Over the December break I had the opportunity to try out a compact soundbar speaker system that made a big impression on my festive viewing.
I don't know about you, but I tend to watch more movies over the holidays than at any other time of the year. The recent holiday season was no different and my movie viewing spanned various genres with titles including Home Alone, Elf, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), to Die Hard, Raiders of the Lost Arc, and Love Actually (don't judge me).
But even though I've seen these movies dozens of times over previous holidays, this year they all got a new lease of life thanks to the Denon Home Wireless 5.1 Home Theater System I installed just in time for the start of the festive break.
- The Denon Home Wireless 5.1 Home Theater System is currently discounted to $1,197 @ Amazon, which is $300 off!
As audio editor I get to test plenty of soundbars. But as I mentioned in my opinion piece on soundbars are great but I found this device delivers even better TV audio, a pair of passive stereo speakers driven by a dedicated amp is my preferred TV audio setup. Of course, I'm continually swapping the latest soundbars in and out of my TV audio setup for reviewing purposes. But stereo speakers are my usual reference point when it comes to assessing stereo imaging and natural-sounding TV dialog. That is, until now.
I've been fortunate enough to try out several great new soundbars over the past few months, from the entry-level Sonos Ray, to the flagship Sony HT-A7000 soundbar, and full 9.1.5-channel Dolby Atmos LG S95QR system in a box, but I've been more impressed by the Denon setup.
Although I haven't yet given a full Tom's Guide review to the Denon Home Sound Bar 550, either as a standalone soundbar or as Home Theatre 5.1 setup, it has been a consistently rewarding listen over the last few weeks. And I'd even go as far as to say that the Home 550 is one of the best soundbars I've heard when it comes to natural-sounding TV dialog.
Big sound, small footprint
The Home Sound Bar 550 is Denon's flagship soundbar model, yet it's not that much bigger than the entry-level Sonos Ray. A rectangular cloth-covered model, the Denon measures 26-inches wide (compared to 22-inches for the Sonos Ray). And whereas the Sonos has just four speakers, the Denon crams in six speaker drivers, plus three passive radiators to take care of on screen dialog and stereo effects.
Given the slim design of the cabinet and the four largest drivers measuring not much more than 2 inches, the Home Sound Bar 550 managed to project dialog forwards remarkably well in my living room. It didn't fire sound in a pistonic fashion like some soundbars I've heard where voices blare out at you harshly, but in a natural and nuanced way that was entirely engaging; it drew me into the action on screen and to what was being said.
The Denon's compact dimensions and mid-price point ($649 / £599 / AU$999) may suggest that it's better suited to small-to-mid-sized rooms or TV screens. But given the sound performance I experienced with it placed beneath my 55-inch Samsung, I'd wager that it would be an ideal partner for bigger screens without sounding like it was underperforming or looking out of place.
Stereo sound was impressive with everything I watched, and I am pleased to say that I barely needed to make any customization adjustments via the EQ settings in the HEOS app to get the system sounding right in my room. Integration sounded balanced, although there are bass and treble, as well as a subwoofer level controls should I have needed to tweak things.
Speaking of which, as a 5.1 Home Theater System, the Denon Home Sound Bar 550 is partnered with a matching Home Subwoofer ($599 / £499 / AU$1,099), and a pair of Denon Home 150 speakers ($249 / £219 / AU$399 each) to take care of the surround sound information. Both speaker elements appeared to be perfectly matched to the sonic characteristics of the soundbar, with the subwoofer adding just enough weight and dynamic energy to drive the on screen action forward.
HEOS connectivity meant I was set up with all the components wirelessly connected in a matter of minutes. It's the first time I've experienced the HEOS platform at home. And I must say that I was mightily impressed by the ease of connecting up each of the wireless speakers, the robust connectivity, and the ease of accessing the HEOS app when switching between input or controlling my music streaming service.
Dolby Atmos up side
Although Dolby Atmos support is on board, the upward-firing height speakers usually associated with making the most of the format aren't incorporated into the Home Sound Bar 550 or the Home 150 speakers, or at least not as far as I can tell.
This didn't stop the Denon speaker system from making the most of movie soundtracks though, and delivered one of the most cohesive surround sound performances I've experienced from a wireless speaker setup at home in some time.
Objects moved around the room seamlessly, and as effects panned to the rear speakers they didn't change their sonic character as they moved from one speaker to another. They remained entirely believable — unlike the experience I had when I assessed rear effects performance on LG's S95QR surround sound package, priced at $100 more than the Denon.
Overall: A practical solution with great sound
Despite my passion for watching movies in surround sound, my priorities have meant that my TV audio setup has shrunk and become more streamlined to fit in with my household aesthetic over the years. The wires and bulky speakers were too often an issue for fellow household members.
But this Denon Home setup has introduced me and my family to a viable system with a small footprint that expertly balances sonic finesse with enough punch for high-octane movies. No longer do I need to worry about multi-speaker arrangements eating up valuable living space or upsetting the room aesthetic, and the Denon Home Sound Bar 550 looks set to continue to take pride of place beneath the TV screen well into the new year.
Look out for my full Denon Home Sound Bar 550 review coming soon.
Next: Find out what I made of the Denon Home 150 smart speaker.