Getting proper surround sound in your home used to require research. You’d have to pore over forums (and before that, enthusiast magazines) to find the latest and greatest gear to replicate cinema-like audio at home. But these days, everything is cheaper and more convenient. High-end soundbars like Samsung’s HW-Q950A come with everything you need except power outlets—a single included HDMI ARC cable plugs straight into your TV for instant movie madness.
Tons of high-end bars try to bridge the gap between stand-alone A/V systems with receivers and speaker cables, but very few achieve what this Samsung soundbar does. Close your eyes in a small or medium-sized living room with a ceiling flat enough for the height channels to bounce back at you, and you’ll swear you rented a private viewing room. If you’re an apartment owner or aesthete who doesn’t want to stare at unsightly speakers, it’s a match made in heaven.
The HW-Q950A succeeds Samsung’s previous flagship, the HW-Q950T, which sounded fantastic. The new model looks nearly identical. You get a long, cloth-coated bar, along with a rectangular subwoofer and rear surrounds. They are all black and mostly blend into the background, but hey, they’re not ugly.
Let’s get some quick surround sound terminology out of the way: What do numbers like 5.1, 7.1, and 5.1.4 mean? The numbers refer to the overall driver count. The first is the number of front and surround drivers, the second number is how many subwoofers there are, and the third number (if there is one) is how many height channels you get. Height channels are either aimed down from the ceiling via physical speakers or, as in this case, bounced down off the ceiling from angled drivers in the soundbar and surrounds.
So with what many would call the traditional 5.1 surround-sound setup, you get five drivers (three front and two rear), and one subwoofer. Samsung’s new bar goes well beyond that: 11.1.4 channels versus its predecessor’s 9.1.4. Those extra channels are for the sides, to make audio feel more immersive. Other upgrades include support for Apple’s AirPlay 2 standard and an auto-room-correction EQ mode, which adjusts the EQ to suit your room’s acoustics via a microphone built into the subwoofer.
These extra drivers, when activated (more on this later), mean that the HW-Q950A is physically pushing more sound in more directions than most soundbars you can buy. When it comes to theater sound, in general, the more dedicated driver real estate, the better.
Setting up the soundbar is as easy as plugging the surrounds, subwoofer, and main bar into power outlets. (Have an extension cord or two handy if you don’t have a ton of plugs in your room.) Then just plug the HDMI cable from the eARC (“enhanced audio return”) HDMI port on the bar into an HDMI port on your TV. It’s shockingly easier than the speaker wire days of old when I’d be hiding cables under the carpet or in the walls. From unboxing to watching What We Do in the Shadows, it took me about 15 minutes to get the HW-Q950A ready to play hissing vampire noises.
You can very easily modify the sound to your liking via the included remote and the bar’s built-in LED display. I’d like to give a formal thanks to the Samsung engineers for this display. I hate having to use dots or color-coded messages to figure out what the hell I’m changing on a soundbar or what input I’m using. With this screen, which uses actual words, I’m never confused.
True Surround Sound
I’ve yet to test a soundbar (or speaker system) that bounces sound off the ceiling or walls as well as dedicated speakers in those locations, but the HW-Q950A gets closer than most.