Shopping for a home theater setup typically means buying a soundbar, subwoofer and rear speakers separately. Some companies may include a sub with the soundbar, but you don’t always get everything you’ll need for the most immersive sound in the same box with high-end models. Samsung includes all of those additional speakers with the HW-Q990C soundbar ($1,900), though you’re obviously paying a premium. The company offers Dolby Atmos along with a range of audio options and two HDMI inputs, beaming crisp 11.1.4-channel sound into your living room. The Q990C is a significant investment, but it’s also one-stop shopping.
As the Q990C is Samsung’s high-end soundbar in its current lineup, it’s also the biggest. It’s 48.5-inches wide, which is actually about three inches less than the Sony HT-A7000. Of course, companies need the extra space on the flagship models to pack in all of the speakers. In Samsung’s case, the Q990C houses 11 front-facing drivers (including some side-firing), four up-firing drivers and an internal subwoofer. The separate wireless sub is also substantial at 16 x 16 x 8 inches and weighing in at 26 pounds. The wireless rear speakers aren’t huge, but they do have a three-driver setup with front-, side- and up-firing drivers where other companies might only have one.
Samsung opted for a mesh plastic covering for both the soundbar and rear speakers. It’s easier to keep clean than the typical speaker fabric. Samsung also kept things simple on the soundbar itself, putting just four buttons up top. Here, you’ll find a multi-function button that either turns the speaker on or cycles through the input sources. Volume controls and a microphone mute. From the front, a small display on the right side will show you input information, volume level and other settings. Instead all 90-degree angles the Q990C’s side panels follow the position of the side-firing speakers.
The initial setup for the Q990C is among the easiest I’ve ever completed for a home entertainment bundle. Once you power on the soundbar and connect it to the SmartThings app, the subwoofer and rear speakers are automatically added when you turn them on. There’s no waiting for anything to sync and I didn’t have to connect each thing individually. There are buttons on the sub and rears if you need to manually connect to the soundbar, but I never had to use them. The whole thing was quick and frustration-free, which gets you to the music and movies soon after unboxing.
Like many flagship soundbars, Samsung has included two additional HDMI inputs on top of the HDMI eARC jack you’ll use to connect your TV. Many more affordable, more compact models only have the eARC connection so you have to rely on your TV’s ports, but the pricier models typically offer additional options for connecting directly to the soundbar. Samsung says you can expect 4K/60 and HDR10+ passthrough on the Q990C, but not 4K/120 as the unit doesn’t have HDMI 2.1. That’s a big omission in a $1,900 soundbar being sold in 2023.
There’s also an optical input on the Q990C as well as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. The latter brings Tidal Connect, Spotify Connect and AirPlay to the mix. It also allows you to connect wirelessly to a compatible Samsung TV for audio. This means you can get Dolby Atmos to the soundbar with no cables running from your television, which is handy if you’ve already mounted the display flush with the wall. And if you have a compatible Samsung phone, you can enable Tap Sound which connects to the Q990C via Bluetooth when you gently touch the speaker with the handset. As an iPhone user, I wasn’t able to test this.
SmartThings app and other features
In addition to helping with setup, the SmartThings app is where you can tweak the Q990C’s settings. The current input and volume controls are the most prominent on the device screen, with sound modes, EQ and woofer level just below. There are also options for SpaceFit Sound, which automatically tunes the audio to the room, and Active Voice Amplifier, which combats room noise by optimizing on-screen dialog. The advanced settings menu offers voice and bass enhancement alongside a Night Mode, but all of these are on or off toggles with no further customization. SmartThings allows you to choose either Bixby or Alexa for the voice assistant you want to employ on the soundbar.
Samsung lets you choose between Standard, Surround, Game Pro and Adaptive Sound modes. The first doesn’t tweak the audio at all and it’s the only mode where the fully adjustable EQ is available (just bass and treble on the rest). For all of the others, the Q990C upscales 2.0, 5.1 and 7.1 audio to the 11.1.4-channel output the soundbar offers. Of course, all Dolby Atmos and DTS:X content is beamed out at 11.1.4, too. Surround mode is self-explanatory while Game Pro creates more immersive audio with 3D-optimized sound specifically for gaming. Adaptive Sound is the option I used most as it analyzes audio in real time to keep dialog sounding clear across a range of volumes for movies, news and sports. I found it the best-sounding preset for music, too.
In addition to selecting a sound mode in the app, you can cycle through them with a dedicated button the included remote. It also gives you access to SpaceFit Sound, Active Voice Amplifier, Voice Enhancement and more with a Sound Control button that’s labeled with the settings/gear icon. A Channel Level button lets you adjust the volume of each speaker, with Center level, Side level, Wide level, Front Top level, Rear level, Rear top level and Rear side level among the choices. There’s also a button for Tone Control, putting bass and treble tweaks just a few button presses away. These are all in addition to the standard power, input, volume (overall and subwoofer only), mute, pairing and playback options soundbar remotes typically have.
Thanks to the Q990C’s upscaling abilities, nearly every movie or TV show sounds more immersive than if you were listening in stereo or even with a 5.1 setup. Netflix’s Drive To Survive, which is offered in Dolby Atmos if you have the priciest Ultra HD plan, is still amazing with this soundbar for those of us on the more affordable monthly rate. The whir of the cars as they zoom past, pitlane noise and crunching crashes make the meticulously-shot series even better. Marvel shows and movies on Disney+ are available with Atmos and they sound amazing.
I can confidently say this is the closest I’ve come to a movie theater-like experience in my living room. The additional drivers in the rear speakers undoubtedly elevate the overhead sensation, contributing significantly more to directional audio than normal single-driver units. Fight scenes like the one that opens The Falcon and the Winter Soldier are loud and chaotic, but they sound more like you’re watching in real life, taking in the thud of each punch, the fire of every gun and the drone of choppers navigating the canyon.
The Q990C is also a great option for music. Crisp, clear highs and powerful, punchy bass compliment nearly every genre. Even at lower volumes, tunes like Sia’s “Everyday Is Christmas” come across layered rather than compressed. Vocals cut through clear and the bassline doesn’t overpower. The same goes for Turnpike Troubadours’ A Cat in the Rain where each member of the band stands on their own, with snare hits and country-rock vocals slicing through the mix. Bass from the large subwoofer is present but restrained, only as bombastic as it needs to be and never muddy or dull.
The sound on those albums was impressive and I wasn’t even streaming them in Dolby Atmos. Tunes in the immersive format sound even more incredible on the Q990C. TesseracT’s prog-metal War Of Being is soaring and atmospheric, with the staccato guitars and slapped bass on tracks like “The Gray” showing off the dimensional quality of Atmos Music. Less intense genres like Tyler Childers’ Rustin’ In The Rain come across more like live performances than streamed albums. The sound is full, crisp and envelopes the room with guitars, piano, steel guitar and perfectly calculated drum hits, all supporting Childers’ trademark eastern Kentucky vocals.
This soundbar system works well in a multi-room setup, too, and you don’t need other Samsung speakers to do it. Thanks to AirPlay, you can easily select the Q990C and other speakers on your Wi-Fi network. I was able to consistently link the soundbar with a HomePod in another room with just a few taps in Apple Music. The audio performed consistently once the two speakers were linked and I never heard any dropouts or clipping when they were used in tandem.
One audio feature that I wasn’t able to test is Q-Symphony. This uses the speakers inside Samsung TVs in addition to the drivers in the soundbar setup. The company promises it “can optimize all the channels” for a “masterfully orchestrated sound experience.” I don’t have a Samsung TV, but the soundbar system sounds great without it. What’s more, this sort of thing isn’t unique to Samsung devices as Sony offers a similar tool called Acoustic Center Sync with its soundbars and TVs.
Sony’s HT-A7000 is the best alternative to the Q990C. It also does Atmos and music very well, but everything you add to it is an additional purchase. At current prices, the soundbar, the cheapest sub and rear speaker options will cost you $1,600 while soundbar alone is $1,000. There are better choices for both the woofer and rears, but those significantly raise the price.
The A7000 offers a lot of what the Q990C has on its spec sheet. That includes the two HDMI 2.1 inputs with 4K/120 passthrough. Sony includes compatibility with both Hi-Res and 360 Reality Audio alongside various pieces of virtual surround tech and a number of sound modes. The key differences between this and the Q990C is that the A7000 is a 7.1.4-channel setup, versus 11.1.4, and the aforementioned HDMI 2.1 support.
The Q990C is currently on sale for $1,400, but it’s unclear if that price cut is permanent. The $500 savings make the all-inclusive Samsung setup even more attractive, if you can live without HDMI 2.1.
Samsung’s latest flagship soundbar is a sonic powerhouse. And, perhaps more importantly, it comes with the subwoofer and rear speakers you’ll need to make the most of it in the box. For the cost of what you’d pay for a soundbar alone from some of the company’s main competitors, you get the complete package, and one that’s easy to set up and customize as needed. The sound quality is great and Atmos content is as crisp and immersive as ever, so long as you have space to accommodate the bundle. The lack of HDMI 2.1 hinders performance for gamers, and that’s a glaring omission on a premium soundbar these days. The Q990C isn’t cheap, even at the current discounted price, but at least you’re getting everything you need in one go.
This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/samsung-hw-q990c-soundbar-review-an-all-inclusive-atmos-setup-160049530.html?src=rss