group test
soundbars
Samsung HW-K950
Samsung HW-K950
soundbar system
Soundbars did
away with rear
speakers — but
Samsung is
bringing them
back, with this
5.1.4 Atmosenabled solution.
SUMMARY
Samsung HW-K950
soundbar system
Price: $1999
+ Powerful immersive sound,
good with movies, TV & music
+ Good multiroom app control
+ Wireless rear speakers
- Do you want rear speakers?
- Best for use with Samsung TV
40
W
hen soundbars first
started their rise, they
generally pretended to
be a more home-friendly
substitute for a full
surround system, given that few living rooms
really suited the installation of rear speakers
and trails of cables around the room. These
days the pretence of achieving surround from
a front bar is often dropped, and soundbars
have become promoted as a straightforward
TV audio solution.
With the HW-K950, Samsung is squaring
that circle, creating a soundbar which comes
with not only a separate subwoofer but also a
pair of rear speakers. None of these requires a
connecting cable, as they are wirelessly linked
with the soundbar, though they do each need
a mains socket and cable, four in all.
And there’s more. The soundbar provides
not just a tweeter and two midranges for each
of three discrete front channels, it also has
speakers on top to bounce height channels off
your ceiling. So do the rear speakers. So yes,
this K950 is a 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos soundbar.
Equipment
The bar part of the set-up is solid and
purposeful, yet applaudably discreet in being
entirely black with no distinguishing marks
except a quiet logo top left, which you won’t
even see from your usual couch position. It is 121cm
long and 13cm deep, while its 8cm height is low enough
to keep it under the screen of a Samsung TV. (Note,
however, that the enormous stand on the Samsung
KS9000 TV with which we reviewed the K950 extended
so far forward of the TV that you’d need a bench depth
of 56cm to accommodate both the TV and the bar on the
same surface.) Wall-mounting brackets are provided.
Knowing as a reviewer how long it can take to set up
a complete 5.1-channel surround system, let alone the
Atmos-enabled 5.1.4 configuration here, the Samsung
was delightfully easy to get running, with a good manual
explaining things fully, not just with incomprehensible
pictograms. There are a number of possibilities, however,
because in addition to the options of connecting your
TV to the K950’s inputs by analogue minijack, optical
digital or HDMI with the Audio Return Channel, there
is a wireless option. Recent Samsung TVs equipped
with the company’s multiroom audio system can also
use your home Wi-Fi to send audio to the K950, since
it has similar wireless multiroom abilities. These, plus
Bluetooth streaming, allow app control and music
streaming to the soundbar system as part of an extended
Samsung multiroom system.
If you want to take advantage of true Dolby Atmos,
however, you must use the soundbar’s HDMI connections. The K950 has two HDMI inputs and one output,
all HDMI 2.0 sockets with HDCP2.2 support, so you can
play UHD Blu-rays (most likely from a Samsung player!)
or 4K content from games consoles through the system
to your UHD TV.
groupsoundbars
test
Atmos 5.1.4
The K950 bar itself has
two drivers that fire
upwards at an angle to
bounce sound off your
ceiling; the two surround
speakers (right) have one
each. That’s four ‘height’
channels added to five
traditional surround
channels — front left,
centre and right (in the
soundbar) and rear left and
right (from the separate
wireless rear speakers),
making this a 5.1.4 system.
And all real, not virtualised,
though the height channels
are “Atmos-enabled” rather
than being actual speakers
positioned on the ceiling.
Performance
We wired our sources in by
HDMI, another HDMI to the
Samsung TV’s ARC-equipped
HDMI input, positioned
the rears as indicated in the
manual (between 90 and 110
degrees behind your listening
position), connected the four
power cables, and powered up
the soundbar.
At this point you check
the back of the sub and rear
speakers to see what colour
light they are showing. The
satellites went solid blue
immediately (connected),
the subwoofer stayed red just
long enough for us to read the
manual re-pairing section of
the guide, but then went blue
on its own.
We switched the TV to
free-to-air channels — and
the sound was thin, the
presenters tinny and nasal. It
took about a minute of alarm
to realise we hadn’t selected the
ARC input on the soundbar,
so were listening to the TV’s
own speakers — duh! So, we
selected ARC input and — delight, things sounded
immediately ‘right’, a good balance of sound, with
no obvious honk or bloat. The tennis was on, and
if its commentary was just a little peaked and fizzy,
the surrounding atmosphere was palpable, even
when coming through in mere stereo.
We accessed Netflix through the Samsung TV’s
Smart Hub and the 5.1 soundtracks came through
to the K950 almost too strongly; the rears were a
little hot with the surround effects; we moved them
to a distance of 1.2m slightly behind us, which
created a realistic and diffuse soundfield (though
twin surrounds inevitably deliver a balanced
soundfield only to one central position).
Massive bass pulses over the opening scene
of Spectre were low and strong enough to feel
physical, rather than merely audible, and this was
with the sub level dialled down by one notch in
our initial set-up. In Bond’s ensuing helicopter
fight, the rear rotor does a good few spins of the
surround stage, and the Samsung system delivered
this with not quite ‘man walks around the room’
accuracy but with a real sense of home cinema
steerage, something even clever front soundbars
simply can’t do.
We got tough and gave it some music — most
soundbars can make movies sound good, but not
so much music. This one does, quite beautifully
with our opening salvo of music from Netflix,
before switching to Bluetooth and finding that to
be slightly muddier and more likely to congest.
We
then
took a
moment to load
Samsung’s multiroom
app. With this we got the K950 on our Wi-Fi network
(second attempt) and then signed off Samsung’s
alarming set of T&Cs (love that third-party recording
and storing of everything we say clause, guys), in order
to stream across the network and, with great success,
from Tidal at CD quality (only the desktop Tidal accesses
more so far, see p83), delivered with great musicality.
Were this a pair of hi-fi speakers, we might point to a
slight lack of lower mids so that male vocals are thinned
a little, or a bass that is not musically fast enough (we
would have ridden the bass level more according to
individual songs had we not misunderstood the remote,
see below). Really, from a soundbar arrangement this
was impressive musical performance.
We even enjoyed engaging the ‘surround’ button,
which spreads a stereo or 5.1 signal across all its
speakers — and with the height speakers also lifting
things vertically, there is a great sense of space added
by this processing, and without the usual side effect of
buggering up the sound too much. Generally preferring
our audio as nature intended, we rarely touch this stuff,
but it was hard not to like what it did with everything
from Green Onions to ‘Lemonade’... Joni Mitchell’s
Carey came out sounding positively quadrophonic. It
was great for the tennis as well. (This option is disabled
when playing Atmos soundtracks via HDMI.)
41
group test
soundbars
ABOVE LEFT: Samsung’s multiroom app allows control and music streaming; ABOVE RIGHT: The soundbar front and top, and the separate wireless subwoofer.
Less enchanting the various ‘Effects’, which just
mess with the EQ, though the ‘Night’ mode has its uses,
damping down the exuberance and excitement rather,
to protect the innocent. There is also bass, treble and
(forward only) audio sync. All these could be adjusted
via the remote control.
This musical clarity and smoothness would seem to
indicate a low distortion performance and significant
power. We discourage, of course, taking much note of
power claims on soundbars — most use the digital AV
standard of measuring with up to 10% THD, which
allows some wildly generous wattage claims compared
with proper hi-fi standards. With the K950 the reverse
measurement would be more interesting, to know how
low is its distortion at a level which is loud but not too
loud (somewhere below 40 on its scale of 50, see below);
we suspect it would score creditably low.
Time to switch to true Dolby Atmos via Blu-ray. As
our copy of Star Trek Beyond usefully reminded us when
we selected its Atmos soundtrack, you must set your
Blu-ray player to bitstream out and disable secondary
audio. Gosh this was fun. Tannoy announcements came
from the high ceilings of Yorktown arrivals lounge, the
Enterprise’s whooping red alert popped out of the skies;
the dialogue remained clear and the widespread music
intact through most of the action. If not the crystallised
hemisphere we’ve heard from true 5.1.4 or 5.2.4 Atmos
in a dedicated room (at oodles of multiples of the price),
it was thoroughly enjoyable and impressive from a
soundbar package. And the Dolby Atmos test disc’s Leaf
Trailer performed as perfect a loop around our heads as
we’ve heard. The subwoofer is perhaps the weakest link,
delivering a high level of bass even when tamed a notch
or two, not going low enough for that truly stomachfrightening bottom octave, and consequently booming
out rather too much in its efforts to do so.
The provided remote control confused us, and its
hard ridges hurt our thumbs. The four-direction circle
didn’t control volume, while pressing the ridged ‘Vol’
button usually muted it, but often wouldn’t then unmute
it. Only after several days and downloading the longer
manual did we find that the ridged button could be
42
pivoted up and down to control volume;
right dim we felt for not realising earlier.
We had been using the Samsung TV’s
remote, which communicated through
to the soundbar for volume control and
reliable muting. You’ll need the soundbar
remote when streaming via Bluetooth,
however, since that TV connection is
then broken, and you use a combination
of the soundbar remote and your smart
device’s own volume controls. Having
the volume right up on the soundbar
gives you the full range from your smart
device — much louder, but distorted. Of
the 50 stops of level available, we reined
it back to 42 (the answer, of course, to
everything) and then had a good control
range available from our iPhone without
incurring the distortion. Doing this iteratively we also found that every time we
left the Bluetooth input and returned, it
required reselection on the iPhone. (We
quite accept that this is likely our own
fault for not having a Galaxy to hand.)
Conclusion
This soundbar is more than twice the
price of the preceding models, and
proves that if you have the budget to
spend, you can achieve impressive
performance and a heap of useful
features, including Samsung’s multiroom
system, and some less useful too. Enjoy
the K950 as we did, there are a few key
qualifying questions before you consider
it. First, do you really want rear speakers
in your lounge, remembering they’ll both
need power connections and that only
one person gets the sweet spot? Secondly
do you have a Samsung TV, preferably a
recent one? Because it was much easier to
use in partnership than on its own.
Two yeses? Then we can recommended the Samsung K950, which
succeeds in fitting a true 5.1.4 Atmosenabled set-up within a $2000 package.
It can’t challenge a good dedicated
AV receiver and speaker package, but
you won’t get that (particularly Atmos
height), and wireless rears too, for this
price. Which is why soundbars came to
the fore in the first place. This system
brings soundbars back into a proper
home cinema space, with real rears and
bounced height channels delivering
an enveloping surround sound which
impresses with movies and, we’re
delighted to say, with music. Jez Ford
SPECS
Samsung HW-K950
$1999
Drivers: 3 x 43mm tweeter, 6 x 66mm
midrange, 2 x 66mm height (bar);
1 x 8-inch woofer (sub); 1 x 66mm surround,
1 x 66mm height (each rear); 16 drivers in all.
Quoted power (all THD <10%):
Soundbar 11 x 18W; subwoofer 162W
rears 2 x 35W each
Inputs: 2 x HDMI 2.0 , 1 x optical digital, 1 x
analogue minijack, Wi-Fi networking, USB
(service only), Bluetooth, micro-USB (service)
Outputs: 1 x HDMI 2.0 with ARC
Network file type support: MP3, WMA, AAC,
OGG, FLAC, WAV
Streaming services: Spotify Connect, Deezer
Premium+, TuneIn
Dimensions (bar): 1210 x 82mm x 131mm
Dimensions (sub): 204 x 400 x 414mm
Dimensions (rears): 120 x 211 x 141mm
Weight: 6.7kg (bar), 9.6kg (sub), 2.0kg (rears)
Contact: Samsung Electronics Australia
Telephone: 1300 362 603
Web: www.samsung.com.au
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