What is the Samsung HW-Q800A?
The Samsung HW-Q800A replaces last years's HW-Q800T, and is definitely a case of evolution rather than revolution. The new model retains the design and features of the previous version, and just adds a few more bells and whistles. As the old adage goes: if it ain't broke don't fix it; but perhaps think about a less confusing model number?
The HW-Q800A uses a 3.1.2-channel speaker layout, with a wireless 8-inch subwoofer and support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based audio. There's an HDMI output with eARC, Adaptive Sound+, Active Voice Amplifier, and built-in Amazon Alexa. If you own a supporting Samsung TV, there's also Q Symphony and SpaceFit Sound for easier set up.
One significant change this year is that the optional wireless rear speakers now have upward-firing drivers, so you can buy the basic bar and sub package, and then upgrade to a full 5.1.4-channel immersive audio system later. The HW-Q800A costs £799 as at the time of writing (April 2021), which is a competitive price when you consider all that this soundbar offers. Let's see how it performs...
The Samsung HW-Q800A uses an identical cabinet to last year, with a low form-factor, sleek design, and angled front where the Acoustic Beam drivers are located. It will fit snugly in front of a TV without blocking the screen, and the TV itself shouldn't block the upward-firing sound beams. The soundbar measures 980 x 60 x 115mm (WxHxD), weighs 3.6kg, and is big enough for screens up to 65 inches.
The overall appearance is discreet and stylish, with a solid construction, a matte black finish, and a metal wrap-around grille. Samsung offers the choice of stand or wall mounting the HW-Q800A, and if you prefer the latter, you'll find brackets, screws and a template in the box.
It retains the same sleek, stylish and discreet cabinet as last year, combined with a separate 8-inch subwoofer
There's an alphanumeric display, which is always preferable to the infuriating collection of coloured lights that so many manufacturers laughingly refer to as a 'display'. It's located at the front right, and provides basic information on the setup, volume level, selected inputs and various sound modes.
The included wireless active subwoofer uses a rear-ported enclosure and a side-firing 8-inch driver that Samsung claims can go down to 35Hz. The sub is as well made as the main unit, has similar styling with a matte black finish, measures 205 x 403 x 403mm (WxHxD) and weighs 9.8kg.
Connections and Control
The Samsung HW-Q800A locates its connections in two recesses on the underside of the soundbar. In the first, you'll find the HDMI output with eARC (enhanced audio return channel), and a single HDMI input. Both of the HDMI connections support 4K/60p, and every version of high dynamic range, including HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision.
The inclusion of eARC mitigates the single HDMI input to a degree, although if your TV doesn't support eARC, the audio sent back from the TV will be lossy. The only other physical connection is an optical digital input (which you'll need to use if your TV doesn't support ARC).
In terms of wireless connections, there’s built-in Bluetooth, AirPlay 2 and Wi-Fi, allowing you to stream music from your home network or via third-party services. A Bluetooth connection is made using the pairing button on the remote, while the Wi-Fi is simply set up using the SmartThings app.
There's only one HDMI input, but the output supports eARC, and there's also Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and AirPlay 2
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. You can also use the SmartThings app, plus minimal control using a TV remote via HDMI-ARC, or even voice thanks to the built-in Amazon Alexa.
The provided remote has central navigation and play/pause buttons, along with a settings button for adjusting treble, bass and audio sync. There's also a source select button, a Bluetooth pairing button, the sound mode (Standard, Surround, Game Pro and Adaptive Sound), volume up and down, mute and a control for setting the subwoofer level.
Features and Specs
The Samsung HW-Q800A headline feature remains its ability to decode Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, producing an immersive audio experience using a 3.1.2-channel speaker layout.
This is based around three front channels, a wireless subwoofer and the company’s Acoustic Beam 2.0. The front left and right speakers are composed of a mid-range driver and wide-range tweeter, the dedicated centre channel employs a wide-range tweeter, while the Acoustic Beam technology uses 56 holes acting as individual speakers that create a panoramic spread of sound overhead.
The soundbar and sub deliver a 3.1.2-channel immersive audio experience with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X
The HW-Q800A can go down to a claimed 35Hz thanks to the subwoofer, and has 160W of built-in amplification. The front left and right channels have 60W each, the centre channel has 20W, and the Acoustic Beam arrays each use 20W – giving the entire system (soundbar and subwoofer) a claimed total power of 330W.
The 3.1.2-channel speaker layout doesn’t include surround speakers, but if you want to add rear channels, Samsung now offers the optional SWA-9500S (£249) wireless speaker pack. These include built-in upward-firing drivers to create rear overhead channels. The result is a 5.1.4-channel configuration, enabling the system to take full advantage of object-based immersive audio.
The Q Symphony feature integrates the soundbar with compatible Samsung TVs, allowing the combined system to take full advantage of the TV's built-in height speakers by simultaneously synchronising the sound from both devices to create a more immersive front soundstage.
The HW-Q800A also includes SpaceFit Sound, which works in conjunction with compatible Samsung TVs to optimise the audio. It uses the microphone and processor in the TV to analyse the sound reverberations in the room and adjust accordingly.
In addition, there's the Active Voice Amplifier which detects ambient noise, analyses the audio signal, and adjusts and amplifies the dialogue with respect to the other channels to improve intelligibility. Handy if you're trying to watch TV while someone else is using the vacuum cleaner.
There's Q Symphony, SpaceFit Sound, Active Voice Amplifier, Smart Things app, and built-in Alexa
The SmartThings app allows for streaming from a number of services including Amazon Music, Spotify, Deezer, TuneIn and Samsung Music. You can also access Apple Music using AirPlay 2. The Q800A supports Hi-Res audio up to 24-bit/192kHz, along with the AAC, MP3, WAV, OGG, FLAC, ALAC, and AIFF file formats, plus two- and multi-channel LPCM.
More: Audio Formats
Finally, the Q800A comes with Amazon Alexa built-in, making this soundbar a fully-functioning smart assistant. It’s easy to set up 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.
Set Up and Operation
The Samsung HW-Q800A is easy to install: just make sure the soundbar is level, it's not blocking your screen and that the drivers (front and above) are clear of any obstructions. Then position the subwoofer towards the front of the room, ideally on the right-hand-side of the TV as you face it, and avoiding the corners. There may be a bit of experimentation required to get the best position, and don't forget that although the sub is wireless, you will still need to plug it into a wall socket.
The upward-firing drivers will hit the ceiling towards the first third of the room, creating the front overhead channels. For the best results, these upward-firing drivers require a low, flat and reflective ceiling to bounce sounds off. If your ceiling is very high, vaulted or will absorb sound waves, then the effect is diminished and the HW-Q800A (or any soundbar or speaker that uses upward-firing drivers) might not be the best choice for you.
To get the most balanced performance from the soundbar and subwoofer you need an SPL meter (there are plenty of free smartphone apps) and some test tones (if you can get your hands on a Dolby Atmos demo disc, that makes life easier) to set the levels for the centre, front top, and subwoofer channels.
Unfortunately, the left and right channels for front top cannot be changed independently (the same would apply if you added surround and rear top channels), which can prove problematic in asymmetrical rooms. You also need a compatible Samsung TV if you want to take advantage of the SoundFit Sound optimisation feature.
Set up is simple, but the you still can't adjust the left and right levels independently, which is a shame
There are four sound modes: Standard which decodes the incoming audio with no changes; Surround which up-mixes audio to take advantage of 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.
The SmartThings app makes connecting to your wireless network easy, and you can pair the soundbar to another Bluetooth device by pressing the Bluetooth pairing button on the remote. If you have a Samsung TV, that should configure automatically for the soundbar, but if you have a TV from another manufacturer you'll need to make sure that ARC/eARC is set up correctly.
Operating the HW-Q800A is a piece of cake, you can either use the provided controller, your TV remote, or the SmartThings app. The latter provides access to inputs, volume, sound modes, equaliser, woofer, and the advanced settings (voice enhancement, bass enhancement, and night mode). Thanks to built-in Amazon Alexa you can even use your voice to control the soundbar, simply use phrases like "Alexa, volume up".
Testing used a Panasonic DP-UB820 4K Blu-ray player (for lossless Dolby Atmos and DTS:X via the HDMI input and eARC), and a Manhattan T3-R Freeview set-top box connected to my LG 77C9 4K OLED TV. Atmos was also provided via the C9’s built-in Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and Apple TV+ apps over eARC. The soundbar was paired with an Apple iPhone X to allow testing of its capabilities with streamed music over Bluetooth, as well as over Wi-Fi using the SmartThings app and Alexa.
The Samsung HW-Q800A appears to perform identically to its earlier iteration, but that's not a bad thing because the HW-Q800T was an excellent soundbar. The front soundstage is impressive with plenty of width and power. As a result, the system is able to handle larger rooms and bigger screen sizes, plus it can go loads without distorting or sounding strained.
Samsung’s Acoustic Beam 2.0 technology creates overhead channels by using 56 angled holes to produce a panoramic effect that enhances the feeling of immersion. The more reflective your ceiling the better, and in my room this approach works well. The powerful and well-integrated subwoofer also lays down a solid foundation of bass that supports the entire system.
The Samsung expertly handles lossless audio, whether it was sent directly from the player to the soundbar, or via TV's eARC connection. Regardless of the method of connection, the recent 4K disc of Monster Hunter sounded suitably monstrous, with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack that delivers plenty of overhead action and ridiculous amounts of bass. The opening monster attack proves especially useful at demonstrating the power of the system and depth of the subwoofer.
The film's mix also reveals a soundstage that essentially fills the first third of the room, effectively creating a wall of sound. While this is expected of a soundbar without rear speakers, it does mean there's an acoustical hole behind you, into which dragons will disappear as they fly from the front to the rear channels in the sound mix. If you want to experience genuine immersion, you should invest in the wireless rear speakers, which will also add rear overheads.
The soundstage is wide and powerful, with good imaging, clear dialogue, distinct overhead effects, and deep bass
The soundbar also decodes DTS:X, and displays the same strengths and weakness with this alternative object-based audio format. The over-the-top action of Bad Boys for Life is a great test, with a dynamic immersive soundtrack that's full of gunfire and explosions. This soundbar is certainly able to reproduce an energetic and enjoyable ballistic experience, delivering effects with precision and placing them around and above the screen.
Moving on to broadcast TV and the delivery retains the same sense of composure, whether it’s in terms of the news, game shows, concerts or documentaries. The voiceovers retain clarity, the music sounds natural and uncluttered, and while 5.1 soundtracks obviously lose that sense of surround envelopment, panning across the front of the room is good, and the soundbar is able to project effects into the room with some effectiveness.
There are four sound modes, and each has its advantages, with Standard sounding the smoothest and working best with music. The ability of the Adaptive Sound mode to bring out the fidelity of dialogue works well with general TV viewing, while Surround can give TV dramas and movies a greater sense of envelopment. The Game Pro mode is useful for bringing out sound effects, making for a more compelling gaming experience.
Streaming music from Spotify produces a balanced two-channel delivery, with good stereo separation and imaging that results in precise localisation of effects. There’s a pleasing musicality to the delivery, and listening to the album In Memory of my Feelings by Bernard Butler and Catherine Ann Davies reveals clear vocals, sweeping arrangements, complex guitar work and driving drums. It's an undeniably enjoyable delivery from an impressive all-rounder.
- Expansive soundstage
- Dolby Atmos & DTS:X
- eARC support
- Dolby Vision/HDR10+ passthrough
- Optional wireless rear speakers with upward-firing drivers
- Sleek design and well made
- Limited connections
- Quite expensive
Samsung HW-Q800A Soundbar Review
Should I buy one?
The Samsung HW-Q800A is a great all-rounder that delivers an accomplished performance with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X immersive audio. The system creates a wide and powerful wall of sound at the front of the room, with good stereo separation, clear dialogue, distinct overhead channels, and a solid bass foundation.
The soundstage is obviously front-heavy, with no surround envelopment, but Samsung offers optional wireless speakers with upward-firing drivers for rear overhead channels. There's also support for eARC, built-in Alexa, Adaptive Voice Amplifier, SpaceFit Sound, Q Symphony, and the SmartThings app.
The system also manages to sound excellent with non-immersive content, so whether you're catching up on your favourite TV show, listening to music, or indulging in a marathon gaming session, you're sure to be pleased. The HW-Q800A is a jack-of-all-trades, and a master of most, and comes highly recommended.
What are my alternatives?
In terms of a direct competitor, the obvious alternative is the LG SP9YA. This 5.1.2-channel soundbar also supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, but goes one better by adding side-firing speakers for greater width. It works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and AirPlay 2, plus there's eARC. It also has Hi-Res audio support, an option to add wireless rear speakers, and a handy AI room calibration feature. The only thing missing is HDR10+ passthrough, but otherwise this is a comprehensive package.
For the same price you could also consider the JBL BAR 9.1. This awesome 5.1.4-channel system includes detachable and rechargeable rear speakers, resulting in a genuinely immersive Dolby Atmos and DTS:X experience. There's an automated audio calibration feature, eARC support, Chromecast, AirPlay 2 and Dolby Vision passthrough. There's no dedicated remote app, nor can it pass HDR10+, but in most other respects this soundbar system is hard to fault.
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