Classy looks, handy features and silky smooth sound results in a star performer
IntroductionOver the last two years, Samsung have been making a concerted effort to dominate the audio market in the same way that they have in both the TV and mobile phone markets. The results to date have been impressive, with a series of well designed, great sounding and often competitively priced products. The HW-F850 is Samsung’s flagship 2.1-channel soundbar for 2013 and represents the culmination in all the Korean manufacturer’s research into both innovation and design. The result is a soundbar that has been engineered to deliver the best audio possible whilst also considering every detail and addressing any potential issues. So what do you get?
Well there’s the looks of course - what else would you expect from Samsung - but the HW-F850 also has a wider chassis, specifically designed to match larger screen sizes. There’s a wireless and fairly hefty active subwoofer, along with the option to mount the soundbar itself either on a flat surface or on the wall. The HW-F850 also has a sensor to determine the orientation of its mounting, thus allowing it to adjust its performance accordingly. To improve the overall sound quality, Samsung have included their vacuum tube pre-amp, with improved tweeter design and better integration of the subwoofer. There is also an auto-setup feature, near field communication (NFC) for simple connection to a smartphone or tablet, a 3D Sound Plus feature and wireless connectivity with Samsung TVs. At a cost of £829 the HW-F850 is at the higher end of the price scale but if it can deliver an appropriate level of performance it might be money well spent - let’s find out.
The overall design nicely combines modern flare with the retro feel of a valve amplifier to create a look that stands out from the crowd.
Design and ConnectionsThe HW-F850 incorporates Samsung’s AirTrack design which combines sleek lines with a stylish metal finish. The black colour allows the soundbar to compliment TVs from a number of different manufacturers and its larger chassis size means that the HW-F850 has been created with bigger screen sizes in mind. Samsung say that the HW-F850 will be ideal for screen sizes up to 55-inches and it certainly looked wonderful when used with our 50-inch Pioneer Kuro. Samsung’s designers have been on a roll for some time now and the HW-F850 isn’t likely to change that with its elegant construction and sophisticated looks. The overall design nicely combines modern flare with the retro feel of a valve amplifier to create a look that stands out from the crowd.
The soundbar has a black metal grille that covers its entire length with brushed metal plates at both ends. The build quality is excellent and both the sound bar and the subwoofer have a solid and well engineered feel. In the middle is the valve amplifier itself, which has a pleasant retro look but does glow when in use, which can be annoying in a darkened room. Just beneath the valve amplifier there is a touch panel with some basic controls. There is an OLED display on the front leading edge when the HW-F850 is laid on a flat surface and a separate display that appears to the left of the control panel when the main unit is wall mounted upright. It's a nice touch that makes the HW-F850 more flexible in terms of installation. At the far right hand side there is the Near Field Communication (NFC) panel where you just hold your NFC capable device to make an instant connection.
The soundbar uses a redesigned 1-inch soft dome tweeter and a new 4-way six speaker layout to deliver a wider soundstage with better clarity in the mid and high ranges. The subwoofer has been designed to match the aesthetic of the main sound bar and it shares the same solid construction. Samsung have clearly been working hard to improve the bass performance of their soundbar packages and the result is a new 8-inch downward firing driver with a larger enclosure and a rear port. The subwoofer is active and it connects to the sound bar wirelessly. This wireless link is setup in the factory but, if necessary, this can be reset using a simple procedure. There are two small LEDs on the top of the subwoofer enclosure, one shows when the unit is in standby and the other shows when it is linked.
Previous Samsung soundbars have had their connections on the subwoofer but this limited effective subwoofer placement, so the manufacturer has moved the inputs to the sound bar itself. Under the chassis there is a recessed area where you will find all the physical connections. This recess and a helpful gap allowed you to run cables into the HW-F850 whilst still keeping it flush to either a flat surface or the wall. In terms of the connections there is an HDMI input and an HDMI output with ARC. This allows you to run audio from the TV back to the HW-F850 via the HDMI output, leaving the HDMI input free for another source like a Blu-ray player. There is also an optical digital input, an analogue 3.5mm input, a jack for the setup mic and a connector for the AC power adaptor. At the rear you will find a USB port and the HW-F850 also includes a well designed and backlit remote that can be used to control both the sound bar and a connected Samsung TV.
The HW-F850 includes both Bluetooth and NFC, so creating a wireless connection is a breeze.
FeaturesAs you might expect from a flagship model, the HW-F850 comes with an extensive set of features which make it very flexible for a soundbar. The inclusion of Bluetooth means that you can not only connect your smartphone or tablet wirelessly but also connect certain Samsung TVs. Whilst the HW-F850 comes with a remote control, you can also use your TV remote to adjust the volume or turn the unit on or off when connected by HDMI or Bluetooth. If you want to connect using Bluetooth, the inclusion of Near Field Communication (NFC) makes this very easy. You only have to touch your NFC enabled Android device against the badge on the HW-F850 and a connection is instantaneously made.
So what’s missing? Well the lack of AirPlay is a shame, although hardly a surprise, and you can still connect your iDevice using Bluetooth. There’s also no DLNA capability but frankly that’s a rarity on a soundbar and is diminishing in importance as other forms of wireless communication become more popular. You can connect two HDMI sources to the HW-F850, one via the HDMI input and the other using ARC via the HDMI output. However, given its flagship status, one or even two more HDMI inputs would have been useful as many people in the UK use a separate satellite or Freeview box, along with a Blu-ray player and possibly a games console.
SetupWhen you first set the HW-F850 up, you have a choice of with wall mounting the unit vertically or placing it on a flat surface in a horizontal position. Samsung provide a bracket for wall mounting but whichever orientation you choose, the installation position sensor in the HW-F850 can detect how the main unit is installed and reconfigure the sound output accordingly. Then all you need to do is connect all your sources and position the subwoofer correctly - try and avoid putting it too close to a wall or in a corner. Unlike some of Samsung’s previous soundbars, the HW-F850 includes an Auto Sound Calibration (ASC) feature that makes for easy setup. You just place the microphone in the central listening position and connect it to the ASC IN jack on the HW-F850. The calibration process will start immediately and takes about two minutes. The calibration process measures the distance between the main unit, the subwoofer and the the listening position and then calibrates the volume levels and frequency characteristics of the main unit and subwoofer to optimise the sound. Of course if you want to manually adjust the setup, there are controls for adjusting the bass, treble, midrange and subwoofer levels. There also an audio sync control if you need it.
The HW-F850's Auto Sound Calibration (ASC) feature helps optimise the setup of the main unit and the subwoofer.
Sound QualityWe have reviewed a number of soundbars over the last few years, so the HW-F850 rather caught us by surprise. As soon as we had set it up and turned it on, we were immediately impressed by the wide open soundstage that the sound bar was able to create. There was excellent stereo separation with music and the localisation and placement of effects across the front was highly effective. When it came to both TV programmes and movies, the dialogue remained clear and centred and was never lost in the rest of the soundstage. The mid-range sounded smooth and well rendered and there was a warmth and clarity to it that might be the result of the valve amplifier. The high frequencies were also well served, never sounding shrill or forced, even when listening at high volumes. The real surprise came when listening to music and the HW-F850 was something of a revelation, delivering a performance that beautifully reproduced the original recordings.
Samsung’s efforts at improving the subwoofer performance in their sound bar systems has clearly paid dividends with a powerful and highly effective low end performance. However, the bass never swamped the overall sound and was very well integrated, resulting in a smooth low frequency response that enhanced the overall performance. The HW-F850 obviously doesn't have any surround capability but its front soundstage is so open that it made the audio more immersive, without resorting to unnecessary trickery. There are a number of sound effect modes (Music, News, drama, Cinema, Sports and Game) that process the audio but we would strongly recommend avoiding them. The standard performance of the HW-F850 was superb, replicating the original sound so well that there was no need for any unwanted processing. The same goes for the 3D Sound Plus feature, which just added a ridiculous amount of echo to everything. The Bluetooth connection supports Middle Quality SBC data (up to 237kbps@48kHz) and is compatible with MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, OGG and FLAC (1.1.0, 1.2.1) over USB.
The wide open soundstage and well integrated bass created a hugely enjoyable audio experience.
- Great sound
- Well integrated bass
- Attractive design
- Excellent build quality
- Impressive features
- Flexible installation
- Bit pricey
- Limited HDMI inputs
- No AirPlay
Samsung HW-F850 Soundbar ReviewSamsung’s audio products have evolved remarkably over the last two years, like the consumer electronics equivalent of the Cambrian explosion. The company has been refining both the design and performance of their audio products, leveraging off their experience in both the TV and mobile phone markets. The result is the HW-F850, a fantastic soundbar that delivers a winning combination of looks, features and performance. The design of the main unit is both attractive and stylish, with a contemporary feel and a dash of retro flair thanks to the valve amplifier. Installation is easy with the option to position the main unit flat or mount it on the wall and the main unit can sense its orientation and adjust its output accordingly. The well made subwoofer matches the design of the main unit and with its wireless connection, is flexible in terms of its positioning. Thanks to the inclusion of an auto-calibration feature, setup is easy and the HW-F850 can be quickly optimised for your room.
In terms of connections we would have liked to see more HDMI inputs on a flagship model but otherwise there are sufficient to meet most people’s needs. There is Bluetooth included as well as Near Field Communication for a quick and easy connection to a NFC capable device. Unsurprisingly there’s no AirPlay or DLNA but with Bluetooth becoming more popular that is no great loss. Besides what is important is the sound quality and here the HW-F850 really took us by surprise. We have reviewed a number of sound bars in the last few years but the sound quality on the Samsung immediately caught our attention. It had a wide open soundstage that really filled the room and the bass was well integrated to create a hugely enjoyable audio experience. The HW-F850 sounded fantastic with TV, movies and music, making it a great all-rounder for anyone looking for a simple and attractive solution to the poor sound on most modern TVs.
Ease of Use9
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos