The Samsung HW-N950 is newest and best soundbar. It offers Dolby Atmos view, which is not unique. But by using wireless double speakers for the back of the room, this soundbar is unlikely to come close to a true cinematic 7.1.4 experience.
Introduction Samsung HW-N950
The HW-N950 is the successor of the HW-K950 that we put on the test bench a few years ago. There are many things new, including a few additional side speakers on the soundbar that offer the Samsung two extra channels compared to its predecessor. The N950 is also the big brother of the HW-N850, another Samsung soundbar that just appeared. Well, ‘other’ … It is actually the same device as the N950, but the two extra wireless speakers that you get with the top model are not in the box with the N850. The HW-N950 thus offers a 7.1.4 experience, the HW-N850 takes off with 5.1.2
The great promise of the Samsung HW-N950 is a surround experience with height channels, but without the ceiling or wall speakers that you need an AV receiver with passive speakers. There is ingrained support for the very best surround in the form of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X found on Blu-rays, Ultra HD Blu-rays and via the Xbox One consoles
The Samsung HW-N950 is just like its predecessor a real top model at Samsung, but also in the market it is all in the top segment. It officially bears a price tag of 1,499 euros, which in the soundbars segment can be called ‘premium’. Let’s not be wiped: this is a very expensive soundbar. But there is something opposite.
A clek thing
If you still have doubts about the premium content of this device after paying the HW-K950 in the store, it will disappear if you unpack it. The Samsung HW-K950 weighs just under 9 kg, which is quite a bit of a soundbar. Something to keep in mind if you want to hang it with the included accessories, it seems to us. The weight is proportional to the dimensions. No, the Samsung HW-K950 is not just a giant like LG’s SK10Y but you can not call it small with a width of 1.23 meters. It fits perfectly under a 55-inch TV or a larger model, such as the UE60KS7000 in our test room. Now that width is not so unusual, but in combination with the height of 8 cm and the depth of 13.6 cm and the angular design of metal you end up with a soundbar that is very present in the room. Fortunately, Samsung keeps the design language from the past, which means that the soundbar itself has few striking aspects. That means it does not disturb your interior too much. The display, for example, hides behind the metal grill that covers almost the whole soundbar and only lights up when you adjust something like the volume. There are hardly any buttons. The overall result is a soundbar that is substantial and present, but at the same time does its best to attract no attention.
And then there is the wireless subwoofer, which is also a rather large device. It is well-adjusted, with a crossover point that is not too high. This makes it easier to place it anywhere in the room. Many soundbars come with subs that spread quite high frequencies, so you have to put them in front of the room.
Finally, the sturdy box contains – and we think that, in a small city car it will be difficult – two wireless speakers you place in the back of the living room. They each have their own power outlet, but are further fully wirelessly controlled from the soundbar. Manufacturers of other soundbars with separate rear-speakers often give the impression that you can just place these separate speakers somewhere. Samsung does not, and that is fairer. The Koreans emphasize that you have to park these speakers in the room according to the rules of art, that is to say: behind the seat and to the left / right of it, with the speaker front at an angle to the corner of the seat. That’s a placement like a surround setup with passive speakers, which gives us the hope that the Samsung HW-N950 will offer a real surround experience. But it is true that in regular living rooms this arrangement is often more difficult to realize. For example, the sofa is completely against the wall, allowing the speakers to stand more to the rear. But still, we advise you to try to achieve optimal positioning. You may need a few speaker stands for this.
The Samsung HW-N950 comes with a whole range of drivers, although this is not immediately obvious due to the black metal grille housing. Count with me: six elliptical midrange woofers (so-called racetrack drivers) and three front tweeters (together accounting for 3 channels), on each side a slanted loudspeaker (another two channels) and then two speakers with a pair of height channels to send upwards. The idea for the latter pair is that the direct radiation and the reflection of the ceiling together give the effect of two ceiling speakers.
Can that work? The answer is: “Yes”, because there have already been soundbars that have proven that. The K950 for example, but also soundbars from rival LG. The circumstances must be correct. The HW-N950 must not be (half) under a TV or in a box in a piece of furniture. The overhead speakers must remain free so that their sound waves can rebound from the ceiling. From previous tests that the ceiling may not be extremely high or too absorbent. Even though you can set the volume level per speaker set with the Samsung HW-N950, so that you can adjust the height speakers much louder at a very high ceiling. We also did this in our test in the living room with a ceiling height of 3.1 meters. In reflection there is always something lost, because you get back high notes. A disadvantage compared to real ceiling speakers, but also not so bad. The additional Atmos channels contain mainly higher, directional frequencies.
Also the two wireless rear-speakers come with multiple drivers, more specifically one that is aimed straight at your ears and a driver that is slanted to above. The sum of all speaker clusters, along with the subwoofer, produces a 7.1.4 display. What fits nicely with the Ultra HD Blu-rays of the major film studios, which nowadays almost always have a Dolby Atmos soundtrack with that specification.
In contrast to some other better soundbars, the Samsung HW-N950 does not show an interface on your TV screen. With Sony, for example, there is and you can use that interface to search and play media files and select sources on the network. However, you can connect up to two video sources (such as consoles and Ultra HD Blu-ray players) to the Samsung soundbar via HDMI and an audio source via an optical cable. The connections are hidden in a niche, so you can neatly conceal the cables.
The old HW-K950 was a member of Samsung’s Multiroom family, an underestimated platform for streaming music and listening to multiple devices. We noticed earlier this year during the test of the HW-N650 that the manufacturer apparently lols this platform. We regret that, because in fact Multiroom worked well and offered very good support for streaming services and hi-res audio. It just fits together well.
But Samsung is working to consolidate the app operation of its products from all categories into the SmartThings app. This app originally belonged to the SmartThings system, a smart home system that Samsung bought a few years ago and now wants to use as a backbone of everything. With us in the Benelux SmartThings has never been rolled out. Coincidentally, we still have a SmartThings hub and connected smart home devices in our home after we had purchased this package in the United Kingdom. After all, it is a very versatile smart home hub with support for Bluetooth, Z-Wave, Zigbee and IP control. Very nice, but what does that have to do with the Samsung HW-N950? Apparently Samsung wants to make everything SmartThings compatible now, which in this case unfortunately means that the Samsung HW-N950 no longer cooperates with Samsung Multiroom but is operated via the SmartThings app. That is not so convenient, we think, because this app does not immediately take you to the controls of the soundbar. You must first select it from an overview screen where other devices are listed. With us there are some, including thermostats, adjustable radiator valves and Hue lamps.
Moreover, the SmartThings app is much more limited in terms of streaming possibilities. Instead of the many services offered by the K950, you can only stream via Deezer via the N950 and listen to internet radio through TuneIn. In addition, the Samsung soundbar is also happy Spotify Connect compatible. If you want to play a different music service, it has to be about Bluetooth. Or you take matters into your own hands and use a DLNA player app like BubbleUPNP to send your own files or certain streaming services over DLNA. Does the music not play directly on DLNA? If there is another input selected on the N950, you’ll need to tap the plus side of the volume button on the remote to accept the DLNA stream.
The SmartThings app also lets you limit manage a number of settings, while the N950 allows some adjustments via the remote control. But if you want to adjust things like the sound level of the different speakers, you have to work via the physical remote and the small display. A missed opportunity, we find that, because this is quite awkward. Hopefully these settings will appear later in the app, because that would work much faster.
Harman Kardon contributed to the design of the HW-N950, so we expect that this soundbar sounds good when you listen to music. That indeed turns out very well. Just like the K950, which Harman Kardon had nothing to do with. The center channel in the soundbar shows itself from its best side, for instance when we listen to a Leonard Cohen playlist via Spotify. His voice, filled with pebbles, sounds very natural and full at times, something you do not expect from a soundbar. Macy Gray’s ‘Ruby’ album increases the tempo, which is not such a problem for the N950. It sounds open and dynamic, especially when you consider that this is a soundbar. Only for this kind of music we would put the sub a bit less (we came out -2), because otherwise the somewhat woolly basses would break down the tempo feeling. This of course depends on the placement. The spatial you have in the surround modes is very effective when we listen to the Blu-ray Audio disc of Carla Bruni’s ‘Little French Songs’. The source material is high-res 2-channel Dolby TrueHD, but by upgrading to all channels, the instruments go more to the back of the room while the French chanteuse keeps on singing in the front of the room. The stereo signal is thus brought to surround, but with a soft hand. That is probably the best, but for music.
To be sure that we would certainly reach the soundbar in Dolby Atmos format, we connected an Oppo UDP-203 UHD player directly to the HDMI 1 port of the Samsung HW-N950 on. At this point, working with an external player that you connect to the soundbar is the only way to have no doubt about it. If you hang the player on the TV and then bring the audio to the soundbar via HDMI-ARC, the Atmos track may be reduced to a stereo signal and then virtualized by the N950. That is far from ideal. So, as long as eARC does not become standard on TVs, you better connect your source with Dolby Atmos content directly to the soundbar. You will then see a Dolby Atmos message appear on the soundbar.
We choose the Ultra HD Blu-ray from ‘Avengers: Infinity War’. It has a great Atmos soundtrack, which identifies the Samsung HW-N950 immediately. If you deliver audio content with fewer channels, you can switch between three sound modes, including a Smart mode and a surround mode that uses all speakers. If you supply Atmos or DTS:X, the soundbar is stuck in surround mode. That seems logical.
In the chapter ‘Wakanda Assembles’, when Thanos opens his offensive on Wakanda, the HW-N950 proves what it can do. The landing of the enemy spaceships in the fictional African country is intense and hard, and in the battle afterwards you hear the action all around you. For the best effect, we had to take the time to properly adjust the rear speakers and top speakers, something that will be more difficult if you do not have an Atmos test disc. It would not be bad if Samsung provided a test mode with white noise test tones so that you could properly adjust the channels in terms of noise level. Of course, the rear-speakers must be well positioned. If you can not place them behind the couch but they should be next to the sofa, we would recommend that you turn them in almost straight on your ears.
But once you do this, the HW-N950 delivers an enveloping sound field that really is pretty. In the opera scene in ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’ it does not get the wide view we experienced with passive speakers, like the BP9000 from Definitive Technology, but it is much better than with other soundbars. The different layers in the soundtrack – dialogues, the opera of Puccini and the effects, such as when the various snipers assemble and load their weapons – are presented separately, so that you can perfectly follow the conversation between Ethan Hunt and Benji while the Turandot- opera around you erupts. In terms of spatiality, the HW-N950 scores quite high. We note a downside with the subwoofer. He was sometimes allowed to be more present. Even at the maximum + 6-position it does not sound very fat. Most soundbar subwoofers exaggerate with a low rumbling, the sub with the HW-N950 tends a little too much to the other side. That’s why you do not hide it behind a chair or couch.
Looking purely from the perspective of the view of film soundtracks, the HW-N950 is the best Dolby Atmos soundbar we’ve ever heard. Though we do not dare to claim that he suddenly makes a huge leap compared to his equally very capable predecessor, the HW-K950. We could not compare A/B to the old soundbar, so it is dangerous to make statements about sound differences, but we do not feel that the two extra side speakers on the N950 really do so much more. The only serious competitor for the N950 is the Yamaha YSP-5600, but it is more powerful and expensive.
The Samsung soundbar would have a chance to score a perfect score, were it not for the step back in terms of streaming services and app operation. Depending on your living room you really have to take the time to set the levels well. That being said, you have the possibilities to do that and the HW-N950 music plays fine. In films with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack it sounds very convincing.