Nothing is certain in this world except death, taxes and flat-panel TVs delivering rubbish sound quality. That’s why manufacturers have enjoyed huge success with soundbars, because they give people the chance to boost audio quality without the financial and spatial sacrifices that come with a full 5.1 system.
Samsung’s HW-E450 is a case in point. It’s a slender two-channel speaker unit that can be mounted on the wall below your TV or easily placed on your TV stand. It’s equipped with speaker drivers, amplification, decoders and sockets to input external sources. But the best part is that it comes with a wireless subwoofer to bolster bass without you having to worry about where it’s placed.
Design and connections
The soundbar is decorated in a dreamy gloss black finish and measures 70mm deep, which will sit nice and snug to the wall, while the 906mm width makers it ideal for 40in TVs. On its clutter-free front panel you’ll find an LED display in the centre imparting relevant info, while the speaker drivers at both ends are visible (some soundbars hide everything behind a mesh).
The subwoofer is similarly attractive, boasting an identical black finish (augmented by a brush-effect strip on top) and surprisingly slim dimensions, which will make it easy to slide into tight spaces. The wireless connection eliminates the need for messy cables and means you don’t have to place it near the soundbar – although you do have to install it near a plug socket as it requires its own power supply.
The soundbar sports a few sockets that allow you to listen to external sources through its speakers. You get an HDMI input and output, which are v1.4 and therefore ready to pass 3D signals from a Blu-ray player to your TV, decoding the audio signal as it does so. That’s more significant than it seems, as the Harman Kardon SB30 doesn’t offer any HDMIs, even though it’s twice as expensive.
You also get a 3.5mm mini-jack input for MP3 players and the like, as well as an optical digital input. All of these sockets face sideways, which is a godsend if you’re wall-mounting the unit, but the recess in which they’re housed is tight making it tricky to squeeze chunky HDMI cables in there.
The HW-E450 also plays back music from USB flash drives, a port for which is located on the right-hand edge. Here you’ll also find some buttons for controlling power, source selection and volume.
The highlight of the feature list is built-in Bluetooth, which enables you to stream music from phones and other devices quickly and easily. This, combined with the USB media playback, makes it a versatile music system. However, it’s a little galling that it’ll only play MP3 and WMA but not FLAC, WAV or AAC files.
The HW-E450 also features on-board decoders for Dolby Digital and DTS but not Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD Master Audio, which is a real shame given the extra sonic resolution they afford. Still, Dolby Digital and DTS are better than nothing given that some soundbars only offer stereo amplification.
Power-wise the HW-E450 is rated at 280W (2 x 80W and 120W from the sub). In a bid to compensate for the lack of true surround channels, the HW-E450 features a virtual surround mode to deliver extra width and immersion, alongside 3D Sound Plus, which attempts to sonically replicate the depth of 3D pictures. There’s also a selection of sound presets designed to suit different material – Music, News, Drama, Cinema, Sports and Game – although there’s an 'off' setting too. The HW-E450 features Smart Sound, too, which keeps sound at a consistent level. That’s particularly useful with a soundbar, as you’re likely to regularly switch between films and noisy, advert-laden TV shows.
Wall-mounting will be a cinch if you’re handy with a drill, and there’s a bracket in the box to help you along. Obviously, placing it on top of a TV stand is easier, and there are rubber pads on the bottom to keep it nice and cushioned.
Bluetooth set up involves switching the soundbar to 'BT' mode, discovering the system on your device, pairing them and simply playing the music. This was all carried out without any problems, and during our test the connection was consistent.
The system is controlled using a small, ergonomic remote, which isn’t overloaded with buttons and sports a thoughtful layout. The lettering could be a little bigger though.
It poses no problems in day-to-day operation, making it easy to toggle through inputs and audio presets, or adjust the volume. Your selections are indicated clearly on the front LED panel.
If you’re looking for a loud, room-filling sound for movies but you’re not really bothered about surround immersion, then the HW-E450 will be just the ticket.
I fed it some of my favourite action scenes from a Pioneer Blu-ray deck, including the cave troll sequence from The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, and it tackles the blistering action with aplomb.
The troll’s thumping footsteps are big and beefy without resonating nastily around the room, likewise the sound of his club colliding with stone walls. That’s testament to the talents of the sub, which impressed me with its tight and agile bass handling. You need to exercise restraint and keep the setting at +1 at the most – anything higher starts to overpower the speakers.
Also impressive is the way the HW-E450 conveys mid and high frequency effects with dynamism and force, without making them sound spitty or hard. It blasts out the troll’s fearsome roar with gusto, and gives out a convincing metallic clank when swords meet swords, but at no point did I wince or reach for the volume controls.
Detail is crisp too, even without the benefits of HD audio processing, and dialogue is audible throughout the movie – even Gimli’s gruff, beard-muffled words make their way through the mayhem of the cave troll scene.
The only let down – and it’s a predictable one – is that the soundbar’s surround sound and 3D Sound Plus processing is unconvincing. The sound feels confined to the front of the room, with none of the effects breaking out to the sides of the listening position. Sure, there is a sense of width and spaciousness, but it would take a pair of seriously rose-tinted glasses to describe it as surround sound. If that’s what you’re after, it might be worth stepping up your budget and looking at more sophisticated sound projectors, like the Yamaha YSP-2200.
Overall, the HW-E450 is a satisfying audio solution, offering powerful yet composed 2.1 sound quality, some funky features and a stylish, space-saving design. The lack of HD audio decoding, limited music format support and dearth of surround presence might deter some buyers, but otherwise this is a terrific way of escaping from lacklustre TV sound quality.
Manufacturer and model
Component video output
Composite video output
Digital audio inputs
3.5mm minijack input
Analogue stereo input
Dolby TrueHD decoding
DTS HD Master Audio decoding
Dolby Digital decoding
DLNA media streaming
Dimensions (soundbar) W x H x D
906 x 45 x 70mm
Dimensions (subwoofer) W x H x D
175 x 362 x 295mm
Audio Return Channel support
Virtual Surround, 3D Sound Plus