Samsung HW-Q990D Review: Home cinema high-flyer

Samsung’s premium soundbar, Samsung HW-Q990D, gains new features and keeps up the immersive tradition, says Steve Withers

Since the introduction of the Q950A, Samsung’s top-level soundbars have been in a holding pattern when it comes to their channel count, sticking with an expansive 11.1.4 configuration. So for upgrades, the brand has tweaked performance or added features to differentiate each successive generation. And it’s at it again here.

A total of 22 drivers are spread across the HW-Q990D's ’bar, speakers and sub
A total of 22 drivers are spread across the HW-Q990D’s ’bar, speakers and sub
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Perhaps most obviously, with the HW-Q990D, Samsung now caters to the next-gen gaming crowd, with its HDMI stage supporting passthrough for 4K/120Hz and VRR. This is great news for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and high-end PC owners. It is complemented by a dedicated Game Mode that adjusts the system’s processing depending on the genre when used in conjunction with a compatible Samsung TV.

Channel hopping

Whether you feed it games or movies, the HW-Q990D is one of the few soundbar setups around that’s capable of giving a traditional separate system a run for its money thanks to all those channels, powerful amplification, and excellent low-end extension. It’s not the most discreet setup, with a large main soundbar enclosure, a pair of wireless rears (mains-powered rather than battery-driven), and a wireless ported subwoofer all to find space for, but if you want genuine spatial audio, you need those speakers at the back because no amount of psychoacoustic trickery can compete in terms of sonic realism.

The soundbar’s physical design is the same as the previous two generations of Samsung’s flagship, with angled corners to accommodate the unit’s side- and width-firing drivers, along with LCR and Atmos arrays. There’s also a front-facing text display (which isn’t much use at imparting detailed info due to its limited amount of characters), some basic controls, and a robust metal-grille finish. At 1.23m wide the ‘bar is better suited to larger TV screens, and offers a choice of stand or wall mounting – just make sure nothing is blocking the Atmos drivers that face upwards at either end.

Samsung HW-Q990D Review: The main chassis measures 1.23m wide, so suits TVs 55in and above

It’s also business as usual where the HW-Q990D’s rears are concerned, with identical curved enclosures, mesh grilles, and pedestal stand. Each speaker includes rear height, side and surround channels, so if you’re keeping count that’s nine at the front, six at the back, for 15 channels plus a subwoofer.

Speaking of which, you also get the same rear-ported bassmaker with side-firing 8in driver and ‘acoustic lens’ mounted in front of it. The sub is finished in matt black to match the rest of the system, but its relatively slim (22cm-wide) cabinet means you might choose to slip it somewhere out of sight.

Taking control

Setup is relatively straightforward, and a major plus-point compared to the complexity of installing a separates system. The rears can be placed on a stand or shelf, or wall mounted with included brackets – but as with the main unit, don’t block the upfirers. It’s also worth remembering that while everything in this system connects wirelessly, you will need to plug in a total of four devices.

‘Balanced and cohesive with exceptional clarity… audio objects move around within three-dimensional space’

The HW-Q990D includes a remote that’s perfect for day-to-day operation (and with an ARC/eARC connection your TV’s zapper doubles as a controller), but for setup I recommend using Samsung’s SmartThings app. This provides access to all the system’s features and takes you through the entire setup process, including Wi-Fi connectivity and ‘SpaceFit Sound Pro’ room correction. Introduced a couple of years ago, this employs a built-in microphone to measure your room’s characteristics and make any necessary adjustments. It’s completely automated and very effective, producing a more cohesive soundstage with tighter bass and better balance.

For easy control of the HW-Q990D's settings, use Samsung's SmartThings app

In addition to SpaceFit Sound Pro, the HW-Q990D offers three sound modes (Standard, Surround and Game) plus Adaptive Sound for Al-enhanced processing and Active Voice Amplifier for teasing dialogue out of muddy mixes. Other features for use with compatible Samsung TVs are Q Symphony (where the audio output of both ‘bar and TV are combined), and a wireless Dolby Atmos-capable connection, while a new trick is Private Rear Sound, which sends all audio to the rear speakers and mutes the output from the main ‘bar (‘allowing you to listen without being disturbed by others’). Also onboard are built-in Amazon Alexa for added smarts and voice control, Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect and Bluetooth.

Physical connections are two HDMI inputs and an HDMI output with eARC that will accept 4K video in HDR10, HLG, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision, plus a fallback optical digital audio port. There’s a USB input, but this is for service (firmware), and the soundbar’s network connection is Wi-Fi only.

On a rampage

Samsung’s premium soundbar systems, tuned at its California-based Audio Lab, have long impressed when it comes to cinematic scale and full-on immersion, and the HW-Q990D offers more of the same, aided by the 11.1.4-channel layout and support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Post-calibration it delivers a barnstorming performance, with a balanced and cohesive presence that retains exceptional clarity and detail as audio objects move around within three-dimensional space.

This is well demonstrated by the opening scene of the Dwyane Johnson monster flick Rampage (4K BD), where a space station is disintegrating as it falls out of orbit. As an astronaut desperately moves through the collapsing structure, the sounds of groaning metal reverberate all around and are directed in response to the camera’s perspective. There’s tonal balance from front to back, and slick steering of effects.

Samsung HW-Q990D has front/ side drivers in addition to Atmos height

Later in the film, there are sounds of helicopters and even giant winged wolves flying overhead, effectively rendered by the HW-Q990D. You should never underestimate the importance of physical height drivers, because it’s impossible to replicate their impact using sound processing alone.

While the driver, power and dimension specifications are identical to last year’s Q990C (and the Q990B before it), the overall delivery seems a touch more controlled and better defined, suggesting a degree of fine-tuning from one generation to another. Additionally, it’s worth emphasising that this system isn’t all about multi-speaker aggression. Dialogue and music reproduction is fulsome but clean.

Deeply impressive

Rampage includes a suitably monstrous LFE track that imbues every sequence (even those without giant animals) with an ungodly amount of infrasonic rumble. The climax sees the giant gorilla (George) battling the previously mentioned wolf and a mutated alligator in Chicago, and the roars, explosions and collapsing buildings carry plenty of depth. And again, whether through new sound tuning, improvements to the auto calibration platform or a combination of both, this bass performance feels a shade more authoritative than before. 

Samsung HW-Q990D's subwoofer, with 8in driver, is rear-ported

Previous generations could be criticised for having an overpowering low-end, but the HW-Q990D drops low but does so with speed and dexterity.

All these strengths are in evidence during the mortar attack on the compound in 13 Hours (Blu-ray), where you hear the shells arc overhead before exploding with a neatly timed percussive thump. No matter how aggressive the mix gets, and it’s genuinely brutal at times, the effects sound natural and not harsh, and you can push the system without its onboard amplification (rated at a total of 656W) appearing to run out of steam.

The new DTS:X track on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’s 4K Blu-ray showcases a deliberately exaggerated sound design that matches the film’s comic book visuals. Effects are thrown around the room during the various battles with the seven evil exes, while the frequent needle drops are delivered with foot-tapping glee. Indeed, the HW-Q990D is an accomplished performer with music, although it won’t win over any audiophiles. There’s some excellent stereo separation thanks to the soundbar’s width, and the superior bass integration doesn’t swamp the music.

While you can use the Adaptive Sound mode to upmix two-channel audio to use all the available channels (plus make tweaks to the soundbar’s seven-band EQ via the Sound Control settings), if you have access to music actually mixed in Dolby Atmos you’re in for a treat. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (Blu-ray) is a revelation in spatial audio, with the prog rock compositions filling the room and the music sweeping around, behind and overhead, and the HW-Q990D’s uncongested, detail-packed performance shining through.

If it ain’t broke…

Summing up this new Samsung ‘bar is complicated by the fact that it’s very similar to previous models so has limited appeal as an ‘upgrade’ – although its improved HDMI specification does address the one major criticism of earlier generations, and the overall delivery feels a touch more composed, with great balance, smooth bass, and plenty of cinematic scale. The price tag is high, but still more affordable than a separates system – and entirely matched by the features and performance on offer

SPECIFICATIONS

Product11.1.4-channel Dolby Atmos soundbar
PositionSamsung’s flagship soundbar system, replacing the HW-Q990C
PeersDevialet Dione; LG S95QR; Sennheiser Ambeo Max
Drivers21 including Atmos heights on main enclosure and wireless rears
Onboard Power (Claimed)656W (total)
Connections2 x HDMI inputs; 1 x HDMI output with eARC; optical digital audio input
Dolby Atmos/DTSYes/Yes
Separate SubYes. 8in driver
Remote ControlYes
Dimensions1,232(w) x 70(h) x 138(d)mm (soundbar); 220(w) x 413(h) x 410(d)mm (sub); 130(w) x 201(h) x 140(d)mm (rears)
Weight7.7kg (soundbar); 11.7kg (sub); 3.4kg (rears)
FeaturesAdaptive Sound Mode; wireless Dolby Atmos support and Q Symphony with compatible Samsung TVs; Dolby Vision/HDR10+ passthrough; 4K/120Hz and VRR passthrough; SpaceFit Sound Pro; Bluetooth 5.2; Wi-Fi; Apple AirPlay 2; Spotify Connect; Alexa built-in; SmartThings app control; Roon Tested; Night Mode; Private Rear Sound mode

TESTED WITH

Tested Samsung HW-Q990D with RAMPAGE film

RAMPAGE: This enjoyable film adaptation of the popular videogame looks great in 4K and packs an aggressive Atmos track as muscular as The Rock’s biceps. Heights are frequently engaged, with helicopters and winged wolves placed overhead, while the LFE gives your system a thorough shakedown.

Verdict

10 Total Score
Best buy Samsung HW-Q990D Review

The Q990D is perhaps the most immersive Atmos/ DTS:X soundbar around, and upgraded HDMI connectivity makes it ideal for gamers as well as film fans.

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Samsung HW-Q990D: Price Comparison

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SAMSUNG Q990D 11.1.4ch Soundbar w/Wireless Dolby Atmos Audio, Rear Speaker...
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Samsung HW-Q990D 11.1.4ch Soundbar with True Dolby Atmos Sound with...
$1,629.99
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Samsung HW-Q990D 11.1.4-Channel Wireless Dolby Atmos Soundbar with Wireless Surround...
$1,697.99 $1,999.99
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Last Amazon price update was: June 16, 2024 11:30 am
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Author

  • STEVE WITHERS

    I’m a freelance journalist who contributes to Tech Radar, Trusted Reviews, Expert Reviews, AVForums, Pocket-lint, Home Cinema Choice, and Wired. I’m also a professional audio and video calibrator who is certified with THX, the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF), and the Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). As a result, I’m always geeking out on the newest AV tech, and keeping abreast of the latest industry standards.

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