The Samsung HW-N950 is something special because it is the first soundbar to benefit from Samsung’s acquisition of Harman Kardon – a partnership that has done a lot in recent years. The HW-N950 is a complete upgrade of Samsung’s previous HW-K950 – one of the first Dolby Atmos soundbars on the market to be launched in 2016. But the differences between the two are day and night. This is our Samsung HW-N950 Soundbar Review.
The HW-K950 was decent for its time, yes, but the N950 now supports both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, when compared to the K950, which was limited to the first. There’s also the fact that the N950 does this in a true 5.1.4 configuration that includes a soundbar, additional broadband channels and two upward channels, two wireless surround speakers with upward-facing drivers, and a wireless subwoofer. It’s a multi-piece solution that completely surpasses any home theater system you may have used in the past.
Samsung HW-N950 Soundbar Review: Design
The HW-N950 follows the same design style that Samsung has applied to its soundbars in recent years: a minimalist but attractive rectangular shape and primarily metal construction. The build quality is excellent, with metal grids on the top, front, and sides, along with a brushed metal finish on the edges and back. The N950 comes in black or, as the company likes to call it, ‘Midnight Titan,’ and is designed to complement TVs with a screen size of 55-inches or larger.
You need enough space for your TV to install the N950, although Samsung also has a wall mount bracket. The soundbar is quite large and heavy, but that is understandable when you consider that there are 13 drivers and associated amplifiers built-in. These drivers create a total of seven speakers, with three front channels (left, center and right), left and right side channels, and two upward-facing drivers for the left and right channels at the top.
At the front of the soundbar, on the far right, there is a simple LED display. It lights up when you use the controls and provides information about the volume, inputs, and various settings. At the top center of the soundbar are some simple touch-sensitive controls for power supply, input selection, and volume. The included remote control is an excellent controller: it is well designed and comfortable to hold, with all the necessary buttons wisely explained.
This makes operating the N950 a practical and very intuitive process. The connections are located in a recessed area under the soundbar, and here you will find two HDMI inputs and an HDMI output with ARC (Audio Return Channel). All HDMI connections support 4K/60p, 4:4:4, Rec.2020, High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision), 3D, and HDCP 2.2.
The N950 also has an optical digital input, along with built-in WiFi and Bluetooth. At the bottom, you will also find a USB port for service updates, a connector for the two-pin power cable, a WiFi button for wireless setup, and a button for pairing the wireless surround speakers and subwoofer if needed.
The wireless rear speakers reflect the design and build quality of the soundbar, with metal grilles on both front and top and a black brushed metal finish. There is built-in amplification, which drives the forward-facing drivers for the left and right channels of the surround speakers, and the upward-facing drivers for the left and right channels of the top speakers.
It’s worth noticing that since the rear speakers are wireless, you don’t have to connect them to the soundbar physically. This makes positioning the speakers a lot easier and considerably less cluttered. However, it is also worth remembering that these rear speakers are not entirely wireless: you will have to connect them to power the built-in amplification.
The two-pin power cables connect flush to the bottom of the speakers, and at the back, you’ll find screw mounts for wall mounting. At the back, there are also indicator LEDs to indicate when the speakers are in standby or connected to the soundbar, and a manual pairing button if needed.
The included wireless subwoofer is a bass-reflex model that comes with built-in amplification and a side-facing 8-inch driver. It also enhances the design of the main soundbar and should be paired automatically. If this is not the case, there is a button similar to the one on the wireless speakers that allows manual pairing, and there are also a pair of indicator LEDs.
Samsung HW-N950 Soundbar Review: Features
The Samsung HW-N950’s headline feature is the ability to support both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X using a true 7.1.4 speaker configuration. It is this aspect that distinguishes the N950 from all other soundbars currently on the market, as it does not rely on any virtual or psycho-acoustic trick to create an immersive audio experience. Samsung is certainly not messing around when it comes to the N950, which has no less than 12 speakers with a total of 17 drivers. The front three channels each consist of three drivers, two woofers, and a broadband tweeter, while all other channels use single drivers.
The N950 was developed between Samsung Audio Labs and Harman Kardon, with the former ensuring that the soundbar supports Dolby Digital, Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos, and Dolby TrueHD, along with DTS Digital Sound, DTS-HD Master Audio and DTS:X. Meanwhile, the latter ensures that the soundbar meets the expectations of demanding listeners by delivering dynamic and spacious sound, with a clear voice-over.
In addition to the addition of DTS:X, the N950 differs from the previous HW-K950 by adding side-firing speakers to create a 7.1.4 configuration. It also uses Samsung’s 2nd-gen broadband tweeter, which now has an improved lower frequency response. Wireless coverage has also been increased, improving the connection of the rear speakers and addressing the connection issues experienced by some owners with the K950.
The N950 includes several sound modes that use Digital Signal Processing (DSP) to improve the sound. These include a standard model, which essentially decodes the audio format as it is, and a surround sound expansion mode, which amplifies the audio to use all available speakers. There’s also a smart mode that analyzes the incoming signal and selects the best processing available.
The N950 has both built-in wireless and Bluetooth capabilities, allowing users to access their music libraries and streaming services easily. The wireless connection is easy to install using Samsung’s SmartThings app, and Bluetooth can be paired by pressing the pairing button on the remote controller. The Samsung HW-N950 soundbar supports numerous lossy and lossless audio formats, including AAC, OGG, WAV, AIFF, ALAC, and FLAC, with high-resolution support up to 32-bit. Samsung has also recorded UHQ 32-bit upscaling for the highest quality audio playback.
Finally, the N950 supports Alexa. To do this, simply go to Skills on the Alexa app and enable Samsung Wireless Audio, after which you select Smart Home devices and discover the N950. This turns on the 3PDA Skills and allows you to communicate with your soundbar using Alexa’s voice control.
Samsung HW-N950 Soundbar Review: Performance
The Samsung HW-N950 is extremely easy to set up: simply place the soundbar under your TV (making sure nothing blocks the drivers) and then place the subwoofer to the front of the room and the surround speakers at the back. The wireless speakers and subwoofer should be automatically paired with the soundbar, creating a full 7.1.4-channel system. All you need to do is use an SPL meter to set the levels for the center, side, front, rear, and subwoofer channels.
If we have one point of criticism about the N950, it is that the set-up is rather basic compared to the other competitors, and unlike other soundbars, there is no dedicated microphone or set-up app. However, if you take the time to adjust the speaker levels correctly, the result is a coherent sound image with well-integrated bass.
Careful set-up is sure to deliver serious sonic dividends, and the performance of this soundbar is excellent, with a wide and open front soundstage, compelling effects, and an impressive sound balance thanks to the use of the same drivers on all speakers. This is the first soundbar we’ve heard that can compete with an AV receiver and speaker package, although how active the drivers are for performing will largely depend on your ceiling. The lower and more reflective the roof is, the better the feeling of sounds coming from above.
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X tracks sound particularly impressive with the N950. We started with the ‘Amaze’ Dolby Atmos trailer, and the Samsung has delivered this complex object-based mix excellently. Sounds were sent seamlessly through the room, thunder rolled over us, and rain fell all around us. The subwoofer supported the entire sound field with a solid bass that was perfectly integrated with the other speakers.
Of course, not every soundtrack you play will be Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, and fortunately, the N950 is as adept as standard Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks. You also have the choice to listen to the soundtracks in their original form or use the surround sound expansion mode to take full advantage of all available speakers.
Price and Configuration Options
The Samsung HW-N950 will put you back $1,699 (£1,499, AU$1,999), so it’s certainly not cheap, especially when compared to many other soundbars. However, it is worth remembering that for the asking price, you get a full 7.1.4 channel system with real rear speakers and a separate subwoofer.
No other soundbar comes close to deliver such an immersive audio experience. In reality, you would need to buy an AV receiver and a full speaker package to use the N950’s capabilities. The cost of a 9-channel AV receiver and enough speakers to deliver five ear-level channels, four overhead channels, and a subwoofer would probably be more than that of the N950. So if you take everything into account, the Samsung is charging reasonable well.
Samsung HW-N950 Soundbar Review: Conclusion
The Samsung HW-N950 is simply one of the best soundbars we’ve heard so far. Perhaps even more importantly, it’s the only soundbar that delivers a 7.1.4-channel immersive audio experience. By using wireless rear speakers and a subwoofer, the N950 is easy to install and set up. It also means that the combination of all these speakers can deliver object-based audio the way the content creators intended, without resorting to psycho-acoustic tricks.
The soundbar, speakers, and subwoofer are all attractively designed and very well made, while the system as a whole offers many useful features. The N950 has detected and decoded both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X without any problems, so if you’re a movie buff, then this is the soundbar for you. It was just as effective with regular soundtracks, not to mention music via both WiFi and Bluetooth.
If you want to immerse yourself in your favorite movie, soundtracks, then the Samsung HW-N950 should be at the top of your soundbar’s shortlist.
The Samsung HW-N950 delivers a Dolby Atmos and DTS:X experience with maximum performance and minimum fuss. The package includes a soundbar, subwoofer, and separate rear channels, all combined with two wide drivers and four upward-firing speakers. The result is an arrangement that, unlike any other soundbar on the market, delivers truly immersive audio.
- Superb performance
- Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support
- Extremely well made
- Easy to setup
- Basic audio calibration