Allow me to preface myself by saying that I am not an audiophile by any stretch of the imagination. I'm simply an average guy who likes tech stuff including decent audio to compliment my 55" LG 3D TV.
Prior to entering into the sound bar fray, I owned a Bose Acoustimass 5:1 system mated with a Yamaha receiver and loved it. However, I recently moved from an 1800 SF house in the burbs to a 750 SF condo at the beach with a neighbor below me and another beside me. The Bose Acoustimas system was simply a bit too much for my high density neighborhood. That and the fact that I wanted a cleaner, simpler system to compliment my smaller home.
So, since I was happy with my Acoustimass system I picked up a Bose CineMate Series 2. In a nutshell I was completely underwhelmed with the CineMate system. I really *wanted* to like it but IMO it sounded really boxy and the surround sound effect I heard in the store simply wasn't there. Blu Ray stuff sounded "OK" but non-5:1 stuff (Fox News, Anthony Boudain No Reservations etc.) stuff sounded pretty bad. Furthermore, I was surprised to find that the only adjustments this system provides for are volume up/down and a manual SW volume knob. That's it?? Aside from increasing the volume and SW output there is absolutely no way to tweak this system and IMO this is unforgivable.
So, I did some research and decided to pick up the Sony 550W. When I first hooked up the Sony system I was surprised at how much better it sounded than the Bose - and this was out-of-the-box! The bass sounded a *little* weak but the midrange and treble IMO were much more crisp and natural. The next day I decided to tweak the settings and things got even better. I will admit that I am a bit of a treble whore so I cranked the treble up to +5. IMO this made dialog much more crisp and discernable. Afterwards, I cranked the bass up to + 5 and was amazed at the difference. Bass was no longer weak. As a matter of fact, I had to turn the bass down to +3 so my neighbors wouldn't get pissed off.
I also noticed that the Sony system did indeed produce a surround sound effect; moreso than I expected. This was obviously most notable when playing a Blu Ray disc. FYI: when playing Blu Ray I have the receiver set on Movie mode and the Auto Vol is enabled. I don't know why but when I enabled Auto Vol the surround sound effect was much more brilliant than when it was not enabled.
For me, the Sony system won this competition hands down and IMO the fact that the 550W's allow for tweaking and the Bose provide for absolutely no tweaking makes this one a no-brainer.
Needless to say, I reboxed the Bose, returned them and pocketed the roughly $200 difference between the systems.
Hope my two cents are helpful. Your mileage, of course, may vary...