Samsung HW-Q80R Soundbar Review

Hop To

Front-loaded

by Steve Withers Jul 21, 2019 at 7:21 AM

  • SRP: £999.00

    What is the Samsung HW-Q80R?

    The Samsung HW-Q80R is the latest mid-range soundbar from the company, and it sits just below the flagship HW-Q90R. The two soundbars are essentially identical, with one major exception: the Q80 drops the wireless rear speakers. This means it lacks the rear surround and overhead channels that grace the HW-Q90, and is restricted to the three front-, two upward-, and two side-firing drivers included on the soundbar.

    However, the Q80R does come with the same redesigned wireless active subwoofer as the more expensive model and is thus able to deliver a 5.1.2-channel immersive audio experience. It also has the same feature set that includes support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, Harman Kardon tuning, two HDMI inputs, eARC, and an Adaptive Sound mode.

    The HW-Q80 can be picked up for £999, which is £500 less than the Q90. There is the option to add wireless rear speakers (SWA-9000S) to the Q80R but these cost £149 a pair and don't include upward-firing drivers. So the question is: does the more immersive nature of the Q90R justify the extra outlay, and are there any other differences in terms of performance? Let's find out.

    Design

    Samsung HW-Q80R Design
    The Samsung HW-Q80R uses exactly the same main unit as the flagship HW-Q90R. So you get the same rectangular shape and minimalist design, with a superb level of build quality that uses metal grilles at the top, front and sides, along with a dark metal finish to the edges and rear. It comes in the same colour as well, a finish that Samsung refers to as 'Carbon Silver' but I'd describe as dark metallic grey.

    The dimensions are also identical to the flagship model, with the soundbar measuring 1226 x 83 x 136mm (WxHxD) and weighing in at 8.8kg. It's certainly big and clearly intended for larger screen sizes, but it should also be discreet enough to fit in front of most TVs. If it doesn't, there's always the option of wall mounting, and Samsung includes brackets for this purpose.
    Samsung HW-Q80R Design
    The HW-Q80 has seven channels in total: three front speakers (left, centre and right), left and right width speakers, and two upward-firing speakers for the front left and right height channels. There's a simple LED display over on the front far right of the soundbar, but the only actual controls on the soundbar are a few basic touch-sensitive buttons for power, input selection and volume at the top centre.

    The Q80R uses the same updated wireless active subwoofer included with the Q90R. This new design uses a rear-port and built-in amplification, with a side-firing 8-inch driver. It has a finish that complements the main soundbar and is also extremely well made. The redesign is intended to deliver more effective bass, and the new sub measures 205 x 403 x 403mm (WxHxD) and weighs 9.8kg.

    It's a solid and well-made soundbar that feels like a serious piece of kit

    Connections & Control

    Samsung HW-Q80R Connections & Control
    The Samsung HW-Q80R has two HDMI inputs and an HDMI output. They all support 4K/60p, High Dynamic Range (HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision), HDCP 2.2, and Anynet+ (HDMI-CEC), whilst the HDMI output also supports Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC). The number of HDMI inputs is disappointing for a soundbar at this price point, but the same is true of the HW-Q90R.

    The only other physical connection is an optical digital input, but in terms of wireless, you get built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. On the underside, there's also a USB port but this is for service updates only, along with a connector for the two-pin power cable, a button for Wi-Fi setup, and a button for pairing the wireless subwoofer and any optional surround speakers, if necessary.
    Samsung HW-Q80R Connections & Control
    The remote is also exactly the same as the controller included with the Q90R. It's comfortable to hold and sensibly laid out, with all the buttons you need to effectively control the soundbar. There are navigation and play/pause controls, along with settings, source select, Bluetooth pairing, volume, mute, subwoofer level, and the sound modes (Standard, Surround, Game Pro, and Adaptive Sound).

    The buttons also have multiple functions, allowing you to control the soundbar with your Samsung TV remote. You can also skip music files forwards or backwards, and turn Anynet+ on or off. Additional controls include turning auto power link on and off, and completing the Id Set when connecting an accessory item. Finally, you can also bring up a choice of frequency bands or reinitialise the soundbar.

    The remote control and connections are identical to the more expensive HW-Q90R

    Samsung HW-Q80R Features & Specs

    Samsung HW-Q80R Samsung HW-Q80R Features & Specs
    The Samsung HW-Q80R has exactly the same features as the flagship model, aside from the lack of rear speakers. However, even if you buy the optional rear speaker pack to add surround channels, the Q80R is still restricted to 7.1.2 processing because there are no upward-firing drivers. So, while the Q80 is capable of decoding Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, the results will be rather front-heavy.

    The HW-Q80 delivers 7.1.2 out of the box, and uses seven speakers built around a total of 13 drivers. The front three channels are composed of three drivers each, with each speaker using two woofers and a wide-range tweeter. These nine drivers create a solid front soundstage that is augmented by the two side-firing drivers to add width and two upward-firing drivers to add the overhead channels.

    All 13 drivers in the system are powered by individual amplifiers with a total of 372W, although Samsung hasn’t specified how this amplification is actually allocated to each driver. A lot of the amplification will be used by the upgraded subwoofer, and the system as a whole has a claimed frequency response that goes from 34Hz to 17kHz, with the subwoofer handling the lower frequencies.

    The HW-Q80R has been co-developed between Samsung Audio Labs and Harman Kardon (a Samsung subsidiary), with the latter ensuring the sound is dynamic and spacious while retaining clear voicing. In terms of audio formats, the Q80 doesn't just support Atmos and DTS:X, it can also decode Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby TrueHD, along with DTS Digital Sound and DTS-HD Master Audio.

    Adaptive Sound mode is a new feature that's designed to analyse the audio and process the sound using the appropriate channels. This means if you're watching the news, the processing will emphasise the centre channel for clearer dialogue, while the left and right channels are prioritised for music. However, all the channels are used to enhance the crowds at a football match or the effects in a movie or game.

    If you own a PS4 or Xbox One connected via HDMI to a 2019 Samsung TV, there is a handy feature that detects your console using metadata and automatically selects the low input lag game mode on the TV. At the same time, the TV will instruct the soundbar to select the Game Pro sound mode. If you then decide to do something other than gaming, the TV will switch itself and the soundbar out of Game mode.

    If you're a film fan there's also the Surround mode, which upscales content to use all the available speakers, including the overhead channels. This mode actually works surprisingly well, producing a more immersive experience by creating the impression there are overhead channels with 5.1 and 7.1 content. Finally, the Standard mode simply decodes the audio format, without processing, as 2.1, or 5.1 and 7.1 (if you add the optional rear speakers).

    In terms of other features, there's built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth that allows users to effectively access their music libraries and streaming services. There's also support for numerous lossy and lossless audio formats including AAC, WAV, OGG, ALAC, AIFF and FLAC, with high-resolution support up to 32-bit. Samsung even includes high quality, UHQ 32-bit upscaling for supporting devices.

    The soundbar supports Samsung's SmartThings App, making setup easier and allowing for control of other connected devices. The HW-Q80 also works with Amazon Alexa, allowing for hands-free control and enabling you to listen to music via Spotify Connect. It's a solid selection of features, but there's no support Samsung's own Bixby, Google Assistant, Chromecast or Apple AirPlay.

    The Q80R lacks surround speakers, but if you add them you still won't have rear overheads

    Setup & Operation

    Samsung HW-Q80R Setup & Operation
    The Samsung HW-Q80R is extremely easy to set up: you simply place the soundbar beneath your TV and then position the subwoofer towards the front of the room. Don't forget to make sure that nothing is blocking the side- and upward-firing drivers, so they can bounce sounds off the walls and ceiling.

    The upward-firing drivers on the soundbar should hit the ceiling towards the front third of the room, creating the front overhead channels. For best results, the upward-firing drivers require a low, flat and reflective ceiling to bounce sounds back down at the listener, and the side-firing drivers are designed to bounce off the side walls, creating the effect that there are side speakers.

    The subwoofer should pair automatically with the soundbar, creating a 5.1.2-channel system. Ideally, you should balance the levels of all the channels, but to do this you'll need an Atmos or DTS:X test disc and an SPL meter (if you don't own one, there are plenty of free SPL apps for your smartphone). You can then set the levels for the centre, side, front top, and subwoofer channels.

    If you take the time to position everything carefully and set the channel levels correctly, you'll reap the benefits of a cohesive soundstage with well-integrated bass. However, considering the price it would be nice if Samsung included some form of automated calibration system, or at least some internal test tones to make setting up all the channels easier.

    The SmartThings app makes connecting to your wireless network easy: just download and install the app, launch it, follow the instructions, and you'll be connected in minutes. You can also pair the soundbar to another Bluetooth device in seconds by simply pressing the Bluetooth pairing button on the remote and then selecting 'Samsung Soundbar Q80R' on the source device.

    If you have a recent Samsung TV it will configure automatically for the soundbar, but if you have a TV from another manufacturer you'll need to make sure that ARC is setup correctly. You can either use the provided controller, your TV remote, or the SmartThings app. The latter allows you to play audio through another Samsung device using Group Play, and also control a range of other smart home appliances.

    If you have an Amazon Alexa device in your home, you can even use your voice to control the soundbar. Make sure you change the soundbar's name in the SmartThings app to something like Living Room, for example, and then search for 'Samsung Wireless Audio' under skills in the Alexa app and enable it. You'll then be able to control the HW-Q80R by using phrases such as "Alexa volume up on Living Room".

    For testing, I connected lossless sources directly to the soundbar via the two HDMI inputs: Panasonic BP-UB820 UHD Blu-ray player, and a PS4 Pro. I connected an Apple TV 4K and a Humax FVP-5000T set top box directly the Samsung QE75Q950R, sending the audio back to the soundbar via the HDMI-ARC. I also sent the audio from the TV's built-in video streaming apps back to the soundbar via ARC.

    Installation is easy, but the set-up of the various channels is overly simplistic

    Performance

    Samsung HW-Q80R Performance
    The Samsung HW-Q80R proved to be a very effective performer, particularly when viewed as a basic soundbar and subwoofer combination. Under these circumstances, the bar was able to rely on its inherent strengths of size, build, and sound quality. The result is a system that sounds excellent, with music, TV shows, games, and movies, making it a great all-rounder.

    Samsung has wisely concentrated on ensuring the main unit sounds as good as possible thanks to the three front-firing speakers each using two woofers and a wide-range tweeter. This results in a solid front soundstage that is capable of delivering music with detail and precision. This is important, because if a soundbar is capable of sounding good with music, then it should be just as good with other material.

    The HW-Q80 is extremely capable when it comes to two-channel music, delivering excellent stereo separation. The result was a soundstage that retains clarity and precise imaging, along with a balanced and lively overall performance. The influence of Harman Kardon is really obvious here, resulting in a musical performance that is identical to the flagship HW-Q90R.

    The other area of performance that is identical to the more expensive flagship model is its ability to deliver deep and controlled bass. This shouldn't come as a surprise because both soundbars use exactly the same sub, and the results are impressive. Samsung's redesign has certainly paid dividends with a sub that integrates perfectly with the main unit, delivering the lower frequencies with speed and depth.

    When it comes to TV shows, the HW-Q80R is equally as adept thanks to its dedicated centre speaker. This means that music not only sounds great, but that dialogue is clear and focused on the action. Whether watching the news, a documentary, a game show, or sports, the three front channels delivered a great all-round performance. In the case of sport, the side-firing drivers also added more width to the audio.

    The Adaptive Sound mode can be useful, upmixing content to take advantage of the extra channels and giving the audio greater presence. The Game Pro mode is great for enhancing game soundtracks and emphasising the effects to make the experience more effective. However, none of these sound modes can be applied when the soundbar is decoding an Atmos or DTS:X soundtrack.
    Samsung HW-Q80R Performance
    When it comes to three-channel audio or soundtracks where the majority of the sonic action is upfront, rather than involving the surrounds, there is no difference between the HW-Q80 and the HW-Q90. However, once we move on to multi-channel soundtracks with more active surrounds, the differences become more apparent because the cheaper model lacks any rear speakers.

    A show such as Good Omens boasts a lively 5.1-channel mix and, while the Q80R can deliver the music, dialogue, effects, and bass at the front of the room, there is no sense of surround envelopment. The front soundstage certainly has width, and the sub will provide a solid low frequency foundation, but ultimately everything is loaded at the front of the room, with nothing at the rear.

    Obviously, you can buy the optional wireless rear speakers and add surround channels, but only the Q90R comes with back speakers as standard. A well-mixed 5.1-channel soundtrack simply sounds superior on the more expensive soundbar, with a sense of surround envelopment that is closer to an AV receiver and speaker package setup.

    In fairness to the HW-Q80R, apart from the Q90, there are no other soundbars with rear speakers included, so the competition faces the same problem of having a front-heavy soundstage. This isn't an issue with a lot of content, but if you enjoy games, TV shows or movies with aggressively-mixed multi-channel soundtracks, then you might want to stump up for the more immersive HW-Q90R.

    Star Trek: Discovery doesn't sound as impressive on the HW-Q80 as it did when watching the same scenes on the HW-Q90. There is plenty going on at the front, but there's a hole at the rear with no seamless steering of effects around the room. Music, dialogue, front effects, and bass all remain strong, but there is a distinct lack of genuine surround envelopment.

    This problem is exacerbated when dealing with objected-based audio soundtracks that use Dolby Atmos or DTS:X. Watching The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix or Aquaman on 4K disc, their Atmos soundtracks are far less immersive than with the Q90R. Once again, the front soundstage is well represented, with plenty of width and overhead effects as well. However, the lack of surround and rear overhead channels results in the audio feeling more like a wall of sound, rather than a 360˚ sonic experience.

    The performance is big and powerful, with a wide but rather front-heavy soundstage

    Conclusion

    8
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Great sound quality
    • Well integrated bass
    • Dolby Atmos & DTS:X
    • Supports eARC
    • Well made and good looking

    Cons

    • Effects very front heavy
    • Limited audio calibration
    • Only two HDMI inputs
    You own this Total 1
    You want this Total 1
    You had this Total 0

    Samsung HW-Q80R Soundbar Review

    Samsung HW-Q80R Verdict

    The Samsung HW-Q80R sounds excellent, and if you're looking for a solid bar and sub combo then this model is a very capable choice. The front soundstage is wide and detailed, making it good for music and TV shows, while the upgraded subwoofer delivers plenty of well-integrated bass. The inclusion of a dedicated centre channel ensures that dialogue always remains clear, and the Dolby Atmos/DTS:X support delivers an impressive wall of sound at the front of the room.

    The problem with this soundbar is that the soundstage is very front heavy, with no actual surround presence. As a result, the sense of immersion is limited, and although you can buy optional surround speakers this will add to the cost and you still won't have rear overhead channels. In fairness, this is a limitation of any soundbar that lacks actual rear speakers so, in that sense, the HW-Q80 is on an equal footing with competing soundbar and subwoofer models.

    However, it would be nice to see an increased number of HDMI inputs, a more sophisticated approach to set up, and features such as Chromecast or AirPlay. It's in areas such as these that the Samsung struggles to justify its fairly hefty price tag, although it is cheaper than much of the competition. The HW-Q80 is certainly worthy of recommendation based on its sound quality alone, but there are plenty of excellent alternatives available that are also worthy of your consideration.

    What are my alternatives?

    This obvious alternative is the Samsung HW-Q90R, which delivers a full 7.1.4-channel immersive audio soundstage thanks to the inclusion of wireless rear speakers. This soundbar is £500 more expensive, but it's the only one to offer a genuine object-based experience, putting it in a class of its own. You can add wireless surrounds to the HW-Q80R but in doing so you add £150 to the price, and you still won't have upward-firing drivers at the rear. If you're not interested in rear speakers then the HW-Q80 is a good choice, but if you want the full monty you really need to buy the HW-Q90.

    However, if rear speakers aren't a priority, then the LG SL10YG (£1,199) is probably the best alternative. This flagship model delivers a 5.1.2-channel experience from Dolby Atmos and DTS:X and was developed in conjunction with Meridian. The soundbar supports Hi-Res audio, works with Google Assistant, and includes Chromecast. Those differences aside, the SL10YG is reminiscent of the Samsung with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, a simple setup, only two HDMI inputs, and optional wireless rear speakers. Ultimately, your choice might come down to design, with owners preferring to match a soundbar to their particular make of TV.

    MORE: Read All Soundbar Reviews


    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £999.00

    The Rundown

    Build Quality

    9

    Connectivity

    8

    Ease of use

    8

    Sound Quality

    9

    Features

    8

    Value for Money

    8

    Verdict

    8

    Our Review Ethos

    Read about our review ethos and the meaning of our review badges.

    To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.

    Write your Samsung HW-Q80R Soundbar review.