What is the Samsung HW-Q950A?
The Samsung HW-Q950A is the latest flagship Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundbar from the company, and this year it boasts an 11.1.4-channel sound system spread across a main unit, wireless subwoofer and a pair of wireless rear speakers.
The HW-Q950A adds rear side channels, an Auto EQ feature, and AirPlay 2, but also includes eARC, support for Samsung's Q Symphony and Tap Sound features, built-in Amazon Alexa, and the same sleek design found on the previous version.
The new model retails for £1,599 at the time of review (July 2021), and if it's as good as last year's HW-Q950T, it'll not only be the most immersive unit on the market, but also might be an early contender for the soundbar of the year.
The Samsung HW-Q950A uses the same minimalist cabinet as last year, which looks contemporary thanks to its wrap-around Kvadrat fabric covering – just keep any cats away from it! The matte black finish remains very elegant, and should prove suitably discreet at the front of the room.
The cabinet is the same attractive design as last year, but the display is still on the top, which is a shame
Unfortunately, since this is the same design as last year that also means the display is on the top, which makes it utterly useless. While I appreciate that it might be hard to fit the display at the front given all the speakers inside this soundbar, it's still a bizarre design choice.
The angled corners accommodate the width and side-firing drivers, and behind the Kvadrat covering there are three forward-firing and two upward-firing speakers. Despite containing a total of 15 drivers, the cabinet still manages to boast a sleek form-factor that only measures 69.5mm high. As a result, it shouldn't block the screen if placed in front of your TV. There are also brackets included for those who prefer to wall mount the soundbar. In terms of the other dimensions, the HW-Q950A is 1232mm wide and 138mm deep, while its weight clocks in at 7.1kg.
The included wireless active rear speakers match the design aesthetic and build quality found on the main bar and sub, with a black finish and Kvadrat fabric grilles. The built-in amplification powers forward-firing drivers for surround left and right, upward-firing drivers for the rear left and right height channels, and side-firing drivers for the rear side channels. The speakers themselves each measure 125 x 203 x 141mm (WxHxD) and weigh 1.8kg.
The wireless active subwoofer is the same as last year, with a rear-ported bass-reflex design, built-in amplification and a side-firing 8-inch driver. It's also finished in black and sports Kvadrat fabric over the side-firing woofer, complementing the main soundbar. It measures 210 x 403 x 403mm (WxHxD) and weighs 9.8kg.
Connections and Control
The Samsung HW-Q950A houses its connections in a recessed area under the main unit. Here, you'll find 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 includes eARC (enhanced audio return channel).
The only other physical connection is an optical digital input (which you'll need to use if your TV doesn't support ARC) but, in terms of wireless connections, there’s built-in Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and AirPlay 2, allowing you to stream music from your home network or via third-party services. The Bluetooth connection is made using the pairing button on the remote, AirPlay via your Apple device, and the Wi-Fi using the SmartThings app.
There are plenty of control options, but it would be great if you could access all the menus using the SmartThings app
There are basic controls centrally located on the top rear of the soundbar, on either side of the useless display. These controls are for multi-function (on/off and source select), volume up/down, and mic on/off. Unfortunately, they're black against a black background, which makes them hard to see. There are also minimal control options using a TV remote via HDMI-ARC, or your voice thanks to the built-in Amazon Alexa.
The provided remote is the same as previous years, with a 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 (Standard, Surround, Game Pro and Adaptive Sound), volume up and down, mute and a control for setting the subwoofer level.
The SmartThings app has been expanded since last year, and includes the ability to control the HW-Q950A, select inputs (eARC, Optical, Bluetooth, HDMI 1 and HDMI 2), choose sound modes (Standard, Surround, Game, Adaptive Sound), and interact with Alexa. You can also adjust the bass, treble and equaliser settings, the woofer level, and access the advanced sound settings (Voice and Bass Enhancements, and Night Mode). Finally, you can run the Auto EQ, and switch this feature on and off.
While all this is great, you still can't access the sync control and the channel levels (apart from the subwoofer). The latter would be particularly useful, especially as you can't see the display when sat down, and it would be great if Samsung could offer full set up and control from the SmartThings app.
Features and Specs
The Samsung HW-Q950A’s headline feature is its ability to decode Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and deliver these object-based audio formats using a staggeringly immersive 11.1.4-channel speaker layout. This exceeds any other soundbar on the market, and crucially it is achieved using actual speakers rather than psychoacoustic processing.
There are three forward-firing speakers for the front left, right and centre channels, each of which is composed of three drivers. There are also side-firing speakers for the front width channels, and angled corner speakers that bounce sounds off the walls to create the front side channels. The soundbar also has two upward-firing speakers built into the top that bounce sounds off the ceiling to create the front overhead channels.
The wireless rear speakers have drivers for the rear surround channels, and upward-firing drivers built into the top of the cabinets for the rear overhead channels. New this year are angled side-firing drivers to bounce sounds off the walls and create the rear side channels, which link up with the front side channels to produce more accurate steering and placement of effects, and thus greater immersion.
Finally, there’s the wireless subwoofer that handles all the bass and the low-frequency effects (LFE) channel. As a result, the 11.1.4-channel system is composed of 16 speakers, including the subwoofer, which are made up of 22 drivers, each with their own amplification up to a total power of 616W.
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; and Adaptive Sound, which analyses the signal and automatically optimises the audio using real-time processing.
The 11.1.4-channel system supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and new this year is an Auto EQ feature
The HW-Q950A supports Samsung’s Q Symphony feature, which integrates supporting soundbars with compatible 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.
There's also support for Samsung's Tap Sound feature, while the SmartThings app and Amazon Alexa allow for streaming from a number of services including Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify, Deezer, TuneIn and Samsung Music. There's also support for Hi-Res Audio up to 24-bit/192kHz, along with AAC, MP3, WAV, OGG, FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, and LPCM file formats.
More: Audio Formats
The HW-Q950A comes with Amazon Alexa built-in, making this soundbar a fully-functioning smart assistant. It’s easy to set up using the SmartThings or Alexa app, and allows you 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.
The big new feature this year is SpaceFit Sound+, which offers two methods of setting up the soundbar. The first uses the microphone and processing in a compatible Samsung TV to run an auto EQ setup with internally generated test tones. The second is run via the SmartThings app, and applies auto EQ by using a microphone in the subwoofer and internal test tones to measure the room acoustics and adjust the setup of the HW-Q950A.
Set Up and Operation
The Samsung HW-Q950A is easy to set up: you simply place the soundbar beneath your TV (ensuring that nothing is blocking any of the drivers) and then position the subwoofer towards the front of the room and the surround speakers at the rear. They should mirror the soundstage at the front, and have enough space for the upward-firing drivers to hit the ceiling and bounce down to create the rear overhead channels.
The upward-firing drivers on the soundbar should hit the ceiling towards the front third of the room, creating the front overhead channels. The upward-firing drivers require a low, flat and reflective ceiling to work best, and the side-firing drivers are designed to bounce off the side walls, creating the effect that there are side surround speakers. For the best results you ideally need walls on either side that can reflect the corner speakers, creating the front and rear side channels.
There still aren't discrete controls for each channel, but at least there's now an auto EQ feature
The wireless speakers and subwoofer should pair automatically with the soundbar, creating the full 11.1.4-channel system. The rear speakers are marked left and right, and don't forget that like the soundbar and subwoofer, you'll need to plug them in. For the best results, ensure the soundbar is placed symmetrically in the room, and that the rear speakers are equidistant from the main listening position. This is important because the level control for all the speakers affects each pair simultaneously, so you can't change one channel individually to allow for asymmetric distances.
Setting the levels manually not only requires a test tone source and SPL meter, but also the remote control, which means getting up to check the level settings because you can't see the display when sat down. It would be great if Samsung offered level controls for each speaker individually, and included them in the SmartThings app.
However, the auto EQ feature is a great addition this year and very easy to use. Once you've installed the soundbar, subwoofer and rear speakers, all you need to do is activate the auto EQ tuning in the SmartThings app. There's a microphone in the subwoofer, which the HW-Q950A uses to measure internally generated test tones to map the acoustic properties of the room.
The process takes about a minute and the emphasis appears to be the lower end of the spectrum based on the frequency of the tones and the location of the microphone. We didn't experience any issues, and you can turn the auto EQ on and off using the SmartThings app, with the bass definitely feeling tighter and better integrated with the auto EQ on.
The new auto EQ feature is quick and effective, resulting in tighter and better integrated bass
If you're using HDMI ARC or eARC, the set up is quick and easy, with ARC allowing lossy Dolby Atmos to be sent back from the TV's internal apps, while eARC will also allow lossless Atmos and DTS:X to be sent back via the HDMI connection. If your TV doesn't support ARC/eARC, you'll need to use the optical digital input, but won't be able to benefit from lossless audio. Assuming your TV supports eARC, you have the option of connecting up to three devices to your TV and another two directly to the HW-Q950A, but if your TV is limited to ARC you'll need to connect any lossless sources directly to the soundbar.
For testing, we used a Panasonic DP-UB820 4K Blu-ray player (for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X), and a Manhattan T3-R Freeview set-top box connected to an LG 77C9 4K OLED TV. We also tested the Atmos provided by the C9’s built-in Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, and Apple TV+ apps. To create a Bluetooth connection, we simply paired the soundbar to an Apple iPhone X, plus we connected the HW-Q950A to our Wi-Fi network using the SmartThings app.
The Samsung HW-Q950A immediately impresses with an incredibly immersive soundstage. I always test any Dolby Atmos system with the Amaze trailer from my Atmos demo disc, and this soundbar didn't disappoint. Insects buzz around your head, birds flutter across the room, thunder rolls overhead and torrential rain soaks you. It's a genuinely impressive performance that completely surrounds you in a believable hemisphere of sound.
The HW-Q950A continued to impress as I ran through my usual selection of Atmos and DTS:X demo scenes. A rainstorm sounded like a rainstorm, with thunder rolling overhead and a torrential downpour falling all around you and hitting a tin roof above. A helicopter test was also impressive, with the helicopter flying around overhead, moving seamlessly from channel to channel with smooth steering, while a 747 take-off rattled the sub as the sound of the plane roared overhead. The wireless connections were also robust, with no loss of connection or drop-outs.
Using 9.1.6-channel test tones, I checked that sounds were emanating from the correct location. The front three channels were present and correct, while the widths on either side created a more expansive front soundstage. The front and rear side surrounds share the same side channel signal and sounded as though they actually were on either side of me, and the rear surrounds were obviously coming from behind where the speakers are located. The front overhead channels were above and in the front, while the rear overheads were above and behind, with the middle overhead channels shared evenly between the front and rears.
Moving on to actual movie soundtracks, the 4K Blu-ray of Chaos Walking boasts an especially active Dolby Atmos mix. The film's premise involves mens' thoughts actually being heard out loud, and these are frequently mixed into the overhead channels. The Samsung does a wonderful job of rendering this highly spatial mix, with voices floating in mid-air, and the sounds of the forest-covered planet surrounding you with remarkable precision. The normal dialogue (as opposed to thoughts) is clear and focused thanks to the dedicated centre speaker, and the sub delivers some excellent deep bass to underpin the action scenes.
Delivers an astonishingly immersive object-based audio experience that gives separates systems a run for their money
Moving on to DTS:X, and the masterclass that is Jurassic Park reveals the HW-Q950A's ability to deliver a visceral, immersive experience. The T-Rex attack sounds fantastic, from the falling rain and thunder overhead, to the ominous bass thud of the dino's footsteps. When it finally appears, the roar is terrifying, and this soundbar system energises the room with surround effects, while ensuring they don't become a muddled mess. This is one of the best mixes ever, and the Samsung does it proud, proving this soundbar is able to compete with more expensive AV systems. So if you want the convenience of a soundbar, at least you don't have to compromise on sound quality.
The HDMI-eARC connection worked flawlessly, allowing us to send lossless Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio back via devices connected directly to the TV. However, we could also send Dolby Atmos soundtracks back to the soundbar from the TV's built-in apps. The HW-Q950A had no problems with the Atmos soundtracks on the C9's Netflix, Disney+ and Apple TV+ apps, resulting in some wonderfully immersive sonic experiences from shows like Shadow and Bone, For All Mankind and Loki.
The soundbar was equally adept when it came to handling music, and watching movies like The Greatest Showman and La La Land revealed a pleasing level of clarity and detail. The vocals and instruments are clearly defined, while the sub crosses over effectively, giving the drums a driving percussive beat. The opening bass notes of The Greatest Showman were particularly impressive and the subwoofer is definitely less over-powering and better integrated when compared to previous generations of Samsung soundbars.
The HW-Q950A also produced an excellent 5.1, 7.1 and 2.1-channel performance, retaining precise stereo imaging with the latter and a responsive low-end overall. As a result, this soundbar makes a great all-rounder, delivering as equally an impressive performance with TV shows and music as it does with immersive audio soundtracks. The Standard sound mode proved best for listening to music, as it retains the original stereo 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.
- Incredibly immersive soundstage
- 11.1.4-channel speaker layout
- Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding
- Dolby Vision and HDR10+ passthrough
- eARC support
- Auto EQ feature
- Amazon Alexa built-in
- Sleek and attractive design
- Excellent build quality
- Can't see display when sat down
- SmartThings app can't access full setup menu
- It's not cheap
Samsung HW-Q950A Soundbar Review
Should I buy one?
The Samsung HW-Q950A ranks as the most immersive soundbar released to date, with an 11.1.4-channel system that allows it to take full advantage of object-based audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. The result is an impressive performance that completely surrounds you in a three dimensional sonic sphere. Best of all, this immersion is achieved without having to run cables everywhere.
The newly included rear side channels integrate with the front side channels to ensure smooth steering of effects around the room. The front soundstage is wide and expansive, the upward-firing drivers create plenty of overhead effects at the front and rear, and the subwoofer generates a solid foundation of bass. The result is an immersive, balanced and tonally cohesive sound field, with precise placement of effects.
The wireless connection is robust, and set up is relatively straight forward. The inclusion of an auto EQ feature is welcome and effective, but individual adjustment of the channel levels would be useful, as would their inclusion in the SmartThings app. Connection is easy, whether it's HDMI ARC/eARC, Wi-Fi, AirPlay, or Bluetooth, and setting up the built-in Amazon Alexa is also straight forward.
The HW-Q950A boasts a host of useful features that includes Samsung's proprietary Q Symphony and Tap Sound technologies, and support for Hi-Res Audio. There's no Google Chromecast, but otherwise this soundbar is hard to fault. Some more HDMI inputs would be nice, but the inclusion of eARC helps, and Samsung soundbars are among the few to pass both Dolby Vision and HDR10+ correctly.
The Samsung HW-Q950A certainly isn't cheap, but it's one of few soundbars that can seriously be considered an alternative to a proper AV receiver and speaker setup. It's an amazing performer with TV, movies and music, and the only soundbar to deliver a genuine 11.1.4-channel experience. It also manages to tick all the other important boxes, thus setting the standard by which other soundbars will be measured.
What are my alternatives?
If you want to replicate the HW-Q950A's 11.1.4-channel soundstage, then you're going to have to go the AV receiver and speaker package route. This approach will probably sound even better, but it will also be expensive and considerably more intrusive. If you prefer the simplicity and discretion of a soundbar system but still want to enjoy a genuinely immersive object-based audio experience, you could consider any of the following choices.
If you're on a tight budget, you could consider the JBL BAR 9.1 (£899) with its detachable wireless rear speakers. This eye-catching soundbar includes a wireless subwoofer, eARC, auto setup, and support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. There's no HDR10+ passthrough, only one HDMI input, no remote app, and the front soundstage is a little narrow, but, overall, the JBL is an excellent performer and great value for money.
Alternatively, you could consider the outgoing Samsung HW-Q950T which can now be picked up for £999. This soundbar is essentially the same, but has a 9.1.4-channel layout, doesn't support AirPlay, and doesn't include the auto EQ feature. However, you still get a really immersive soundstage, support for Atmos and DTS:X, two HDMI inputs, and eARC. Like the Q950A, it can also pass both Dolby Vision and HDR10+, making it worth considering while stocks last.
If you're looking for an alternative from another manufacturer, the obvious alternative is the LG SP11RA, which costs £1,499 and produces a superb 7.1.4-channel soundstage with Atmos and DTS:X. The LG delivers width and immersion, and some excellent overhead effects. It does lack a bit of depth at the low-end, can't pass HDR10+, but otherwise it's a cracking soundbar with two HDMI inputs, eARC, AI room correction, Hi-Res Audio support, Chromecast and Alexa built-in.
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