AT A GLANCE
Convincing DSP-based surround
Excellent sound quality
Built-in Amazon Alexa
Limited front panel feedback
Requires HEOS app for best results
Denon’s soundbar scores with convincing virtual Dolby Atmos and DTS:X sound, along with excellent performance on music playback.
I rarely have very much good to say about soundbars with DSP-based simulated surround. But the Denon Home Sound Bar 550 ($599) instantly impressed me by delivering convincing immersive sound. Add in the built-in HEOS multiroom platform, which lets you stream from music apps over Wi-Fi, and Denon’s Sound Bar turns out to be a winning proposition.
The attractive, compact (26 inches wide) Sound Bar offers processing for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X and a recent firmware update adds the ability to wirelessly link it with Denon Home wireless surround speakers and the company’s DSW-1H sub. Denon’s HEOS app supports Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music HD, and more via Wi-Fi, and AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth wireless streaming are on tap. The Sound Bar also has a built-in microphone for Amazon Alexa voice control.
The driver array includes two 0.75-inch tweeters and four 2.2-inch full-range drivers, all powered by a four-channel amplifier, and there are three passive radiators. The gray fabric-wrapped front panel has a minimalist look, with a small LED centered on the bottom edge providing feedback and a multi-colored LED strip indicating when the microphone is active. Capacitive touch buttons on the bar’s top light up when you approach and provide controls for power on/off, play/pause, and volume up/down, along with microphone mute and Alexa bypass. On the back panel: a 4K-capable HDMI input, an HDMI output with eARC, and an optical digital input. There are also LAN and USB type-A ports, both supporting 24-bit/192kHz PCM and 5.6 MHz DSD files.
The Denon comes with a small remote with controls for volume, mute, input and playback mode selection, and Quick Select presets. There are three play- back modes: Pure, Movie, and Music. Pure bypasses all signal processing, Movie creates 3D sound even from a stereo source, and Music emphasizes treble and bass. Night mode decreases bass response and dynamically compresses the signal to reduce overall volume. The dialog enhancer has three levels and is one of the best enhancement algorithms I’ve recently heard. I’m hooked on British crime dramas and the enhancement significantly helped with the heavy accents.
Setup was a simple matter of connecting the included HDMI cable between my TV and the Bar’s HDMI eARC port. I then downloaded the HEOS app, which let me fine-tune things like the level of dialog enhancement and bass boost. If I have any complaint, it would that there are no indications about which settings and adjustments have been applied when using the remote; only the HEOS app shows this information.
Looking for a movie with snappy dialogue and great sound design, I cued up Deadpool 2. Denon’s Bar rendered Deadpool’s deadpan voice-over in a crystal-clear manner, even over the massive explosions and pounding music. More impressive was the 3D immersion. I didn’t hear sound behind me, but there was a convincing level coming from the sides and above. The Denon has good bass for its size, especially after a recent firmware update to bass DSP, but adding a wireless subwoofer would help.
It was easy to cue up Spotify through the HEOS app, and even easier to say, “Alexa, play Spotify.” When you switch to Music mode, you’ll want to make sure both the Night and Dialog Enhance settings are off. I loved hearing the clean sound of Noah Kahan’s “Someone Like You (feat. Joy Oladokun),” with the opening acoustic guitar and vocals anchored dead center and a bit of reverb widening the sound. And when the vocals doubled, they were panned wide across the soundstage, seeming to extend beyond the Bar’s boundaries. Pure is the most accurate mode, but I preferred the imaging in Music mode, as well as the pleasant bass boost it added.
Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett’s “Love for Sale” features a walking upright bassline, and the plucked notes were precise with a sharp attack. It was also evident that the Denon was delivering vocals in a natural manner, along with plenty of musical detail.
Many soundbars make you choose between size and sound quality, or between accuracy with music and impact with movies. Denon’s Sound Bar, in contrast, does it all. Whether casting a big soundstage with music, or conveying 3D audio with movies, this Bar handles it skillfully.