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The release of the Samsung HW-K950 Dolby Atmos soundbar by the California-based Harman Kardon audio lab at first seemed like sheer gamble. Nobody believed in the success of a system with dual wireless surround speakers, 15 drivers (including four wired ceiling speakers) and a significant price.
The new HW-N950 soundbar is even more impressive than its predecessor, with an even higher price tag. With new wired front-facing drivers for a wider soundstage, support for Dolby Atmos and DTS: X 3D Surround, and impressive audio clarity, Samsung’s latest audio system paves the way for new surround sound standards. In the proposed review of Samsung HW-N950, we will get acquainted with the characteristics of the soundbar in more detail.
Samsung HW-N950 review
It is not easy to fit 17 speakers into the HW-N950’s sound system, and it can be clearly seen in its packaging. It is a massive white-beige parallelepiped weighing over 27 kg. Inside, all the components are packed in foam, including the soundbar itself, a handsome subwoofer and miniature satellite speakers. All cases are finished in glossy black plastic combined with long mesh grille stripes.
The HW-N950 soundbar is slightly larger than its predecessor and is just as simple in design, with side drivers on the end caps and a new center-positioned control panel. And these are the only visually noticeable changes. A sufficiently wide cabinet is required to install the soundbar, but you can also mount it on the wall.
As with all new Samsung soundbars (and the vast majority of soundbars in general), the easiest and best way to connect the N950 is through the HDMI-ARC port on the soundbar and on the TV. This is actually the only way to get Dolby Atmos from your TV, as otherwise you won’t be able to deliver lossless audio.
The ARC channel will also allow the soundbar to stream 4K HDR content (including HDR10, HDR10 + and Dolby Vision) to your TV at up to 60fps from any source connected to the panel. In addition, in this case, CEC commands will be available to control power and volume from most TV remotes.
The wireless speakers and subwoofer will automatically connect to the soundbar, but you only need to follow the order indicated in the manual (subwoofer first, then satellites, then soundbar). Unlike the Yamaha Atmos / DTS: X Soundbar YSP-5600, there is no automatic calibration here.
Therefore, for balancing it is necessary to tune each channel manually. For best results, Samsung recommends that, if possible, place the surroundings and soundbar at the same distance from your listening position.
The HW-N950 soundbar boasts a dual woofer and one tweeter for each of the three front channels. They are connected to two drivers on the top panel of the soundbar, as well as one speaker of the top directivity to form the sound reflected from the ceiling to create a three-dimensional 3D palette.
New are the lateral drivers mentioned above, which are designed to bounce sound off the wall from the side. This creates a 7.1.4 surround sound system that improves on the 5.1.4 system used in the K950. While the side drivers cannot be said to provide the same immersion and detail as real side speakers, they still improve 3D surround sound performance.
Those familiar with Sound + soundbars (and Samsung TVs as well) will immediately recognize the sleek N950 remote control. Tactile keys for volume and subwoofer level make it easy to adjust in the dark, and pressing the Sound Mode key activates “Smart” mode. Standard and Surround modes are also available, but Smart is usually the most acceptable.
This is a welcome change for those who don’t want to bother with multiple DSP modes or convoluted OSD menus. But this also limits the system settings, especially since there is no automatic calibration. Setting up individual channels is still quite easy using the Settings and Navigation keys.
The LED display is on the right side of the panel. By holding down the Settings key for 5 seconds, you can adjust the multi-band equalizer. One of the most notable improvements of the N950 over the K950 is DTS decoding, including DTS HD lossless audio.
Although most 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs these days come with Dolby Atmos instead of DTS: X, many legacy discs and other formats support DTS surround sound. This is important, as the performance of the N950 is greatly improved when audio signals are fed with less compression.
Other new features include Alexa voice support (assuming you have an Echo speaker or other Alexa-enabled device), and a new UHQ Sound upscaling chip that claims to upscale audio files to 32-bit depth.
A soundbar is a soundbar, and you can never experience the detail and punch of a freestanding surround speaker system. Nevertheless, the Samsung N950 soundbar comes close to this standard. Power, fluidity and clarity of detail are always at the forefront when listening to specially crafted scenes.
A range of overhead movements (the main advantage of 3D surround sound systems), flowing effects from the sides and back, and powerful bass are simply stunning on the first listen. Moving to regular content not made for Dolby Atmos lowers the immersive bar by a few notches.
But after tuning the panel, TV content is played with soft mids and detailed highs. The N950 does a great job with music too. The sound palette is not as eloquent, natural and beautiful as, say, the KEF LS50 wireless speakers (which cost several hundred dollars more). But some big compromises are inevitable here, since the soundbar is primarily intended for cinematic accompaniment.
The Samsung HW-N950 soundbar boasts two HDMI inputs for connecting components such as Blu-ray players or set-top boxes (it would be nice to get a third one as well). For best results, it is best to connect sources directly. There is an HDMI output with a reverse audio channel. Additional connectivity options include digital optical input, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi.
Summing up our review of Samsung HW-N950, this sound system looks pretty solid. With 4K Ultra HD and HDR streaming at 60fps along with Dolby Atmos and DTS decoding, it should stay relevant for years to come.
The purchasing decision depends on whether you want to fully enjoy Dolby Atmos or DTS: X surround sound from a single system, and whether you have the money. But for that amount, you get the really best Dolby Atmos panel to date.