It is gradually becoming an annual tradition that Samsung releases a soundbar that aims for reference status. As of 2022, the HW-Q990C is an 11.1.4 Dolby Atmos soundbar with separate wireless speakers that promises a surround experience at the highest.
The HW-Q990C is Samsung’s new flagship soundbar. Connoisseurs of the Korean company’s range will immediately recognize that name. After all, this C-model follows last year’s HW-Q990B. The fact that only one letter differs in terms of naming is significant. The new soundbar is visually almost identical to the predecessor, and what is added in terms of features is also fairly limited. What you read in that review is largely relevant to this model as well.
But that does not change what this new soundbar has to offer. The HW-Q990C is an 11.2.4 model equipped with more than a handful of speakers in the soundbar itself (22!). And equipped with two advanced wireless speakers that you have to place next to and behind your sofa. You can even purchase tripods from Samsung to neatly place them. We use ‘advanced’ here because Samsung offers more channels than most rivals with bundled speakers. The rear speakers are larger, powerful models (pardon the pun). For all this, you pay a grand prize: 1,599 euros. That is quite a bit, but we do notice that price stability at Samsung is not always a fact. Their soundbars – including the top model – tend to become a bit cheaper quickly.
|What||11.1.4 sound bar|
|Formats||Dolby Atmos (and earlier, including Dolby MAT), DTS:X (and earlier)|
|streaming||AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, Bluetooth|
|Inputs||HDMI-ARC, 2 x HDMI, optical|
|Extras||Space Fit, Q-Symphony, SmartThings hub|
|Dimensions||123.2 x 6.95 x 13.8 cm (sound bar)|
|Dimensions||12.95 x 20.1 x 14 cm (rear speaker)|
|Dimensions||22 x 41.3 x 41 cm (sub)|
Every year we look forward to seeing what Samsung can do to give its new top model something new. There’s only so much you can do in the audio field. It is even more challenging because Samsung is already progressive with its top model. The coolest features were already on it. So what will 2023 bring? A major novelty is situated in a completely different field. The HW-Q990C is equipped with a built-in SmartThings hub. You can use these to operate smart devices like Hue lamps or sensors. It is not a functionality you might expect from a soundbar, but it is not surprising. Previous soundbars from the Korean brand hooked up to the SmartThings platform anyway. The company also indicated that it would rather process the hub functionality in another device (such as a TV or soundbar) than work with a separate hub, a bit like Apple, which sees an Apple TV 4K or iPad as the center of the smart home event.
A novelty is a mode where you place the rear speakers in the front. That sounds a bit crazy. You park the two speakers a little further to the left and right of the soundbar itself. You must indicate in the app that you choose this mode, after which the wireless speakers play a different part of the sound content. If you place the rear speakers next to the sofa and notice that they also play dialogue very loudly, there is a good chance that they are accidentally in everything in front mode. Although you do notice the mode because those devices play quite loudly in this mode, it is not entirely clear who would choose this. In any case, it provides many devices under and around the TV. You can’t call it discreet.
A large grid
You’ve come to the wrong place if you’re looking for a soundbar with a soft appearance or a finish in a hip textile. The Samsung design language for this device is more in the corner of clean lines and harder materials. Almost all visible surfaces are covered with a grid. In photos, you can see the different speakers through that grille; in practice, they are not noticeable. Seen from the seat it is a black bar. Nice: you don’t see dust here, unlike many soundbars that are covered with textiles.
The HW-Q990C is also quite angular, with the cut corners at the front making it slightly more interesting than the typical bar shape. If that all sounds very cold and technical? That is exaggerated. The Samsung is especially very low and inconspicuous. There is a screen, but in good Samsung custom, it is hidden on the right side behind the grille at the front. You rarely see it. That is not so bad, because the display is not very useful.
The cut corners are not just an aesthetic thing, by the way. Already with the previous generation, the Samsung flagship received a pair of speakers that radiate at an angle, in addition to the speakers that point straight to the left and right. These extra wide channels help to hit that number ’11’ in the 11.1.4 that the manufacturer promises. But they also provide a wider soundstage.
The two rear speakers and the subwoofer that you will find in the gigantic box match the soundbar in terms of design. It’s a beautiful set. The burly subwoofer is best placed in the front near the television. Fortunately, it is nicely finished. You are not very flexible regarding the placement of the rear speakers. They are quite a bit behind the sofa, but not too far.
With this soundbars class, we must emphasize that the soundbar is placed ten centimeters in front of the TV. Completely free, with nothing obstructing the sound from the side and overhead speakers.
Full control via the app
We have already noticed with previous generations that the small screen on the soundbar is rarely useful. And certainly not to adjust settings. That used to be a problem because the accompanying app was very sparse. However, Samsung has taken that criticism and now provides full control via the app. We now write ‘app,’ but it is a mini-app within the SmartThings app that allows you to operate a thousand and one devices. Many Samsung devices (including robot vacuum cleaners and refrigerators) and smart devices are from third parties.
The section of the Samsung soundbar is very extensive. Several things go more smoothly via the supplied remote, and that is true. In the app, however, you will find things that are easier to arrange via a smartphone screen, such as an equalizer and volume control per channel. A small criticism: it would be useful if you could control the levels of the rear speaker separately. Sometimes a rear speaker is further than the others, which is useful.
With the HW-Q990C, even more, is possible in the app. The soundbar has a full SmartThings hub to connect smart devices and set up automation. You have the same options and possibilities here as a separate SmartThings hub. You may not need that with a soundbar, but it is an interesting way to make your home smarter in one fell swoop.
Musically strong too
Musically, the HW-Q990C certainly does not do badly. ‘Road to Nowhere’, performed on stage during the American Utopia theater tour, has a beautiful live sound and a lot of body. While the company walks around on stage with its instruments, there is a lot of movement in the sound. David Byrne’s gang then moves into the room and walks between the seats while the audience gives a standing ovation – and that applause nicely appears around us in the seat. In Adaptive Mode, it is a bit less enveloping than the film fragments we viewed earlier, but perhaps that is a choice of Samsung. Upgrading music to something like Atmos can sometimes add an artificial edge to what you hear. With source material in Dolby Atmos, that is slightly different. Via a connected Apple TV 4Kvia Apple Music, we listen to the Atmos version of ‘Eclipse,’ an album with violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn who brings together works by Dvorak, Ginastera, and Sarasate with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony. Here those extra speakers in the soundbar and wireless speakers are better used to envelop us. Without exaggerating, that also has to do with the good production of this album. Dolby Atmos is usually applied with a soft hand in classical music to provide more of a concert hall experience, not to surprise you with a bunch of timpani going off behind you. There is nothing wrong with a stereo track and in stereo mode, either. A little more body with the guitars is allowed with ‘Cops on Our Trail’ by Trentemøller and The Raveonettes, but the bass beats in this song and techno work are well defined. The subwoofer with the HW-Q990C is, therefore, very good for a soundbar. That is certainly not always the case.
Ten out of ten for enclosure
The HW-Q990C seems made for a movie like ‘Fast & Furious 9’. Pounding music and growling engines can be reproduced simultaneously in a fairly large surrounding field without any problems. Everything is well-defined, and there’s enough dynamic power to show more subtle things as things fly into the air. Samsung does very well to create a large sound bubble around you. The only downside is that the front could be slightly more open. We suspect this will be different if you combine the soundbar with a recent Samsung TV and activate the Q-Symphony function.
The two rear speakers do make a significant contribution to the good envelope. When the FF team in the jungle finds Mr. Investigating Nobody and is ambushed by soldiers, the bullets fly behind us. That three-dimensionality has been a strong point for the last two generations, and it still is. This is the best performance in this area compared to other soundbars with separate rear speakers. Even during hectic scenes, speech remains audible, another strong point of this soundbar.
While watching FF9, we did reach for the SmartThings app to tweak the levels of the various channels. You can do that quickly; this way, we could attune the sound bubble a little more to our situation. Moments later, Vin Diesel and co try to escape through a jungle, and a buggy flies over a motorcycle and the Diesel mobile – seen from the front in this shot. The HW-Q990C conveys that very well; the buggy flies over us well. The rear speakers are not only strong in terms of the surround channels but also in terms of the rear heights that support Atmos so strongly.
The same also happened with the strong opening scene of the otherwise not brilliant ‘Uncharted’ with Tom Holland. The games were better, but the exciting scene where Nathan Drake hangs from a cargo plane in full flight is well done – although you get served it a half times in this film. Where the HW-Q990C excels is what we noted earlier. As Drake spins in the air, the wind noise settles around us. The foggy forest scene in ‘No Time To Die’ is also convincing. Smaller details, like guns being loaded or the ferns being pushed out of the way, we pick up perfectly. At the same time, there’s a huge sense of spaciousness, with the engines of the pursuers echoing in the distance, and there’s a huge echo from the gunfire. We’re really in the middle of the action in a nail-biting way.
The HW-Q990C, like its predecessor, the HW-Q990B, is a rock-solid soundbar that very few rivals can match. If you are willing to place two relatively compact rear speakers permanently next to your sofa, you will find just about the best performance you can expect from a soundbar in this Samsung. Whether the HW-Q990C is even a must-have upgrade compared to its predecessor? Then again not. Not in the sound field, although the automatic SpaceFit function is an interesting addition. Should you buy it because you also get a versatile smart home hub in one go? That is a personal decision, though.
- Excellent rear speakers that provide real envelopment
- Reference on a plane in terms of surround field size
- Built-in SmartThings hub
- Easy to adjust via the app
- Sober, understated design
- Still no HDMI 2.1
- Larger rear speakers that must be placed correctly
- The smarthomehub is nice but not necessary.