Samsung HW-N650 Soundbar Review
What is the Samsung HW-N650?The HW-N650 is the latest soundbar from Samsung and builds on its success last year with models such as the HW-MS650 and HW-MS750. The Korean giant's purchase of Harman is beginning to yield dividends as that company's expertise and innovations filter into Samsung's own range, but the N650 is very much a product of its Audio Lab in California.
The new soundbar boasts eight individual speakers, a dedicated centre speaker for dialogue, a wireless subwoofer and Acoustic Beam technology to create a more panoramic sound that compliments today's big screen extravaganzas. If the M750 was designed with the music enthusiast in mind, then the N650 is unashamedly aimed at film fans.
We have been genuinely impressed by Samsung's soundbars over the last couple of years, they have offered an attractive combination of performance, build quality and innovation. What they haven't been is cheap and the N650 continues that trend with a £699 list price at the time of writing (May 2018). However you get what you pay for in this life, so let's see if the N650 delivers the goods.
DesignThe HW-N650 uses the same design aesthetic that Samsung have employed on their soundbars for the last couple of years. That means minimalism is the word and you essentially get a simple rectangular bar with a matte black finish. There are angled brushed metal end plates, metal grilles on the top and front, and the same excellent build quality as in previous generations. The N650 has three front-firing drivers and two upward-firing drivers, just like the MS750, but unlike that soundbar the upward-firing drivers take a very different approach. Instead of two simple upward-firing drivers, the N650 uses Acoustic Beam technology and more on that later.We really like the look of the N650, it compliments the design of Samsung's latest TVs (we actually tested it with the new QE65Q9FN) but would look great with any modern display. It's minimalist appearance also doesn't draw attention to itself, which is ideal for a soundbar. As with all of Samsung's recent soundbars, there is a small display on the front right that shows information like the source or volume level selected. The N650 measures 1100 x 59 x 100mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 3.6kg. The soundbar can be positioned in front of your TV, assuming you have a wide enough surface and sufficient clearance beneath the screen, although you also have the option to wall mount it using a pair of brackets.
We really like the minimalist design and this is an elegantly engineered soundbar
ConnectionsThe connections on the N650 are located in a recess on the underside of the soundbar and here you'll find one HDMI input and an HDMI output, both of which support 4K/60p, High Dynamic Range (HDR) and HDCP 2.2, whilst the HDMI output also supports Audio Return Channel (ARC).In terms of other connections there is an optical digital input, an aux input using a 3.5mm jack, a micro USB port and a connector for the provided two-pin power cable, along with support for a wireless connection to Bluetooth enabled devices.
There's an HDMI 2.0 input and output with support for ARC
ControlIn keeping with previous Samsung soundbars, on the right hand end plate there are some basic controls: here you'll find volume up and down, source select and power on/off.The included remote has a central navigation and play/pause control, along with a button for setting treble, bass and audio sync. There's also a source select button, a Bluetooth pairing button, the sound mode (Standard, Surround and Game), volume up and down, mute and a control for setting the subwoofer level.
The remote is well designed, easy to use and comfortable to hold
Samsung N650 Features & SpecsThe big new feature when it comes to the HW-N650 is the use of Samsung's Acoustic Beam technology to create a more panoramic soundstage from a single soundbar. To achieve this Samsung use two tweeters built in to the top of the soundbar that are each connected to a pipe; these pipes have 28 holes in them that effectively act like 56 additional speakers. The waves of sound emanating from this array of holes combine to create sounds with specific directivity that beam out towards the side walls, producing a more immersive front soundstage.
It should be stressed that this approach is different from the two upward-firing drivers found in the MS750, that were intended to create a more directional and less panoramic overhead effect. It is also different from the upward-firing drivers found in Dolby Atmos-supporting soundbars like the HW-K950. Those soundbars are designed to detect the metadata in object-based audio soundtracks and use the upward-firing speakers to create overhead channels to place sounds in three-dimensional space based upon that metadata.
This technology was developed by Samsung's Audio Labs in California and is intended to deliver a more three-dimensional experience by using a dedicated up-mixing algorithm that works on any content with a 3.1-channel or higher soundtrack. If you're watching a movie or TV drama, or playing a game, you can activate the Acoustic Beam technology by selecting either the Surround or Game sound modes. Alternatively if you are watching the news or perhaps want to listen to some music, then you can deactivate the Acoustic Beam technology by simply selecting the Standard sound mode.
The N650 has eight speakers in total – three forward-firing woofers and five tweeters, three of which fire forward and the other two drive the Acoustic Beam technology. The use of a dedicated centre speaker composed of a woofer and tweeter combination is intended to deliver clearer dialogue. All the speakers have dedicated amps with a total of 360W of power.
The N650 also comes with the SWA-8500S, which is a bass-reflex subwoofer that uses a rear-ported enclosure and a forward-firing 6.5" driver that Samsung claim can get down to 42Hz. The sub is reasonably well made, composed of MDF and uses a similar styling and colour scheme to the soundbar. It measures 215 x 385 x 304mm (WxHxD) and weighs 7kg.
Setting up the sub is simplicity itself because the soundbar automatically pairs with it and then you can simply adjust the subwoofer level using the remote control. We positioned the sub at the front and to the right of the soundbar, mostly out of necessity, and then we increased the level to four, which resulted in a nice bass response in our lounge.
In terms of other features, the N650 has built-in Bluetooth, which means it can pair with your smart device or certain Samsung TVs. Their 2018 models can detect the metadata from a games console and automatically go into Game mode, so if you use the N650 with one of those TVs it will also automatically select the Game sound mode. We actually tested this with the Q9FN and when selecting our Sony PS4, the TV and soundbar automatically went into their respective game modes. You can also control your N650 using your Samsung TV remote, which helps to minimise the clutter in your lounge.
The soundbar supports Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, along with AAC, MP3, WAV, OGG and FLAC, but there's no support for Bluetooth Hi-Fi Codec and UHQ 32bit audio. You can control the N650 using the Samsung Audio Remote App but it doesn't support their new Smart Things App. Strangely there's also no support for Samsung's multi-room system; as a result it doesn't support wireless rear speakers or the Multiroom App and there's no WiFi either. Finally the N650 doesn't include the distortion cancelling technology found in soundbars like the MS650 and MS750.
Samsung's Acoustic Beam technology helps create a more expansive front soundstage
Setup & TestingThe HW-N650 is straight forward to set up, just make sure the soundbar is level, that it isn't blocking your screen and also that there's nothing in the way of the drivers – in front and above. For testing we connected various devices via HDMI such as the Samsung UBD-M9500 UHD Blu-ray player, a PS4 Pro, an Apple TV 4K and a YouView set top box. However because the N650 doesn't support HDR, we found the best approach was to connect all these devices to a Samsung QE65Q9FN that we were testing at the same time, so that we could send the audio back to the soundbar via ARC (Audio Return Channel). We also connected an Amazon Dot via the 3.5mm jack and we paired the N650 to our iPhone X via Bluetooth.We found that controlling the N650 is easy, either using the provided remote control, the TV controller or the Bluetooth app. The Source button allows you to cycle through all the available inputs, whilst the Sound Mode button allows you to select from three different sound modes – Standard, Surround and Game. There's also a DRC (Dynamic Range Control) mode for watching content at night, that you can engage by pressing and holding the Sound Mode button. The sound control button allows you to set the treble, bass and audio sync, if necessary, and the Subwoofer control allows you to adjust the level of the wireless sub.
Samsung HW-N650 Video Review
PerformanceIt's a testament to the quality of Samsung's recent soundbar offerings that we expected great things from the HW-N650. Thankfully we weren't disappointed and it sounded fantastic with TV, movies, games and music. As far as the latter category goes it wasn't as good as the MS750, but that's because Samsung's distortion cancelling technology really does work. However in the Standard sound mode it still managed to deliver a nice stereo image with music, resulting in plenty of clarity and detail. The forward-firing drivers worked well in conjunction with the subwoofer and the wide-range tweeters helped extend the sweet spot.
We have been enjoying the new Manic Street Preachers album Resistance is Futile and the N650 did a great job of delivering the driving guitars, thumping drums and sweeping strings, creating the kind of open front soundstage that suits the music. The same was true of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, with the Samsung handling Lindsey Buckingham's incredible guitar work, the West Coast harmonies and a rock solid rhythm section with equal aplomb. The integration of the subwoofer was seamless, as evidenced by the way the bass and drums were delivered in the second half of 'The Chain'.
The N650 was equally as adept when it came to regular TV programmes, with dialogue emanating from the centre of the soundbar, whilst music was delivered in a wider soundstage across the front of the room. Depending on the type of programme we found ourselves switching between the Standard and Surround sound modes. If the programme largely involved dialogue or music, then the Standard mode was preferred. However for a dramatic show such as Lost in Space the Surround mode was ideal, creating a more panoramic and immersive front soundstage. The Acoustic Beam technology gave the audio a wider and higher presence that was particularly effective.
Switching between Standard and Surround we definitely found that we preferred the latter, with the Samsung proving very accomplished at delivering the dialogue clearly, whilst rendering the music with clarity and placing effects around the room with a degree of precision. The bass was also pleasingly deep and the subwoofer managed to deliver an excellent low-end that was easily sufficient for watching TV. When it came to shows with a lot of music the N650 also sounded fantastic, with solid bass extension, but in this instance we would switch to the Standard sound mode to retain clearer stereo separation
Since we were testing the N650 with Samsung's new Q9FN, we were able to test the combined system's ability to detect a games console and switch their settings automatically. The TV dutifully detected the metadata from my PS4 and switched into Game mode, whilst the soundbar followed suit and switched into the Game sound mode. The mode itself was particular adept at creating a big soundstage where the emphasis was on effects rather than dialogue or music, thus immersing you in the world of the game.
So far so good but given that the N650 is marketed as a 'cinematic' soundbar, it's important that it also handles movie soundtracks just as well. We used test material from a number of sources and were delighted to discover that the N650 handled them all extremely well. We frequently use Gravity as a test disc thanks to the highly directional nature of its soundtrack, and whilst the N650 couldn't move sounds around the room as effectively as a genuine multichannel system, it was able to move the sounds around in three dimensional space. The result was a sense of sounds moving around the front of the room, as the characters moved around on screen.
Another film that we use a lot in testing is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and here the N650 did a great job of rendering all the subtle sound effects in the mix. The breathing of Caesar could be heard from the centre of the soundbar, whilst the rising choral music spread out to the sides. The sound of thunder and rain was emanating from the sides and above, whilst the sub kicked in very effectively once the hunt began. Our current favourite film soundtrack is Dunkirk and once again the Samsung delivered the complex sound design with a sense of panoramic sweep. The sub underscored the explosions, giving them real impact, whilst the the more immersive moments were also handled very well.
As mentioned earlier, the N650 doesn't support Dolby Atmos or DTS:X but it can give a larger and more immersive sound field with any multichannel soundtrack. So we're pleased that the N650 can live up to Samsung's claims of offering a 'cinematic' experience and the soundbar is certainly a great all-rounder for movies, games and even music.
The N650 is a great soundbar for both movie fans and gamers
- Big cinematic sound
- Good set of features
- Well integrated bass
- Solid build quality
- Attractive design
- Limited connections
- No multi-room support
Samsung HW-N650 Soundbar Review
Samsung HW-N650 VerdictSamsung's recent run of soundbars have all impressed with a superb performance and excellent build quality, even if they have been rather expensive when compared to the competition. The HW-N650 inherits many of the same traits as those earlier soundbars, but also adds some interesting new features.
The Acoustic Beam technology is a definite winner, creating a much bigger and more panoramic soundstage that really compliments movies and games. The audio essentially emanates from the sides and above, thus helping to immerse the listener in a movie without having to resort to Dolby Atmos or DTS:X. However the three front-firing channels also work very well, meaning the soundbar is great for normal TV or even listening to music. The wireless active subwoofer is also extremely effective, integrating the bass with the soundbar itself and adding some nice low-end presence to the overall soundstage.
The design and build quality are excellent and there are some useful features, especially if you already own a Samsung TV. There are though, some strange omissions: the N650 doesn't include the excellent distortion cancelling technology used on the MS650; nor does it support Samsung's Multiroom system. The limited number of HDMI connections also means that the best approach is the use ARC to send the audio from all the devices connected to your TV back to the soundbar; especially given that the Samsung doesn't support lossless soundtracks anyway.
The Samsung HW-N650 certainly delivers a good enough performance to deserve a recommendation but at a list price of £699 it's going to struggle against the competition.
What are my alternatives?As far as that competition is concerned you can start by looking at Samsung's own HW-MS650 (or HW-MS6500 if you have a curved screen), which not only delivers a fantastic performance with music thanks to its distortion cancelling technology, but also includes Multiroom and HDR support. It doesn't come with a subwoofer, but you can pick it up for a more reasonable £469.
Alternatively you could go for the excellent HW-MS750 which also uses distortion cancelling technology, along with support for HDR and Multiroom, but adds upward-firing drivers. Like the MS650, this soundbar doesn't come with a subwoofer and currently costs £699.
If you're interested in alternatives from other manufacturers then LG's SJ9 is a great choice. This excellent soundbar supports Dolby Atmos thanks to upward-firing drivers, and comes with a wireless subwoofer. It also supports HDR and LG's Music Flow multiroom system, and costs the same as the N650 at £699.
Although Samsung's Acoustic Beam technology is innovative, they aren't the first manufacturer to use sound projection. Yamaha have been taking this approach to create a more immersive soundstage for years and their YSP-2700 is an excellent example. It offers a multichannel performance, comes with a wireless subwoofer, has three HDMI inputs with HDR and supports Yamaha's MusicCast multiroom system. Best of all you can get all that for just £549.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £699.00
Ease of use9
Value for Money7
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