(Pocket-lint) - The Samsung HW-Q950A is the company's premiere 2021 soundbar, adding two more channels in the wireless rear speakers to render Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based audio decoding with an unrivalled and immersive 11.1.4-channel system (that's 11 outputs around the front field (including overhead projection), one subwoofer for central bass, and four extras to handle rear immersion).
It's a comprehensive overall package that also includes eARC, Dolby Vision and HDR10+ passthrough, AirPlay 2, Auto EQ, and built-in Amazon Alexa, along with proprietary features such as SmartThings, Tap Sound and Q Symphony. We'll be explaining throughout this review why each of those is of interest and what they can do to optimise your audio output.
Indeed, the HW-Q950A is one stacked home cinema soundbar system. Can anything rival Samsung at its best?
Same styling, same issues
- Soundbar: 1232 x 70 x 138mm; 7.1kg
- Subwoofer: 210 x 403 x 403mm; 9.8kg
- Surrounds: 125 x 203 x 141mm; 1.8kg
- Available in black only
The Samsung HW-Q950A sports an identical design to its predecessor (the Q950T), with a lifestyle-friendly cabinet wrapped in black Kvadrat fabric. It's discreet and stylish, with a solid construction, but it also retains a couple of annoying quirks - which we'll knock on the head and get out of the way early here.
Firstly, the touch controls on top of the soundbar are black against a black background, making them hard to see. Secondly, the display is still on the top, making it impossible to see when sat down and rendering it largely useless (plus it means light projects upwards, which you don't want near any reflective TV surface edges).
But that's about all we can say that could be improved, as otherwise the speaker design and arrangements are tip-top.
The wireless active subwoofer is also the same as before, with a rear-ported bass-reflex design, built-in amplification, and a side-firing 8-inch driver. It's well-made, also with a black cabinet and Kvadrat fabric over the woofer itself.
The wireless active rear speakers also match the overall design aesthetic, with a black finish and Kvadrat fabric grilles. For this Q950A model Samsung has crammed front-, top-, and now side-firing drivers for a greater sense of immersion
The wireless nature of the sub and rear speakers makes installation easier, with no long cable runs necessary around the room, but don't forget you'll need to plug all three into wall sockets due to their built-in amplification. That might require a bit of inventive thinking.
- 11.1.4 system (616W total)
- Built-in Amazon Alexa voice control
- Hi-Res Audio (24-bit/192kHz) capable
- SpaceFit Sound+ (automatic equalisation (EQ))
- Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based decoding
- Q Symphony (utilises select Samsung TV built-in speakers)
The Samsung HW-Q950A's headline feature is its ability to decode Dolby Atmos and DTS:X - the object-based audio formats - using a fully immersive 11.1.4-channel speaker layout. This is achieved through a combination of three forward-firing speakers on the soundbar, combined with one at either end for the width channels, two angled speakers for the side channels, and a pair of upward-firers for the overhead channels.
The wireless rear speakers deliver the surround channels, while upward-firing drivers provide the rear overhead channels, and new side-firing drivers create rear side channels. Finally, the wireless subwoofer handles all the bass and low-frequency effects. That's a total of 15 speakers plus the sub, comprising an incredible 22 drivers overall, and powered by a total of 616W of amplification. This is one serious setup for the home!
There are four sound modes: Standard, which decodes the incoming audio with no changes; Surround, which up-mixes audio to take advantage of all the available speakers; Game Pro, which creates a more immersive gaming experience; and Adaptive Sound, which analyses the signal and automatically optimises the audio using real-time processing.
New for 2021 is SpaceFit Sound+, which offers two methods of setting up the soundbar. The first utilises the microphone and processing in a compatible Samsung TV. The second is run via the SmartThings app, and applies automatic equalisation (EQ) by using a microphone in the subwoofer and internal test tones to measure the room acoustics and adjust the setup of the system.
The HW-Q950A also supports Q Symphony, allowing it to synchronise with any compatible Samsung TV's built-in speakers to create an even bigger front soundstage. There's also the Tap Sound feature, allowing Samsung phone owners to switch playback of music from their mobile device to the soundbar by simply tapping it against the cabinet (get a Dolby Atmos mixdown on Tidal and that could be rather special).
The soundbar supports numerous music streaming services, including Amazon Music, Spotify, Deezer, TuneIn and Samsung Music. You can even access Apple Music thanks to the inclusion of AirPlay 2. It also supports Hi-Res Audio up to 24-bit/192kHz, along with the AAC, MP3, WAV, OGG, FLAC, ALAC, and AIFF file formats.
Finally, the Q950A comes with Amazon Alexa built-in, making this soundbar a fully-functioning smart assistant. It's easy to setup using the Alexa app, allows users to ask questions, listen to music or podcasts, and enjoy hands-free voice control. There's a far-field microphone built into the soundbar itself, but this can be muted for privacy if preferred.
Connections and controls
- HDMI output (eARC); 2x HDMI input; Optical digital input
- SmartThings app (iOS/Android)
- Wi-Fi; Bluetooth; AirPlay 2
The Samsung HW-Q950A has two HDMI inputs and an HDMI output, with the latter supporting eARC. This helps mitigate the limited number of inputs, and all the HDMI connections support 4K resolution at up to 60 frames per second, ALLM (auto low-latency mode), VRR (variable refresh rate), and HDR (high dynamic range), including passthrough of HDR10+ and Dolby Vision formats.
The only other physical connection is an optical digital input, which you'll need to use if your TV doesn't support ARC (audio return channel). That's unlikely if you're buying this kind of soundbar setup though.
In terms of wireless connections there's Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Apple AirPlay 2r. However, there's still no support for Google's Chromecast.
There are basic controls on the soundbar for multi-function (on/off and source select), volume up/down, and mic on/off. There are also control options using the SmartThings app, minimal control using a TV remote via HDMI-ARC, and even voice control.
The SmartThings app is very effective, offering access to most of the soundbar's settings. However there are still a few missing, such as channel levels, which is a shame because to adjust these you're forced to use the provided remote and a display that you can't see.
The included controller has central navigation and play/pause buttons, a sound control button for setting treble, bass and audio sync, a source select button, a Bluetooth pairing button, sound mode selection, volume up and down, mute, and a control for setting the subwoofer level too.
Unparalleled sonic immersion
The Samsung HW-Q950A is easier to setup than previous models thanks to the inclusion of an Auto EQ feature. This is primarily designed to integrate the subwoofer and eliminate the more egregious aspects of the room at lower frequencies. You can turn it on and off in the SmartThings app, and with it on the bass is tighter and the soundstage more cohesive. Bass is hard to control, especially where it reflects towards room corners, for example, so this is a clever way to counter that.
While this soundbar doesn't rely on psychoacoustics to create a sense of immersion, you will need reflective side walls and ceiling to fully appreciate the drivers firing all over the room. You can adjust the levels of the channels manually, but these controls adjust left and right at the same time, so this soundbar isn't really suited for asymmetric rooms.
Once setup, the Q950A is an absolute cracker. Sounds emanate from all over the room, and those 15 channels immerse you in a hemisphere of sound, seamlessly moving effects with a fluid three-dimensionality. You won't experience better Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, unless you choose a more expensive and less convenient separates system. Or, y'know, leave your house and go to an all-out cinema.
Chaos Walking has an over-the-top Atmos soundtrack, literally, because the movie's premise is that men's thoughts are heard out loud. As a result the overhead channels get a thorough workout, with voices floating around in mid air. The centre speaker ensures actual dialogue is clear, while the surround effects are placed with precision, and the sub gives the action scenes added kick.
The same impressive performance applies to DTS:X, and the undead action of Zombieland: Double Tap is an absolute blast. From the opening credits this soundbar produces a big front presence, and plenty of low-end slam from that powerful sub. Dialogue remains clear, surround effects are placed with precision, and the overheads are used effectively during the climax.
While immersive audio is clearly the main selling-point of this soundbar, you'll be glad to know it performs just as well with regular 5.1-channel audio. The system's ability to produce a solid front soundstage and plenty surround presence is sure to enhance your viewing experience, whether you're watching TV, streaming your favourite show, or gaming.
The HW-Q950A is no slouch with music either, producing some excellent stereo imaging, clearly defined vocals, driving instruments and drums that retain a powerful percussive beat. As a result, this soundbar is a fantastic all-rounder, delivering just as impressive a performance with less demanding content, as it does with immersive audio soundtracks.
The Standard sound mode is probably best for listening to music, as this retains the original stereo nature of recordings. However, the Adaptive Sound mode can make a good general setting for watching TV, and the Surround mode up-mixes non-immersive movie soundtracks to make full use of all those extra speakers.
The Samsung HW-Q950A produces a staggering level of immersion with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X content, primarily thanks to 16 channels of audio. The expansive front soundstage blends seamlessly with side, rear and overhead channels to fluidly steer effects around the room. The Auto EQ ensures a cohesive overall system setup, integrating the powerful subwoofer to produce a foundation of bass.
Whether it's a blockbuster movie, your favourite TV show, music or gaming, this commanding performer will put a smile on your face. There's a host of features that all earn their keep, meaning that aside from a few minor complaints, the HW-Q950A is pretty much perfect. You won't get better home cinema audio at home unless you go all-out and buy into a complex separates system.
A touch cheaper, this 7.1.4-channel layout 'bar produces an impressive Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundstage that's almost as immersive as the Samsung. The bass problems that plagued LG's previous model have been addressed, and there's also auto EQ, eARC, AirPlay 2, and Chromecast. The only real niggle is an inability to pass HDR10+ combined with incompatibility issues with Dolby Vision, but otherwise this is a solid performer.