Big sound from a small soundbar, the Denon impresses with its performance and range of features. If you’re looking to compact system to beef up your TV’s audio and get a system that doubles up as a music system for the front room, this is a soundbar worth considering.
- Dolby Atmos and DTS:X
- Confident ‘overhead’ performance
- Entertaining with music
- Lots of connectivity options
- Volume ramping leads to an unbalanced presentation
- Adding more speakers is pricey
- UKRRP: £599
- USARRP: $599
- EuropeRRP: €649
Atmos and DTS:XSupports playback of both immersive audio soundtracks
Alexa voice assistanceOption of Alexa or Google built-in
HEOS networkAccess to music streaming services such as Tidal and Amazon Music
The issue of deriving a good quality experience from a TV has taken on more importance since flatscreen TVs became the norm. With TVs featuring less space for some beefy audio performance, it has fallen upon the soundbar to generate the necessary grunt.
But not everyone wants a giant soundbar. The Denon Home Soundbar 550 is another in a long line of small bars that look to solve the issue for when there isn’t space for a more traditional-sized system.
And it can process Dolby Atmos and DTS:X tracks to produce a sound much bigger than its dimensions. There’s also integration with music streaming services, as well as the long-awaited appearance of built-in voice assistance.
However, Denon has a Sonos Beam Gen 2-shaped problem, a soundbar with a similar spec. The Sound Bar 550 has a fight on its hands and it’s well specc’d for the battle.
- Tidy and trim appearance
- Compact size
- Wide connectivity options
The Denon shares the same attire as its Home stablemates, wrapped in a fabric cloth. It looks nice and very well-made but doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll garner a second glance. Only a black finish is available, adding to the Denon’s discreet tailoring.
At 651 x 75 x 120mm (WHD), it’s around the same size as the Sonos Beam 2, so it can comfortably sit beneath a TV. It makes the Home Soundbar a good partner with TVs up to 50-inches, though its audio performance suggests it could be paired with bigger sets.
Aesthetically speaking there’s a bit more to this bar with a motion activated touch panel on the top surface and Alexa light bar that peaks through the fabric cover. In a recessed area around the rear are the ports: HDMI input, HDMI eARC output, digital optical, USB port, 3.5mm jack and Ethernet cable. That gives the Denon more options for plugging devices in than its Sonos rival. The HDMI input, for instance, is helpful if you’re short of a few on your TV.
The remote is small and feels insubstantial, the kind you’d lose between the sofa cushions if you’re not too careful, with clicky presses that sometimes require a few attempts. There are no playback buttons but sources, sound modes, volume (including bass) and presets all feature.
- Alexa voice control
- HEOS brings the music streaming apps
- Upgrade path with other Home series products
Alexa voice control – announced before the Home series went on sale – was finally added in September 2021, allowing for hands-free control of the bar and Alexa fetch quests.
The HEOS platform knits the Home Soundbar 550’s online features together, and also brings the option of using Google Assistant as an Alexa alternative. HEOS is built into Denon and sister brand Marantz’s products and to continue the Sonos’ comparisons, works similarly to the S2 app by offering access to Internet stations and integrating streaming services such as Amazon Music, TuneIn and Tidal into its interface. Spotify Connect is also supported.
For more options there’s AirPlay 2 and a lowly form of Bluetooth (3.0), which suggests Denon would prefer you use the Wi-Fi/HEOS. File formats accepted over network and USB include MP3 and AAC (up to 320kbps), WMA (up to 192kbps); FLAC, WAV and ALAC (up to 24-bit/192kHz) along with DSD 2.8 and 5.6kHz, enshrining the Home Sound Bar’s high-res audio capabilities.
As an interface HEOS is more functional than sleek but offers a range of tweakable settings such as Dialogue Enhancer, Night Mode, presets, and an equaliser for treble and bass (-5dB to 5dB); as well as multi-room with other HEOS products and accessing music. Visually it’s a little bland, but no stability issues were encountered and operationally it’s speedy.
There’s interesting news for custom installers with support for software drivers for Control4, Crestron, URC, Elan, and others. Finally, the Home 350, 250 and 150 can be used as rear-channel surround speakers, and for more bass the DSW-1H wireless subwoofer is supported. It won’t be a full Atmos system given there are no upfiring speakers, but it’ll open up the bar’s surround sound capabilities.
- Big, tall sound
- Lots of power and attack
- Pretty adept with music
- Volume ramping causes a lack of balance
Inside the enclosure are two 19mm tweeters, four 55mm full-range drives and three 50X90m passive radiators. Like the Beam 2, there are no upfiring drivers, so the Denon achieves lift-off with immersive soundtracks by using digital processing.
The Home Sound Bar 550 gets terrific mileage out of its small form with a performance that’s big, clear, and detailed. Like LG’s tiny Éclair speaker, the Denon’s sound stretches the expanse of a screen – effects and dialogue positioned where they ought to be. Even partnered with a 65-inch screen the Denon still managed to place effects right in the corner of the upper frame when it was required.
And even without the help of the upfiring speakers there’s a definite sense of verticality to the Denon’s sound. A run-through of Blade Runner 2049’s opening, and as the spinner descends there’s not only excellent definition of the car’s engines but decent heft to it as well.
2049’s soundtrack presents issues for most soundbars, and it reveals the Denon’s (expected) lack of bass depth and extension. There’s some slight woofer distortion but the Sound Bar 550 manfully keeps it under control.
What bass there is, is impressive for single box system of its size. Powerful, punchy, and weighty, with the right piece of content – like the opening titles of Succession – you can feel the low end of Nicholas Britell’s score rumble through the floorboards. It’s also a soundbar that gets the quiet/loud dynamic with confidence; the moment when Howard loses his temper during the dinner scene in 10 Cloverfield Lane genuinely startled me.
The Denon’s sound is sharp and dynamic, but that presents an issue with volume. It can be tricky the get the right ‘loudness’ to avoid coming across as too aggressive. The Denon’s volume doesn’t need turning up that much to have an impact but above that and it becomes a little fatiguing. There’s a slight lack of balance in voices when the volume is turned up – and in other moments the Denon mistakes loud moments for lots of noise, losing points for subtlety.
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