The highest model from Samsung’s soundbar line has often been one of the best soundbars on the market in recent years. Strong, and the brand often succeeds well in offering a surround experience that is close to what you get with separate speakers. Such a top model will also appear in 2022, the HW-Q990B.
The Samsung HW-Q990B may be completely new, but it is based on a familiar recipe. After all, every year Samsung releases a soundbar that is at the top of the market. It is intended as a companion for the best new TV models of that year, preferably from Samsung – but you can of course also combine this device with other television brands. This flagship is also different from, say, a Sonos Arc or a Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3. Not a slim all-in-one, but a large soundbar that is bundled with a powerful subwoofer and a pair of wireless speakers that you place behind and next to your sofa. Samsung pioneered this concept, there are now more high-end soundbars. Nevertheless, the Korean brand manages to continue to distinguish itself, with those rear speakers. Samsung was the first to provide them with two separate drivers: one for the surround channel and one for a height channel. Last year, the company went a step further and put three speakers in each wireless rear speaker. That is also the case with the Samsung HW-Q990B. This allows the soundbar to deliver 11.1.4 surround – not virtual, but delivered through real speaker channels from no fewer than 22 drivers. Whether that is useful is another question.
In any case, the HW-Q990B is one of the few Dolby Atmos and soundbars that can produce height effects at the front and rear. It comes with a few intriguing features, plenty of streaming options, and promises a powerful sound experience for movies and games. You officially pay 1,499 euros for all that. Although even shortly after the introduction we already see prices that are 100-200 euros lower.
This model succeeds the HW-Q950A , a soundbar that we gave five stars last December. Also good to know is that Samsung is providing a new sub-top model this year, the HW-Q930B. This 999 euro model is very similar, but comes with less sophisticated rear speakers and subwoofer. The soundbar itself is also slightly more compact and uses other techniques.
|What||11.1.4 sound bar|
|Inputs||2 x HDMI in, HDMI eARC, optical|
|streaming||Bluetooth (SBC), Chromecast, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect|
|Surround codecs||Dolby Atmos (and earlier), DTS:X (and earlier)|
|Extras||rear speakers included, SpaceFit+, Q-Symphony, Auto EQ|
|Dimensions||123.2 x 6.95 x 138 cm (sound bar)|
You can set up many soundbars equipped with Chromecast via the Google Home app. That is useful for manufacturers, because in Home you can connect the device to your WiFi network, assign it to a room and link it to streaming services in one fell swoop. With the Chromecast-ready HW-Q990B, things are different, just like with its recent predecessors. The setup of this top model is not done via Home, but via Samsung’s SmartThings app. For those who don’t know it yet: this is an app that allows you to control most smart Samsung devices, from televisions to refrigerators. It is actually a complete smart home platform, in which you can automate things and control third-party smart products (such as Hue lamps or power strips). You can even work with a hub. We will not go into that further, if you want to know more. We will give you: the Samsung soundbar appears in the SmartThings app as a card that you can tap. If you do that, a main screen for the soundbar will open in which you will find relevant options. If you tap on something else, such as a smart lamp, other controls will show.
Setting up via SmartThings (iOS and Android) is very easy. The app automatically detects the soundbar and after a few steps it is assigned to a room and connected to our WiFi network. And yes, it has to be wireless, because there is no Ethernet port on this device. Then you can jump to the Google Home app, where the HW-Q990B is already visible. You just have to add it to a room. That seems a bit double, but that’s what you get with smart home platforms that live next to each other.
In the SmartThings app, we see that Samsung has finally listened to our criticism about the audio settings. In reviews of their older Dolby Atmos devices, we found the app operation too limited. As a result, you had to set the volume levels per channel via the remote and a tiny screen on the soundbar. That is often crucial to get a good Atmos experience, and quite cumbersome that way. But now you can control almost every aspect of the HW-Q990B in the SmartThings app, including those individual volume levels. This can be done very easily ‘on the fly’, while watching a movie. We are really happy with that. In the main screen you can also quickly change the sound mode, set an equalizer (depending on the sound mode you have more or fewer frequency bands here), turn on speech amplification and adjust the subwoofer. We’re not really missing anything.
We also have a positive feeling with the included compact remote. Although it is made of plastic, it still looks chic. The typical buttons that you push up or down to control the volume or the sub are back, now supplemented with hot keys to adjust the individual channel levels. Samsung has not only provided this in the SmartThings app, but thanks to this button you can also make these adjustments more easily via the remote. We find that – again – very positive. That last piece of tuning while you sit in the seat and look at something is really worth it.
Plenty of streaming options
In the past, we were also sometimes critical of the limited streaming options of Samsung soundbars. However, that is no longer necessary. The HW-Q990B is generously equipped with ways to play music. Chromecast, AirPlay, Spotify Connect and Bluetooth cover a lot. In most cases you will be able to open a music app on your mobile device and tap the Chromecast icon to play something on the Samsung. It’s hardly more difficult with an iPad or iPhone; there you just press the Airplay icon in the app or via the quick menu. Do you own a recent Samsung smartphone? Then you can quickly establish a Bluetooth connection thanks to Tap Sound by tapping your phone against the soundbar. Only SBC codec support? Well, that is the case with more soundbars. Hopefully we will see LDAC or aptX appear in this category as well.
In terms of physical connections, Samsung goes for a lot of HDMI and little else. Everything is neatly in a niche in the base of the soundbar. Great if you want to get rid of cables that are relatively invisible, although you will have to wriggle a bit with stiff HDMI cables to install them.
In addition to an HDMI eARC port that you best use to connect to your television, a few more HDMI inputs are provided. You can use it for a console or a player such as an Apple TV – we connected an Apple media player and an Xbox Series X. The HDMI inputs are 4K-ready and pass Dolby Vision and HDR10+, but not for 4K/120 – a curious shortcoming in 2022. Finally, you have an optical input.
As you would expect from a flagship, the HW-Q990B is a large device. The width (123 cm) is slightly larger than that of a typical 55-inch TV, or the LG OLED55C9 that we have hanging. But that depth of just under 14 cm is something, and makes the Samsung appear large. Although the designers have done their best to soften that impression. The soundbar is completely black, without visual attention grabbers. It is not even noticeable that a small screen is provided. It is hidden at the front right behind the device-wide metal grille, and only lights up exceptionally. When the volume is changed for example. If you press the i button on the remote, you can see here which surround codec is supplied by your TV or source.
Also distinctive is that the front corners of the device are ‘cut off’. That is useful acoustically – there are speakers here that radiate broadly – and it makes the design just a bit more interesting to look at. The HW-Q990B should not be a design splurge, it is more captivating than a soundbar with the stereotypical bar shape. Incidentally, there are both a speaker in that cut side and in the side, in addition to three speaker arrays in the front that provide link-center-right.
The soundbar, subwoofer and rear speakers radiate the same cool design language. The build quality seems good and the use of metal grille also gives you a premium feeling. The sub does look special – and it’s big enough that you can’t see next to it. Instead of looking at a large woofer, you see a kind of circle floating above it. This is an acoustic lens. The rear speakers also have something distinctive with their convex housing.
Placement, placement, placement
It is important for any audio device that you place it correctly. But with, say, a Sonos speaker, it matters a lot less than with a surround setup with separate speakers. Soundbars are usually somewhere in the middle. More or less correct will usually suffice, depending on whether you are critical. However, the HW-Q990B is a lot more challenging in that area. As with most soundbars with extra speakers at the top, you have to place the device so that those drivers can radiate to the ceiling. You should also leave the sides free. In short, this soundbar is best placed on a TV cabinet at about ten centimeters or a little more in front of the TV. You can also hang it.
The challenge is with the rear speakers. You should actually place them in the same way as surround rear speakers if you build a setup with separate speakers. That is behind the sofa, partly turned in.
This is very feasible in a larger living space where the TV corner only takes up part of the surface. In a typical living room where the sofa is against the back wall, on the other hand, it is a bit more difficult – there is simply no room to place the rear speakers properly. Samsung does sell elegant tripods to make the placement of the rears easier.
Now we ourselves have parked the rear speakers on both sides of the sofa, a little behind the seating position and partly turned it forward. That still gave a very good result.
It is very special that Samsung supports a second, very alternative placement with this HW-Q990B. We spontaneously think of Yamaha, the only other brand that allows you to use the rear speakers…. in front of the TV. This is very special and requires that the soundbar be placed in a special mode.
Sound modes are important
Most soundbars offer sound modes (here: sound modes) that adjust the sound to what you listen to. Usually you have a selection such as movie, news, sports, game and music. The HW-Q990B lacks this classic offer. The four options here are Standard, Surround, Game and Adaptive Sound (where the soundbar itself guesses which content is being discussed). Apart from what they adjust in terms of frequency response, these modes also adjust which speakers are used. For example, in Standard mode, when streaming music in stereo, you will only hear sound from two channels on the soundbar plus the subwoofer. When one of the other three sound modes is selected, stereo is automatically upgraded to surround on all channels. The table below gives you an overview.
The HW-Q990B also introduces a new function to understand speech better. That is already the third option in that area, in addition to the possibility to increase the center channel and the Speech Enhancement function. AVA or Active Voice Amplifier analyzes environmental noise via a microphone and ensures that voices must always remain clearly audible. It is not entirely clear to us who is waiting for this. Maybe if you’re trying to watch the news while the family in the next room is busy, or something like that.
Before we really start the test work, we run the Auto EQ function. This is a function to compensate for things that are not correct acoustically in your living room. On receivers and some stereo products you will find such room calibration functions where you have to measure test tones with a microphone in different places. Here the Auto EQ is limited to a low test sound that plays for one minute. The HW-Q990B also supports SpaceFit+, a more advanced room calibration – but you’ll need a recent Samsung television for that. That is also required if you want to enjoy Q-Symphony, where the built-in speakers on your TV play along with the soundbar. We’ve already tried Q-Symphony with a large 65-inch Samsung flagship, and it worked pretty well. At the time, speakers were fitted at the top of the TV, so that Atmos effects sounded higher in the room.
If you look at the product page of this 2022 model at Samsung, it only seems to be equipped with Dolby support. The HW-Q990B therefore processes films with Dolby Atmos or older Dolby soundtracks perfectly. But the DTS:X support that was there with the HW-Q950A from 2021 seems to have been scrapped. However, that is not correct, something that is also apparent from the manual. If we play DTS:X content, for example via our Xbox, the Samsung soundbar identifies and plays it perfectly.
The immersion feeling is great with ‘Roma’ (Dolby Atmos, Netflix). We often use this film as a reference because the surround mix is very good and is a good example of how Atmos can contribute enormously to creating an atmosphere. Surround not only has added value for action films where the bullets fly around your ears. The HW-Q990B succeeds in bringing the many subtle sound effects, ranging from a radio playing in the background to parakeets chirping to our left and right. The city sounds in outdoor scenes float high in the air, which really gives a realistic feel. It is noticeable that the dialogues are delivered a bit too loud. We’ll adjust that anyway. In terms of clarity and placement, that center channel fulfills its task excellently. With Dolby’s ‘Audiosphere’ and ‘Nature’s Fury’ demos, we get a convincing 3D audio experience with our eyes closed, one of the best from a soundbar. ‘Horizon’ also impresses: the spaceships fly seamlessly from the back of the room to the screen, and the sports car also moves realistically through space. Note: what we said about setting up the soundbar is really important.
Popping action is also not a problem, although we are just more impressed with more subtle soundtracks. Perhaps because many soundbars bet on bombast anyway and do the finer work less well. In any case, there is nothing wrong with how the HW-Q990B manages the scene where the volcano erupts and all the dinosaurs run towards the sea in ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ (Ultra HD Blu-ray, DTS:X). The low-pitched rumble of the outburst reverberates well but isn’t overpowering, leaving room for the cries of the animals in the rear speakers and Chris Pratt’s cries. The primal scream of the T-Rex blows through the whole room. And that envelopment is also there with ‘Dune’ (Ultra HD Blu-ray, Dolby Atmos), with the strange and intriguing Hans Zimmer soundtrack and great effects – especially in the large-scale hand-to-hand battles between the Atreides and Harkonnen. When Paul Atreides flies into a sandstorm with his ornitopter a little later, the Samsung opts for large scale and some micro detail is lost. But in the excitement of the moment you may not notice it. This (and accurate placement) is perhaps the point where even a reference soundbar falls short of a discrete speaker setup.
‘No Time to Die’ (Ultra HD Blu-ray, Dolby Atmos) is, in our opinion, a very successful Bond film, with a very competent Atmos mix. The scene where Bond is chased by a gang of villains in Norway is a highlight in that area. Especially when they end up in a foggy forest. The HW-Q990B conveys the atmosphere that the filmmakers have put into the audio very well. Gunshots in the air echo through the forest, motorcycles pass in the distance, the oppressive is conveyed well. That large scale, that’s where this soundbar excels compared to almost every rival.
Thanks to streaming services, there are now many great music documentaries and concert recordings to be found. Especially Amazon Prime Video has a rich offer in that area. A good example is The Weeknd + the Dawn FM Experience (Amazon Video, Dolby Digital Plus), which is somewhere between a concert film and a succession of music clips. Here we hear a room-filling presentation in surround mode, where it is noticeable that the basses are a bit tighter (and that is good) than with most soundbars. Musical performance is, in our opinion, excellent with the HW-Q990B, even if we stream from Apple Music at another time. In Standard mode – so in 2.1 – it feels a bit flat, but upgrading to surround works well with pop music and other genres.
The HW-Q990B is a worthy successor to last year’s HW-Q950A. It brings both powerful blockbusters and subtle dialogue-driven films very convincingly. You will not be disappointed when gaming, although you do make sure that the next-gen console is connected directly to your TV. This Samsung also brings music excellently. Dropping stitches hardly works. Is it as good as a separate speaker setup that’s set up correctly? Not that again, because such a more complex and striking system will usually be more accurate anyway. Compared to almost all other soundbars, this is a reference.
And is there so much difference with last year’s model? Not really on the audio level, although work has been done on the dialogue display. The Samsung HW-Q990B combines the already very good audio performance with an improved user experience that will especially appeal to people who like to tweak. We also get the impression that the new rear speakers allow sound effects to move more seamlessly in the room.
- Full package with rear speakers
- Top class surround experience for a soundbar
- Decent musical performance
- Full control via app
- Tight bass reproduction + Auto EQ function
- Higher price range (already much lower real price)
- No HDMI 2.1 inputs
- Some (less crucial) functions only with certain Samsung TVs