Samsung HW-C500 £250
17th Oct 2010 | 09:00
Are the Koreans are spreading their AV dominion a little thinly with this budget amp
Samsung isn't known for its AV receivers, but that hasn't stopped the Korean behemoth having a stab with this affordable 5.1-channel effort. It doesn't have the reputation to rival audio luminaries like Onkyo, Yamaha and Denon, but the HW-C500 may attract owners of other Samsung kit who like their system's collars and cuffs to match.
It looks as sleek as a panther, draped in glossy black and adorned with a couple of quirky touches on the front panel. Disappointingly, there are no sockets on the front panel for plugging in devices on the fly, while rear-panel connectivity is decent but hardly exhaustive.
With Samsung pushing 3D hard it's pleasing that all the HDMI sockets (four in, one out) are specified as v1.4. That means it'll pass on full HD 3D pictures to a 3D-ready TV as well as extracting the necessary digital audio signal, which is particularly useful to owners of Samsung's BD-C6900 Blu-ray deck and its single HDMI output.
There's a healthy number of other AV inputs and connections for the supplied iPod/iPhone dock, but Samsung abandons any audiophile ambitions with its springclip speaker terminals, making this feel more like a one-box system without the speakers than serious home cinema hardware. The disarmingly light bodywork means your chiropractor can sleep easy.
Its discrete digital amplifier design does away with many of the weighty components found inside many AVRs. At its heart is Samsung's new Crystal Amplifier Pro. This group of technologies includes Multi-Variable Feedback, which keeps bothersome noise at bay, and Intelligence Power, which injects extra grunt to avoid clipping when the volume peaks. Power output is rated as 5 x 100W.
The HW-C500 lacks any HD audio decoding, leaving multi-channel LPCM, Dolby Digital and DTS as the only supported formats over HDMI.
Another let down is the lack of onscreen setup displays, which you'll find on most budget rivals. That said, the clear, logical front panel display makes it easy to assign inputs and adjust the audio settings, while the remote is a pleasure to use.
Inexperienced users will appreciate the Auto Sound Calibration mode, although the repeated blast of orchestral music used as a test tone will make you pray for the sweet relief of death.
Thankfully, its audio performance is much more tolerable. I dropped the Avatar Blu-ray into the tray of my Oppo BDP-831, set the HDMI output to PCM and let the mayhem commence. The soundtrack offers plenty of sonic peaks and troughs to test its dynamic range, but it doesn't come out smelling totally of roses.
The sound is sharp and incisive so it has no trouble communicating the energy of scenes such as the Thanator chase or the Battle for Pandora. The score is reproduced in all its brassy splendour and despite the unorthodox 0-40 volume range, it goes loud enough to let the neighbours know it's movie night.
There's a respectable level of detail swimming around the soundstage; in between action scenes the Samsung ekes out Pandora's tapestry of chirping wildlife and gently rustling leaves. There's also a pleasing punch as the robotic battle suits thump down on the ground, while a stampede of Hammerheads charges with a deep, rumble.
Surround expansion is also good, as the Samsung whips up a whirlwind of crisp, dizzying effects. So far, so good, but we're not completely enamoured with it as it often sounds too brash. Clattering machine gun fire strays into teeth-grinding territory, while screeching creatures and clashing metal hardware can sound harsh.
Dialogue is also disappointing. Intelligible yes, but again there's a slight hardness to vocals where there should be smoothness and body.
For £250, we shouldn't expect miracles, but the HW-C500 feels like a compromise. Apart from HDMI v1.4 ports, there's a surprising lack of features for a Samsung product, and the sound quality is too uncouth to place it above a Denon, Onkyo or Pioneer on your shopping list.
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