If you're ready to stop planning a big elaborate stereo system and just want 9.1.4 channels that work out of the box, there aren't that many options on the market. The HW-Q950T, from Samsung, tries to deliver on that promise, and in our review we'll cover all the questions you're asking about this unit, and some of the important questions you might not have thought to ask yet.
The Samsung HW-Q950T is an impressive 9.1.4 channel stereo system powered by a soundbar, sub, and two satellite speakers. It has most of the features you'd expect (Dolby Atmos, eARC, etc.), but, due to limited software options, we recommend waiting for a price drop.
This may come as a surprise to you, but overall our feel of this product is that it's a little rushed to market, with a software back-end that doesn't hold up the admittedly premium hardware. At the current price-point (Amazon link), you owe it to yourself to read ahead and understand all the details.
Overall, the premium look of this system is going to compliment many spaces. Like Ford's model T, it comes in any color you want, so long as it's black.
The soundbar itself is a whopping 48 inches wide. It takes a lot of room to pack those speakers in, and the soundbar may actually overhang some TVs on either side--it might be wider than the actual TV. That's OK cosmetically since the flat, almost matte black coloring of the soundbar should fade into the background pretty well. It's 2.7in tall, and 5.4in deep, so the unit will fit on a mantle just fine, or tuck close to the wall if mounted. The height may cause clearance issues with some TVs, but your mileage will very on that one.
At 15.7 lbs, hanging this soundbar can be a bit of a hassle, but luckily you only have to do it once. And the speakers, this soundbar has a 7.0.2 channel configuration with fifteen drivers built-in. That's more drivers in a single soundbar than we've seen in any soundbar before.
The angled plastic grills on the side give the soundbar just enough of a design touch to not just be a dense black block. That's OK with us...it's much better for a soundbar to fade into the background than stand out. The mesh covering that runs the length of the unit though...it's going to look great while it's new, but it seems like a dust/pet hair magnet, so time will tell. It may require some periodic cleaning to maintain the premium look.
The subwoofer is 8.3in by 15.9in tall by 15.9in deep, and weighs 21.6 lbs. The 8in, 160w driver will pump out a ton of sound. There's a rear port as well, to increase the sound quality. Where the soundbar seems to have a cohesive design, the subwoofer is more confused.
It has a soft mesh cover for the driver, a black matte finished exterior, and glossy external port. It's all black, but it still seems like a bit of a mashup. Not a huge deal, since the subwoofer will likely be hidden away in a corner of the room or behind furniture somewhere anyway. It is frankly huge, so this is what we recommend. Ports: you get power input, and a pairing button if you need it.
The rear speakers are 4.7in wide by 8.3in tall by 5.6in deep, and they each weigh 4.6 lbs. What's really interesting is that these speakers are each in 1.0.1 channel configurations. That's right, you get the normal front-firing driver you'd expect, but they've also managed to pack more of those Dolby Atmos upward firing speakers, which will do even more to create the 3D sound effect.
The design of the two rear speakers is more cohesive with the soundbar. IT still has that black mesh on the front that looks nice (at least before it starts collecting dust). And the power port on the bottom of the speakers allows the cord to tuck underneath them while the speaker can lay flat. A nice touch. Then, there's that manual pairing button if you need it. Want to mount these? No problem: they do come with a mounting hole in the back.
On interesting note: while we usually see rear speakers as interchangeable in a setup like this, the HW-Q950T's rear speakers are unique. They're labelled for left and right, and they really do need to be on the correct side. I can tell you from experience that when they're swapped it does not sound great!
First off, let's cover the overall surround sound channels. This is a 9.1.4 channel system, which means it offers all the channels you could hope for, and all of it in a nice, connected package. If you've seen our review of the Nakamichi Shockwave Ultra 9.2.4 system, you know that when the number of speakers gets this high, you're getting even more bang for your buck because it means the soundbar is pulling double duty as the receiver as well.
The HW-Q950T packs these channels into four actual components. There's the soundbar--the star of the show--generating 7 of the front-firing channels and all four of the upward-firing channels, and then you get two satellite speakers to bring the total channel count up to 9. Then, rounding out the team is a wireless subwoofer.
Those upward-firing speakers on the soundbar mean this unit is capable of processing and delivering advanced sound formats like Dolby Atmos and DST:X. These 3D, object-based sound formats make you feel like your more in the sound, because those upward-firing drivers bounce sound off your ceiling to build a literal 3D soundscape for you. It's an incredibly immersive experience, rivaled only by going to the theater.
You've got four clicky buttons on the top of the soundbar--and I say clicky here to draw attention to the fact that they're physical buttons. Not the sort of capacitive-touch buttons you see on some soundbars. I personally prefer these and am happy to see them here. These four buttons include volume up/down, a multi-function button, and a mic mute/unmute button.
You get a nice little display centered between these buttons, with just enough room to give you the right amount of information. If you're cycling through inputs using the multi-function button, it flashes BT, WIFI, etc.--just the small amount of information you need at that time. It's cleverly simple, especially when considered against the led status lights on the front of the soundbar.
The three status LEDs indicate simple command receipt by the unit, and there's a red one to show when the mic is muted. Always an appreciated detail nowadays, when everything that has a mic seems to be listening all the time.
Lastly, there's a generic Samsung soundbar remote that comes in the box. It's nothing to write home about, but will enable you to manage the soundbar remotely with no no limitations.
Starting with the basics, there's a power input on the opposite end of the soundbar to the HDMI connections. It's easy to access, and the power cable will need to be run cleverly so that it's well hidden. Not much more to report here, which is good news.
Moving to the HDMI ports, there are two HDMI inputs, and one HDMI eARC to go to the TV. At this price point, we'd like to see a few more HDMI inputs (since you likely have several devices to connect, not just two), but the real interesting thing here is the eARC. If you've seen our article explaining ARC and eARC, you know this is a really nice future-proofing advantage. eARC isn't hugely popular right now, but it's only going to gain popularity.
There's a digital optical input as well, but there's almost no reason you would ever want to use it. The limitations of digital optical mean that it can only carry and support a 5.1 channel signal. So if you did end up using optical with this unit, you'd be wasting a ton of the 9.1.4 channels available to you. That said, if all you have is an optical connection while you figure some other things out, the soundbar will work with optical.
There are a few pairing buttons for resetting speaker connections and pairing with the smartphone app, and a USB port that can be used to update the firmware should you need to do that. Moving away from physical ports, you can also connect to and stream from this unit over wifi and Bluetooth, giving you even more options.
One detailed note: when installing this unit, we found that the HDMI alcove was a little tight, requiring some heavy bending of the cables to fit, but that didn't translate into a loss of audio quality, so it's hard to say this is an actual problem.
Samsung is very specific with how you set this unit up. There's a certain power-up/pairing process that you should aim to follow: power and startup the subwoofer first, then the satellite speakers, and only then power up the soundbar. That led to no problems for us, and only took 4-5 minutes to actually turn everything on and pair it. Follow the instructions in the manual and you'll be fine.
The layout recommendaitons include putting a subwoofer in the front half of the room, and putting the satellite speakers at 135 or 150 degree angles from the center-line of where you'll be sitting. If that sounds a bit complicated, don't worry - there are pictures in the manual that help out a lot for this.
You'll also get the best effects from this unit in a rectangular shaped room with flat cielings. Part of the cleverness of this speaker system is to use the flat walls and flat ceiling to reflect sound off the walls properly, building that rich 3D soundscape. But the good news is that even in our test space with a vaulted ceiling and open floor plan it all still sounded really great.
Using the Samsung Smartthings application, you can pair your speakers once they're up and running. From there, you can connect up the pipes to Alexa and your favorite music streaming services. There aren't many settings to change here (input/volume/a few pre-set sound modes) but if you want to go beyond that, you'll need to use the included remote and the screen on the soundbar.
This is a bit of a miss...forcing you to use the tiny screen on the device to manage settings like treble and bass is frankly a bit goofy. It's not clear why these can't be handled in the app. But these are settings you shouldn't have to mess with very often, so this isn't a huge gripe.
When everything is working correctly and the sounds are bouncing off the ceiling and walls as expected, this unit performs extremely well. It's such a big configuration, with so many channels, you really do get that full soundscape effect of Dolby Atmos/DTS:X. It's very immersive, and you can clearly hear the discrete channels from each speaker if you try to.
In a space that's not optimized for the bouncing sounds, you do lose a little of that immersion and cleanness. And in that kind of use case, where the soundbar isn't able to really control the sound and wrangle everything together, it starts to reveal how much thumpier the subwoofer could be, and how tinny-edged the sound from the satellite speakers is. Alone, these speakers show their weaknesses.
They need the soundbar to connect everything together acoustically, so a space that doesn't allow the reflections off side-walls and ceilings as planned is going to reveal that more clearly. But these are small issues. In a room that is boxy and ready to play ball with these speakers in the way Samsung has designed them, the effect truly is incredible, rivaling the theater audio experience.
This is a really great and capable surround sound unit. It has an incredible soundstage in which you can actually hear the individual channels, and that's true for the 3D object-based Atmos and DTS:X streams too. This is really impressive and immersive. The HDMI eARC is a great creature comfort, minimizing the number of remotes and allowing you to use your TV normally.
Inclusion of Alexa is a nice touch, giving it that much more functionality, and the back-end, Samsung's Smartthings app, gives you just enough control to make you feel like you can play whatever you want on your sound system at basically any time. The goal is a unit that "just works" without much tinkering, and this unit really delivers on that functionality.
The software does leave some big things to be desired. If you're like me and you goofed up a little bit on the install, and then had to figure out the pairing process, you'll know it's an absolute pain. And the forums show that some users actually can't get their speakers to pair at all. The hardware looks premium, but the software screams "gen 1" with some of these bugs which are unexcusable at the price point.
And I know I've bragged on the soundstage of this system, but there are some times--notably when going from a loud scene right into another where people are talking--that it struggles to bridge the gap from loud to quiet in a way that preserves the audio quality. Sometimes you have to turn the volume up when people are speaking, then turn it way down when the action starts again, and there's no direct way to address this balancing issue in the software.
And this is a great example of the main issue with this soundbar. The balance issue described above is a classic example of what you'd use fine-tuning controls in the app to fix, and Samsung has chosen to simply not include those controls. And without an automated room-calibration tool, this leads to a perfect storm of frustration.
Even using the comically small screen on the soundbar to try and tweak some things is a fools errand...it's just too silly of a screen to get anything done on. And even if the screen was bigger, you have to go up to the soundbar every time you want to make a change. This means you have to make a tweak, go sit back down and listen to how it sounds, get up to make another tweak, etc..
At time of writing, the price of $1,600 is too high for this unit. Although it delivers on the sound quality, the software issues (namely the lack of fine tuning controls on the app) lead to a beautiful, capable set of equipment that you can't ever get just right. Prices will come down and, more importantly, in time Samsung may make the software better, so waiting for a price drop here means you may get a better unit in the end too.