This excellent all-in-one package delivers a genuine immersive audio experience from Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, making it unique among soundbars
- Superb sound quality
- Genuinely immersive performance
- Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support
- Simple to set up and discreet
- Attractively designed and well made
- Audio calibration very basic
- No eARC support
- Not exactly cheap
- Review Price: £1499
- Dolby Atmos and DTS:X
- Harman Kardon tuning
- Dimensions: W122.6 x H8.3 x D13.6cm
- Weight: 8.8kg
- 512W total power output
- 7.1.4-channel system; wireless sub and rears
- 3 x HDMI, 1 x optical, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
What is the Samsung HW-Q90R?
The Samsung HW-Q90R is the latest flagship soundbar from the company, boasting support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. It’s also the only soundbar that delivers a genuine immersive audio experience, assuming you don’t count Samsung’s previous flagship models, the HW-K950 and HW-N950.
Aside from changing the model number to make it easier to pair this year’s soundbars with Samsung’s 2019 QLED range of TVs, the HW-Q90R doesn’t seem all that different to the previous HW-N950. Both use a wireless active subwoofer and rear speakers, and both deliver Atmos and DTS:X using a 7.1.4-channel setup.
So what’s new? Well, that wireless active subwoofer has been given a redesign, and Samsung has added new Active Sound and Game Pro modes. Other than that it’s business as usual, but in part this is because the HW-N950 is a tough act to follow. Let’s find out if the HW-Q90R is actually worth the upgrade.
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Samsung HW-Q90R – Design
The Samsung HW-Q90R is identical to the HW-N950, with the same solid construction and metal grilles on the top, front and sides. There’s a dark metal finish to the edges and rear and a choice of one colour, which Samsung refers to as “Carbon Silver”.
The HW-Q90R has a width of 122.6cm, which means it’s clearly designed for larger screen sizes of 65 inches and bigger. However, it also manages to remain fairly discreet, with a height of 8.3cm and depth of 13.6cm. But if installation is an issue, there are dedicated brackets for wall mounting.
The wireless rear speakers are also the same as last year, with a finish that matches the soundbar and built-in amplification for forward- and upward-firing drivers. The speakers themselves measure W12 x H21 x D14.4cm and weigh 2kg.
The redesigned subwoofer still uses a rear bass port, side-firing 8-inch driver and sports a finish that matches the rest of the system. However, the dimensions are different, with the sub measuring W20.5 x H40.3 x D40.3cm and weighing in at 9.8kg. This revised shape is intended to improve the bass response and control.
The soundbar retains the simple front-facing LED display on the far right-hand side, which lights up when receiving an instruction, providing feedback on the volume, inputs and various settings. At the top-centre of the soundbar there are a few basic touch-sensitive buttons for power, input selection and volume.
The ergonomically designed remote is also unchanged, with a central navigation and play/pause control, along with a button for setting treble, bass, audio sync, and the levels of the various speakers. There’s also a source select button, a Bluetooth pairing button, the sound mode, volume up and down, mute and a control for setting the subwoofer level.
Samsung HW-Q90R – Features and connectivity
The Samsung HW-Q90R boasts many of the same features found on last year’s HW-N950, including the ability to decode Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, along with their numerous variants. Just like the previous model, it also delivers a genuine 7.1.4 immersive audio experience without resorting to sound beams or psychoacoustics.
The system uses 12 speakers (including the subwoofer), which comprise a total of 17 drivers. The front three channels use three drivers each – two woofers and a wide range tweeter – with all the other channels based on a single driver. The channels are divided into front-left and -right, centre, two sides, two rears, two front heights, and a pair of rear heights.
All these speakers are driven by 512W of built-in amplification, and the system has a claimed frequency response of 34Hz to 17kHz, with the subwoofer handling the lower frequencies. The sound has also been tuned by Samsung subsidiary Harman Kardon, ensuring that the HW-Q90R is a great performer with music as well as multi-channel audio.
Related: Dolby Atmos – All you need to know
There are four sound modes: Standard, Surround, Game Pro and Adaptive Sound. The first two were available last year, with Standard delivering the audio as encoded, and Surround upmixing it to take advantage of all the speakers. The other two are new, with the Game Pro mode designed to make gaming more immersive and realistic. The Adaptive Sound mode actually analyses the audio, and then changes the processing accordingly.
The HW-Q90R can handle various lossy and lossless audio formats including AAC, WAV, OGG, ALAC, AIFF and FLAC, with high-resolution support up to 32-bit. Samsung has included UHQ 32-bit upscaling for the highest quality audio playback, although whether you can take advantage of it will depend on your smart device.
The soundbar supports the SmartThings App, making setup easier and allowing you to control the HW-Q90R along with other connected devices from a single hub. It also works with Amazon Alexa, providing hands-free control and enabling you to listen to music via Spotify Connect.
It probably won’t come as a surprise to discover that connectivity remains largely the same as last year, with two HDMI inputs and an output. All the HDMI connections support 4K/60p, 4:4:4, Rec.2020, High Dynamic Range (HDR10, HLG, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision), 3D and HDCP 2.2.
Considering the price, two HDMI inputs seems rather stingy; you could easily have more than two lossless sources. The HDMI output does at least support ARC (audio return channel), but the promised eARC update has never materialised.
The only other physical connection is an optical digital input, but there are also a number of wireless options. The HW-Q90R includes both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth – although, disappointingly, there’s no support for Chromecast or Apple AirPlay.
Related: What is HDR?
Samsung HW-Q90R – Setup and operation
The Samsung HW-Q90R is incredibly easy to set up, which gives it a major advantage over taking the AV receiver/speaker package route instead. The latter would certainly deliver immersive audio in an effective manner and possibly sound better, but it would also be more fiddly and intrusive.
The Samsung system simply requires you to position the soundbar under the TV, place the subwoofer towards the front of the room, and put the rear speakers behind the main listening position. The rears and subwoofer may be wireless but you’ll still need to plug them in, and it’s worth remembering that the upward-firing drivers need a low and flat ceiling for the best results.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the HW-Q90R, and this applied to last year’s model as well, is that setup is a bit too simple. Samsung should take inspiration from the competition and include a dedicated microphone or set-up app to provide some form of automated room equalisation.
When it comes to devices, you should connect any lossless sources directly to the soundbar, and the rest you can connect to your TV and then pass the audio back via HDMI-ARC. You can send the audio from your TV’s built-in apps back via ARC as well, and in the case of Netflix and Amazon that includes Dolby Atmos.
In terms of operation there’s little to do, aside from choose the source, select an appropriate sound mode, set the volume, and possibly adjust the level of the wireless sub, if necessary. You have a number of control options available to you including the provided remote, your TV’s controller, the SmartThings app, or even voice control via Amazon Alexa.
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Samsung HW-Q90R – Performance
The Samsung HW-Q90R is an accomplished soundbar, regardless of its immersive audio capabilities. Thanks to the input of Harman Kardon, the sound quality is excellent. The soundbar itself delivers good stereo separation, and the left and right speakers integrate with the subwoofer to bring out the scope in recordings such as The Waterboys’ new album Where the Action Is.
The driving guitars of “London Mick” hark back to the days of punk, while the sweeping nostalgia of “Ladbroke Grove Symphony” is presented with a pleasing sense of scale. Instruments are placed across the stereo image with precision, and there’s excellent clarity to the vocals. The Standard sound mode is the best option here, retaining the balance of the original creative intention.
The system is even better when you move on to multichannel audio, because it gets a chance to show what it can do with its rear speakers. This is where the Samsung has a clear advantage over other soundbars, none of which come with actual rear speakers. You often have the option to add rears, but the HW-Q90R arrives as a single, ready-to-go package.
Watching a Netflix show such as Star Trek: Discovery reveals the clear benefits of these rear speakers, delivering surround with precision, enveloping you with sounds and seamlessly steering effects from speaker to speaker.
The climatic battle in season two of the show includes hundreds of spaceships flying around the soundstage, which the HW-Q90R delivers with gusto. There’s a feeling of location when inside the starships, thanks to subtle environmental cues included in the sound mix. Dialogue is delivered with a focused clarity, and the numerous explosions have a nice bass kick thanks to the redesigned subwoofer.
The Adaptive Sound mode can be quite effective at bringing more detail out of the soundtrack, but it tends to work best with sports broadcasts and less dramatic TV shows. For a show such as Star Trek: Discovery, the Surround mode is a good choice because it up-mixes the soundtrack to use the overhead channels, creating a more immersive experience.
Of course, where the HW-Q90R gets a chance to really strut its stuff is with proper immersive audio content encoded in Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. John Wick Chapter 2 has a brutal Atmos mix that perfectly matches the on-screen action. The punches hit with a visceral impact thanks to the sub, bullets whizz through the room and ricochet behind you, and gunshots echo thanks to the overhead channels. What little dialogue there is in the film is centred on the screen and perfectly intelligible thanks to the dedicated centre channel.
Related: HDMI 2.1 – what you need to know
There’s one aspect of the HW-Q90R’s design that’s often overlooked: it’s use of identical drivers in all the various speakers that results in fantastic tonal balance for the whole system. This makes it easier for effects to move around the three-dimensional soundstage without noticeably changing character from speaker to speaker.
The bass is also better integrated than last year, providing a solid low-frequency foundation for the entire system. The wide-range tweeters help ensure a larger sweet spot, and the side-firing drivers create a bigger front soundstage and help effects move from the front to the rear.
The 4K Blu-ray release of Apollo 13 has a fantastic DTS:X track that uses directional effects and the added overhead channels to portray the disorientating nature of zero gravity. As the crew struggle to save their crippled vessel, they float around in all directions and the sound design follows them.
The sounds of the hull buckling after the explosion completely immerses you, making the “Huston, we have a problem” sequence all the more frightening. There’s some excellent use of bass, too, especially as the massive Saturn V rocket takes off. The HW-Q90R handled all these aspects of the sound design with enormous skill, faithfully replicating the sound designers creative intent.
Why buy the Samsung HW-Q90R?
The Samsung HW-Q90R is an effective method of getting immersive audio in your lounge with minimum fuss. This attractive and extremely well-made soundbar includes wireless rear speakers and a wireless subwoofer. It also supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and thanks to front and rear upward-firing drivers it can produce a genuine 7.1.4-channel system.
The HW-Q90R is easy to set up, and has a choice of control options including the provided remote, the SmartThings app, and even hands-free via Alexa. There are some useful features such as an Adaptive Sound mode, and thanks to tuning from Harman Kardon, it sounds great with music.
However, it’s with multichannel audio that the HW-Q90R really fulfils its potential, surrounding you in effects thanks to the rear speakers, mining deep bass with the upgraded subwoofer, and bouncing sounds off the ceiling to create the overhead channels. The result is a genuinely immersive experience from Atmos and DTS:X that’s superior to any other soundbar.
Or at least any other soundbar apart from last year’s Samsung HW-N950. This is virtually identical and remains an excellent option for those looking to create a genuine 7.1.4-channel experience, while saving a few hundred quid at the same time.
As far as alternatives are concerned, you could take a look at the Sony HT-FZ9, the LG SL10YG, or the Yamaha YSP-5600. All of these options are cheaper but they’re also soundbar and subwoofer combinations – aside from the Yamaha, which doesn’t even include a sub. Since they all lack rear speakers, the soundstage they produce tends to be very front heavy.
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This excellent all-in-one package delivers a genuine immersive audio experience with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, making it unique among new soundbars. However, it isn’t hugely different from last year’s HW-N950, which is just as impressive and currently available at reduced prices.
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