Samsung HW-Q990B soundbar review
The Samsung HW-Q990B is the company’s flagship soundbar, complete with wireless subwoofer and rear speakers. The soundbar features 16 channels for full Dolby Atmos and DTS: X soundtrack capabilities.
The Q990B has intelligent control with support for multiple voice assistants. Wireless content playback is possible via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, including Apple Airplay 2 and the Samsung Tap View system for connecting to compatible company phones. To activate it, simply hold your smartphone close to the soundbar.
The soundbar can be paired with the built-in speakers on Samsung TVs using Q Symphony technology for an even more accurate soundstage. A processor is provided to convert stereo sound or Pro-Logic tracks to engage all channels of the Q990B. These specs look impressive and should justify the high price of the Q990B. But will they provide the sound quality of a soundbar that matches a premium model?
Design, connectivity and control
Surprisingly, the exterior design of the Samsung HW-Q990B is clearly different from what we’ve seen in previous models of the company’s flagship soundbars. First, the fabric grids previously used on the main soundboard and rear speakers have been replaced by a fine metal grille. Personally, I like this, as the fabric was a real dust-collecting magnet.
Another very nice thing is the control display showing the selected input, volume levels, sound mode, and so on, which has now moved to the front panel of the Q990B. For the past few generations of Samsung soundbars, Samsung for some reason placed it on the top panel, where it was not visible from the viewer’s seat. Now it’s much more convenient to use the soundbar.
Apart from the new metal grid, the rest of the soundbar design has not changed. Its enclosure measures 1232 mm (W) x 69.5 mm (H) x 138 mm (D) and has the same characteristic shape with beveled front left and right edges as its predecessor. However, the appearance of the subwoofer and rear speakers has changed.
The subwoofer is larger than its predecessors (220 (W) x 413 (H) x 410 (D) mm), which gives hope for even more powerful bass. Its design uses an Acoustic Lens, which houses an 8-inch woofer. This should provide more effective operation of the subwoofer, than in the case of placing the subwoofer directly on the front panel. We will talk about subwoofer possibilities in more detail later.
As for the rear speakers, they actually look a little smaller than their predecessors: 129.5 (W) x 201.3 (H) x 140.4 (D) mm. But now they are mounted on short “legs” and the front edge is tilted.
The Q990B has several buttons to control basic functions on the top panel, although most users would probably prefer the remote control or the Samsung Smart Things app. Both work well, although because of the new design the remote is not as convenient to use as its shorter, angular predecessor.
The connectors are hidden in a recess on the bottom panel of the Q990B. There are two HDMI inputs, an HDMI output (with eARC) and an optical digital audio input. There is support for HDR HDR 10, HLG, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision transmission (the latter is indeed present!).
However, the HDMI interfaces do not support transmission of the latest 4K/120Hz and variable refresh rate video formats, which are used in the latest gaming consoles and PCs.
Joining these physical inputs, of course, are the aforementioned Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity options. This year, for the first time, Samsung’s soundbars feature wireless Dolby Atmos signal delivery in a Dolby Digital Plus “container.”
Features and specifications
The Samsung HW-Q990B boasts a record 11.1.4 channels, and those are true physical channels, with a total of 22 speakers. The main sound panel contains front left, right and center channels, two height channels, two side channels and two corner front side channels. The rear speakers contain three channels each: high, rear, and side channels.
Clearly, the effectiveness of some of these channels depends on the ability of your walls and ceilings to reflect sound. So you won’t be able to fully realize the Q990B’s capabilities in all rooms.
The only speaker in the Q990B that serves only one function is the subwoofer with the new fashionable acoustic lens. The idea behind this design is to help the subwoofer distribute sound more evenly in the room, which, in theory, will provide more focused and accurate bass.
It is also worth mentioning the design of the rear speakers. The new support should provide a good vibration decoupling of the speaker from the surface on which it is installed, and thus reduce the coloration of the sound. The beveled top edge gives hope for a more accurate transmission of high-altitude sound effects.
The Q990B’s 11.1.4-channel configuration is impressive by soundbar standards, but on the other hand, it’s the same as last year’s Q950A model. This is unexpected, as Samsung has been steadily increasing the number of channels in its soundbars in recent years to get customers’ attention. And while 16 channels is still an impressive number, there should be some notable innovations in the Q990B model. And there are.
In addition to the new subwoofer and rear speaker design, as well as wireless Dolby Atmos support, it’s worth mentioning the expanded Samsung Q Symphony support. This system works with compatible Samsung 2022 televisions and allows for an additional increase in the number of sound channels. In fact, the combined efforts of the Q990B and Samsung’s latest premium TV, such as the QN900B, can provide up to 22 channels in your home theater.
Another major upgrade is the Q990B’s auto-calibration system. Samsung has finally equipped the soundbar with it, using the built-in microphone. You no longer have to adjust the sound on the soundbar manually and the Q990B itself optimizes the sound depending on the listening room conditions. What’s more, Sound Fit (that’s the name of this calibration system) automatically restarts every day so that the sound is always properly tuned.
There’s also a separate Auto EQ calibration tool that helps balance the sound in the bass with the rest of the frequency range.
Although the Q990B is designed for home theater and Dolby Atmos, it also supports a good set of music file formats, including AAC, WAV, MP3, FLAC, AIFF, OGG and ALAC. It also has several useful sound settings, including Surround and Adaptive, which remix the original signal in a way that engages all channels of the system.
Setup and operation
The Samsung HW-Q990B is as easy to set up as a modern soundbar can ever be. Once the entire system has been set up and turned on, the connection between the speakers is automatic.
Connecting the HDMI cable to the jack in the small recess on the bottom side of the soundbar is a little awkward, but at least each HDMI input is clearly marked here. Connecting the soundbar to your Wi-Fi network is pretty easy if you install the Samsung Smart Things app on your phone. Connecting via Bluetooth isn’t difficult either. Especially if you have a new Samsung smartphone equipped with Tap technology.
The Space Fit / Auto EQ auto-calibration makes it much easier to get good balanced sound from the system, compared to previous generations of models. Now you don’t have to manually adjust the sound of each channel. The Q990B is easy to control with both the remote and the app. Especially now that the control display has been moved to the front panel.
While the various improvements Samsung has made to the HW-Q990B aren’t as eye-catching as the previous channel count buildup, they’ve actually made a significant difference in sound quality. This is impressive because the previous model, the Q950A, was already arguably the most powerful and exciting soundbar on the market.
The power and richness of the sound still amazes you when you watch movies from 4K resolution Blu-ray discs. The soundstage evenly fills a large room, a result you wouldn’t expect from a small speaker system. The images in the soundstage are clear and focused. Thanks to the large number of real (rather than virtual) channels, as well as the impressive power and accuracy of signal transmission to each channel, the scene is not just vast, but also detailed and properly lined up. Sound sources are located exactly where they should be – in the front, on the sides or in the back.
In fact, the combination of upgraded rear speakers and Samsung’s automatic calibration allows the Q990B to reproduce an even fuller and more convincing Dolby Atmos soundstage than its predecessor. Image movement is perceived as smooth and convincing, no matter which direction it takes or which channels are engaged. The automatic calibration system fine-tunes the signal levels of all channels, without the need for manual adjustment, which is even unaccustomed.
The Q990B also has weightiness and dynamics in its sound, ensuring that special effects in blockbusters are accurately rendered. There’s no hint of fuzziness or lack of fullness in the sound that we’ve sometimes seen from competing soundbar models. Dialogues sound clean and articulate, no matter how action-packed the episode, and at the same time the voices fit precisely into the rest of the soundtrack.
Q990B accurately ties the voices to the screen, so that they sound directly from its middle, not from the soundbar located under the TV. We additionally raised the signal level in the center channel by one division, and after that we got probably the best dialogue transmission among all the soundbars we tested. Note that dialogue sounds even better if you use Samsung’s Q Symphony feature to pair the soundbar with the built-in speakers of a compatible Samsung TV.
The new subwoofer also plays a big role in creating a rich and expansive soundstage. Thanks to the redesigned sub, the bass is even deeper and more powerful, but at the same time remains focused and fast. The bass was perfectly integrated into the rest of the soundscape, supporting it but not overpowering the sound throughout the rest of the frequency range.
Another important feature of the Q990B is the natural delivery of Dolby Atmos surround sound. The precise balance of all channels and the placement of images ensure a complete immersion in what is happening on the screen. There are no gaps or weak spots in the three-dimensional sound space, and it is perceived as completely uniform.
The sound quality of music through Samsung Q990B is not as impressive as movies. On the whole, the songs sounded good, especially when using Standard mode (without additional sound processing). The character of the sound was pleasant, with the right arrangement of images and natural transfer of vocals. There was also no lack of volume. However, the overall tonal balance was sometimes off, and the sound became a bit unnatural and the bass drew too much attention to itself.
Nevertheless, Q990B is much better than any Samsung soundbar produced before to process stereo recordings for their transmission to all channels of the system. Sometimes it turns out to be so successful that you might even think a sound engineer in the studio couldn’t have done a better job. Listening to music in multichannel mode avoids the sense of a crowded scene that sometimes occurs when playing in “simple” stereo. Admittedly, in this case it feels like the vocals are coming from somewhere above.
With this multichannel processing, the Q990B is probably the best Samsung soundboard for listening to music. But it would be great if in the future soundbars would sound just as good in “simple” two-channel mode. Of course, without deteriorating the quality of movie soundtracks.
If you are interested in listening to Dolby Atmos soundtracks, but can’t afford a “real” component home theater system, purchasing the Q990B is the best solution today. The soundbar sounded consistent and accurate in all of our tests and at the most extreme volume levels. The dynamic range of the sound is very wide, and the scale of the picture is impressive. In the Q990B surround sound, especially with Samsung’s new auto-calibration system, we didn’t notice a single significant flaw.
Samsung finally provided Dolby Vision support in the Q990B, but unfortunately, the model does not support 4K / 120 Hz standard and VRR for video games. In addition, although the multichannel stereo processing in the soundbar is impressive, the sound in “regular” stereo still needs to be improved. Overall, as a home theater soundbar, the Q990B fully justifies its high cost.
What alternatives are out there?
The Sony HT-A7000 soundbar is an interesting competitor to the Q990B. Its key feature is that here all sound emitters are concentrated in one soundbar. The model has a 7.1.2 configuration, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X processors, and its HDMI supports 4K / 120 pass-through (though it doesn’t have variable refresh rate support).
A drawback of the A7000 is that the soundbar doesn’t reproduce the sound of the rear channels. Its bass, while impressive for a one-box model, still doesn’t achieve the same depth as models with external subwoofers. You can add rear speakers and a subwoofer for the A7000 soundbar, although buying them will raise the cost of the system higher than the Samsung. You might also consider the LG S95QR soundbar, which has a 9.1.5-channel configuration and an upward-facing center-channel radiator. Perhaps a review of this model will appear on our site soon.
The HW-Q990B is the new flagship soundbar in Samsung’s catalog. The model has support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X and makes a pleasant impression. The soundbar has 16 channels of sound, which is probably a record for equipment of this class. The output power of the amplifiers of the system is also quite significant. The 2022 soundbar features new rear speakers and a subwoofer and a new, vastly improved music playback mode. There’s also Dolby Vision and HDR10+ video streaming, as well as an eARC audio return channel for getting Dolby Atmos soundtracks via HDMI from compatible TVs. The soundbar has an all-new Dolby Atmos wireless transmission system. Finally, Samsung has improved the soundbar’s auto-calibration sound system to a premium 2022 model.