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Samsung AKG VL5 (VL550) review: An innovative smart speaker

Christopher Minasians
3 Dec 2018
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
599
inc VAT

The Samsung AKG VL5 offers incredible sonic capabilities and design, but it lacks a built-in voice assistant and costs a fortune

Pros 
Incredible sound quality
Intuitive wireless dial
Beautifully designed
Cons 
Expensive
No voice assistant
Limited music services
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Last year Samsung acquired audio specialist Harman, whose hi-fi brands include AKG, Arcam and JBL. It’s a big step into the home music market for the South Korean electronics giant, and the Samsung AKG VL5 smart speaker is one of its first fruits.

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Samsung AKG VL5 review: What you need to know

The AKG VL5 is a stylish “smart speaker” with an innovative design. Rather than shouting commands at the speaker itself, you control it using a standalone wireless puck. It’s small and unobtrusive, so you can locate it more or less anywhere that’s convenient; it’s even magnetic, so you can stick it to a metallic surface (or to the main speaker unit). You can also pick it up and easily stick it in your pocket.

What you can’t do is talk to it. If you want to use voice commands to control your VL5, you’ll have to partner it with a voice assistant such as Amazon’s Echo Dot. You can also use Samsung’s SmartThings app to integrate the VL5 with the rest of your connected devices.

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Samsung AKG VL5 review: Price and competition

The VL5 costs a steep £599, which puts it up there against the Naim Audio Mu-So QB. There are plenty of cheaper smart speakers on the market, though. Options worth checking out include the Sonos Play:5 at £499, the smart Google Home Max at £399, the exquisite-sounding Dali Katch at £329, the Siri-enabled Apple HomePod at £279 and all-weather, Alexa-enabled Ultimate Ears Megablast at £130.

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Samsung AKG VL5 review: Build quality, design and features

The VL5 speaker has quite a presence in the living room. It’s 21cm tall, a whopping 52cm wide and 7cm deep. I’d say it’s best placed on top of a fireplace or a solid table.

The design is quite classy. The all-metal grey grille at the front is encased in dark wooden sides, giving it a warm, homely feel; it’s also available with a silver speaker grille and a light wooden finish.

There’s no screen: just a small white LED hidden at the top right-hand corner, and a few touch-based media controls located around the speaker. A play/pause button and a volume wheel sit along the top edge, while the source selector buttons are on the right-hand edge.

Then, of course, there’s the puck (officially, the “Moving Dial Control”), a wireless remote that’s both elegant and practical. It features a rotary volume dial with a great clicky feeling, and a button on top that lets you control playback: press it once to pause or resume music, twice to skip or three times to go back.

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Although the VL5 doesn’t have a voice assistant of its own, you can also hold the button down to activate the one on your phone. For me the Google Assistant, popped up in a heartbeat; depending on your phone it’ll also work with Siri or even Bixby. Think of the VL5 as a middle-man; it might not do everything you’d expect from a “smart speaker”, but it is a gateway to smart services.

Using the Samsung SmartThings app, you can also group the speaker with other connected devices and access music services such as Deezer and TuneIn radio. It’s a shame that Amazon Music, Spotify and Tidal are all missing: these would make it a one-stop device for all your music needs.

To get the speaker onto your network, both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi are supported, and a wired Ethernet port is hidden under the magnetic rear cover too. For audio output, there’s a 3.5mm jack, and Bluetooth – although aptX isn’t supported, so your songs won’t be wirelessly transmitted at CD quality.

It’s also worth knowing that the while the speaker unit is mains-powered, the puck needs to be charged periodically through its micro-USB port. Don’t worry about turning it off when not in use, though: it automatically goes into standby when it hasn’t been used for a while.

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Samsung AKG VL5 review: Sound quality

The VL5’s star feature is audio quality. It has a meaty sound that really excites while remaining clean and clear throughout the frequency range. Thanks to Samsung’s distortion-cancelling technology (as previously seen in soundbars such as the HW-MS650), the VL5 produces a tight, controlled mid-bass slam.

That low-end control extends into the sub-bass frequencies too. A speaker of this size can’t compete with a dedicated subwoofer, but for an all-in-one unit, the VL5 does very well, giving that much-needed rumble to songs like UP! by LoveRance featuring 50 Cent.

And if the mids and the highs are perhaps a touch rolled off – compared to, say, the Dali Katch – that makes it easy on the ears when listening to tracks with lots of sparkles, such as Miguel and Kendrick Lamar’s How Many Drinks? (Remix). Ultimately, it’s not a neutral sound signature, but it is a fun, punchy one.

The soundstage is good too. It lacks a little depth, but it’s so wide that you might wonder at times whether the VL5 has sideways-firing speakers (it doesn't). Excellent instrument separation kept my head bopping for the entirety of I Feel It Coming by Weeknd featuring Daft Punk.

As for volume, the VL5 does get loud, but not ear-splittingly so. No matter: its addictive, engaging sound will keep you hooked without needing to crank the volume to extreme levels.

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Samsung AKG VL5 review: Verdict

The AKG VL5 costs a lot more than most wireless speakers. It can’t be dunked in a pool like the Ultimate Ears Megablast, it doesn’t offer a built-in voice assistant like the Apple HomePod or Google Home Max, and it can’t match the plethora of services found on Sonos’ Play:5.

When it comes to sheer audio quality, though, it outclasses all of the above with ease, and even gives the Naim Audio Mu-So Q a real challenge.

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Combine that with beautiful design and an excellent wireless puck and you have a very special piece of kit. If you’re looking for a do-it-all smart speaker, the VL5 probably isn’t for you. But if you’re seeking to expand an existing setup and take your music to the next level, the Samsung AKG VL5 is a novel and stylish speaker that sounds simply terrific.