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.
Setup is easiest via the Android/iOS Samsung SmartThings app. The soundbar supports 2.4 and 5GHz Wi-Fi AC networks.
Placement is critical
First, the bar needs to be in the centre under the TV and at 0° angle to the main viewing chairs/couch.
For the side firing speakers to project property there needs to be solid walls within a couple of metres – otherwise,the sound disappears into the never-never
The rear speakers must be up to two metres behind and to each side of the viewing position. Importantly these need to be at head height or more when seated. I found that the rear speakers needed to mount on something. I have yet to find the best rear speaker stand, but a ¼” 20 thread socket (standard camera tripod mount) is on each speaker back.
If you can achieve that, then you will be 100% pleased that you got a soundbar and not a dedicated AV receiver and 12 wired speakers.
Caveat two. If you can’t achieve that, then all you will get at best is a 5.1 effect, and you can spend half the price.
Content quality is critical
You are going to need a source of 4K, Dolby Vision/HDR10, Dolby Atmos content from a suitable 4K Blu-ray player (like the Samsung M850/950), Netflix and/or an IQ4 from Foxtel (very limited 4K content).
Caveat three: If you don’t invest in 4K content then this device will default to 2.1, 3.1 or possibly 5.1 and you can get away with a lower cost soundbar.
In the box
- 2 x rear speakers (Left and Right)
- 4 x power cords
- 1 x HDMI Cable
- 2 x wall mount brackets for sound bar (mount at least 5cm below the screen)
- Remote control (minimalist design)
- Soundbar is 1226 x 83 x 136mm x 8.8kg
- Wireless Sub-woofer is 203.5 x 400 x 415.5mm x 9.6kg
- Two rear wireless speakers are 120 x 210 x 141mm x 2.1kg each
It comes in a very big box so don’t try to take it home in a typical car. All up the package is 1292 x 606 x 262mm x 27.5kg.
It is no beauty – a long, black (Midnight Titan) sound bar, a bloody big black sub-woofer and black speakers but it does have a certain elegance to it. Build quality is superb.
It has a small display window on the right front that is a bit cryptic for my liking. It shows
- D.IN (SPDIF connection)
- TV ARC (sound source from the TV)
- HDM1/2 (sound and video from Blu-ray or another source)
- BT Pairing/ready
- WI-Fi (AC 2.4/5Ghz)
- HDMI 2.0 on sockets 1 and 2 for 4K, Dolby Vision
- HDMI 3 ARC (to TV)
- SPDIF optical
- USB-A (marked Service)
- Power, source and volume buttons on top and manual paring buttons underneath (if auto-pairing fails)
- It is missing a 3.5mm socket and Ethernet port
How does it sound?
First, think about the number and rating of amplifiers to drive 18 speakers. The sound bar has 10 x18W full-range amps plus 3 x 10W tweeter amps (4ohm). The sub is 162W, and the two rear speakers are 140W. Total 512W. This is at the top of the heap for soundbar power.
It is fantastic Using Dolby Atmos content. A beginner’s trick here is to turn off the Dolby Atmos processing in the Blu-ray or other source and let the soundbar do its work.
Dolby Atmos content fills the room especially in Jumanji where there the animals burst from the house! And the sub-woofer provides room-shaking bass.
100% volume peaks at around 90dB without apparent distortion. That is like a loud diesel truck at a metre or so away. The volume goes up to 100, and you will typically watch a movie at 30, so there is lots of headroom to fill a large room.
Bass starts at 32Hz (Samsung claim 34Hz-17kHz, so that is pretty accurate). Its good solid bass too right through to 500Hz when mids take over. Mids are flat (excellent)to 5kHz, and treble takes over and goes to 17kHzx as advertised. This frequency response is perfect for movies.
There is a +/- 6dB adjustment for treble, mid and bass on all speakers. I found default settings were fine for my room setup. The EQ can deliver a slightly clearer voice (increase upper-mids) otherwise leave it alone.
I would like to shoehorn it into a classic sound signature, but to a degree it defies Pidgeon holing into one of the six categories.
- Analytical: (bass/mids recessed, treble boosted)
- Balanced: (bass boosted, mids recessed, treble boosted)
- Bass: (bass boosted, mids/treble recessed)
- Warm and Sweet: (bass/mids boosted, treblerecessed)
- Mid: (bass recessed, mids boosted, treblerecessed)
- Bright Vocal: (bass recessed, mids/trebleboosted)
With Dolby Atmos, it is Warm and Sweet (a very typical Harmon Kardon signature) with a significant bass boost. However, with other content (heavy metal) you can make it really bassy or with vocal, more mid-centric.
Hi-Res audio, music, streaming and upscaling
This does not have Google Assistant nor Chromecast. While that is a little disappointing, you can easily add a Chromecast dongle to an HDMI Port and give it OK Google functionality.
There is also a Samsung Wireless Audio Skill for Alexa (not tested) that allows voice commands and approved music streaming via an Amazon Echo speaker.
You can stream (via a smartphone) Bluetooth content from your favourite content provider.
The N950 supports numerous lossy and lossless audio formats including AAC, WAV, OGG, ALAC, AIFF and FLAC, with high-resolution support up to 32-bit. Samsung has also included UHQ 32-bit upscaling for the highest quality audio playback, assuming your devices supports it.
It natively supports Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Atmos, along with DTS Digital Sound, DTS-HD Master Audio and DTS:X.
We could not test Wi-Fi streaming from a DLNA NAS, but it should be possible via the Samsung Multi-room app. That also means Spotify and other music sources should work.
GadgetGuy’s take: Samsung Series 9 WH-950N 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos soundbar
Very few shortcomings if you understand and address the caveats – this sound bar needs the right environment to thrive. If you can’t do that, then get a lower cost 5.1
At my Sexagenarian stage of life my hearing is not what it used to be – perhaps that is why I rely on frequency response metres and tone generators to confirm. What I found is that for most of my movie viewing I could hear dialogue that was missing from my previous sound bar. Clear audio and room-thumping bass is my need and this delivers.
I will give it a five-out-of-five if you address the caveats. As it stands no inbuilt Chromecast (add with a dongle), no EQ mic calibration setup (makes speaker placement easy), and a very small display (would have been great with a TV display) lose it a few minor points.