Samsung HW-Q990B Soundbar Review
- Exceptionally powerful sound
- Peerless real channel count
- Both Dolby Vision and HDR10+ pass through
- Appealing metallic design
- Creates a remarkably complete Dolby Atmos experience
The not so good
- Stereo music playback is average
- It’s expensive by soundbar standards
- No 4K/120Hz or VRR pass through support
What is the Samsung HW-Q990B?
The Samsung HW-Q990B is a flagship soundbar that ships with an included subwoofer and rear speakers to deliver ‘extreme’ (by soundbar standards) Dolby Atmos and DTS:X playback through a remarkable 16 channels of sound. This channel count includes four up-firers to deliver overhead sound effects.
The Q990B is smart enough to be compatible with multiple voice recognition systems, and support wireless content playback via either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth - including Apple Airplay 2 and Samsung’s ‘Tap View’ system, where the soundbar can establish a connection with compatible Samsung phones simply by tapping the phone against the soundbar’s bodywork.
The soundbar can be combined with Samsung TV speaker systems via Q Symphony technology for an even more precise sound stage, and features an unusually clever processing system that can upconvert stereo or Pro-Logic sound so that it takes advantage of the Q990B’s full channel count.
On paper, this just about gives the Q990B enough ammunition to justify its £1,599 price tag - but do all the fine specs translate into a flagship performance?
Design, Connections and Control
Surprisingly, all of the physical components of the Samsung HW-Q990B package represent a clear design departure from Samsung’s previous couple of flagship soundbar generations. For starters, the felt cover previously used on the main soundbar and rear speakers is replaced by a grilled metallic finish. Personally I prefer the new look to the old - especially as the previous felt look used to be a magnet for hard-to-remove dust.
Another very welcome design sees a small LED appearing on the Q990B’s front edge, providing indications of the input you’ve selected, volume levels, selected sound mode and so on. For the past couple of generations Samsung had unhelpfully moved this LED to the soundbars’ top edge, where you couldn’t see it while sitting on your sofa. So it’s great to see it back where it belongs.
Aside from its new metallic finish, the main soundbar in the Q990B package is the same size (1232(W) x 69.5(H) x 138(D)mm) and distinctive shape, complete with angled front left and right corners, as its predecessor. This is not the case with the subwoofer and rears, however.
The subwoofer enjoys a chunkier (220(W) x 413(H) x 410(D)mm) shape that instantly raises hopes of even heftier bass than its already rumble-loving predecessors have delivered. It also features a new ‘Acoustic Lens’ feature that finds the 8-inch bass driver set within a new outer recessed circle cut into the subwoofer’s bodywork, and hidden by a cover that stands proud of the driver rather than tucking right down on top of it. We’ll talk about the reason for this redesign more in the Features section.
now the LED has been put back on the front edge where it belongs
As for the rears, they actually look a little smaller than their predecessors at 129.5(W) x 201.3(H) x 140.4(D)mm, but tellingly they stand on short ‘feet’ this year rather than the main speaker sitting directly on your bookshelf or sideboard. The top edge angles down at the front this year, too.
The Q990B features some control buttons on its top edge, though most people will interface with it using either the provided remote control or Samsung’s Smart Things app. Both work decently well - though the new remote control design, with its flatter, thinner shape and much flusher buttons, isn’t quite as easy to use as its chunkier, more angular predecessor.
Connections are tucked rather awkwardly in a recess on the Q990B’s bottom edge and comprise two HDMI inputs, one HDMI output (with eARC), and an optical digital audio input. The HDMIs support eARC functionality, as well as all of the main HDR 10, HLG, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision active HDR formats (yes, a Samsung product actually handles Dolby Vision!).
The HDMIs do NOT, however, support pass through of the latest 4K/120Hz and variable refresh rate features provided by the latest gaming consoles and PCs.
These physical inputs are joined by the aforementioned Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connection options, of course. And we might as well add here that this year, for the first time with a Samsung soundbar, it’s now possible to send Dolby Atmos in its Dolby Digital Plus ‘container’ to the Q990B wirelessly.
Features and Specifications
The Samsung HW-Q990B boasts a phenomenal 11.1.4 channel count. And to be clear, these are real channels, created from a 22-strong speaker count. The main soundbar manages to fit in front left, right, and centre channels, two up-firing channels, two side firing channels, and two angled front side channels. The rears, just as remarkably, fit in three channels each: an upfirer, a rear side channel, and the standard rear channel.
Inevitably, a number of these channels depend on being able to bounce their sound off your walls and ceilings, so bear this in mind if you’re looking for a soundbar to go into a room with vaulted ceilings or a particularly asymmetrical shape.
... Sound Fit automatically reruns itself every day to make sure sound always hits your ears right
The only speaker in the Q990B system that sticks to one job is that meaty ‘.1’ of a subwoofer, with its fancy new Acoustic Lens. The idea behind this is that it helps the subwoofer disperse its sound more uniformly, hopefully resulting in more bass clarity and precision.
It’s worth dwelling on the new design of the rear speakers, too, since the new foot they sit on should help reduce ‘colouration’ from whatever surface they’re sitting on, while the new angled top edge raises hopes of more accurately steered overhead effects from the rears’ up-firing drivers.
Impressive though the Q990B’s 11.1.4-channel configuration is by soundbar standards, it’s actually ‘only’ the same number of channels provided by last year’s Q950A. This is a surprise, as Samsung has grabbed headlines very nicely in recent years by repeatedly adding an extra channel or two to its flagship offerings. This means, of course, that while no 16-channel soundbar could ever not seem exciting, the Q990B will have to turn to other features to explain what Samsung’s soundbar design team has been up to over the past 12 months.
The HDMIs do NOT, however, support pass through of the latest 4K/120Hz and variable refresh rate features
Some of what it’s been up to we’ve already touched on with the new sub and rear designs, and wireless Dolby Atmos support. Also well worth mentioning, though, is enhanced support via Samsung’s Q Symphony system with compatible Samsung 2022 TVs that actually DOES increase the channel count. In fact, Samsung reckons that the combined forces of a Q990B and a premium, Dolby Atmos-supporting 2022 Samsung TV, such as a QN900B, could now result in no less than 22 channels of cinematic sound.
Another key step forward for Samsung soundbars is the degree of calibration the Q990B supports. Samsung has finally seen fit to allow a built-in mic to work together with Samsung’s Space Fit calibration system so that the soundbar can optimise its sound to your room conditions automatically, rather than you having to do it manually ‘by ear’. What’s more, Sound Fit automatically reruns itself every day to make sure sound always hits your ears right.
There’s a separate Auto EQ calibration tool, too, that helps the bass stay in balance and timing with the rest of the sound mix.
While the Q990B is built for Dolby Atmos, it also supports a good selection of music file formats, including AAC, WAV, MP3, FLAC, AIFF, OGG and ALAC. It’s also got a few useful audio presets you can apply to non-object based sound sources, including Surround and Adaptive modes that essentially remix limited-channel sources to take advantage of the system’s full speaker count.
More: Audio Formats
Set-up and Operation
The Samsung HW-Q990B is about as easy to set up as a multi-unit soundbar could ever be. We found that once each component was plugged in and the system was first turned on, each speaker pretty much instantly connected with the others, with no manual input required.
Squeezing your HDMIs into the little recessed area on the soundbar’s underside is a bit fiddly, but each HDMI port is clearly labelled, at least.
Getting the soundbar on your Wi-Fi network is pretty straightforward if you install the Samsung Smart Things app on your phone, and connecting devices via Bluetooth is simple. Especially if you have a recent Samsung phone that can take advantage of the supported ‘Tap’ technology.
The Samsung HW-Q990B is about as easy to set up as a multi-unit soundbar could ever be
The Space Fit and Auto EQ features, meanwhile, make getting a good, balanced sound from the system far easier than it has been with previous generations, where you’d have to resort to adjusting the balances between each channel manually.
Aside from the slightly too flush buttons on the remote, the Q990B is easy to control regardless of whether you predominantly use your phone app or the remote control. Especially now the LED has been put back on the front edge where it belongs.
While the various improvements Samsung has made to the HW-Q990B’s sound might not be as instantly eye-catching or headline-grabbing on paper as its previous trick of always adding more channels of sound every year, their impact on sound quality is arguably stronger. Which is saying something given that its Q950A predecessor was already arguably the most all-round powerful and immersive soundbar in town.
It’s this power that still first blows you away as you blast through a few 4K Blu-rays. The soundstage explodes out of the gate from every speaker, filling even large rooms with a massive hemisphere of sound that’s almost impossible to reconcile with the relatively diminutive (in all but the subwoofer’s case) speakers producing it.
... an out-of-the-box revelation
There’s nothing loose or woolly about this huge soundstage, either. Thanks to the large number of real (rather than virtual) channels the system supports, and the impressive amounts of power and focus each channel has at its disposal, the soundstage is as detailed and accurately proportioned as it is large. Specific location effects typically appear exactly where they’re supposed to be, even if that’s right behind you, in front of you, or travelling down the side of you.
In fact, the combination of the tweaked rear speaker design and Samsung’s built-in auto calibration tools help the Q990B deliver an even more complete and convincing full Dolby Atmos sound stage than its predecessor. Sound transitions appear smoother and more convincing no matter what direction they’re moving in or which channels they take advantage of, and the way the auto cal system brings the rears, heights and sides into play with no manual intervention required and no ‘misweighting’ of any channel is an out-of-the-box revelation.
There’s real impact and bite to the Q990B’s sound too, enabling it to hit hard for movie staples such as gunfire, punches and explosions. There’s no hint of the wishy washiness or even ‘drop back’ you sometimes hear with these hard and fast sounds with many rival soundbars.
Dialogue, meanwhile, is both clean and clear no matter how much of an audio maelstrom there is around it, yet at the same time voices never sound so pronounced that they become decontextualised or detached from the rest of a mix.
... the combined forces of a Q990B and a premium, Dolby Atmos-supporting 2022 Samsung TV, such as a QN900B, could now result in no less than 22 channels of cinematic sound
The Q990B lifts vocals vertically in the sound stage a touch, too, so that they appear to be coming from the screen you’re watching rather than from the soundbar below it. We did nudge the centre speaker up manually one notch despite the otherwise excellent efforts of the auto calibration features, but with that done the Q990B becomes one of the best handlers of dialogue in the soundbar world.
Note that dialogue sounds even better placed if you’re able to use Samsung’s Q Symphony feature to combine the soundbar’s speakers with those of a compatible Samsung TV.
The newly designed subwoofer plays a big part in the massive impact and scale of the Q990B’s sound, too. Samsung soundbar subwoofers generally get deeper than most, but the new design seems to take things even deeper while simultaneously making even the deepest rumbles sound more rounded and smooth, with less ‘bottoming out’ and more nimbleness thrown in for good measure. This helps the bass feel more natural, better integrated (as it’s less likely to sound abrasive or ill timed) and better blended with the also hugely impressive bass extension of the main soundbar.
One final key talent to mention about the Q990B is how seamless its Dolby Atmos soundstage is. The increased balance and precision of the sound stage together with all those real channels means that you feel completely surrounded by a bubble of sound in just the way you want to be to get a great Dolby Atmos effect. There’s no sense of any gaps or weak points in the three-dimensional sound space.
There is simply no other soundbar out there that achieves this sense of immersion so fully and so powerfully.
... bass sometimes draws too much attention to itself
As usual with Samsung soundbars, the Q990B isn’t on quite such premium ground with its music performance. While stereo tracks are staged reasonably well (using the Standard sound preset, which leaves stereo sources unprocessed) in the sense that they enjoy good stereo separation, can go very loud, enjoy quite nicely positioned vocals, and can sound detailed without becoming harsh with relatively spartan tracks, the sound tends to become soupy and over-loaded with dense tracks, while bass sometimes draws too much attention to itself.
The Q990B does, however, do a much better job than any previous Samsung soundbar of repurposing stereo music to take advantage of its many available channels. The Adaptive mode, in particular, remixes stereo into a multi-channel mix almost uncannily intelligently for the most part. So much so that at times you can’t imagine an actual studio engineer coming up with much better results.
Spreading music around the channels helps avoid the over-dense feel experienced with some tracks in simple stereo mode, and vocals are typically presented on a much higher (vertically) plane than they are in stereo mode, often actually seeming to come from somewhere above your head.
This will all sound horrifying to Hi-Fi purists, of course. But the Adaptive mode is weirdly effective if you’re willing to leave your preconceptions at the door.
Certainly, the new Adaptive mode makes the Q990B easily the best Samsung soundbar for music we’ve heard so far. Though it would be lovely if it could make its core stereo performance more convincing in the future - so long, of course, as that doesn’t compromise its outstanding film performance.
Samsung HW-Q990B Soundbar Review
Should you buy one?
If you’re serious about Dolby Atmos but can’t take on the expense or clutter of a huge separates system, there’s no other soundbar out there today that delivers a more convincing, immersive and powerful Atmos soundstage than the Q990B.
We never once managed to trip it up into distorting or losing cohesion, no matter how loud we ran it or how extreme a sound mix we fed it. Its dynamic range is immense, and the scale of the sound it produces is vast.
... there’s no other soundbar out there today that delivers a more convincing, immersive and powerful Atmos soundstage than the Q990B
Nothing ever feels lost, imbalanced or out of place in the Q990B’s epic hemisphere of sound either, especially with Samsung’s new auto-cal features on hand to keep things honest and balanced.
While it’s fantastic to see Samsung losing its Dolby Vision blindspot for the Q990B’s HDR support, it’s a shame the soundbar doesn’t also support the latest 4K/120Hz and VRR gaming features with its HDMI loopthrough. Also, while its latest multichannel remix processing makes it the most musically successful Samsung soundbar to date, its stereo playback still needs work.
As a movie soundbar, though, the Q990B is in enough of a class of its own to actually justify its £1,599 price tag pretty comfortably.
What are my alternatives?
Sony’s HT-A7000 is an interesting rival for the Q990B. Its key trick is that it manages to get startling amounts of power for both movies and music out of a single soundbar, while delivering a convincing 7.1.2 channels of Dolby Atmos/DTS:X sound. Its HDMIs are the first we’ve seen on a soundbar to support 4K/120 pass through, too (though there’s no support for variable refresh rates).
The downside of the A7000 is that it doesn’t really deliver any rear channel sound at all, and while bass is impressive for a single-bar solution, it doesn’t reach as deep as soundbars that ship with external subwoofers.
You can add (impressive) rear and subwoofer speakers to the A7000 if you wish, though these are expensive enough to take the A7000 way beyond the Samsung’s all-in price of £1,599.
You may also want to keep an eye on LG’s imminent S95QR, which will provide a 9.1.5-channel system including an innovative new up-firing dialogue speaker. We should be reviewing this one soon.
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