In the last couple of years Samsung has taken to building valves – aka vacuum tubes – into some of its higher end lines of audio gear. The HW-F751 ‘Crystal Surround Air Track’ is the company’s top of the line surround bar and subwoofer combo, so it indeed incorporates a pair of values.
The valves are not for final amplification, but are in the pre-amplification stage. We’re not sure that there is any major way that they could improve the sound, but they sure look nice, glowing orange right in the centre of the soundbar.
Incidentally, the ‘Crystal’ in the title refers to Samsung’s use of a separate in-house technology, ‘Crystal Amplifier Pro’.
The bar is 943mm long and is a good match for many a panel TV, not least Samsung’s own models which can connect to it wirelessly using the company’s SoundShare protocol, which piggybacks on Bluetooth. The unit also supports Bluetooth, of course.
It is finished in a finely perforated aluminium shell which is very classy indeed, especially with those valves and a small set of touch controls at the centre.
You can orientate the unit so that the wider (120mm vs 57mm) face is vertical or horizontal. The former is how it will go if you wall-mount it. An orientation sensors makes major changes automatically depending on which face is vertical.
The display – which is hidden behind the aluminium – switches to the appropriate face so see its pale blue dot matrix pattern coming through the visible perforations. In addition, there are two sets of speakers, one on each face. The amplifier output switches to whichever ones are pointing forwards.
At any one time, there are six drivers in use in the soundbar (the other six are dormant unless you change its orientation). All are 90mm by 38mm units. There are three each at the left and right hand ends of the bar.
In the centre at the back is a HDMI input, optical and 3.5mm analogue audio. There’s also a HDMI output.
The unit doesn’t offer an OSD: the output is provided to pass on the source’s video to your TV. The sound bar itself deals with the sound.
There’s also a wireless subwoofer. This is has no controls except for a trigger for the pairing function, nor any connections. It has its 165mm driver and a bass reflex port at what is clearly intended to be the rear, so it needs to be out a little from a wall or a corner so that it can operate freely.
While the wall mounting bracket is provided, the unit also works on a bench top, which is where we installed it. The subwoofer was relegated to the corner of the room where subwoofers work best.
Perhaps a little unusually, the wireless subwoofer and the soundbar were not pre-paired out of the box. However the pairing procedures was set out clearly in the manual and worked first go.
The next step was calibration, which simply involved placing the microphone at the listening position, inserting its plug into the socket on the back of the unit and waiting for a couple of minutes while it ran through a suite of test tones to optimise performance.
There were two problems with this. First, the plug was stiff. I had to put the unit down flat and apply a lot of pressure to get it in. Second, the insertion starts the process with only a few seconds of delay. If you have it wall mounted you’re going to have to pull it off its rack, then make sure you can plug in the microphone, get the unit back in place, and move your body out of the way very swiftly indeed. A manual start up would be more useful.
After that, almost everything worked smoothly. The sound was really quite well balanced in stereo mode, reasonably clean at decently loud levels and pleasant to listen to. There was reasonable stereo imaging and a slight sense of the sound stage extending wider than the bar itself.
The bass in particular was strong and quite well extended, down at least to 40 hertz. Initially it was perhaps a few decibels too strong, but a separate control on the remote allowed me to tame that very quickly.
With the surround modes going, the sound was quite inconsistent and depended very much on the ‘virtual’ speaker from which it was appearing to emerge.
What was notionally centre channel sound was actually pretty good, and most movie dialogue was clear and natural. But content from the left and right channels was bass heavy and sounded strangely muffled. A test signal panning across the front of the room changed its character wildly as it moved from left to centre to right.
Surround-wise, there was some sense of disembodiment in content intended for the rear channels (when the 3D surround mode was selected).
In general, though, we preferred the better overall balance with the unit running as stereo than the modest amount of surround sound the system generated.
We had a Samsung TV to hand so we checked out the SoundShare connection. This was easy to use and sounded no different to a physical connection. Likewise music from my iPod Touch and an Android phone both connected via Bluetooth sounded good in stereo mode.
You can plug a USB device as well. This worked on MP3 and WAV and some forms of FLAC (44.1kHz, 16 bit and 96kHz, 24 bit). When it got to a 5.1 channel FLAC file, though, the music reader kept rebooting and starting again at the first track on the memory stick. It ought to be a little more robust there.
The unit does provide for firmware upgrades, so maybe Samsung will address that last point soon enough. In any case, just keep your USB music in readable formats (who, aside from reviewers, actually has 5.1 channel FLAC files anyway?) and the issue won’t arise.
One very important point to remember here is that this unit costs just $799. At that price, the performance of the Samsung HW-F751 system really is impressive, and the facilities are excellent.