 60 Hz. An illusion of more bass is provided by the peak around 90~130 Hz.
  • The dip at ~200 Hz is likely a combination of…
    • 1) cancellations due to floor reflections, and
    • 2) crossover effects between the woofer and sound bar.
  • The above dip and a second significant dip at 400~500 Hz contribute to the unevenness of the subjective sound.
  • The broad trough at 3~8 kHz and the sharp dip at 11~15 kHz contribute to the “closed-in” aspect of the sound.

How do these frequency response test results compare with those on other speakers we’ve tested? None of the other speakers tested thus far are sound bars. Still, for a laugh, here are the other curves. The closest comparable is the Soundscience Rockus 3D | 2.1, which has a slightly better extended bass (just 10~12 dB down at 40 Hz, compared to ~15 dB down in the Samsung) and similar dips in the high bass and midrange. Its treble is much more prominent, which gives the Rockus a livelier, more open sound. The tiny AudioEngine A2 without sub obviously cannot compete in the bass, but its overall response is smoother, and it sounds that way, too. The Paradigm Millenia speakers obviously extend much deeper into the bass and higher in the treble, and generally appear smoother throughout (but you cannot tell by these curves the real difference in sonic performance between the Millenia and the other speakers, which are completely outclassed in listening comparisons).

Click for large view
Frequency response graph of the Rockus 3D | 2.1.

Click for large view
Frequency response graph of the AudioEngine A2.

Frequency response graph of the Paradigm MilleniaOne + Sub.

2. Harmonic Distortion

As with all the other tests, the SPL level was set to 85 dB@1m with white noise. Sine wave tones were then run, for harmonic distortion to be measured with our SpectraPLUS audio analyzer. Results from previous speaker tests are also presented.

Samsung HW-D550 Measured Harmonic Distortion
Test Tone
Rockus 3D | 2.1
AudioEngine A2
SPL (dB)
SPL (dB)
SPL (dB)
SPL (dB)
10 kHz
5 kHz
2.5 kHz
1 kHz
500 Hz
250 Hz
100 Hz
80 Hz
70 Hz
60 Hz
50 Hz

*This is an anomalous measurement, believed to be incorrect.

The Samsung HW-D550 has low harmonic distortion only in the treble. Its THD rise steadily as frequency dropped, running 1.6% at 1 kHz and rising to over 8% by 100 Hz. The bass distortion was about equal to the Rockus, running in the teens through its useful range.


This is SPCR; it is a long established tradition to measure and report power consumption whenever possible. They are difficult to do while the speaker/amps are actually working to produce sound, but much easier in static mode.

Samsung HW-D550 AC Power Consumption
Samsung HW-D550
Rockus 3D | 2.1
Audioengine A2
AC Power
SPL (dB)
AC Power
SPL (dB)
AC Power
SPL (dB)
plugged in
volume mute
moderately loud
60~85 dB@2m
60~85 dB@2m
60~85 dB@2m

The Samsung HW-D550 is quite energy efficient, drawing just 1.3W when powered off, and 16W at idle. When it is actually producing sound, the peaks rarely go much past 23W, even at high volume. The power supplies within do not have power factor correction, however; PF measured 0.5 to 0.6 at most loads. While pulling 17W, its Volt-Amp draw is 27VA.


The Samsung HW-D550 sound bar speaker system is a compromise between convenience and high performance. Convenience it achieves nicely, with its wireless sub, HDMI cable connections, and handy remote control. No complaints there. It also looks the part, well matched to the glossy black finish of most large screen HDTVs.

Performance is more of a compromise, however. It certainly provides better sound than the speakers built into any HDTV I’ve heard, but the Samsung HW-D550 falls a bit short of audio hifi standards. The biggest flaw seems to lie in the all-plastic construction of the sound bar, which gives rise to many resonances that intrude audibly especially in the midrange and upper bass. There are probably various ways to minimize the effects of these resonances, but they will all impinge on the convenience and visual simplicity which are keys to the product’s appeal; i.e., they require physical isolation of the soundbar from any furniture, wall or floor. Even if such isolation is achieved, some of the resonance effects will surely remain. A more substantial case made of well-braced high density wood panels or perhaps aluminum (as in the Paradigm Millenia or Soundscience Rockus satellites) could have prevented such resonance effects from being as intrusive.

Still, for many users, judging from online forum and feedback comments, the performance of the Samsung sound bar is perfectly acceptable. Perhaps the main expectation of these users is an improvement over the sound of the built-in TV speakers. It is certainly an attractive package for people who live in smallish apartments or condos.

For those with higher expectations, Samsung HW-D550 isn’t an ideal choice. Although I have no direct experience with them, I expect that other products in its category with similar all-plastic construction suffer the same limitations as the Samsung. I refer to sub-$500 all-plastic sound bar HT speaker systems from Vizio, Sharp, Sony, Panasonic, etc. A better choice for those with higher sonic expectations is to spend a little more money in a better built sound bar or go for a compact powered 3.1 system utilizing small wood or metal box satellites. The latter is fussier, with more cables to hide, but will surely provide better sonic performance per dollar and long term satisfaction than the all-plastic sound bars.

Our thanks to Samsung Canada for the loan of the HW-D550 speakers.

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Articles of Related Interest
Paradigm Millenia HT Speaker System

Soundscience Rockus 3D | 2.1 speaker system

AudioEngine A2: Little Big Speakers
Samsung PN58C6400 Plasma HDTV

Squeezebox 3 Digital Music Box
WD TV Live Streaming Media Player

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this article in the SPCR forums.

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