Samsung’s Dolby Atmos sound bar will dazzle your ears and drain your wallet

Don’t have room for a hulking pile of incredible-sounding Dolby Atmos speakers from Pioneer? Samsung has a tidier solution. After announcing its HW-K950 and HW-K850 Atmos sound bar surround systems at CES 2016, Samsung showed off the final versions — and rather shocking prices — at a launch event in New York City. We had a chance to give the HW-K950 a prolonged audition, speak with some of the engineers responsible for designing and voicing the home theater rig, and learn a little about how this is a departure from Samsung’s earlier audio efforts.

Called the K950 for short, the sound bar-anchored system is made up of four components: the sound bar, a wireless subwoofer, and two wireless surround speakers.

This is easily the best home-theater sound system Samsung has made yet.

Hidden in the low-profile sound bar are three front-firing arrays of speakers, supporting left right and center channels, and two up-firing channels for the first half of the Atmos surround experience. The sound bar has two 2.5-inch drivers paired with a 30 mm tweeter each of the three front channels, while the Atmos array up top is made up of two 2.5-inch drivers. Each driver in the sound bar gets its own 20-watt amplifier. The sound bar also has a user-facing LCD display, two HDMI inputs, and one HDMI output.

The surround speakers are similar, except there are no tweeters. Instead, the outward and upward firing speakers are full-range 2.5-inch speakers like those used up front, each getting 35 watts each. The only thing to plug in for the surrounds is a power cord: The two surrounds get their signals wirelessly from the sound bar and only need power for the built-in amplifiers.

The sub, also wireless save for a power cord, packs an 8-inch driver paired with a 160-watt amplifier, and is ported on the back.

This gives us a 5.1.4 surround system, with the last digit there referring to the four up-firing drivers, which bounce sound off the ceiling for a more immersive experience. That being the case, you’ll want relatively flat ceilings in reasonable proximity to the listening area to get the most from this system.

The cabinetry for each of these parts felt fairly substantial, but we’re not talking furniture-grade MDF here. We are pleased to see wood instead of plastic in use.

The Dolby Atmos effect is pulled off convincingly.

Samsung says it poured many, many man-hours into developing this system, and you can hear that immediately. This is easily the best home-theater sound system Samsung has made yet, and you can really hear that in the treble response, which is not harsh, sibilant, or shrill as has been the case in previous systems. Actually, it’s a pretty warm sound, and that’s a significant change for Samsung. It’s obvious audio engineers put a lot of time into voicing this system, not just pulling parts off a shelf, slapping them together in plastic boxes, and calling it good. In fact, we’re told the system has been re-voiced several times since it was originally heard at CES, so the first impressions reports from the big electronics show no longer apply.

Overall, we were impressed with the improvements Samsung has made, and the system managed to pull off Dolby Atmos effects fairly well. You don’t get the fine detail that you will from a set of well-made individual satellite speakers run by a more powerful receiver, though. And because the system relies on very small drivers, it tends to lean too heavily on the subwoofer, resulting in an occasionally chesty, booming sound during some dialog.

Samsung Dolby Atmos Sound Bar
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

Are you ready for a shocker, now? The K950 system is being introduced at retail for $1,500. That’s a seriously premium price, and we’re not sure the performance and convenience of the system matches up. We could recommend A/V receivers with full sets of speakers at that price, and one would get superior performance, though you’d have to give up a lot more space for it.

Granted, you do get wireless surround speakers with the K950, which will be a big convenience to those unwilling or unable to run long lengths of speaker wire, and, again, the Dolby Atmos effect is pulled off convincingly. Also, Samsung has a smaller K850 Sound bar and wireless sub for a more affordable option, but you give up the rear channels, and you’re still paying $900 in that case.

We get that Samsung wants to be taken more seriously in the audio department, and we agree it deserves recognition for its efforts on this new system Still, such lofty pricing, right or wrong, is a big reach for Samsung, and is going to be a tough sell to its customer base. We’ll look for these new systems to come down in price in the coming months , and in the meantime, we’ll be pulling in the K950 for a full review just as soon as it is made available later this year.

Home Theater

Say goodbye to the box: The future of home theater has no use for receivers

One of the most intriguing new trends to come out of CES 2019 this year comes from a technology that has been around for years. WiSA, now in new LG TVs, has the potential to cut the wires and change the home theater landscape forever.
Home Theater

Still listening on tinny TV speakers? Try one of our favorite soundbars

You no longer have to sacrifice sound for size when selecting home audio equipment. Check out our picks for the best soundbars, whether you're looking for budget options, pure power, smarts, or tons of features.
Home Theater

These loaded cans bundle a wireless stand that even charges your phone

We thought we'd seen just about every kind of wireless headphone feature under the sun, but HiVi's new AW-85 active noise-canceling headphones come with a cool new trick: A wireless charging stand for the headphones and your phone.
Home Theater

Klipsch’s new Reference home theater system does hi-fi surround without wires

At CES 2019, Klipsch showed off its fantastic new Reference Wireless speaker system, a wireless surround sound setup that uses a re-emerging wireless technology called WiSA for hi-fi surround sound without the need for speaker wires.

Tidal faces legal jeopardy over fake stream numbers accusation

In another challenging chapter for music subscription service Tidal, Norwegian authorities have begun a formal investigation into charges that the company faked millions of streams for artists such as Kanye West and Beyoncé.
Home Theater

Need to get rid of an unused Netflix profile? Just follow these simple steps

Need to delete an unwanted profile from your Netflix account? It's easy to do, no matter what kind of equipment you've got. Check out our handy how-to guide for step-by-step instructions.
Home Theater

Sony’s 360 Reality Audio is the epic sound revolution you didn’t know you needed

After Sony’s utterly bizarre press conference, I almost missed what was perhaps the most impactful sonic experience at the show. Luckily, I went back to Sony’s booth on the last day of the show, only to have my mind blown.
Home Theater

The seven best TVs you can buy right now, from budget to big screen

Looking for a new television? In an oversaturated market, buying power is at an all-time high, but you'll need to cut through the rough to find a diamond. We're here to help with our picks for the best TVs of 2019.

Beam up the videos: AirPlay support is coming to VLC player

At CES 2019, the developers of VLC player announced they are adding support for Apple's Airplay feature, allowing consumers to beam video and other content from their iPhone and Android devices to an Apple TV. 
Home Theater

Not chill: Netflix is hiking prices across all its tiers

Netflix has to get the billions of dollars it's spending on new content from somewhere. The streaming giant announced price hikes across the board, raising its monthly rates between $1 and $2 per tier in the next few months.
Home Theater

Here’s why you’re not getting Netflix in HD or 4K, and how to fix it

Are you having trouble watching your favorite movies or TV shows on Netflix in HD or 4K? We explain why loading takes so long, why the picture quality fluctuates, and what you can do about it.
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.
Home Theater

Polk Audio’s Command Bar joins Alexa’s multiroom music party

Polk's Command Bar is a home theater soundbar with Alexa built in. But with a new update, it can also be grouped with Amazon's Echo products and other third-party speakers for a multi-room experience.
Home Theater

Sling TV offers free shows, a la carte subscription channels to Roku users

If you are among a select group of Roku users, Sling TV has added free TV shows and the option to subscribe to individual channels without having to subscribe to the company's base level of channels.