There can only be one. One king, one top of the heap. In soundbar land that is the Samsung Series 9 HW-N950 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos soundbar.
The Samsung Series 9 HW-N950 is not for everyone, in fact, it is for the select few that want a full Dolby Atmos sound experience from a soundbar.
The audiophile alternative is to buy a dedicated AV receiver and twelve speakers, mount and wire them up, and fiddle to get everything just right. Mind you I was from that camp, even had dedicated wiring in the lounge – until now.
To put the Samsung Series 9 HW-N950 in perspective it is for those with $1,999 to spare and who want to get Dolby Atmos sound out of the box– no setup required. To that end, it has no peer.
But there are a few caveats that you need to be aware of – otherwise, spend half that and get a decent 5.1 system– the JBLBar 5.1 that for $999 is my pick for 2018.
Review: Samsung Series 9 HW-N950 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos soundbar
Let’s start with a Dolby Atmos primer
Dolby Atmos means up to 128 separate sound elements can move all around you – it is 3D sound so it can come from above, behind, beside and in front of you.
It can come from 5.1.2 – Front–left/centre/right, rear–left/right and a sub-woofer or 7.1.4 which adds side-left/right. The 2 or 4 at the end is for the number of up-firing speakers. With 2 it is from the front left/right, and 4 adds the rear left/right as well. In fact, there are now 9.1.2 setups, but that is over the top.
Dolby Atmos in encoded into many 4K Blu-ray disks or Netflix streams. When you play standard 2, 2.1, 3.1, 5.1 and 7.1 content, the soundbar sends the dedicated signals to the correct speakers and either
A lot of non-audiophile Dolby Atmos owners feel cheated because their rear-left/right or front/rear-up-firing speakers often don’t make any sound playing standard content. There is a huge argument both for and against that stereo sound should be virtualised to all speakers. Audiophiles shudder when you mention that over original sound integrity.
The HW-N950 uses actual speakers rather than virtual processing or psychoacoustic trickery to deliver the experience.
Caveat one. No soundbar worth its audiophile heritage will simulate sound.
Dolby Atmos also requires correct speaker placement. In a dedicated setup that means eight speakers set up as per the diagram below. Do you know how hard that is especially if the couch is against a wall?
Samsung has addressed this all in one soundbar, one sub-woofer and two rear wireless speakers. There are some very acceptable compromises to get decent sound from its 18 speakers in four enclosures.
The front soundbar has 14 speakers.
- Left/centre/right front-firing (each with two mid-range and one tweeter for a total of nine)
- Left and right side-firing to help create the side-left/
rightchannels. These rely on bounce from sidewalls to get that effect
- Left and right up-firing Dolby Atmos speakers
The rear wireless speakers have a front-firing, full-range speaker and an up-firing speaker (for a total of four). The sub-woofer has a side-firing 8” cone and a bass port.