Samsung HW-K950 Wireless Soundbar Review
Those that are serious about their entertainment know that home audio is a bone of contention. Fitted speakers mean cutting holes in your ceiling – unrealistic for most - while soundbars all-too-often fall short of their marketing. For too long (aside from the somewhat intrusive Yamaha YSP-5600) there’s been no real choice when it comes to bringing the awesome sound of Dolby Atmos home. Samsung’s HW-K950, however, addresses that very thing. Featuring upward-firing speakers in the bar itself, physical surround speakers with up-firing Atmos drivers and a relatively hide-able wireless subwoofer, the full package offers a glorious 5.1.4 system that’s actually a plausible option for the family home. The real question, though, is does it sound good?
SPOILER: yes, yes it does.
First, a little background. The HW-K950 is a pioneer, having been built from the ground up in Samsung’s £18million development facility – dubbed the Sound Lab - in California. It’s the product of a year’s dedicated in-house designing, scrupulous testing and tireless redesigning. They brought in Hollywood sound engineers for fine tuning to really nail that cinema sound; they even got Dolby’s official stamp of approval. After all this graft, the result is a comprehensive audio system like no other before it. A disappointing amount of high-street soundbars uses standard OEM drivers, off-the-shelf HDMI boards and average amplifier modules, but not Samsung. One of the most astounding design points of the HW-K950 is that every key component is bespoke, having been lovingly developed to perfectly replicate cinema sound.
Physically, we think the HW-K950 is pleasantly understated (considering what it does) but we’ve seen it dubbed a little underwhelming elsewhere on the web. Clean, straight lines intended to flow with your TV ensure no attention is taken away from the picture – after all, shouldn’t soundbars be heard and not seen? - while the surround speakers and subwoofer are easy to conceal for a seamless living area. It’s undeniably tasteful, exceedingly robust and downright slender compared to the YSP-5600 but it’s certainly not pretty – it’s built for business. That said, we advise that you review your available space before buying. The soundbar itself measures 1210 x 82 x 131mm, meaning that, while it shouldn’t have a problem sitting neatly beneath any serious TV, it’s not a viable option for those with anything less than a 49” screen. Samsung does, however, helpfully supply brackets, screws and a mounting template in the box if wall mounting is more your thing.
Specs and connections
Now for the nitty gritty. Samsung is not one to be feature-shy and the HW-K950 is practically stuffed. It boasts no less than 16 drivers, each one with its very own amplifier (the total amplification being 500W). The bar itself is composed of three 1.2” tweeters, six 2.5” midrange drivers and two 3” full-range drivers. There’s also an additional four 3” full-range drivers in the surrounds, and don’t forget the 8” bass driver in the subwoofer.
We feel that connections are a little skimpy with just 2 HDMI inputs, but an additional HDMI output plus Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity should get you by just fine (albeit with an occasional jig-around depending on how many devices you want to hook up on the regular). We were impressed with Samsung’s incredibly user-friendly smartphone app, particularly it’s colossal list of music streaming options that include Spotify, Deezer, 7digital, 8tracks, Murfie, Napster, Qobuz, Tidal, Amazon Music, Juke and TuneIn radio, while a choice of six genuinely well-tuned sound modes lets you fully tailor your audio to whatever you’re playing.
Set up and operation
We were pleasantly surprised to find that the HW-K950 is relatively easy to set up. After placing the main bar, it’s a case of adjusting the volume of each channel via the remote and front-panel display until you’ve struck your perfect balance. Wireless connectivity for the surround speakers and subwoofer means you don’t have to traipse unsightly wires across the room (you do still have to plug each one into the mains which limits your freedom a little) and they handily pair with the soundbar automatically. Getting the very most out of your Atmos performance may take a little trial and error – mainly moving the surround speakers to make sure they hit the ceiling at the optimum angle for your listening position – but this will come naturally to audiophiles anyway. All-in-all, it’s as close to plug and play as a soundbar of this calibre will ever be.
Despite being thoroughly impressed with this sound bar, there are (inevitably) a couple of little niggles. Our main gripe (if it can be called that) is the room requirements needed to unleash the HW-K950’s full potential. Ideally, your ceiling should be made of drywall, plaster or hardwood, should measure an optimum height of 2.7m – 3.6m (minimum 2.3m, maximum 4.3m) and should be completely flat, with beams preferably avoided and vaulted ceilings a no-go. The upward-firing drivers should also be placed no lower than ear level and no higher than around halfway up the wall.
Aside from this, our other issues are verging on petty. Given the price, we think it’s not unreasonable to expect a third HDMI port to accommodate a Sky box, Blu-ray player and games console, but it is possible (although a bit of a pain) to pass audio to the soundbar via optical if you connect to the TV. It's also a little vexing that the OLED display on the soundbar itself is slightly off-centre; of course, this is to allow for the central speaker so we'll let Samsung off, but beware ye perfectionists.
We don’t have enough praise for Samsung on this one; merely calling it a soundbar feels like a gross injustice. Between the inspired soundbar speaker design, wireless surround speakers and discreet yet powerful subwoofer, the genuine dedication poured into creating the HW-K950 is obvious - and pays off phenomenally. This is the home audio answer we’ve been looking for and, if you can, we strongly suggest investing.
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Picture credit: Sarah Tew/CNET