“One of Samsung's best soundbars ever is also one of its simplest.”
- Clear and brilliantly detailed upper register
- Excellent presence and balance across frequencies
- Simple and intuitive design
- As impressive for music as movies/TV
- Affordable and upgradeable
- Lacks the gut punch of a separate sub
- Skimps on the surround sound decoding
- Occasionally icy in upper midrange
Nestled in the heart of Southern California, Samsung’s new in-house audio lab was created with one purpose: Putting the company on the high-end audio map. The lab — which employs sound designers plucked from a slew of respected names across the audio industry — has already paid dividends in the form of the company’s flagship Dolby Atmos soundbar, the HW-K950, which packs a wireless subwoofer, wireless satellite speakers, and four up-firing drivers to serve up an impressive display of Atmos’ hemispheric surround sound experience.
For its second act, Samsung’s lab has conjured up an entirely different home theater monster, the first in Samsung’s Sound+ soundbar lineup, the MS650. The MS650 aims to dazzle you with detail and punchy power in a concise design while offering a user experience so simple and intuitive even grandma will feel at ease. It’s an ambitious proposition, but one at which the MS650 excels, offering a sweet taste of cinematic flavors at an affordable price that lets you “set it and forget it.”
And really, isn’t that what soundbars are all about?
Out of the box
The first thing you’ll notice, long before unboxing the MS650, is that the skinny box is big enough only for the solitary bar. That means there are no satellite speakers, but more importantly, no wireless subwoofer, a customary inclusion for most soundbars at this price point. In addition, there are no down-firing drivers or hidden passive radiators on board, which many stand-alone soundbars use to add some might to the lower register.
Looking closer at the rectangular bar’s utilitarian front face reveals a formidable array of drivers, including dual oblong woofers paired with a dedicated tweeter for each of the system’s three channels, totaling nine individually powered drivers. The MS650 can also wirelessly connect to Samsung’s SWA-9000S/ZA speakers or a Samsung subwoofer (though it unfortunately has no physical sub output) via a wireless dongle (all sold separately) allowing you to expand the system well beyond its basic design if you so choose.
Accessories in the box include Samsung’s intuitive wand-style remote — which looks strikingly similar to its newer TV remotes — a basic mounting kit and feet, a digital optical cable, and a setup manual. An HDMI cable would have been nice, but at this price, it’s not a big omission.
Setting up the system is about as simple as home audio gets. The recommended connection is the ARC HDMI port, which not only offers the highest sound quality but also allows for one cable to run sound to and from the TV for most brands. Once the HDMI cable is connected to both devices’ ARC ports, you may also need to set up your TV sound to output to external speakers.
The only other wired inputs are the digital Optical port, which will supplant TV ARC as the digital connection when connected, as well as a 3.5mm Aux input. In addition, the MS650 offers wireless connection via both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Features and design
In true soundbar fashion, there’s not much to the aesthetic design here. The MS650 is streamlined for a sleek look that helps it disappear beneath your TV, though faux brushed aluminum on the top and side panels adds some class. The bar measures about 42 inches across and 3 inches high, allowing it to sit below most TV IR sensors, though its 5-inch depth is on the thick side.
The minimalist design is refreshing in a bar that still packs such high performance.
As mentioned above, the MS650 is purpose-built for a balanced mix of performance and simplicity and, as we’ve come to expect from Samsung, those benefits increase exponentially the more you invest in the Samsung family. at the back of the bar is a power outlet that allows you to power select Samsung TVs, saving an outlet on a wall or power strip. You can even buy a separate mounting system that will bracket the bar to your TV to complete Samsung’s “one body” design. The Wi-Fi connection also allows you to create a multiroom sound system with Samsung’s other wireless speakers via Samsung’s proprietary app.
Of course, even for those steeped in Samsung gear, the bar’s minimalist design comes with some limitations in the feature department, the most obvious of which is the single HDMI input at the back panel. That means you’ll only be able to connect one component directly to the bar for high-quality audio decoding — we would have liked to have seen at least one more at this price. Like Samsung’s Atmos bar, the system also doesn’t decode DTS audio beyond two-channel sound, and it’s also limited to basic Dolby Digital 5.1. But considering the Sound+ is just a three-channel system, those issues are unlikely to bother most users.
The system’s sparse remote is ergonomic and intuitive, but it doesn’t allow for a lot of granular control, making it difficult to fine-tune the sound. In other words, this soundbar simply isn’t designed for dedicated home theater nuts who like to dig into the nitty-gritty of the menu.
The MS650 soundbar’s minimalist theme is nonetheless refreshing in a bar that still packs high performance for its class. And the MS650 makes up for its lack of options — and even leans into them — by offering one of the most intuitive soundbar interfaces we’ve encountered.
The most obvious example of this is the Smart Sound feature, which is designed to analyze the sound and optimize it for movie playback, music, dialogue, etc., so you’ll never need to change the sound mode. We’re usually dubious of such digital trickery, but we were impressed to discover the Smart Sound option works beautifully here, allowing us to move from cinematic explosions to acoustic jams without the need to scroll through the settings for sound optimization.
As with the HW-K950’s remote, volume and bass keys are easy to find on the remote for quick adjustments, even in the dark, and a surround sound button is there at the ready if you do add Samsung’s satellite speakers into the equation (we highly recommend leaving that setting off with just the bar alone). In general, the MS650 just works, without any undue hassle, even if you decide to connect it to a TV outside the family, so to speak.
Like Sony, LG, and other competitors, Samsung is quick to tout the MS650 as an “HD Audio” device, even highlighting support for high-resolution audio at up to 24bit/96kHz in a variety of formats via Wi-Fi. However, what this system perhaps does best is mimicking the kind of clarity and detail you’ll get from a truly high-end device. While that may not sound like a gushing compliment, for just $450 or less, it’s really impressive how well this system does just that.
Take music playback, for example. Even over basic Bluetooth, the MS650 offers a striking blend of balance across the spectrum, a wide and ample sweet spot, and the kind of cutting clarity in the midrange and upper register that you simply don’t expect for a soundbar in its class. That clarity increases as you move up the ladder, providing sparkling fluidity to instruments and effects at the tip of the treble that tickle your ears just right.
In fact, we were actually taken aback a few times by just how nuanced the MS650 can be when it comes to reproducing musical details. The sound signature is almost bracingly clear, without ever becoming strident or sibilant, which is especially evident on tracks like the brilliantly produced Mr. Ward cut, Chinese Translation. The widespread guitars at the intro are gorgeously rendered, with textured cuts to the strings, while the bass comes in with a subtle push that extends into a pleasant array of warmer colors at the foundation.
The MS650 offers a striking blend of balance across the spectrum and cutting clarity in the upper register.
Moving to TV audio, we fired up the gut-punching intro scene from Deadpool, which sees vehicles upended, bullets sprayed, and a host of tricky cinematic effects bursting across the screen. The MS650 handled the job with gusto, digging into the midrange for smooth and punchy gunshot resonance, rip-roaring engine hum, and even some course grit in Reynold’s baritone narration. Live dialogue in the scene leaned a bit cooler, and the lower mids were definitely a bit lighter in resonance than we’d like, but the bar never sounded out of balance or in need of adjustment beyond a flick of the bass control here and there.
Speaking of bass, as one might imagine, the lack of a true subwoofer limits the cinematic impact in the heaviest action scenes. You’ll never feel that otherworldly rumble that comes from a dedicated sub, and that cuts some of the visceral power from the most bombastic scenes. On the flip side, moving to lighter TV fare like AMC’s Better Call Saul tends to expose that cooler flavor in the midrange, which occasionally feels lighter in resonance and crisper at the attack than we’d like. The hospital gurney in one of the scenes sounded a tad icy as it scraped along the floor, and we would have loved a bit more fullness in the sound there.
Still, those moments were few and far between in our evaluation, never rising to the point of pulling us out of a scene. In fact, we were consistently impressed with the MS650’s chops, up and down the frequency range. From the bellowing rough-and-tumble drums of Mad Max: Fury Road, to the squeaks and chirps aboard J.J. Abrams’ rebooted Starship Enterprise, the MS650 showed its mettle with clarity, power, and impressive balance — all without the need for us to lift a fine-tuning finger.
Samsung offers a one year warranty for parts and labor which begins on the original date of purchase and is valid only for products purchased and used in the U.S. The company will repair or replace the product with a new or reconditioned one.
Samsung’s new MS650 soundbar is a dream machine for those looking to supplement their TV sound simply and easily, with no extra parts or futzing with the remote. While we did miss the extra rumble afforded by a dedicated subwoofer, those looking to buy one single component to fill their living room with sound will find a worthy ally in the MS650.
How long will it last?
The unit is upgradeable and offers 4K passthrough, so it should be able to stretch with your home theater needs (though we wish it had better chops when it comes to decoding DTS and Dolby surround signals). As for build quality, the MS650 should offer durability consistent with a midtier product from a major brand, and we don’t expect any issues for years to come.
What are the alternatives
Our first recommendation would be our favorite soundbar on the market right now, the YAS-207, which offers tons of features, totes its own subwoofer, and is similarly appointed in terms of ease of use and sound quality across formats. For a sub-free option, you could also check out the more affordable Yamaha YAS-203, though it isn’t as powerful as the MS650. Both examples offer similar prowess for both music and cinematic playback, though neither supports multiroom audio.
Should you buy it
Yes. If you’re eyeing a bar with power and presence, a simple and intuitive interface, and a futz-free design, Samsung’s MS650 soundbar is an excellent choice that should be high on your list.
Updated September 19, 2018: Added the YAS-207 as the best alternative, clarified model number as being one of multiple new bars in the Sound+ soundbar line.
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