What is the Samsung HW-Q950T?
The Samsung HW-Q950T is the latest flagship Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundbar from the Korean giant, and in the face of competition from the LG SN11RG, the company has upped the ante with a 9.1.4-channel delivery.
The HW-Q950T doesn't just add side channels to the existing width channels found on last year's HW-Q90R, but also includes eARC, and support for Samsung's Q Symphony and Tap Sound features, plus there's built-in Amazon Alexa.
There's also a sleek redesigned cabinet, with a lower form factor and a more lifestyle-friendly finish. The new model costs £1,599 at the time of review (September 2020), but if it lives up to its potential it could be the bar to beat.
The Samsung HW-Q950T sports a redesigned cabinet that has a softer and more lifestyle-friendly appearance. It's less industrial-looking, with the previous metal grilles found on the HW-Q90R replaced by the now ubiquitous Kvadrat fabric (I really wish I owned shares in this company). The result is a soundbar that looks modern and minimalist, with a black finish that should be suitably discreet at the front of the room.
The new design is softer and more lifestyle-friendly, with a cabinet wrapped in the now ubiquitous Kvadrat
The Q950T has angled corners compared to the Q90R, thus accommodating the width and side-firing drivers. It also has a sleeker form factor, measuring just 69.5mm high, so the new model shouldn't block the screen if placed in front of your TV. However, there are also brackets included for those who prefer to wall mount. In terms of the other dimensions, the HW-Q950T is 1232mm wide and 138mm deep, while its weight clocks in at 7.1kg.
I like the new design, and only have two complaints – one minor and the other more annoying. First, the controls on the soundbar itself are black against a black fabric, which makes them difficult to see. However, the chances are you won't be using them, so it's not a big deal. Secondly, for some unknown reason Samsung has decided to move the display from the front of the soundbar to the top. As a result you can't see it when you're sat down, making it largely useless.
Samsung has moved the display to the top of the soundbar, making it impossible to see when sat down
The wireless active subwoofer appears similar to 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.
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, and upward-firing drivers for the rear left and right height channels. The speakers themselves each measure 120 x 210 x 141mm (WxHxD) and weigh 2.1kg.
The use of a wireless subwoofer and rear speakers makes positioning and installing them easier, with no long cable runs from the front to the side and rear of the room. However, don't forget you'll need to plug them into wall sockets because they're active with built-in amplification. There are two-pin power cables for this purpose and, in the case of the rear speakers, grooves on the underside to keep things tidy.
Connections and Control
The Samsung HW-Q950T houses its connections in a recessed area under the soundbar. 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 fact the Q950T can pass Dolby Vision and HDR10+ gives it an advantage over the LG SN11RG, which only passes Dolby Vision.
The HDMI connections can pass both Dolby Vision and HDR10+, along with eARC for lossless audio support
The number of HDMI inputs is disappointing considering the price, but you can connect up to three sources directly to your TV, and then send the audio back via ARC. The inclusion of eARC also helps mitigate the limited HDMI inputs, because if your TV is compatible, you can send lossless audio back via HDMI-ARC and thus accommodate up to five lossless sources.
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 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 setup using the SmartThings app. Unlike some of the competition, Samsung doesn’t include support for Chromecast or Apple AirPlay.
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. There are also control options using the SmartThings app, and minimal control using a TV remote via HDMI-ARC, or your voice thanks to the built-in Amazon Alexa.
The provided remote has 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.
Control options include the remote, your TV remote, the SmartThings app and even your voice via built-in Alexa
It's worth noting that some of the buttons have multiple functions. For example, holding the Woofer button up for five seconds disables the ability to control the soundbar using your Samsung TV. You can use the left and right buttons to skip music files forwards or backwards, and if you hold the right button down for five seconds you can turn Anynet+ on or off. Doing the same with the left button turns auto power link on and off, while holding the up button for five seconds completes Id Set when connecting with an accessory item. Finally, holding down the sound control button for five seconds brings a choice of frequency bands, while doing the same when the soundbar is off will reinitialise it.
Features and Specs
To achieve this there are three forward-firing speakers for the front left, right and centre channels. There are also side-firing speakers for the front width channels, and angled corner speakers that bounce sounds off the walls to create the side surround 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 9.1.4-channel layout uses 14 speakers and a sub, with a total of 20 drivers and 546W of amplification
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. Finally, there’s the wireless subwoofer that handles all the bass and low-frequency effects channel. That’s 14 speakers including the sub, composed of 20 drivers overall, and driven by a total of 546W.
The various drivers were engineered by Samsung’s Audio Lab in California, and include a number of upgrades. The upward-firing speakers use a de-correlation virtualiser algorithm added on top of the waveguide to widen the overhead soundstage and maximise the effect. The addition of the corner-firing speakers use waveguides to bounce sound effects off the side walls, strengthening the surround effect and helping to envelop the listener. Finally, the front three channels each use dual woofers and a wide-range tweeter to create an expansive and solid front soundstage.
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 HW-Q950T supports Samsung’s Q Symphony feature, which integrates the latest soundbars with its compatible 2020 TVs. This allows 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. Although the Q950T wasn’t tested with a compatible Samsung TV, this feature has certainly impressed in demos that I've heard to date.
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. This SmartThings app also makes setup easier, and allows users to link directly to their Spotify, Deezer or TuneIn accounts. The Q950T supports Hi-Res Audio up to 24-bit/192kHz, along with the AAC, MP3, WAV, OGG, FLAC, ALAC, and AIFF file formats.
More: Audio Formats
There's a host of features including Q Symphony, Tap Sound, Hi-Res Audio and built-in Amazon Alexa
If you use a Samsung mobile device with Android 8.1 or later, there’s also the new Tap Sound feature. If you activate this in the SmartThings settings, you can switch playback of music from your mobile device to the soundbar by simply tapping it against the HW-Q950T’s cabinet. A pop-up image will appear on the device’s unlocked screen, and you simply press ‘start now’ – couldn’t be easier.
The Q950T comes with Amazon Alexa built-in, making this soundbar a fully-functioning smart assistant. It’s easy to setup 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.
Setup and Operation
The Samsung HW-Q950T 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 side surround channels.
It would be great if you could individually adjust the level of each channel, and auto room correction would be useful
The wireless speakers and subwoofer should pair automatically with the soundbar, creating the full 9.1.4-channel system. All you need to do then is get hold of a Dolby 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 smart device) to set the levels for the centre, width, side, front top, rear, rear top and subwoofer channels. Unfortunately, due to the display now being on the top of the soundbar this is harder than it needs to be, because you can't see the display when sat down at the sweet spot taking SPL measurements.
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 unfortunately the level control for all the speakers affects each pair simultaneously, so you can't change one channel individually to allow for asymmetric distances. But if you take the time to position everything carefully, and set the channel levels correctly, the result is a cohesive soundstage with well-integrated bass.
I would like to see Samsung offer level controls for each speaker individually, which would make setting up the HW-Q950T in asymmetric rooms easier. I’d also like to see Samsung add internal test tones, or even better an automated room correction feature (as LG has done this year) to make setup easier. After all most people don’t have access to Dolby Atmos and DTS:X test discs, nor do they know how to use an SPL meter.
The SmartThings app is a useful control alternative, and it makes connecting the Q950T to your wireless network easy. 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 Q950T' on the source device. However, it would be great if you could also access the soundbar’s setup menus using the app, because then you wouldn’t need to look at the display, making its new location moot.
The SmartThings app is good but it would be better if it provided access to the soundbar's set-up menus
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/eARC is setup correctly. Operating the HW-Q950T is a cinch, you can either use the provided controller, your TV remote, or even the SmartThings app. This allows you to play audio through another Samsung device using Group Play, and not only gives you control over the soundbar, but also a range of other smart home appliances. Thanks to built-in Amazon Alexa, you can even use your voice to control the soundbar, simply use phrases like "Alexa, volume up”.
For testing, I 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 my LG 77C9 4K OLED TV. I also tested the Atmos provided by the C9’s built-in Netflix, Amazon and Apple TV+ apps. To create a Bluetooth connection, I simply selected the BT function and then paired the soundbar to my Apple iPhone X. This allowed me to test the soundbar's capabilities with streamed music over Bluetooth, and I also streamed content using the SmartThings app.
The Samsung HW-Q950T impressed from the very start, but before I settled down for some critical listening I popped my trusty Dolby Atmos demo disc into the Blu-ray player. I was curious to see how effective the various channels actually were when it came to test tones.
As I ran through the 9.1.6-channel test tones on the disc, I was delighted to hear the sounds emanating from where I expected them. The front three channels were present and correct, while the widths on either side created a more expansive front soundstage. The side surrounds sounded as though they actually were on either side of me, and the rear surrounds were obviously coming from behind where the speakers were located. The front overhead channels were above and in the front, while the rear overheads were above and behind. I noticed that the processor spreads the middle overhead channels evenly between the front and rears, which seems sensible.
There are a number of demo scenes on the disc, and running through them the HW-Q950T delivered a superb performance. The rainstorm sounded like a rainstorm, with thunder rolling overhead and a torrential downpour falling all around you and hitting a tin roof above. The helicopter test was also impressive, with the helicopter flying around overhead, moving seamlessly from speaker to speaker. The Amaze trailer sounded fantastic as well, with an incredibly realistic and immersive sound field that clearly benefits from all those speakers and a powerful but well-integrated subwoofer.
I then switched to some favourite movie soundtracks, and 1917 has a superb Dolby Atmos mix that utilises plenty of highly directional sound effects. To deliver these effectively, a system needs rear speakers combined with front and back overhead channels to ensure precise positioning, while the additional width, and especially the side speakers, help fill in any acoustic gaps. The HW-Q950T did a brilliant job of steering effects around the room with precision. The sounds of No-Man’s Land surround you, bi-planes fly overhead, and there’s a genuine sense of claustrophobia inside the German underground barracks. The system also reveals some deep and tight bass, with great response as a bomb explodes.
The HW-Q950T undoubtedly delivers the most immersive soundstage I've experienced from a soundbar
The HW-Q950T doesn't just deliver an immersive experience because of its many speakers, Samsung uses the same drivers throughout the system, to ensure the tone is balanced overall. This is evident when watching Gravity, with its wonderfully immersive soundtrack. The sounds move around in a 360˚ sound field, giving the audio a three-dimensional quality. The effects not only drift around within this hemisphere of sound, but also retain a similar tonal quality that ensures the steering from one speaker to another is balanced and seamless. The effectiveness of all these channels will depend on you room to a certain degree, but there's no denying the HW-Q950T delivers the most immersive soundstage I've experience from a soundbar.
The Samsung is equally as adept when it comes to DTS:X soundtracks, and watching Bad Boys for Life is a real treat. The HW-Q950T delivers all the ballistic mayhem and over-the-top action with gusto and power, providing the gunfire and explosions with plenty of low-end impact. The side and overhead channels really give the climactic lobby shoot-out a sense of height, with layers of sound as the action moves up the encircling staircase. However, the dedicated centre channel also provides clear and focused dialogue, no matter how chaotic the action gets. I was concerned that the system might not have sufficient power to drive all these speakers, especially as its claimed amplification isn't as big as the LG SN11RG. However, there were no such issues, and the system has plenty of power that will fill even a reasonably large room.
The HDMI-eARC connection works very well, allowing you to send lossless audio back via devices connected directly to the TV. However, you can also send Dolby Atmos soundtracks back to the soundbar from the TV's built-in apps. The HW-Q950T had no problems with the Atmos soundtracks on my C9's Netflix, Disney+ and Apple TV+, resulting in some wonderfully immersive sonic experiences from shows like The Haunting of Hill House, The Mandalorian and For All Mankind.
The soundbar is equally as adept when it comes to handling music, and watching movies like The Greatest Showman and La La Land reveals 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 HW-Q950T also produced an excellent 2.1-channel performance, retaining precise stereo imaging and a responsive low-end. As a result, this soundbar makes a great all-rounder, delivering an equally impressive performance with TV shows and music, as it does with immersive audio soundtracks. I'd stick with the Standard sound mode for listening to music, as this 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
- 9.1.4-channel speaker layout
- Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding
- Dolby Vision and HDR10+ passthrough
- eARC support
- Amazon Alexa built-in
- Sleek and attractive design
- Excellent build quality
- Can't see display when sat down
- SmartThings app can't access setup menus
- No automated room correction
- It's not cheap
Samsung HW-Q950T Soundbar Review
Should I buy one?
The Samsung HW-Q950T is a fantastic soundbar that accepts the challenge of LG's SN11RG and ups the ante with an incredibly immersive 9.1.4-channel system. This allows it to take full advantage of object-based audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, resulting in an impressive performance that completely immerses you in a three dimensional sphere of sound. The use of a wireless subwoofer and rear speakers also makes for a discreet way of adding all these channels.
The newly included side surround channels really work, the front soundstage is expansive, the upward-firing drivers create plenty of overhead effects, and the subwoofer generates a solid foundation of bass. The result is a balanced and tonally cohesive sound field, with precise steering and placement of effects. The overall effectiveness will depend on your room, but if there are plenty of reflective surfaces, the Q950T is sure to please.
The wireless connection is robust, and setup is relatively straight forward; although being able to individually adjust the channel levels would be handy, accessing the set-up menus in the SmartThings app would be useful and the addition of an automated room correction feature would also be welcome. However, establishing HDMI-eARC, creating Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections and setting up the built-in Amazon Alexa are all relatively straight forward.
The HW-Q950T boasts a host of useful features that includes Samsung's proprietary Q Symphony and Tap Sound technologies, support for Hi-Res Audio, and built-in Amazon Alexa. There's no support for Apple AirPlay or Google Chromecast, but otherwise this soundbar is hard to fault. Some more HDMI inputs would be nice, although the inclusion of eARC helps mitigate that issue, and Samsung is one of the few manufacturers whose soundbars pass Dolby Vision and HDR10+.
The Samsung HW-Q950T isn't cheap, but it's a superb performer with TV, movies and music. It's also the only soundbar that can deliver a 9.1.4-channel experience, while managing 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 a full 9.1.4-channel system 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're basically limited to following three 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-Q90R which can now be picked up for £999. The Q90R uses a 7.1.4-channel layout, benefits from a wider front soundstage, sounds excellent, and like the BAR 9.1 has a wireless sub and wireless rears with upfiring drivers. It supports Atmos and DTS:X, has two HDMI inputs, and eARC. Like the Q950T it can also pass both Dolby Vision and HDR10+, making it worth considering while stocks last.
However, the obvious alternative is the LG SN11RG, 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, and it 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 Google Assistant built-in.
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