This year, the HW-Q90R is Samsung's flagship soundbars, a premium device supplied with additional wireless speakers. Unique to this soundbar is that it offers Dolby Atmos and DTS: X without virtualization. The soundbar effectively has all the speakers needed to deliver 7.1.4-channel surround.
Samsung HW-Q90R soundbar
Those looking for a top class soundbar with support for Dolby Atmos and DTS: X have more choice than ever. The relatively new HW-Q90R from Samsung is just one of the many devices you will encounter. But as a new top model from the Korean manufacturer, developed with the help of audio brand Harman Kardon, it does offer a lot.
The input from Harman Kardon (meanwhile purchased by Samsung) during the development of the HW-Q90R was certainly useful, but Samsung itself has several years of experience building Atmos-compatible soundbars. The HW-Q90R can therefore be seen as the successor to the excellent HW-N950 and HW-N850 . A cosmetic renewal is in the model name; Q90R is also used for the highest TV model. The lower sound bars are also given model names that coincide with the TVs. In this way, Samsung wants to signal the consumer that with a better TV there also needs to be a better sound solution. The HW-Q90R can of course be used universally. You can also use it with a cheaper Samsung TV or a television from another brand. Also good to know: the more affordable HW-Q80R is exactly the same soundbar, but without the rear speakers. In our opinion, these are worth the extra expense.
What is certainly very premium is the price tag. The HW-Q90R costs (officially) 1,369 euros, which makes this Samsung one of the most expensive soundbars of the moment. For that amount you get 510 watts of power, spread over a very sophisticated soundbar, a wireless subwoofer and two wireless speakers that you place behind / next to the seat. The sum of all this promises a sound experience like in the cinema, with sound effects that you hear in front, next to, behind and above.
You cannot call the HW-Q90R small or compact. The length of 1.23 meters is quite something. Even with the 60-inch Samsung UE60KS7000 TV in our test room, the soundbar doesn't seem modest. If you like symmetry, it is best to combine this soundbar with a larger screen.
The height and depth (8.3 and 13.6 cm) are also not minimal, but are not really a problem with regard to placement. Perhaps that is different when it comes to weight. The nearly 9 kg of the HW-Q90R is heavy, if you are considering hanging the soundbar on the wall. Proper anchoring is then the message. Talking about hanging on the wall: just like many other Atmos-compatible sound bars, you attach the HW-Q90R with the narrow rear to the wall. The device therefore protrudes from the wall. That looks more striking than a soundbar that you can tilt ninety degrees and hangs with the bottom against the wall (such as the Sonos Playbar ). The reason for this has to do with the many speakers of the HW-Q90R, including a few at the top. Those two speakers send sound upwards; when hanging or placing on furniture it is important that they remain fairly focused on the ceiling.
As befits a high-end soundbar, the HW-Q90R also has sufficient connections. You can probably connect to the TV via HDMI-ARC although an optical cable is also possible. In addition, there are two additional HDMI inputs to which you can connect a decoder, console or UHD Blu-ray player. That is worth considering, because that way you are sure that Dolby Atmos audio reaches the soundbar. For our test, we connected an Oppo UDP-203 player and an Xbox One S to the soundbar.
There was a time when Dolby Atmos-compatible soundbars were rare. There are now many devices that promise 3D sound, including devices with much fewer speakers than the 7 or 9 that are the minimum required for an Atmos or DTS: X experience. They then use all kinds of techniques (such as virtualization) to still offer surround in three dimensions, but the result is very variable. So with the necessary approval we look at the HW-Q90R, which does come with separate drivers per channel and can display a surround field more correctly. The huge amount of drivers does not stand out at first because the metal housing does not really show you anything about the underlying speakers, but there are some. At the front there are six woofers and three tweeters, the two sides each have a larger driver, plus there are the two aforementioned speakers at the top. The wireless speakers that Samsung also supplies are richly equipped in terms of speakers. There are still sound bars with separate wireless speakers, but they usually have one driver. The Samsung speakers have two: one for the surround channel and one for the rear height channels. Again, you should therefore give the wireless speakers a free placement, not somewhere in a bookcase, for example.
This is a long explanation to say that the HW-Q90R is the only soundbar on the market (outside the older ones) Samsung HW-N950, and its predecessors) that can deliver true 7.1.4 channel sound. Is that an asset? Yes, because it increases the chance that this Samsung soundbar can match the performance of a surround set with separate speakers.
Some high-end Atmos sound bars use advanced technology to reflect sound waves from the walls and ceiling, giving you the impression that the sound effects of a film are all over you come off. The 2,500-euro Ambeo Soundbar from Sennheiser is a good example of this approach. With the HW-Q90R you have to place both a wireless subwoofer and the two wireless speakers in the room. That is not particularly challenging, provided that you have an electrical outlet for all devices. What is surprising is that the wireless speakers do not have to be placed immediately next to the seat, as is often the case with sound bars with extra speakers. That is easy, because there is often still room next to the seat. Samsung, however, recommends a different placement, behind you and then left or right respectively. Or in other words: where you have to park separate surround rear speakers according to the rules of the art. That can be problematic in a smaller living room where the sofa is against the wall.
We often refer to Dolby Atmos in this review, but the HW-Q90R is also compatible with the rival DTS: X. Both Atmos and DTS: X promise the same: 3D sound, made possible by “height channels” – sound coming from the height. That adds a lot to the experience when watching a movie. Both in a spectacular way (for example, an airplane that really skims over you) and an atmosphere maker (displaying the “grandeur” of spaces, so that you immediately hear whether a scene is set outside or roughly in a cathedral). In the cinema this is achieved by sometimes using 64 or more speakers, at your home this is of course a bit more difficult.
If you build a surround setup with a AV receiver and separate speakers, the last step is a measurement with calibration software. This measurement – where test tones are played – lets the receiver know the characteristics of your room. These features have a major impact on the sound experience, so the adjustments that software makes are quite important.
The HW-Q90R has no calibration function on board, unlike some other high-end sound bars (such as the Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar or the Yamaha YPS-5600). A typical film lover may not miss this, but it is actually a loss at this price point. Certainly because the soundbar strives for a real Atmos experience with 7.1.4 channels – which requires more work to adjust properly.
A plus is that Samsung does provide the necessary settings so that you can optimize the surrounder experience manually. . You can do this through the fine-meshed volume control where you can control the different channels separately. For example, you can make the center channel louder (which makes dialogues stand out better) and set the front and rear height channels. That is important: if you have a high ceiling, the speakers directed upwards must play louder. If the wireless speakers are quite far away from your seat, it is also smart to increase their volume.
The settings that Samsung provides are intricate enough that even with a volume meter you can set the surround reproduction relatively accurately – not that many people will do that. But by ear, with a film you know well or a surround test disc, you can get a very nice result. This level of control over the levels is not often found in any case.
The essence of streaming
A soundbar often serves not only for TV sound, but also for music. Older Samsung soundbars were full of streaming options via their own app, but the Korean brand has been sailing a different course for the past two years. The HW-Q90R does not require a separate audio app, because you link the soundbar with the SmartThings app that gradually bundles all Samsung products. TVs, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners … they all appear in the SmartThings app. Moreover, if you have a SmartThings Hub in house (in principle not available in the Benelux) you can also add other smart devices here. We do not go too much on SmartThings in this article, because it is a real smart home platform with many possibilities. However, the app offers few control options for the HW-Q90R. You can only choose things like the volume setting per channel or sound modes via the physical remote, not via the app. Unfortunately, because that would be clearer.
In SmartThings you also find no streaming options. However, the HW-Q90R does have some options. In addition to Bluetooth, the Samsung soundbar has Spotify Connect on board and is also DLNA compatible. You can “abuse” the latter via certain apps, such as BubbleUPnP, to stream from Play Music, Tidal or Qobuz. We would have liked Chromecast and / or AirPlay 2 so that you could control the soundbar from more music apps. It feels a bit scanty now.
At the soundbar there is an elegant, narrow remote that closely resembles the remote control that comes with Samsung TVs. It is beautiful, well-built and convenient – that should not be more. The screen on the soundbar is also minimalist. When you press a button on the remote, you only discover where the display of the HW-Q90R is. It is a very discreet screen, hidden behind the loudspeaker grille, so that watching the movie does not distract you. The screen is not really big, but the large font size makes it easy to read. Only when you reach the settings do you sometimes have to wait a while for the full word to scroll.
Samsung HW-Q90R adapts
Some of the above points can come across as critical – and they are in some situations. But what makes a lot of good are the performance of this soundbar. The previous top models from Samsung were excellent – and very soon we notice that the Q90R continues that tradition. When setting it up, it took a while for the satellite speakers and subwoofer to be connected wirelessly to the soundbar, something that should happen automatically but also manually by pressing a button at the bottom of the devices. During testing, we had to switch the speakers on / off very occasionally.
But once this was done (once), the Samsung HW-Q90R did come out very strongly. We do not fully follow the Samsung regulations and we rather place the wireless speakers next to the seat, approximately flush with the backrest. In our opinion, that is a more realistic arrangement in a typical living room. Fortunately, this does not seem to be a problem either, because the enveloping surround feeling remains realistic.
We first watch some films via the Netflix app on our Samsung. This way the delivered audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 at most, and so we are curious about how well the HW-Q90R upgrades this. Via the Oppo we watch the Ultra HD Blu-ray's of “Avengers: Infinity War” and then “Endgame”, both with Dolby Atmos soundtracks. Now the Marvel films are not always the best Atmos mixes (the height channels are often underused and it can all be a bit more dynamic), but the HW-Q90R does surround us with a nice surround field in which a lot of movement can be heard, for example during the battle in Wakanda. So much is happening in this part of film, with grand scenes with many warriors and aliens, in which an occasional one-on-one fight takes place between an Avenger hero and someone from the Thanos camp. The HW-Q90R conveys all this perfectly: impacts, collisions and explosions come across fiercely. The high subwoofer, with its driver on the side, is well adjusted and dives quite deep. We are also impressed by the center channel, which presents voices full and clear. Even with quick dialogues with multiple characters, the presentation is particularly good. With a good surround mix, the HW-Q90R shines completely. At “Alita: Battle Angel” (UHD Blu-ray, DTS MA-HD) we really imagine ourselves in the futuristic city, that's how it is. It doesn't quite match the accurate Ambeo experience, but it is very good.
If you supply Dolby Atmos, you have no sound modes to choose from. That is different with content without height channels. We include “Antman & the Wasp” in Dolby Digital 5.1 and try out the Adaptive and Surround sound modes. Surrounding is quick to send rather artificial sounds from the rear speakers (something we also notice when listening to music), but Adaptive turns out to be very interesting. Even when we watch other video, this smart feature appears to offer great results. Adaptive, according to Samsung, adjusts the display to the content. It is difficult to estimate what it is doing correctly, but in this mode the scenes with many dialogs seem much more intense, while the parts with a lot of music and action bet more on an enveloping surround field. Usually the results are really good, for example when The Wasp in the restaurant takes care of a gang of crooks.
Speaking of music: streaming through the Spotify app we hear a very mature sound. Again the surround modes are rather artificial, but in the standard mode the HW-Q90R is convincing. The fact that the subwoofer is not a typical woolly soundbar sub, but rather tight and does not spread high frequencies, has a lot to do with this.
The HW-Q90R fits perfectly in the very good premium sound bars from Samsung. It is certainly not a cheap device and the placement is more challenging than a simple soundbar, but it offers something unique on the market. Dolby Atmos soundtracks are well represented: enveloping and atmospheric. Dialogues are beautifully set up and the soundbar itself presents a large soundstage. A set-up with separate speakers sounds more accurate, but this will get you close. Especially if you take the time to fine tune the individual volume levels. As a total package, the HW-Q90R offers top performance for a soundbar.