Looking for a compact soundbar that fits within a multiroom story and has Dolby Atmos? You are the target group that the new Denon Home 550 soundbar aims at. It combines the HEOS multi-room platform of Denon and Marantz devices with a certain hip flair that fits well in most living rooms.
Denon Home 550 soundbar
The Home 550 is certainly not the first soundbar from Denon, but it is the first that fits within the new Home line of the now 110-year-old Japanese brand. The Home family of wireless speakers is admittedly not entirely new. After all, it builds on the HEOS platform that Denon has been installing for quite some time in all kinds of audio products, such as their AV receivers. We previously looked at the Home 150, 250 and 350 speakers . The Home label mainly stands for a new design that is much more fashionable and softer than the older HEOS devices. Apparently Home also stands for fresher ideas about what a soundbar should be. The Home Soundbar 550 that we are looking at here is so different from previous Denon soundbars: more compact, better finished and with Dolby Atmos-support. It also likes DTS: X, is well equipped in terms of connections and offers many streaming options.
In the spring, this soundbar will receive a software update so that you can connect it to the DSW-1H wireless subwoofer and a pair of Home speakers (you can choose which models). The result would then be a more powerful and enveloping movie sound. However, the necessary software to do this was not ready when we tested this soundbar. In any case, it seems to us an interesting upgrade option if your living room is a bit larger. We know from tests of other sound bars that adding extra speakers at the back does a lot to make the surround experience much better.
Atmos with fewer speakers
Initially, you choose a soundbar to get a better experience when watching movies and TV series. The Home 550 Soundbar is well equipped in that area. It responds to the latest trends and offers support for Dolby Digital Plus (the 5.1 sound via Netflix and similar services), but also for Dolby Atmos (also with streaming services and Ultra HD Blu-rays). Atmos is becoming increasingly popular, because the addition of height channels to the classic surround story offers great added value. What you hear is (if an Atmos device works well) much more three-dimensional.
However, this 649-euro soundbar from Denon is not a challenger to the high-end models that often cost 1,000 euros and (much) more. Those ultimate sound bars have many speakers, including ones that point to the ceiling, and are therefore quite large. That is certainly not the case here. The Home 550 Soundbar is a compact middle class that reproduces Atmos with a smaller number of speakers. Eight to be precise, and they all point to the front. That is suboptimal on paper – and make no mistake, nothing can compete with 5.1.4 via separate speakers. But tests of similar sound bars teach us that such a design is less of a compromise than you might think.
Some people will find it a huge plus that the Denon Home 550 Soundbar is a bit more compact than most alternatives. And completely compared to the high-end soundbars. The dimensions of 65 x 7.5 x 12 cm are very living room-friendly, and you can also say that about the finish. In terms of design, the Home 550 Soundbar fits perfectly with the Home speakers. Denon puts a gray-black fabric over most of the device, a material that disappears well in a darkened room. Plus, because of its texture, you don’t see fabric on it.
The shape is also a bit more sophisticated than the average bars that most sound bars are. The edges are chamfered at both the top and the bottom. This gives the Denon soundbar a softer profile. Everything is dominated by a certain Japanese minimalism.
The Home 550 Soundbar doesn’t have a display, but we don’t mind that. You will find everything in the app. The top of the soundbar is finished in metal, only interrupted by a few touch buttons to adjust the volume. We don’t think you will use it much. The supplied remote, the TV remote control or the app are much more convenient. By the way, it is nice that Denon provides a remote, because sometimes it is missing from multiroom soundbars such as this one.
Additional HDMI input
In terms of connections, it is all right. The Home 550 Soundbar comes with an additional HDMI input for a video source (such as a console). It’s not HDMI 2.1, but it is ready for 4K streams and HDR standards (HDR10, Dolby Vision). Only a next-gen console has (possibly) higher requirements; the solution is to connect that PS5 or Xbox One X directly to your TV. The HDMI port to which you connect the cable to your television is also eARC ready. Since the Home 550 Soundbar Soundbar can handle both the DD version (via streaming services) and the TrueHD version (of Ultra HD Blu-ray discs) of Atmos, eARC is really an added value. After all, only eARC can pass on the TrueHD variant.
The Home 550 Soundbar has an optical input, for those who prefer to connect their TV like this. Or an audio device, such as a CD player. Thanks to HEOS you can then stream that CD music to another device. A handy trick if you connect the TV via an optical cable: the Denon soundbar knows the codes of many TV brands and will respond when you press the volume buttons on your TV zapper. An auxiliary input and a USB port complete the input options.
Extensive streaming options
A second main reason to choose a soundbar like the Home 550 Soundbar is the streaming options. You are looking for a device that will be used for better TV sound as well as for listening to music. That is a double assignment that is clearly written for this Denon soundbar, thanks to the ingrained HEOS platform.
The HEOS roots of the Home Soundbar 550 are immediately visible when you install the accompanying app. After all, it is the HEOS app, an app that has been around for years. A trusted experience, given that we have been testing Denon and Marantz products for many years. The app was even already installed on our iPad, as we regularly use it with our fixed Denon AVR-X6300H AV receiver.
In the HEOS app you get a clear explanation of how to connect the soundbar to your WiFi. If you have an Android smartphone, this is the method to follow. This time, however, we do it differently. After all, the Home Soundbar 500 is also AirPlay 2-compatible, which means that you can also set it up in a few steps via the WiFi settings of your iPad or iPhone. Indeed, the device immediately appears on our iPad Air as an AirPlay speaker that has yet to be configured. A few taps and the WiFi data will be transferred. You can then immediately stream audio via Airplay and when you open the HEOS app, the Home Soundbar 550 immediately appears as an available device under the ‘Rooms’ tab. Here we also see our Denon AVR-X6300H. If we wish, we could drag the Home Soundbar 550 in this screen to the AV receiver so that they play in sync.
Stream physical inputs too
The HEOS app looks a bit too sober in 2021, although it does not fall short from a functional point of view. We understand that the app is currently being worked on visually to enhance it visually and to expand it with more functions in the longer term. Well, despite the somewhat old-fashioned look, the app is completely fine. It is clearly structured, with a main navigation via three tabs at the bottom of the screen. In addition to the previously mentioned ‘Rooms’ tab, there is also ‘Music’ (where you will not only find streaming services but also select the physical inputs of the soundbar) and a ‘Now Playing’ tab. For example, if you play music via Tidal, this shows the album cover and information about the song you are hearing. When watching TV, you see a kind of mini control panel here with which you can quickly switch sound modes, among other things. We will tell you more about that in a moment.
If we zoom in on the music options, HEOS offers you many options. Although support for streaming services remains relatively limited. ‘Only’ internet radio, Tidal, Deezer, Soundcloud and Napster are in the app, Spotify can be controlled via the own Spotify app. Even if you work via AirPlay 2, you do not need the HEOS app. You can also work via uPnP. That seems old school, but for example with BubbleUPnP on Android you can easily send your own music or say Qobuz to the soundbar.
A big advantage of the HEOS app is that you can also choose other (physical) audio sources, such as the inputs on the soundbar or your own music files on a USB stick or on a NAS. That versatility is really an asset. Even when you think of multi-room use. For example, you can insert a USB stick with MP3s into the Home 550 Soundbar and have it played via the app on a HEOS speaker on the terrace. Or let a turntable that hangs from a Denon DRA-800H in the hobby room sound in the living room.
Amazingly grand and spacious
We connect the Home 550 Soundbar to the Sony KD-65AF9 in the test room, with an Apple TV 4K linked to the HDMI input of the soundbar. Strictly speaking, that Apple player is not necessary, because the Sony TV already has plenty of streaming apps and can output Dolby Atmos over the eARC connection. However, the Apple TV is so easy to use that we prefer to use it for playing test material. The Oppo UDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray player and the Xbox One hang directly on the TV set.
We always start our tests by going through a series of Atmos demos. They are short pieces, but they reveal a lot in a few minutes of listening. For example, ‘Audiosphere’ revolves around positioning, where we are slightly surprised at how realistically placed the front height channels are. Also with the ‘Amaze’ there is a clear separation between ear height and higher in the room, which gives a nice 3D feeling. We also nod satisfied with effects that move left and right of the screen, because this soundbar knows how to create a very wide and deep soundstage spectacularly well. Note: in our test room, sound bars are always set up freely on a piece of furniture.
The Home 550 Soundbar hits its limits when reproducing those rear height channels. Despite all the high tech, the Denon cannot simulate it correctly. But you will only make that consideration if – as with – you listen to Atmos soundtracks that have previously been heard via a discrete setup. In terms of bass reproduction, the Home 550 Soundbar is also impressive, given its compact size. He definitely knows how to give depth to film music and effects – but it is not ultra-deep that makes the glasses in the cupboard ring. It’s a good performance for its price, but spectacle fans are going to be even happier with an extra sub.
Also DTS and DTS: X material is well processed by the Denon soundbar. Which is especially important for anyone who still has Blu-rays or invests in Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. Among other things, the excerpt from ‘Jurassic World’ on the DTS test disc N ° 23 is convincing, especially when the volcano erupts and a horde of dinosaurs approaches us. Sounds seemingly come flying past us, just like with the Atmos demos. Very impressive and one of the best ‘enveloping’ experiences we’ve had from such a small soundbar.
You don’t have to be a car freak to enjoy ‘Ford vs Ferrari’ (Dolby Atmos). It brilliantly alternates a compelling story with very exciting racing scenes from a time when safety regulations and perimeters were completely unknown to the public. The pinnacle of the battle between the Italians and the Americans on the track of Le Mans. It’s a moment when the Dolby Atmos mix on the Home 550 Soundbar conveys an incredible amount of atmosphere, especially when a storm breaks out above the track. Maybe not everything from the mix comes out perfect, but more than enough of that Atmos mix is present to tempt us again to watch the long scene for the umpteenth time. A great achievement.
We stick to raging four-wheelers and switch to the spectacular race from ‘Ready Player One’ (Ultra HD Blu-ray, Atmos), still of the best Atmos mixes. It is a tough test for a soundbar because there are so many sound effects flying around. The Home 550 Soundbar lacks real impact in the low end, but scores very well in other areas because details are able to perform very fresh and distinct. It never becomes a silent mess, even when the players crash en masse and cars are eaten by a T-rex. The conversation between Persival and 3rtmetis after the race also makes an impression. The voices are well defined and you really have the impression that the duo are flirting in a big hangar. The spatial character of the environment comes across well (although our discrete setup will of course make it sound even better). The things that make up for the soundbar in terms of music reproduction now also play in favor of the Home 550 Soundbar, we think.
Also nice: unlike some rivals, such as the Sonos Arc, the Home 550 Soundbar also does upmixing. If you feed the Denon with a 5.1 stream (as much content on Netflix owns), then you will not suddenly get a disappointing experience. On the contrary, when we watch an episode of the magisterial ‘His Dark Materials’ it continues to sound just as good as when we played real Atmos content. Via the HEOS app you can easily switch between sound modes and experience what you like best. The only thing that is a pity: when streaming music you do not have upmix options to surround. Most music lovers don’t feel like it, that’s right.
Denon Home 550 soundbar – Conclusion
Denon has done its homework very well with this soundbar . The surround performance is nothing short of excellent, given its compact shape and mid-range price. It can all be more enveloping and better, but then you spend more money and you have to place more equipment in the room. At this price point, the Denon Home 550 Soundbar is without a doubt a winner. The many streaming options are a very nice extra, but even without those musical talents, the Home 550 Soundbar is an impressive bar. And it is great that you can add a sub and / or rears if desired for a powerful surround setup.
Pros of Denon Home 550 soundbar
- AirPlay 2 or HEOS app
- Smaller than most Atmos sound bars
- Hi-res audio
- Expandable with wireless subwoofer and rear speakers
- Dynamic and detailed
Negatives of Denon Home 550 soundbar
- HEOS app needs a makeover
- Bluetooth pair button is inconvenient