Samsung HW-N950 soundbar system review

We were huge fans of Samsung’s HW-K950 soundbar, launched in 2016. Leveraging the sonic expertise of a new audio R&D facility in California, it did Dolby Atmos in 7.1.4 and wowed our ears with every movie. Yet it missed some out-of-the-box features, such as DTS:X support. Meet the new-for-2018 HW-N950…

Coming in at £1,500, the HW-N950 is once again 
a serious, home cinema-centric proposition, comprising 
the main soundbar, wireless subwoofer, and two wireless rear speakers.

At 1.23m long, the 'bar matches up neatly to most 55in screens but looked equally at home under my 65-incher. The styling is more innocuous than flamboyant, featuring a steely dark-grey chassis with metal grille, and a subtle blue display (on the far right) that goes off after a few seconds. What’s on the inside of the 'bar is a whole lot more thrilling.

There are 13 drivers with 13 amplifiers, rated in total at over 200W. Facing front are left, right and centre channels, each sporting two mid-range drivers and Samsung’s second-generation wide-bandwidth tweeter. While this new version doesn’t crossover to the mids at quite such 
a low frequency (700Hz compared to 400Hz on the K950), it’s 700Hz-20kHz bandwidth comes with 3dB more gain and an extremely wide dispersion pattern. That should afford a much greater sweet spot across the front soundstage and indeed your sofa.

Surround duties are handled by drivers positioned in the bar's end panels, designed to bounce their output off side walls and onwards to your ears. On the top face are two upfiring drivers for front Atmos/DTS:X overhead sound. These likewise project up and out from the bar, reflecting the sound from the ceiling so that audio is perceived as coming from above.

If 5.1.2 is all the surround sound 
you need, Samsung’s lower-cost HW-N850 does just that sub. The N950 auditioned here adds those 
two wireless rears with drivers for surround back channels and upward-facing units for rear overhead information.

The wireless sub, supplied with both Samsung's N850 and N950 packages, is something of a beast. A 160W amp drives an 8in driver mounted on the right side of a compact, rear-ported cabinet. It’s a solid, nicely built box, if not one 
of great visual merit. A potential issue with placement is that the driver and rear port need a bit of space, so can't 
be pushed up tight to walls, cabinets or sofas.

Badges? We don't need no...
This is the first time that a badge from Harmon/Kardon (now part of the Samsung stable) has appeared on 
a soundbar. Should we be excited by that? Probably not. Harmon/Kardon has a great deal of audiophile kudos thanks largely to its premium automotive sound systems, and that badge is great for marketing the HW-N950 to 
the masses. For HCC readers in the know, Samsung’s manufacturing scale and expertise in soundbars probably blows it away. Nice badge then, move along…

Samsung’s familiar remote handles the bar's basic setup, input selection and level adjustment with info scrolling across the short display. Slicker control can be had through Samsung’s SmartThings app, which is a further improvement over last year’s already pretty cool Samsung Connect. If you have a recent Samsung TV and link the HW-N950 you can throw away one remote control as they operate together pretty much as one item.

Ready, set, tweak
Without the benefit of a Samsung TV, setup was a little trickier than anticipated. Connecting the TV to the HW-N950 via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and ARC over HDMI is all possible but I had to make several attempts and twiddles with settings, and remove a rogue HDMI cable from 
my system that proved unable to pass a 4K HDR signal. Remember to ensure all your sources and TV-backhaul over ARC are running bitstream rather than PCM to get the full Dolby/DTS:X experience, and expect to spend some time getting everything up and running.

It’s worth it though, as the HW-N950 delivers solid-gold home cinema magic. That is particularly true of Samsung ‘Smart’ sound mode that subtly adjusts EQ relative to the content playing.

Kicking off with Dolby’s Atmos test clips, simply to ensure it was firing on all channels, was a jaw-dropping, pinch myself, ‘this is a soundbar’ moment. The Atmos effects were accurately located around the room and 
the sound had immediacy and the sort of projection and solidity I would expect from a multichannel speaker setup. And even in my decent-sized lounge (6m x 5m), the HW-N950 sounded largescale and authoritative, with plenty of headroom for high-volume listening.

The opening of Dolby’s Amaze clip sees the Samsung render a beautifully encompassing rain-forest ambient, complete with insect noises in all corners of the room. The sense of space is tangible as a bird flies high around the listening position. The rear speakers have a rare richness to them that most add-on soundbar rears lack; the lightning effect and rain patter shows this off well, creating believable atmospherics in 360 degrees and plenty of information from above. Low, rumbling thunder lets the sub come to the fore, with an also-rare combination (among soundbar subs at least) of bass depth and LFE tautness.

Moving on to The Matrix (Dolby Atmos, 4K Blu-ray), those classic demo scenes from back in the day sound better than ever. The foyer shootout is a cacophony 
of razor-sharp gunshot effects, thumping music and splintering marble, and the N950 doesn’t gloss over anything. The main 'bar produces a very wide soundstage and the front overheads fill in above. It’s solid, accurate 
and entertaining. And as the dialogue ensues, it is crystal-clear and articulate.

Perhaps due to the outstanding performance 
with native Atmos and even Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, 
the HW-N950's attempt to upscale broadcast stereo to multichannel sounds a little underwhelming in comparison. It’s a reasonable effect and adds scale and surround, 
but sticking to two-channel-plus-subwoofer feels more accurate and engaging. You may not be making full use 
of the whole package, but as a system for music, the HW-N950 can present a stereo tune with convincing aplomb. Hi-res FLAC, ALAC, AIFF and WAV files are supported, with Samsung's UHQ 32-bit music upscaling deployed for lower-quality sources.

A few weeks on test saw some tweaks in terms of speaker positioning. Moving the Samsung's rears a little further out from room walls delivered a most compelling overhead experience. I also ended up using +3 gain on all upfiring channels to really hammer home the overhead layer. In a different room, your mileage might vary. Getting the soundbar off the heavy table it was 
initially placed on also helped add extra girth to the front soundstage and improved dialogue intelligibility. If I was living with the 'bar I would probably want to wall-mount 
it under my display.

The HW-N950 is a soundbar triumph from Samsung, 
and the best premium model I've heard to date. It is a compelling buy even at £1,500, as I'd argue you would 
be hard pushed to get close to its stellar performance with 
a traditional AVR and speakers at the price. It’s a little fiddly to set up, you will have to find wall sockets for the wireless rear speakers, and three HDMI inputs would be better than just two – but if you want the class-leading home cinema soundbar of the day, the HW-N950 is it.


Samsung HW-N950

We say: Stunningly effective Atmos/DTS:X soundbar package with a home cinema performance to rival a good AV receiver and speakers.

Performance: 5/5
Design: 5/5
Features: 4/5
Overall: 5/5


Drive units: 3 x 1.2in tweeters; 6 x 2.5in midrange drivers; 2 x 3in full-range drivers (soundbar); 4 x 3in full-range drivers (surrounds)
Amplification (claimed): 350W total
Connections: 2 x HDMI inputs; 1 x HDMI (ARC) output; optical digital audio input
Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD MA: Yes/Yes. Plus Dolby Atmos/DTS:X
Separate sub: Yes. 160W, 8in driver
Remote control: Yes. Plus app
Dimensions: (Soundbar): 1,226(w) x 83(h) x 136(d)mm Weight: 8.8kg (soundbar)
Features: Wireless rear speakers and subwoofer; SmartThings app control; 7.1.4 soundstage; auto-optimised Smart mode; remote control sync with Samsung TVs; 4K HDR passthrough; UHQ 32-bit upscaling; Bluetooth; network audio streaming