Review: Samsung HW-Q950T Raises The Sound Bar
Samsung has been churning out impressively high quality soundbars for the past few years now, but with the release of the 2020 flagship HW-Q950T the company has raised the bar to high quality multi-channel surround sound considerably higher.
First, anyone who happens to own one of Samsung’s better performing 2020 4K or 8K QLED TVs with the company’s Q-Symphony feature, gets the added bonus of tapping into the on-board speakers in the television to bring an extra layer of height channel and surround sound embellishments to fill even a large room impressively well.
But even on its own, connected to a non-Samsung television, the HW-Q950T performs yeoman’s work at presenting an immersive surround sound experience to complement a big-screen image. It really brings the cinema experience home. In short, it’s just what the doctor ordered to while away those hours at home during the pandemic.
Of course, at the $1,697.99 asking price at the time of writing, you would expect it to be. This isn’t just a soundbar, though, it’s a high-end native 9.1.4-channel Dolby Atmos/DTS:X-supporting audio component, and it performs like one.
The hefty 60-pound package includes a 15.7 pound soundbar with 15 drivers (7.0.2 channels), a powered wireless subwoofer, and a pair of wireless surround speakers with upfiring drivers for overhead effects. Total system power is 546 watts. Altogether this presents an impressively expansive sound stage with reasonably realistic 360-degree surround effects. Using the proper sound mode for the content, even at low volumes, Samsung has managed to limit much of the boxy qualities we tend to hear in soundbars.
At the same time, even in some 2-channel music listening, sound can seem to come at the listener from not only the front and and rear, where the physical drivers are placed, but from the sides and positions of elevation as well. Connected to a Samsung QLED television with supported Q-Symphony sound, as we heard demonstrated at CES 2020, and sound effects actually seem to be coming from overhead, reflected off the ceiling a wall surfaces.
Is this a worthy substitute for a full good quality multi-channel home theater system with discrete multi-channel speakers? No, but if space and budget are an issue, the HW-950T soundbar package makes a lot of sense and will bring all but the most critical golden-ears a lot of enjoyment.
The HW-Q950T ‘s soundbar by itself is a substantial array of speakers. It outputs 7.0.2 channels — L, WL, CL, C, CR, WR, R — firing outward from the front and ends of the soundbar, with two upfiring height channel drivers on the top left and right ends. This does an effective job of sending sound effects out in multiple directions, reflecting off of walls, ceiling and even the floor to engulf the audience.
The soundbar has a six-sided design with angled plastic gill-like venting on each end. Cloth grills cover the top and front positioned drivers, while a stack of black plastic fins with slotted ports on each of the ends and front corners emit sounds for side-emitted sound effects. The course fabric grills on the front and top of the bar allow both sound and visual LED indicator lights to pass through without significant obstruction. However, the material is prone to collecting lint and dust.
Disappointingly, Samsung has chosen to put a LED readout on top of the soundbar, which requires the listener to stand up and walk toward the unit to read what is happening with sound modes, inputs etc. A row of white LED buttons on the front of the unit only provides basic cues for volume raising and lowering and a blue or red light to indicate when the soundbar is powered on or off. This isn’t exactly user friendly, to say the least.
The subwoofer measures 8.3 (W) x 15.9 (H) X 15.9 (D) inches and weighs 21.6 pounds. It is equipped with a single 8-inch 160 watt bass driver. A rear positioned port helps with air flow to deliver low bass tones with well-balanced vibration and punch for impressive sound effects and good funky or hard rock musical accents. The subwoofer cabinet is made of MDF covered with a mat black plastic veneer and the right-side-firing driver is covered with a circular black cloth grill that matches the material on the soundbar. It connects to the soundbar via a 2.4 GHz signal. An ID setup button and blue pairing status LED are located on the rear of the sub.
The two wireless rear surround/upfiring speakers measure 4.7 (W) x 8.3 (H) x 5.5 (D) inches. Each speaker weighs 4.6 pounds, and contains a single front firing driver and an upfiring driver. Each rear speaker cabinet is made of the same materials as the subwoofer and provides a cohesive appearance with the other components. An ID setup button and LED pairing indicator are located on the rear of each speaker. Each unit has its own power cord, which plugs into a cutout in the base of the speaker cabinet along with a recessed power cord channel allowing the speaker to stand flat on a tabletop or shelf surface.
The main problem we ran into with some television sets is that the height of the soundbar (see measurements below) can block the IR signal path of the TV’s remote on some TV brands/models. If you plan to place the soundbar and television on a tabletop make sure the TV’s stand has enough clearance to elevate the IR receiver eye (typically located on the bezel chin at the center of the screen, but with some models the receiver might be placed to the left or right ends of the screen. You might find you’ll need to build a platform riser to lift the TV screen above the speaker bar. Unfortunately, the universal nature of the HW-Q950T’s remote doesn’t cover all of the functions of the television set and for certain tasks (like smart TV commands and search input) the television remote will be required.
In addition, the depth of the soundbar might conflict with the TVs stand base. It’s a good idea to make sure the credenza, tabletop or AV stand has ample surface space to clear the combined footprint or the TV stand and the soundbar, otherwise, the soundbar might overlap some parts of the platform or the TV support structure.
Fortunately, Samsung HW-Q950T accommodates wall mounting. It ships with a pair of wall-mount brackets, although you’ll need to supply the screws. The wireless rear speakers can also be wall-mounted using a 1/4″-20 threaded hole on the back of each unit for optional brackets. Fortunately, both surround speakers can be easily placed on a flat surface or on speaker stands positioned behind and to the sides of the listening sweet spot. The wireless powered subwoofer can be placed on the floor, typically in proximity of the soundbar to reduce directionality of the emitted sound. For best results, the sub and wireless rear speakers should not placed farther than 32 feet from the soundbar for the best connection. In addition, the subwoofer and wireless rear speakers will need to be placed within proximity of power outlets, or extension cords might be required.
The HW-Q950T ships with Samsung’s familiar arched back smart remote made of black plastic and carrying eight buttons and a centrally located directional arrow control with bullseye activation button.
For best results with the auto speaker pairing process, setup should begin by connecting power to the subwoofer first, followed by the rear speakers and the soundbar. We found the pairing process went smoothly and seamlessly with little extra effort on our part, although we did hit a snag with the soundbar not connecting the hardwired HDMI/ARC connection with a four-year-old Samsung 65Q8C television model, which would only connect wirelessly. However, setup and connectivity went smoothly with several other new non-Samsung television models.
With newer Samsung sets, like those outfitted with the aforementioned Q-Symphony feature, the soundbar connects to the home Wi-Fi network through the SmartThings application. This also enables use with Samsung’s Bixby voice control platform. The soundbar can be setup to serve as an Amazon Alexa smart speaker via built-in far-field mics. This will allow controlling some soundbar functions as well as other Alexa skills. Samsung also offers a smart device app to control various soundbar settings using a smartphone or tablet.
Again, we found the best way to control the soundbar functions was using the supplied remote and walking up to the soundbar to read the LED readout to determine sound mode settings and other tasks.
The Samsung HW-Q950T has a nice complement of physical inputs and outputs including: an optical audio input; an HDMI/Audio Return Channel (ARC or eARC) in/out port; and two full HDMI inputs. The soundbar can be used as a hub between the TV and source devices but doesn’t offer any USB inputs to connect externally carried file formats.
The HW-Q950T will wirelessly stream stored music and music apps in stereo over Bluetooth using many brands and models of supported mobile devices. This includes not only Samsung mobile phones and tablets, but some Apple iOS devices and others using SBC and AAC wireless codecs.
Note that although the soundbar can be setup to link wirelessly with some Bluetooth supporting televisions, an HDMI connection between the TV and soundbar will be required for surround sound formats. When used with eARC-supporting television sets, it’s best to use certified “Ultra High Speed” HDMI cables to assure compatibility and bandwidth support. Certain surround sound formats will be transcoded down when the optical digital input used, and will not natively support formats including Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Dolby Digital Plus, or Dolby TrueHD.
When the TV supports only ARC (and not eARC), the soundbar will be limited to DTS, Dolby Digital, and Dolby Digital Plus surround sound formats.
Supported Sound Formats
The Samsung HW-Q950T supports a wide range of sound formats for both audio and music. This includes Dolby Atmos surround sound; Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD; DTS, DTS:X; DTS-HD MA; and 5.1 PCM. However, your ability to enjoy the more advanced formats will depend on having an HDMI connection to the soundbar and bi-directional HDMI ARC/eARC connection to the television. Connecting the soundbar to the television wirelessly or via the SPDIF optical connector will transcode this down.
The Samsung HW-Q950T delivers one of the widest and most immersive home theater experiences we’ve witnessed in a soundbar package. Again, for the full benefit afforded by the system we recommend pair the soundbar with a supporting Q-Symphony Samsung QLED TV model like the Samsung Q950T, Q900T, Q800T, Q90T, and Q80T series. These are outfitted with built-in side and upfiring speakers built into the television can be integrated with drivers in the soundbar and rear channel speakers to extend the surround sound experience even further.
But we found that even without the benefit of Q-Symphony, the experience from the soundbar package alone went well beyond what we expected.
The possible 9.1.4-channel capability of the soundbar, subwoofer and rear channel speakers operating together enveloped us from all directions. For optimal 3D object-based audio (Dolby Atmos or DTS:X), it’s best to set this up in a room with relatively low, flat plaster or sheet-rocked ceilings that can most effectively reflect the sound effects from the height channels down to the listening area. Our test room had a suspended ceiling which tended to dampen sound reflection such that we perceived impressive sound elevation seemingly coming from above the height of the TV screen but not directly over our heads. For us, it’s not a deal breaker, however. The overall auditory experience is quite powerful and the sound stage is impressively wide.
The soundbar supports four sound modes including: Standard, Game Pro, Adaptive, and Surround Sound Expansion. Adaptive Mode is Samsung’s system that evaluates the incoming sound and auto adjusts the settings to the content played. For most music and home theater listening we found Standard or Surround modes to deliver the most natural presentation. Selecting the best mode for the type of content being watched or listened to makes a big difference. For example, when in Game Pro or Adaptive settings, stereo dialog on news or sports talk programming was at times extremely hollow and boxy sounding, but switching over to Standard mode opened up the sound stage significantly. We found it best to experiment with each mode for the content being played to get the best fit for the room, audio production and personal taste.
Each mode brings a subtle change to the depth and quality of sound depending on how the soundtrack was mixed and presented. For further variation, Samsung includes sound equalization settings that users can further adjust to suit listening conditions more exactly.
The on-board speaker array is very well positioned to deliver expansive, high quality tonality. To us, the rear surrounds and front and rear up-firing speakers make all the difference in completing an impressive sense of immersion, particularly when playing movies with Dolby Atmos or DTS:X 360-degree A/V surround sound. To us, the multi-sensory experience that results helps to justify the significant cash outlay. Limiting the boxy tones we often hear in soundbars makes this a workable substitute for entry to mid-fi home theater receiver and 5.1-speaker set ups.
Movie lovers will appreciated the HW-950T’s dynamic punch and dialog clarity. Voices remain clear, understandable and out front against background sound effects. The subwoofer delivers just the right amount of low-end punch to provide a dynamic surround sound experience without the disruption of distracting vibrations from objects placed around in the room. We also like the way the bass tones blend in with the overall delivery, eliminating to a great degree directionality of the low frequencies.
In Standard mode, we could feel the low-end rumble of explosions and overhead vibrations from otherworldly assault craft in the streamed 4K/Dolby Atmos soundtrack of The Matrix Revolutions. The entire room was engulfed with the deep low rumbling effects of the floating Sentinels as brighter sound effects seemed to come at us from our sides. All the while, dialog was distinct and balanced with minimal hollow qualities overall.
The HW-Q950T is a solid performer with music as well. It supports many popular music file formats. The subwoofer delivers nice powerful bass, best experienced with good funky R&B like the Brothers Johnson’s Get The Funk (Out Of My Face) or The Ohio Players’ Fire. In Standard or Surround sound modes, the soundbar does remarkably well with midrange tones and voices as well, although the tweeters could be a tad shrill at times — the high-pitched background whine of the television signal was somewhat louder and more piercing than we noticed in better home theater speaker setups. This is somewhat correctable using the EQ settings. But overall, the musicality was quite enjoyable for a product normally intended to rock the room with sound of on-screen explosions. Overall, we found the sound akin to a good entry to mid-range home theater setup when watching TV programs and movies.
The Samsung HW-950T soundbar is an attractive, high quality surround sound solution for anyone looking for a dynamic multi-channel surround sound home theater solution where full blown home theater speakers and components won’t fit the decore or the budget. This presented us with one of the most expansive and immersive sound stages we’ve heard in a soundbar solution, and does a respectable job with movies and music alike. The Samsung HW-Q950T is a recommended buy.
We therefore award the Samsung HW-Q950T five out of five hearts.
The Samsung HW-Q950T soundbar used for this review was a company loan.
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By Greg Tarr
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