Samsung Q990C soundbar review

Samsung HW-Q990C Soundbar review: the right finishing touch

8.9

No matter how fancy a TV is, unless it has a built-in, high-quality soundbar (like some Bang and Olufsen TVs do), you need a soundbar or surround sound system to get the full experience. Current TVs are really thin, which look great on the wall, but don’t allow for the movement of sound, and everyone knows that picture is really only just half of the experience.

When shopping for a soundbar, there are a lot of options out there. While the sky is the limit for how premium you want to go on a surround sound system (the best I’ve seen costs a mere $489,000), the easiest option is one from the same brand that makes your TV, bought at the same time as your TV, at the same level of quality as your TV.

I’ve spent a little over a month testing the latest top-of-the-range Samsung HW-Q990C Q-Series Soundbar, and I’m extremely impressed. In the right room, it punches way above its price point and has an Atmos effect far better than I would expect from a system of this kind. In the wrong room, it still sounds very good.

Q990C first impressions

Setting up a sound bar with any new-ish TV is a pretty easy process with e-ARC HDMI, and it’s especially easy when the sound bar and TV are designed to go together. My TV is a Samsung QN900C Neo QLED, so it’s the TV that this soundbar was designed to complement. The set-up was plugging the soundbar into the right HDMI port, and connecting the subwoofer and two rear speakers to power. The TV automatically sensed everything was there and started outputting to them. I then went to Settings and fiddled around a little until I had customised it a bit to my preferences.

Samsung Q990C soundbar living room

My one criticism about the set-up process is that Samsung doesn’t make it obvious how to get stands for the rear speakers, because they don’t appear to be listed on the website, or offered on the shop page for the soundbar. There are third-party stands available that are compatible, and you can wall mount them, but making them more easily available just seems like an odd thing to overlook.

HW-Q990C Soundbar specifications

Channels11.1.4
Sound modesSurround Sound expansion, Game Pro, Standard, Adaptive
Decoding formatsAAC, MP3, WAV, OGG, FLAC, AIFF, ALAC
Dolby compatibilityATMOS Music, ATMOS, Dolby MAT, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby True HD
Connectivity2x HDMI in
1x HDMI out
1x optical in
Wi-Fi
Bluetooth
Additional featuresActive Voice Amplifier, Q-Symphony, Spotify Connect, Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, AirPlay2, HDMI CEC, HDMI eARC
Price (RRP)$1,999
Warranty1 year
Official websiteSamsung Australia

Performance

There are a few important elements of any soundbar/surround sound system: bass, aesthetics, ease of use, how rear sound is handled, how upwards firing audio (if Dolby Atmos is enabled) is handled, overall sound quality and different sound modes. Already, with dedicated rear speakers and a separate subwoofer included in the box, this Q-Series soundbar is already far, far ahead of most of the competition. At $1,999, this Samsung system is really near the top of what would be considered an everyday, consumer-grade surround sound system, before you start going into more enthusiast and multi-purpose sound systems. As such, I would expect it to be very good at all the above things, but not be jaw-droppingly stunning.

This system exceeded most of my expectations, but there was one test that had my whole family looking at each other in disbelief, shocked that this system wasn’t more expensive than it is, even my parents, who aren’t normally that interested in audio stuff.

Design

For me, when it comes to soundbars, all I care about is that they sound good. You can’t have everything at every price range, and there is always going to be one side of the cost-sound-design triangle that loses out a bit to the other two. There is nothing exciting about the design of the Q990C. It looks like a big sound bar. The rears look like fairly standard, boxy rears, and the subwoofer is a huge rectangle. It looks the same as last year’s model.

Samsung Q990C subwoofer

It looks less massive than one of my other two surround sound systems, which is a Sonos Arc, with Sonos Sub and two Sonos Era 300s for rears, which is a really imposing setup. My other system is a Bose Lifestyle 650, which sounds amazing but all the components are really tiny and are less imposing in my tiny apartment. However, both those systems cost well over $6,000. This is a sub-$2,000 system, and for that price range, it looks exactly as expected. If you wall mount or get nice stands for the rears, it’ll look a little less imposing. If you want a more compact Samsung soundbar (that still sounds great), there are the S-Series soundbars. But the Q-Series is for when you don’t want to compromise on audio, and don’t mind having some black boxes in your lounge.

TV and movie audio

Here is the main thing that matters, really. I tested this sound bar in two rooms: my living room in my apartment, and my dad’s kitchen/living room, and the results were quite impressively different because of the configurations of the rooms. Systems designed to convey Atmos really rely a lot on being able to bounce audio off the walls and ceiling to make it sound as though you have speakers everywhere.

My living room is terrible for this. There is no wall behind the rear speakers, there’s a big wall of glass on one side and then my open kitchen on the other. On the kitchen side of the room, the ceiling height suddenly changes. It is a room that is hostile to surround sound systems in the way so many rooms are.

My dad’s living room/kitchen is hostile in different ways, but it has a consistent ceiling height, a wall behind the rear speakers, a nice bench the speakers can sit comfortably on a metre away from the listeners, and it’s only open to the kitchen on one side (but more with a pantry door and bookshelves in that part, so it’s a more consistent wall shape for sound to bounce off than my kitchen).

Samsung Q990C close-up

In my living room, these speakers sound very good. I can notice the lack of reflection off any back wall, and so the rear speakers sound a bit quiet with the default settings (which can be adjusted with the remote). With the adjustments made, I’m really happy with the system. Classics like Jurassic Park and The OC sound great, as do Dolby Atmos-mixed movies and shows like The Mitchells vs. The Machines and Hijack. The way audio is used in Hijack to build tension is sublime, and it comes across so well with the Q990C.

But watching it at my dad’s place with my wife and my parents, there was this moment I’ll never forget. We were watching Daisy Jones and The Six on my dad’s older Samsung Neo QLED TV, and the scene where the band performs “Look At Us Now” for the first time at that Hawaiian music festival came on. It sounded like magic. It sounded like we were there. Roughly halfway through the scene, my mum just turned to me and mouthed “wow”, while my wife sat there looking a bit stunned. I’m the only audio fidelity nerd in the family, and it’s not really something my parents are all that interested in. They support my passion, but my mum is fine listening to music using her phone speaker, so having that experience where it was clear that the whole family got why audio quality is so important to me was great.

The room itself can obviously affect the acoustics of a system significantly. But the key takeaway I had from the many weeks of using the Q990C at my place, and the weekend at my dad’s house is that this is a damn good surround system for under $2,000, and I am extremely impressed.

Gaming audio

Atmos and object-based audio is obviously wonderful to have for music and TV, but gaming is where it’s the difference between winning and losing.

I play an unhealthy amount of Fortnite. Last season my level was over 180. I have extensively tested this system now and, in my living room (with the above-described acoustics issues), the object-based audio placement is far better than I would expect from a system at this price. It’s not perfect, as I still find I have a bigger advantage when I use the Logitech G Pro X 2, but the Q990C gives me more of a heads-up on enemy location than with the 5.1 Bose Lifestyle 650 system. The dedicated gaming mode ups the bass, and really calls attention to any gunshots, which are much louder than anything else. I also find there is a bit more of an emphasis on footsteps when the gaming mode is turned on.

Who is the Q990C soundbar for?

This HW-Q990C Q-Series soundbar is for anyone with a premium Samsung TV who wants to take their audio to the next level with the least amount of fuss. I’m extremely impressed with how far Samsung soundbars have come in the last few years, because this system is just so so so good.

If your budget is around $2,000 and you have a Samsung TV, I haven’t heard another system that would suit you better (depending on the setup of your room). You would probably have to spend at least an extra $1,000 before getting another system that was noticeably better on 5.1 surround sound, and roughly $4,000 for a better Atmos-enabled system. At $1,999 (sometimes on sale for $1,499), this is a bargain.

Samsung HW-Q990C Soundbar
An excellent Dolby Atmos soundbar system that, in the right room, will give you jaw-droppingly good audio.
Features
8
Value for money
9.5
Performance
9.5
Ease of use
9.5
Design
8
Positives
Sounds great
Well priced
Has everything you need in one box
Negatives
Looks a bit boring and imposing
Samsung doesn’t appear to sell stands for the rear speakers (third party stands are available elsewhere)
8.9