Denon Home Sound Bar 550 review: impressive Dolby Atmos sound for a good price

In this Denon Home Sound Bar 550 review, we’re getting an earful of Denon’s most recent smart soundbar and deciding (among other things) whether it makes good on its promise of Dolby Atmos 3D surround sound.

Certainly the Denon Home Sound Bar 550 has got most of the right ingredients to be one of the best soundbars. It’s nicely made and properly finished, and is pleasingly compact and discreet too – in fact it’s one of the best soundbars for small TVs, thanks to being just 65cm wide.

As far as connections go, it’s a fair bit more flexible than it’s most obvious rival, the Sonos Beam 2nd Gen. The HEOS multi-room platform Denon shares with sister company Marantz, plus Apple AirPlay 2 streaming, mean the Home 550 can be a source of music from many sources, from your favourite streaming services to internet radio providers. And despite a lack of upward-facing drivers, it nevertheless intends to deliver a facsimile of the three-dimensional spatial audio effect of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks.

Thanks to its support for HDMI passthrough and both major advanced sound formats, it’s one of the best soundbars for Samsung TVs specifically, though this feature also makes it a great pick as one of the best soundbars for LG TVs if you have a lower-priced option with a limited number of HDMI ports.

Denon Home Sound Bar 550 review: price & release date

The Donon Home Sound Bar 550 launched in the UK a few months ago at an asking price of £599. These days, Denon itself is asking £469 and you can do a little better than that if you shop around – so it’s lined up even more directly in opposition to the Sonos Beam Gen 2. In the United States, meanwhile, the going rate is around the $549 mark, while in Australia it’s priced at AU$899 or thereabouts.

So yes, this is Sonos Beam Gen 2 money. But that’s not the only deeply credible rival the Denon is going to have to see off if it’s to achieve primacy – the DALI Katch One, the LG SP8YA and the Ditching Award-winning Samsung HW-Q800A are all very capable devices and all priced in roughly the same ball-park. So this is far from a done deal.

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(Image credit: Denon)

Denon Home Sound Bar 550 review: features & what’s new

It’s amazing the amount of difference an additional HDMI socket can make, isn’t it? Unlike the Sonos Beam Gen 2, with its single HDMI eARC socket, the Home 550 adds an HDMI input too – so you don’t have to take up one of your TV’s HDMI inputs if you don’t need to. You’d think it was an obvious course of action, but it seems Denon has had more of a think about this than some competing brands.

The HDMI sockets support 4K, HDR10 and Dolby Vision too. And in the little recess at the back of the bar, these two HDMIs are joined by a digital optical input, an Ethernet socket, a 3.5mm analogue input and a USB socket. Add in dual-band wi-fi and Bluetooth (admittedly ’only’ 3.0) and it’s hard to know how much flexibility you could realistically expect.

And that’s before you consider the HEOS platform developed by Denon and its Marantz sibling. As well as a degree of control, the HEOS app allows you to integrate your favourite streaming services, TuneIn internet radio, local network-attached storage devices…

No matter how you end up getting the audio information on board, once there it’s dealt with by hardware not only capable of handling Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks but 24bit/192kHz and DSD5.6 too. Once decoded, it’s handed over to a driver array consisting of a pair of 19mm tweeters, four 55mm full-range drivers and a trio of 50x90mm ’racetrack’ passive radiators. Given that none of these drivers fires upwards, though, it’s the responsibility of the Home 550’s digital sound processing circuitry to conjure the impression of ’height’ and ’width’ to the soundbar’s presentation.

(Image credit: Denon)

Denon Home Sound Bar 550 review: performance

The first box any soundbar has to tick is marked ’sounds better than an unaccompanied TV’. Admittedly that’s not much of an ask, given that the overwhelming majority of televisions sound pretty grim, but we have to start somewhere – so yes, the Home 550 sounds a lot better than your TV can manage on its own.

And, even better, it sounds a lot bigger than its own physical dimensions might suggest. Stick on a movie with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack and the Denon is capable of quite impressive scale – its presentation, while naturally enough stopping short of offering a sensation of ’overhead’ sound, is deep and wide and tall. Unless your TV is hanging on (or standing in front of) a particularly large wall, the Home 550 will have no trouble projecting sound close to each of its four corners.

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And it can do so with no apparent effort, without muddling the location of specific effects and while remaining attentive to finer details in the soundtrack. Low frequency presence is quite impressive for a soundbar that’s unaccompanied by a subwoofer, and at the opposite end of the frequency range there’s a nice balance of shine and attack. The midrange, so crucial to the comprehensibility of a soundtrack, projects well and carries good levels of detail. In fact, the Denon will happily sink its teeth into the excesses of a show-piece Hollywood soundtrack with something approaching relish.

All of this assumes a volume level that doesn’t exceed ’realistic’. Show a bit more ambition where volumes are concerned and the Denon bares its teeth quite a bit more, abandoning its composure somewhat and becoming quite aggressive and up-front. This quite fundamental change of attitude is accompanied by a slightly less feral, but no less obvious, change in tonality, too – treble and midrange, in particular, become edgy to the point of stridency, and dynamic light and shade is abandoned in favour of all-out everything-louder-than-everything-else attack.

There’s a lesson here, and the lesson is: don’t drive the Denon Home Sound Bar 550 too hard. For most people, that’s probably not a problem. Especially if you like your neighbours.

Switch to some music and, broadly speaking, the story is the same. Keep volume at a civilised level and there’s a nice sense of space to the Denon’s delivery, enjoyable levels of insight and, considering the number of drivers involved, decent cohesion to the overall sound. The Home 550 doesn’t dig as deep as some subwoofer-assisted alternatives, of course, but the bass it does produce is well controlled and sprightly. Decide you want to listen at party levels and, again, composure plays second fiddle to shoutiness.

So, again, there’s a lesson here…

(Image credit: Denon)

Denon Home Sound Bar 550 review: design & usability

When the Home 550 launched, Alexa voice-control was still on the ’to do’ list. But Denon having got it done, it’s now possible to deal with this soundbar via Alexa. Which is handy – especially as the assistant is sharp-eared and responsive.

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If you don’t fancy raising your voice, though, there’s a fair degree of control available in the HEOS app (including some EQ adjustment, ’night mode’ and what-have-you), and a bigger degree via the 550’s remote control. No, it’s not the most luxurious (or biggest) handset you ever held, but it’s reasonably tactile and it covers most aspects of the soundbar’s functionality. And on the top of the ’bar there’s a proximity-sensing touch-control pad that lets you adjust volume and switch between ’play’ and ’pause’ too.

As far as ’design’ goes, well, Denon isn’t about to tear up the rulebook and start again. Like the entire ’Home’ series, the 550 is discreet to the point of anonymity. The quality of fit and finish is unarguable, though, and the deep grey acoustic cloth that stretches across the front and around the sides of the soundbar looks good. The plastics from which the 550 is built are far from the most tactile, but unless you spend a lot of time fondling your electronics that’s really neither here nor there.

And, mercifully, the Home 550 is of manageable proportions. At 75 x 650 x 120mm (hwd) it’s ideal for screens between 40in and 55in, and at 3.5kg it will happily hang on the wall.

Denon Home Sound Bar 550 review: verdict

In some ways, the Denon Home Sound Bar 550 is as good as any compact subwoofer around at this sort of money – and it’s better-specified than many of them. It undergoes a fundamental change of character at volume, though – and that’s not a good thing.

Denon Home Sound Bar 550 review: also consider

The Sonos Beam Gen 2 just about remains the best manageably proportioned soundbar around. No, its Dolby Atmos/DTS:X performance isn’t as pronounced as that of the Home 550 – but then again the Sonos doesn’t lose its cool when asked to play at significant volume. However, the Sonos Beam doesn’t have HDMI passthrough, so depending on your TV, the Denon may be the better choice. Here’s our full Sonos Beam (2nd Gen) review.

If you want something much like the Denon but a little cheaper, the Sony HT-G700 uses the same kind of digital processing trickery to produce a big soundstage from Dolby Atmos, and also features 4K HDMI passthrough, as well as an included wireless subwoofer. It has fewer drivers than the Denon, which means it’s not as dynamic, but still produces seriously impressive width and height, and sometimes really surprises with its positional audio skills – Sony knows what it’s doing. Here’s our full Sony HT-G700 review.