Interest in one-piece soundbars is booming. According to the market analysts at GfK, the UK will see sales leap to 120,000 pieces this year, up from 75,000 in 2011.
Their appeal is easy to understand. If you can't fit a multi-speaker sound system in your living room, a single, wide-dispersion enclosure, helped by a subwoofer, is reasonable compensation. But with the new Crystal Surround Air Track HW-E551, Samsung has broadened this appeal further.
Rather cannily, the main soundbar has been designed to split in two to form a left/right pair of cylindrical speakers; owners have the choice of conventional stereo or solo soundbar configurations. It's ideal if you want to change your system at a later date.
This idea looks likely to catch on. The Samsung HW-E551 already faces competition from Panasonic's own 'transformer' bar, the SC-HTB550.
File format support: MP3, WMA
Wireless subwoofer: Yes
Remote control: Yes
Total output (claimed): Soundbar 80W nto 3oms, sub 150W into 3ohms
Power consumption: 50W average peak
The Samsung HW-E551 design is predictably slick, although what appears to be a smart metallic finish on both the speakers and the subwoofer transpires to be plastic. When locked together, the soundbar is 104cm wide, making it suitable for larger screen sizes.
The subwoofer, a rear-ported design, communicates wirelessly with the main soundbar over the 5.2/5.8GHz band, which opens up opportunities when it comes to placement.
The operating distance of the wireless link is said to be around 9m. Of course, the thing still needs mains power (as indeed does the soundbar), which will limit your options.
Priced at £399 in the UK and $399.99 in the US, the Samsung HW-E551 goes up against recently released sound systems such as the Logitech UE Air Speakers, the Philips Fidelio SoundRing DS3880W and Sony SRS-BTV25, all of which are cheaper.
The Samsung HW-E551 features a number of convenience features that make the system easy to live with. The subwoofer turns itself off automatically when there's been no activity for 20 minutes, springing back to life only when required.
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It's also Bluetooth compliant, which is ideal if you want to pair and share music from your mobile.
Unusually for a soundbar, the unit also offers an LED text display, which makes navigating inputs and DSP modes a good deal easier than it might otherwise be. There's also a neatly integrated manual dial, for volume control and Power, built into the end of the right-hand speaker.
The subwoofer is the conduit for all audio sources. It sports a pair of 3D-compatible HDMI inputs and an output. One of these is ARC (Audio Return Channel) compliant, which means the TV itself can become a source for the sound system. There is also a digital audio input and a USB reader compatible with MP3 and WMA files.