When Sony released the HT-CT100 sound bar back in 2008, the company was way ahead of the competition, offering HDMI connectivity and surprisingly good sound quality at a budget price. Four years later, the Sony HT-CT550W ($400 street price) faces a much different market. It's a premium-priced sound bar that's packed with connectivity, including three HDMI inputs, but that's considerably less valuable now that newer HDTVs have an ample selection of ports. The bigger problem is that the HT-CT550W doesn't sound good enough to live up to its price, especially since its unconventional design is more cumbersome than the standard budget sound bar.
If you need a lot of connectivity on your sound bar system, the Sony HT-CT550W is worth considering, but most buyers will be better off with less-expensive (and better-sounding) options like the Haier SBEV40-SLIM or Vizio VHT215.
Design: Bulkier than your average bar
Most modern sound bar systems consist of a sound bar and a wireless subwoofer, but the HT-CT550W also includes a head unit, which powers the sound bar and handles AV switching duties. That makes the HT-CT550W not quite as slick as its competitors, with extra wires between the sound bar and the head unit.
The bulk of the head unit itself is a factor, too, coming in at 10.75 inches wide, 2.38 inches high, and 11.38 inches deep -- you'll need a pretty deep cabinet to accommodate it.
Because the head unit houses all the amplification, you'd think the sound bar itself would be pretty light, but it's heavier than you'd expect. The weight actually gives it a reassuring heft hinting at good build quality, which is amplified by its stiff metal speaker grille. There's nothing else to the sound bar (since the front-panel display is on the head unit), which gives it a refined, simple look that outdoes much of its glossy black plastic competition.
On the back, there's proprietary speaker cabling that needs to be connected to the head unit, and there are keyhole slots for wall-mounting. Sony also offers the WS-CT550B40/46 Speaker Attachment Bracket that secures the speaker to some models of Sony TVs.
The subwoofer has an interesting look, with a large box that hovers over a smaller base, held up by supports in the middle. It helps the sub look a little different, although the Haier SBEV40-SLIM's sub is still more stylish (and smaller.)
If the Vizio VHT215 has the perfect minimalist remote, the HT-CT550W's clicker is the opposite of that. There's a bewildering array of buttons, especially when a sound bar really only needs volume control, power, input selector, and mute buttons. Sony recycles its remote design for a lot of its home theater products, and this remote looks better equipped to handle an AV receiver or a Blu-ray player than a sound bar. Yes, you could conceivably program the HT-CT550W's remote to control other devices, but you're much better off just investing in a quality universal remote.
Setup and features: Packed with jacks
The HT-CT550W's sub is wireless, but unlike every other wireless subwoofer we've tested, it doesn't have wireless functionality built in. The HT-CT550W comes with two identical wireless transceivers: one to plug into the subwoofer, one for the head unit. It's dead simple and pairing is automatic, but it's strange that the wireless capability isn't built-in.