Welcome to T3's Samsung HW-Q950T review. This is a big, comprehensive Dolby Atmos soundbar that aims to create the effect of an elite 9.1.4 surround setup using four wireless boxes, and it's already found a place in our list of the best soundbars.
The Dolby Atmos-’enabled’ soundbar has been around a little while now, and it takes a few different forms. There’s the regular soundbar with forward-firing speakers and some complex digital sound processing attempting to trick you into thinking sound is coming from somewhere other than the soundbar – this is the approach of the Sony HT-G700.
Then there’s the ‘multiple drivers firing in multiple directions’ arrangement, including upwards, which is becoming the norm among premium soundbars, and includes the Sonos Arc and Bang & Olufsen Beosound Stage.
And then there's this approach, where a soundbar is paired with not only a subwoofer (which is fairly standard) but also rear speakers. This is becoming more and more common as a home cinema replacement for having multiple speakers around the room, and has been a huge hit in the LG SN11RG and the Samsung HW-Q90R.
But this aims to be a level beyond even Samsung's own model we've just mentioned, so let's dig into it.
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Samsung HW-950T review: Price & features
The entire Samsung HW-Q950T is yours for £1,499/$1,399. That money buys you one big, heavy (28kg) box that the courier is going to want some help with.
Inside this significant quantity of cardboard there’s a substantial soundbar – it’s extremely nicely finished, and features a quantity of the ubiquitous Kvadrat acoustic fabric. No matter how elegantly made, though, there’s no avoiding its 123mm size, nor its 7kg bulk. Samsung includes a bracket for wall-mounting – just be sure your wall is up to it.
That kind of width means this is for 55-inch TVs at the absolute minimum – it will actually be wider than some of those, though. 58 inches and up is the sweet spot.
The Q950T intends to replicate a 9.1.4 Dolby Atmos arrangement – that’s nine surround-sound channels, a subwoofer, and four overhead channels. The soundbar is responsible for a big chunk of this, taking charge of seven of the nine surround channels as well as two of the four overhead, which explains its size.
The soundbar features drivers arranged across the front. At each end there’s a driver providing width and another delivering what Samsung describes as ‘corner’ sound. This horizontal array is designed to provide absolutely as much width to the sound as possible. On top of the soundbar there are a further couple of drivers, angled upwards in an effort to reflect sound off the ceiling and deliver the front two overhead channels of information.
Also on top of the soundbar there’s an extremely brief display, and physical controls for ‘volume up/down’, ‘mic on/off’ (the Q950T can be controlled using Amazon Alexa, as well as the tidy, comprehensive remote control) and ‘multifunction’ (which basically scrolls through the available inputs).
At the back of the soundbar there are a couple of HDMI inputs, an eARC-enabled HDMI in/out to connect to the TV, and a digital optical input. There’s also connectivity for Wi-Fi (you’ll need Samsung’s Smart Things app to get set up) and Bluetooth.
The rest of the system is a more straightforward. There are two rear speakers, tricked out with both forward- and upward-firing drivers. These are where the remaining two channels of the nine are handled, as well as the two rear overhead channels. They link wirelessly to the main soundbar and just need plugging into power. At 210x120x140mm they’re usefully compact – just remember not to block those upward-firing drivers when positioning them.
The subwoofer is a pretty big unit with a side-firing driver and a rear-venting bass port. It too is a wireless device, so only needs plugging into power to make a connection with the soundbar. It’s driven by 160 watts of Class D power, while the rest of the system divvies up 386 watts between the remaining 19 drivers. The rear speakers have 35 watts per driver, while up front the soundbar’s 15 drivers enjoy either 10 watts or 18 watts each.
You’re getting an awful lot of audio capability for your money. Lots of power, many drivers, a whole lot of wireless connectivity… and four discrete boxes. This is definitely at the more elaborate end of the market.
Samsung HW-950T review: Sound quality
You can tailor the sound of the HW-Q950T to a degree using either using the physical controls on the soundbar, the remote control or the Smart Things app. It’s possible to trim bass and treble response, plus regulate the subwoofer’s contributions.
Using the remote also enables some finessing of each ‘pair’ of channels – you can augment the level of the rear height channels, for example, the centre channel or the front width channels. It’s pretty straightforward (once you’ve waited for the information to scroll across that tiny screen on the soundbar) and, assuming you want to tweak it out of the box at all, shouldn’t take long to find a balance you’re happy with.
And the Q950T is more than capable of making you happy. Given the right stuff to work with – which is a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, ideally, obviously – it’s capable of serving up an expansive and immersive sound, loading it with plenty of detail and with enough low frequency presence to let the neighbours know you’ve spent money on a home cinema upgrade.
Tonally, the Q950T system is pretty well balanced. No amount of fiddling with EQs is going to take all of the edginess out of its treble response, admittedly, and neither can it prevent the subwoofer being rather monotonal. But the midrange – which is so, so crucial to the home cinema experience – is sweetly communicative, and there’s a stack of detail revealed throughout the frequency range (once you get up above the bottom end).
There’s plenty of broad-strokes dynamism on display, too. Shifting from ‘near-silence’ to ‘sudden and massive sonic shock’ is a cheap trick that film-makers have been indulging in for decades, but that doesn’t make it any less effective. And when the tension in your soundtrack is finally released, the Samsung breathes more than deeply enough to have you jumping out of your seat. And it’s almost as adept with smaller, harmonic dynamics, too – a quick listen to a music-heavy soundtrack is enough to confirm the Q950T as deft enough to make these variations apparent.
There’s real width to the front of the Samsung’s soundstage, a gratifying spread of sound way beyond the confines of the soundbar itself. The side-firing and ‘corner’ drivers are obviously the major contributors here, and in conjunction with the rear speakers are able to actually offer sound that genuinely surrounds. The four upward-firing drivers bring a reasonable sensation of height to the presentation too, and everything is delivered securely, with the intended origin point of sound effects easy to pinpoint.
It’s a very agreeable sensation that’s undermined only slightly by the subwoofer’s unsubtle inputs. Of course it’s possible to trim the sub’s level to make its contributions as quiet or as forthright as you want, but, of course, it’s not possible to make those low frequencies any more detailed, or any more varied in terms of texture or timbre. The Q950T subwoofer just rumbles along blithely.
Samsung HW-950T review: Design & usability
This is a thoughtfully designed and (by prevailing standards) quite a decorative product. Or, more accurately, the soundbar part of it is – all that acoustic cloth looks and feels good, and the grilles at either end of the bar are purposeful. For some reason they remind me strongly of Kylo Ren, or a Nissan Elgrand.
The rear speakers are rather more functional in appearance, and the subwoofer more functional still. Mind you, the subwoofer can at least be hidden out of sight – the rear speakers need to be out in some space, ideally behind your seated position and with line-of-sight to both your ears and the ceiling above you. So it’s a shame they’re not as tidily good-looking as the soundbar.
Set-up is straightforward, though can be time-consuming if you're looking to tailor 14 individual channels of information so they're all exactly to your preference – you don't need to do this, but it’s probably worth investing the time.
If you’re a committed Samsung-head, the Q950T is compatible with the 'Q Symphony' feature in all but the smallest of the company’s 2020 range of QLED TVs. The name may feel hyperbolic, but it’s a very effective way of bringing even greater scale and presence to what is already a pretty large-scale sound – Samsung's new TVs have speakers all around the edges and top, and these are included into the sound mix with all the other speakers.
Samsung HW-950T review: Verdict
The Samsung HW-Q905T has a huge amount to recommend it. The scale of its sound is impressive, as are its surround-sound credentials. It gives a more convincing impression of overhead sound that almost any other soundbar too, but then it comprises four boxes, so it doesn’t have that much of an excuse not to.
Those four boxes deliver a fair bit more dexterity of sound than most single soundbars are capable of, too. The lack of nuance to the lower frequencies is a shame, though, as is the latent pointy-ness at the opposite end of the frequency range. It may not be quite perfect, but the HW-Q950T is a diverting option, and an extremely effective home cinema upgrade in the most crucial ways.
Samsung HW-950T review: Also consider
The most direct competitor here is the LG SN11RG, which is similarly designed around giving excellent positional audio and a huge amount of punch. It goes for 7.1.4 channels instead of the Samsung's 9.1.4, but when the channels are mostly virtual or reflected, that's not really a big difference. Read our full LG SN11RG review for a comparison.
If you like the sound of all this but want to pay less, look to the Samsung HW-Q90R, which is kind of the previous-generation version of this soundbar system. Samsung is still making it, but has lowered the price massively, making it the best Dolby Atmos experience in its current budget range. Again, it's aiming for the effect of a 7.1.4 instead of 9.1.4, but you can live with that. Our Samsung HW-Q90R review goes into depth about why it's so good.
Another option for music lovers in particular is to build a Sonos surround system, using a Sonos Arc soundbar at the front, plus two Sonos One SLs behind, and the Sonos Sub. This would give you a 7.1.2 system – so not quite as effective at overhead effects – and would be more expensive, but for music playback, it's the best-sounding option.