The Garmin echo 550c is the top of the line unit in a new series of moderately priced fishfinders targeted directly at freshwater anglers. These sounders are due to hit the consumer marine market in the spring of 2011.
With Garmin bass professional, Scott Martin leading the advertising blitz on these new release sounders and the fact that they ship with a dual beam high frequency transducer that includes a trolling motor mount you can expect to see them on the bass circuit very soon.
There are several models of echo fishfinders available. Next down from our test unit is the 500c which uses a 5-inch screen with 320 x 234 pixels of resolution or about half the pixels of the 550c. The 300c uses a smaller 3.5-inch color screen and has 300-watts of output power. Three models use a monochrome display screen, the 200 has a 5-inch screen and 300-watts of power, the 150 a 4-inch and 200-watts, and the 100 a 4-inch with 100-watts. The latter pair sell for under $100.
The Garmin echo 550c fishfinder package includes the display unit, two-frequency dual beam transducer, rotating single stanchion twist and swivel mount with a quick release, power cable, installation instructions, and owner’s manual. Hardware to mount the transducer directly to your trolling motor is also included. The mounting bracket holds the cable connections for power and transducer inputs securely into the back panel of the display unit.
The echo 550c display unit has a nearly square panel front that measures 6 inches across the width and just a tad under, depth is just under 2 inches.
To test the echo 550c on the water we mounted the display using the accompanying bracket on a test board and found that it held the display unit securely. The transducer was also mounted to a test board that was secured to the transom of our Seacraft test boat.
Screen Size and Viewability
The echo 550c uses a color screen measuring 4.0-inches high and just over 2.9-inches wide. On the diagonal the portrait layout screen measures 5.0 inches. Screen resolution is very high 640 pixels vertically by 480 pixels on the horizontal plane.
The display screen on the echo 550c was bright and sharp with good color contrast. Even in bright sunlight I could read the screen well when I positioned myself in front of the unit and viewed from straight-on. Upon donning my trusty polarized sunglasses I noticed very little screen darkening even out at extreme viewing angles. Reflectivity was minimal. I am rating the Garmin echo 550c excellent for daytime viewability.
A quick press of the on/off pushbutton brings up the brightness menu onscreen which can be adjusted with the cursor up/down arrows to one of 10 levels. Two daytime color schemes are available, either white or blue. I liked the white palette for testing in bright sunlight. You need to go three menus deep to choose a color scheme.
On The Water Performance
Nighttime viewing on the Garmin echo 550c can be improved by choosing the night color palette. It uses a black background, white numbers and letters, and standard colors to paint targets like the bottom, structure, or fish.
Screen brightness is adjusted using the up/down arrow keys and an onscreen slider or with quick presses of the on/off button. The latter will select full bright, minimum, or a user preset selection.
Controls and Operation
Three pushbuttons and a 4-way cursor pad are located on the right side of the front panel. The main menu is reached with a press of the Menu key, then a selection is made with the cursor pad arrows, and finally the selection is accepted and executed with a press of the Enter key.
With limited pushbuttons you’ll find nearly all controls, functions, and selections of the 550c will be somewhere in a menu. You can choose pages to be display either through a menu or by pressing a left/right arrow key on the cursor pad. Page choices include full screen, split zoom, flasher, split frequency, log, and numbers.
Other main menu selections include choosing your range settings, gain, zoom, depth line, pausing or rewinding the sonar, or going deeper into the setup menu.
Functions and Features
Some notable features on the echo 550c are A-scope, user selectable zoom, adjustable picture advance speed, variable depth display number size, and a variety of color palettes.
Zoom mode selections are accessed through the main menu and can be set to bottom lock, automatic or manual zoom. Bottom lock and manual zoom span can be set to between 5 and 600 feet in one of nine ranges. The depth range of manual zoom is set graphically onscreen with up/down arrows.
Gain can be set to one of three automatic setting for each frequency as well as adjusted manually from zero to 100 percent, again this can be done individually for each frequency. The depth range can be left in automatic or set manually to one of 16 ranges between five and 2000 feet.
In the sonar setup menu you will find adjustments for scroll speed, noise rejection for each frequency, surface noise, and color scheme. Scroll and noise rejection each have four settings while surface noise can be turned on or off. Several fish symbol options are available.
Up to five pieces of data can be displayed onscreen. I found the most valuable of these to be water depth, water temperature and battery voltage. The numbers page shows all five data blocks in large easy to read numbers.
A calibration page allows the user to fine tune several inputs and settings. You can set your vessel draft here by changing the keel offset and fine-tune the water temperature and boat speed displayed. I found these adjustments valuable in setting up the 550c to match your boat and your specific preferences.
Garmin echo 550c Specifications
|Power (Watts RMS)||500|
|Frequency (kHz)||77 / 200|
|Transducer Used for Test||Std. Transom Mount|
|Auto Depth Ranging||Yes|
|Manual Depth Ranging||Yes (16)|
|Gain||Auto (3) / Manual|
|Warranty Period (Years)||(2)Parts / (2)Labor|
The Garmin echo 550c has full list of functions and features. When you combine this list with overall top rated performance I think this fishfinder is a winner.