Samsung HW-Q950T soundbar review: The complete audio package

The Samsung HW-Q950T is the 2020 flagship soundbar from the Korean manufacturer, and manages to up the ante on 2019’s HW-Q90R by adding two more channels. The new model not only supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based audio, but also manages to deliver a staggeringly immersive 9.1.4-channel sonic experience.

While the number of channels might grab the headlines, this soundbar promises to deliver a comprehensive package of features that includes eARC, Dolby Vision and HDR10+ passthrough, and built-in Amazon Alexa voice control. There are also a number of proprietary features such as SmartThings, Tap Sound and Q Symphony – all of which boost the sound intelligently – combined with a redesigned cabinet that’s really eye-catching.

If you’re looking for an advanced all-in-one soundbar-meets-home-cinema audio solution then you’ll struggle to find anything out of a single box that’s much better than Samsung’s Q950T.

Understated styling

  • Soundbar: 1240 x 109 x 107mm; 5.5kg
  • Subwoofer: 210 x 403 x 403mm; 9.8kg
  • Surrounds: 120 x 210 x 141mm; 2.1kg
  • Available in black

The Samsung HW-Q950T brings a redesign to the range, resulting in a sleeker and less imposing cabinet that shouldn’t block the screen if mounted in front of a TV. The overall look is more lifestyle-friendly than the previous generation, with angled corners for the side-firing speakers, and black Kvadrat fabric covering the front and top.

It’s a discreet and stylish look, with an excellent level of build quality. It’s largely a success in our view, but there are a couple of annoying quirks. Firstly the touch controls on the top of the soundbar are black against a black background, making them hard to see. Secondly, and more annoyingly, the display has been moved to the top, making it impossible to see when sat down.

The wireless active subwoofer appears to be the same as last year, with a rear-ported bass-reflex design, built-in amplification and a side-firing 8-inch driver. The build quality is very good, and the sub has been finished to match the main soundbar, with a black cabinet and Kvadrat fabric over the side-firing woofer.

The wireless active rear speakers match the design aesthetic used in the rest of the system, with a black finish and Kvadrat fabric grilles. They’re also well-made, and include built-in amplification to power the forward-firing drivers for surround left and right, and upward-firing drivers for the rear left and right height channels.

The fact that the sub and two surround speakers are wireless makes positioning them easier, with no long cable runs from the front to the side and rear of the room. However, don’t forget you’ll need to plug all three into wall sockets because they’re active with built-in amplification.

Features

  • 9.1.4 system (546W)
  • Dolby Atmos and DTS:X
  • Hi-Res Audio (24-bit/192kHz)
  • Tap Sound
  • Q Symphony
  • Built-in Amazon Alexa

The Samsung HW-Q950T decodes the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based audio formats using a fully immersive a 9.1.4-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 built-in upward-firing drivers provide the rear overhead channels. Finally, the wireless subwoofer handles all the bass and low-frequency effects. That’s a total of 14 speakers including the sub, which are composed of 20 drivers and powered by a total of 546W of amplification.

The various drivers were engineered by Samsung’s Audio Lab in California, with the front three channels each using dual woofers and a wide-range tweeter to create an expansive and solid front soundstage. The new corner-firing speakers bounce sound effects off the side walls, helping to strengthen the surround effect and thus envelop the listener.

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; Adaptive Sound, which analyses the signal and automatically optimises the audio using real-time processing.

New features for this year include Q Symphony, which integrates Samsung’s latest soundbars with its compatible 2020 TVs. This allows the combined system to synchronise the sound of both devices to create a more immersive front soundstage.

Those with a Samsung mobile device running Android 8.1 or later can also take advantage of the Tap Sound feature. This allows you to switch playback of music from your mobile device to the soundbar by simply tapping it against the HW-Q950T’s cabinet. A pop-up image will appear on the device’s unlocked screen, and all you need to do is simply press ‘start now’.

The soundbar supports numerous music streaming services, including Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify, Deezer, TuneIn and Samsung Music. 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 Q950T comes with Amazon Alexa built-in, making this soundbar a fully-functioning smart assistant. It’s easy to setup using the Alexa app, and 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); 2 x HDMI input; Optical digital input
  • Wi-Fi; Bluetooth
  • SmartThings app (iOS/Android)

The Samsung HW-Q950T sports two HDMI inputs and an HDMI output. Given the price point the two inputs seems a bit stingy, but the inclusion of eARC should help mitigate this if you have a compatible TV – as it’s able to pass object-based sound formats. All the HDMI connections support 4K and high dynamic range (HDR), with the Q950T being one of the few soundbars able to pass both 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 Audio Return Channel (ARC). In terms of wireless connections, there’s built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, allowing you to stream music from your home network or via third-party services. Unlike some of the competition, the Samsung doesn’t support Chromecast or Apple AirPlay.

As mentioned, there are basic controls centrally located on the top rear of 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, and minimal control using a TV remote via HDMI-ARC, or your voice thanks to the built-in Amazon Alexa.

The SmartThings app is fairly well designed, but doesn’t offer access to the soundbar’s menu system. This is a shame because that means you have to use the provided remote and the not-so-well-positioned soundbar display. It would be nice if SmartThings was expanded to offer full setup of the HW-Q950T – including an automated room correction feature.

The provided remote has central navigation and play/pause buttons, along with a sound control button for setting treble, bass and audio sync. There’s also a source select button, a Bluetooth pairing button, the sound mode, volume up and down, mute and a control for setting the subwoofer level.

An all-singing, all-dancing sonic performance

The Samsung HW-Q950T is easy to setup, but there are few potential issues of which you’ll need to be aware. First of all the upward-firing speakers need a low, flat, reflective ceiling for the best results – so if it’s high or vaulted, forget it. In addition the speaker levels adjust left and right simultaneously, which isn’t a problem if your room is symmetrical, but if not that’s also an issue.

Since the soundbar doesn’t create internal test tones, you’ll need another source like a disc to generate the necessary audio. You’ll also need an SPL meter (there are plenty of free apps) to measure the tones when setting the levels. At some point it would be very helpful if Samsung added internal test tones, menu access via SmartThings, and automated room correction.

However, once setup the HW-Q950T impresses right out of the gate, and running a 9.1.6-channel test pattern results in the audio emanating from all the correct locations. Test scenes all sound fantastic, with thunder rolling overhead during a torrential downpour, and a helicopter buzzing around above you as it moves seamlessly from speaker to speaker.

A film like 1917 has an amazing Dolby Atmos soundtrack that utilises plenty of highly directional effects. To deliver these effectively, a system needs rear speakers combined with front and back overhead channels to ensure precise positioning, while the additional width, and especially the side speakers, help fill in any acoustic gaps as sounds move around the room.

The Samsung does a superb job of steering effects from speaker to speaker, and placing each sound with remarkable precision. Bi-planes fly directly overhead, bullets whizz past your head, and bombs explode with thumping bass that’s both deep and tight. The result is a visceral and enveloping hemisphere of sound that draws you into the horror of war.

This sense of immersion is equally applicable to DTS:X, and an action-packed movie like Bad Boys for Life delivers all its ballistic mayhem and over-the-top action with verve and brutality. The climactic hotel lobby shoot-out uses the overhead channels to create a sense of height, adding layers of sound as the action moves up a staircase encircling the lobby.

While immersive audio is clearly the main selling-point of this soundbar, it’s pleasing to discover that it performs just as well with 5.1-channel audio. Whether its a movie or TV show, the system’s ability to produce a solid front soundstage and plenty surround presence is sure to enhance any viewing experience.

Music fans will also find plenty to like about this soundbar, with excellent stereo imaging, clearly defined vocals, driving instruments and drums that retain a powerful percussive beat. As a result, the HW-Q950T makes a great 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.

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