Samsung HW-Q990B Reviewed at $1,699.00
Product Name: Samsung HW-Q990B
Product Description: 11.1.4CH Dolby Atmos Soundbar
Design - 9.2/10
Movies Performance - 9.5/10
Music Performance - 9.2/10
Inputs and Features - 8.5/10
Price / Quality - 8.9/10
Reviewed at $1,699.00
- Great surround and Atmos performance
- Satisfying bass
- Plenty of features
- Pass-through capabilities
- No HDMI 2.1 ports
- Two HDMI inputs are not enough
- No Chromecast or Google Assistant in specific markets
- No USB playback
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With three new series in 2022 Samsung remains one of the most potent players in the soundbar market. There are not many companies that offer such extensive number of new models every year, maybe with the exception of LG, but as always most attention is directed towards their top tier releases. As such in our Samsung HW-Q990B review today we are going to be testing their 2022 flagship and determine if there is any actual improvements over last year’s release.
The HW-Q990B is Samsung’s best in the Q-Series which includes another four models from which we have recently tested the HW-Q800B. The HW-Q990B is a 11.1.4 channels behemoth and is a really impressive kit considering what is included in the package. But as always we are going to look really quickly at the specs and at first glance there are not many differences compared to the HW-Q950A although we did spot some noteworthy changes.
The Samsung HW-Q990B is rated by Samsung as an 11.1.4 channels Dolby Atmos soundbar that packs a subwoofer and surrounds speakers making it a full surround system with a total of 656 watts of power. Except from Dolby Atmos it also supports DTS:X and also comes with plenty of features like WiFi, Bluetooth, High Resolution audio support, Amazon Alexa, Airplay 2 built-in and many others like Tap Sound, Q-Symphony and SmartThings app support.
From our initial observations there are two things that seem to be different compared to 2021’s flagship. The design of the HW-Q990B is different across all its components along with a higher power output for the subwoofer. Are these the only changes we get? Keep reading as we put it to the test to find out…
Design, Inputs and Features
Design and build quality is the first thing we are looking on any soundbar and it seems that while the Q990B houses the same number of channels as 2021’s Q950A, Samsung for some reason decided to make a complete design overhaul. Not that we are against it, in fact we think this was the right move as the Q950A looked a bit old style for a top quality premium flagship.
The new HW-Q990B is still a huge soundbar and with a size of 48.5″ x 2.7″ x 5.4″ (1232.0 x 69.5 x 138.0 mm) and weight of 17.0 lbs (7.7 kg) it will look good under any TV of at least 55″ and above.
Just keep in mind that if you plan on placing it in front of your TV the soundbar doesn’t have any IR repeaters, so if your TV’s IR sensor is extremely low then it may obstruct the signal, so you better measure first just to be on the safe side. Most TVs do have a gap of around 2.5″ below the panel, some even less, and with the soundbar’s 2.7″ height it is not going to be an easy task fitting this thing under the panel.
Design wise the Q990B does look better than its predecessor. Instead of a fabric grille covering most of its main body the Q990B is made of plastic with most parts of it being covered by a metal perforated grille. Only its back and undersides are covered in a dark colored plastic and this looks much better as the fabric grille did look cheaper than it really was.
As usual at the top side we find some built-in buttons placed right in the middle while the Samsung logo is placed on the far left. All drivers are hidden under the perforated grille and is easy to distinguish them through the holes.
Another thing that we were very critical about in the Q950A was the display it had. It was small and its placement on the top was useless. It seems that Samsung took note and changed it to a front looking LCD display, that they positioned to the far right side, exactly next to the right channel drivers. It may still be a small one but at least now it is far more practical and its four digits size does give you some visual information about the functionality of the unit.
At the back we find a few insets that house all the available connection ports. The frustrating part is that the HDMI ports, the optical port and the power port are all separated from each other which can make cable management and grouping a bit more difficult.
The surrounds, or rear speakers as most manufacturers call them, also saw a design overhaul. Now instead of being these cubic boxes that came with the Q950A they look very similar in look to the main bar itself with angled top and bottom sides. They are covered also in a metallic perforated grille while the rest of the body is made out of plastic.
The rear speakers are still big ones and it couldn’t be otherwise as they still house three woofers each. We measured them 5.1″ x 7.9″ x 5.5″ (129.5 x 201.3 x 140.4 mm) and with a weight of 7.5 lbs (3.4 kg) you have to make sure you have enough space to place them correctly. The speakers are wireless but they still have power cables so you cannot call them completely wireless speakers.
Last but not least is the subwoofer. This is the only part of the new release that the new design was necessary due to the change of the power output specs. The new sub is a real powerhouse and if the old subwoofer was any indication, the new one will put the soundbar a step beyond what its predecessor could do.
The new sub still uses a ported design with a side firing woofer but this time the look is different. Now, instead of a fabric grill, a plastic plate is covering the woofer. We like this look far better than before as it looks more modern. Materials used is mainly some short of wood, as most subwoofers use, while at the back a big air port is located at the top with the power connector, a pairing button and a USB port placed at the bottom of it.
The new subwoofer measures 8.7″ x 16.3″ x 16.1″ (220.0 x 413.0 x 410.0 mm) and weights 25.8 lbs (11.7 kg) and surely the side firing design is not the ideal if you want to fit this somewhere between furniture as you will need to make sure enough breathing space is left in front of the woofer. As was the case with the rear speakers, the subwoofer connects to the main unit with wireless but still needs a connection to a power outlet.
Overall the new HW-Q990B looks far better than the 2021 HW-Q950A looked. The metal grille makes it look more premium than a fabric grille and the new rear speakers and subwoofer give the new release a few extra points. The front looking display is more practical and useful now and it shows that last year’s design, as good as it may have been in its performance, its design had a few flaws that Samsung did correct them this year. Kudos to them for doing so.
Let’s see what is under the hood next.
When it comes to a Samsung soundbar it is never easy to find exactly what is being used as Samsung is not so generous at providing this information. But by looking at the unit itself and cross-referencing with what is written on the manual and their website we have a pretty good understanding of what is being used.
The HW-Q990B is rated as a 11.1.4 channels soundbar with 22 speakers being utilized across 16 different channels which is impressive for a soundbar. For the main unit we have the three main front channels and for these Samsung has used dual oval woofers along with a single tweeter for each channel.
Along with them they have included a single round woofer for the side front, side wide and Atmos channels which is exactly the same configuration the 2021 Q950A had. Now here we need to explain things a little bit. It is not the first time we see a soundbar utilizing side firing drivers in order to offer a more expansive front stage.
But as was the case last year the soundbar is using two side firing woofers positioned at different angles. One that is at an angle towards the room and one that is looking completely sideways. This way the soundbar is capable at covering the full space at the front and on the sides which in theory will create a more deep and fulfilling performance.
And lastly we have the up-firing Atmos round woofers which are of the same size as the side firing ones and this is a standard type we see in many Atmos capable units and rely on the ceiling to bounce the sound down above your head.
The surround speakers are also one of a kind as was the case last year. And this has to do with the fact that each of the two cabinets actually hosts three round woofers inside it! One for the direct surround, one for the up-firing Atmos channel and one that is angled outwards in order to close the gap with the front side firing channels and offer a complete 360 degrees immersion bubble.
Last but not least is the subwoofer which includes a side-firing driver for the low frequencies. And here is the only difference we find compared to last year as Samsung decided to up the power output to 200 watts compared to the 160 watts of 2021.
The whole system is rated at 656 watts of output power so let’s brake this number down. The main unit is rated at 246 watts with a (18 W x 4) + (10 W x 2) + (18 W x 2) + (10 W x 1) + (18 W x 6) configuration. The surround speakers come at 210 watts each with a (35 W x 6) configuration and these numbers are supplemented by a 200 watts sub giving us the total of 656 watts.
While Samsung decided to completely change the external designs of all its components, when it comes to the drivers and woofers used we get a pretty similar configuration to last year except from the subwoofer upgrade.
Next we will be looking at the available ports that are placed in three special insets at the back of the unit. We would love to have them all grouped together for easier cable management but unfortunately this is not the case. In fact last year the digital port was placed next to the HDMI, but for some reason they decided to separate it from the rest in their new release. Apart from that nothing has changed compared to last year, something that is a bit disappointing and we will explain why.
What we get is a digital optical audio input and three HDMI ports, two inputs and one output. There is also a USB-A port at the bottom which is used for service only while the power connector is separated from the rest and placed on the other side of the unit.
Although there is no specific mention of what HDMI ports the HW-Q990B comes with, looking at the HDMI capabilities on the manual reveal that these are actually the older HDMI 2.0 kind. And this is obvious as they cannot pass-through anything more than 4K@60Hz content which is a bummer in case you are a gamer and you want to pass-through high frame rate signals.
Also having only two HDMI inputs does limit your options greatly and you cannot connect multiple devices on the soundbar anyway. Your only option is either use a HDMI splitter and have to settle only with 4K@60Hz signals or connect your console or computer to the TV directly.
The third option is to use the TV as a hub and take advantage of the eARC port to drive the sound to the unit itself from the TV but eARC certainly has its own share of problems to begin with. And also keep in mind that your TV needs to support DTS sound if you want this format to be passed through to the soundbar itself.
The HDMI ports except from 4K pass-through support Dolby Vision, HDR10+ and CEC commands.
Also we shouldn’t forget to mention the unit’s wireless capabilities as it features built-in WiFi along with Bluetooth but only with SBC codec which is the most basic form of Bluetooth support.
We are a bit disappointed to see such a premium top tier soundbar not having HDMI 2.1 ports. This is something that should be a given in 2022 premium offerings but unfortunately we will have to wait longer for this. In case you are thinking of high frame rate gaming then you shouldn’t use this soundbar in pass-through mode.
In terms of controlling the unit, again things are the same as last year.
The built-in buttons are the first and most basic form of controlling this soundbar although their usability is rather limited. There are four physical buttons and from left to right we find a multi-function button, volume controls and a microphone control button.
The One Remote we find in the Q990B seems to have gotten an upgrade in design compared to last year and is basically the same one we used in our Q800B review. The new one does seem slightly more premium than before so you can call it an improvement.
While other remotes decrease the number of buttons available the new One Remote seems to have a few more although not by much and surely it does not affect its practicality.
The two buttons above the navigation controls are used for source selection and Bluetooth pairing while the other three below the circular navigation controls are for sound mute, sound mode selection and information.
Below these we find the woofer and volume controls while at the bottom three additional circular buttons are used for channels volume control, the second for sound control which includes many sound calibration options like AutoEQ, Spacefit sound, AVA, Voice enhance mode, Night mode, Sync, Surround speaker mode, and Virtual along with specific frequency settings and lastly tone control for setting the treble and bass.
The soundbar supports HDMI-CEC which means that if you connect the unit to the TV with a HDMI cable you can use the TV’s remote to handle some basic controls like volume. This may not give you the complete range of supported functions but it may help in certain situations.
Also due to the inclusion of the built-in WiFi module we get Amazon Alexa in order to control the soundbar without the need of a remote. Basically it’s the same as last year so no real changes here. No Google Assistant for one more year which is inexcusable for the price you pay for it.
Lastly the soundbar supports the SmartThings app and you can download it to your mobile device and control the unit through that. The app is required in order to connect the soundbar to your local network and from what we saw there must have been updated because while previously there were certain functions that could not be done with SmartThings it seems that now everything can be controlled by it which is a nice change.
Overall the HW-Q990B offers the same kind of connectivity we have seen in all previous premium Samsung soundbars. No change whatsoever. Google Assistant is still missing in action in specific markets, strangely in some countries it is built-in, and this is the only real downside compared to the competition.
Extra Features and Services
Next we will be looking at all the bells and whistles the unit comes equipped with and to be honest we don’t see any changes here either.
First of all let’s look at the sound formats that are supported. The soundbar can playback content containing Dolby 5.1ch, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby True-HD, Dolby Atmos, DTS 5.1ch, DTS-HD, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS:X and LPCM 8Ch. The only thing missing is IMAX Enhanced but there is not much to be missed with that one.
The unit also comes with a few sound modes you can select from as per usual with most Samsung soundbars. The ones available are the Standard mode which outputs the original audio mix as it is, Surround Sound that provides a more wide sound field than the Standard mode, Game Pro mode which provides stereoscopic sound to immerse you in the action while gaming and Adaptive Sound which analyzes the content audio and provides the optimal sound field accordingly.
One thing we should note here is that with the Standard mode if you feed the soundbar with a 2.0 channels signal you will only get up to 2.1 channels of output. On the other hand for 5.1 and 7.1 channels signals you will get 5.1 and 7.1 channels output respectively.
Only in Surround, Game Pro or Adaptive sound modes you get the full 11.1.4 channels from the unit. Also when a Dolby Atmos or DTS:X signal is detected then all available channels are enabled by default.
The unit also comes with Bluetooth connectivity. First of all you have the ability to stream audio from any mobile device through a Bluetooth connection. Also if you don’t want to mess with cables you have the ability to connect it to your TV through Bluetooth if your TV also can support such a connection.
Keep in mind that when you connect your TV with the soundbar through Bluetooth you can stream only stereo audio as Bluetooth cannot sustain higher bandwidth that surround audio formats require.
Lastly there is a Bluetooth Auto Power ON/OFF function. The unit will turn on or off automatically depending on the state of its Bluetooth function. When it detects an incoming Bluetooth signal it will power on while if no Bluetooth signal is detected for a period of time it will turn off automatically.
As for audio decoding we get the usual MP3, WMA, AAC and OGG when it comes to low quality ones but we also get High Resolution Audio support for FLAC, ALAC, AIFF and WAV files. What is disappointing is no USB playback from the unit itself. This means you have to rely on an external source like a media player that supports these or through Bluetooth or WiFi but in this case the quality will certainly be much lower than it could.
There is also plenty of multi-room and online streaming features including Airplay 2 in case you are more into Apple’s devices, Spotify Connect and Tidal Connect for some high quality music.
But there are more returning features from last year. One of them is Tap Sound and with it you can mirror music from your phone to your soundbar with just a tap. Obviously your mobile device has to support this feature also but with it you save yourself the trouble of going through the connection process each time. Nothing major but a nice little feature to have.
We also find Samsung’s Q-Symphony feature. If your TV also supports this then the soundbar and the TV sync together in order for both to output sound from all available speakers. This way the TV takes an active part into the sound reproduction in order to up the immersion even further.
The available feature set has not changed a bit and considering that last year’s Q950A was still missing a few features compared to the competition it’s a pity that the Q990B does nothing new and offers more of the same. There is no Chromecast available in the unit we had for testing although it seems that in certain markets Chromecast along with Google Assistant are both available and built-in. But in certain markets as the unit we had for testing was missing both of them.
Initial setup is exactly the same as some previous Samsung units so the whole procedure hasn’t changed a bit. Everything is simple and you can have the soundbar ready in literally minutes.
When it comes to connecting the soundbar, Samsung made sure to give you a lot of flexibility. If you prefer to go the wired route you can either use the HDMI connection either in a pass-through configuration or at the end of the chain with the use of the ARC/eARC functionality. There is also an optical port in case your devices does not have an HDMI port.
But the soundbar also gives you the option to connect it to the TV through a wireless connection. This can be achieved either through Bluetooth or with WiFi but to be honest we would suggest such a connection only if a wired solution is absolutely out of the question. Wireless connections are not so stable and you may have problems with such one. And with Bluetooth you can only get stereo audio so you will be limiting the unit’s performance this way.
One more thing to note here is that the soundbar’s Q-Symphony feature can work only with HDMI, optical or WiFi connections. It cannot work if you decide to use Bluetooth.
After you connect all parts to the appropriate power outlets then both the subwoofer and the rear speakers should connect to the main unit automatically. If for some reason they don’t then you have the option to do it the manual way with the available pair button at the back of each speaker.
Another feature that was added just last year is an auto calibration system. In the HW-Q990B we find Samsung’s SpaceFit Sound+. We have seen this feature in some of the higher tier Samsung TVs which uses a special sensor in order to analyze your room and calibrate the audio output accordingly.
SpaceFit can be enabled either by the soundbar’s remote or if you have a Samsung TV that supports this system, from the TV itself. This system uses a special sensor in order to analyze your room and calibrate the audio output accordingly. The plus version we have here does the same thing but takes it one step further. The subwoofer also has a similar sensor and the soundbar can use both the sub’s one and the TV’s one for a more detailed analysis of your space.
The soundbar also comes with a few sound settings but don’t expect anything complicated. There is the usual treble and bass calibration along with a EQ graphic for more detailed frequency manipulation. You can also adjust the volume of each channel to bring them all to equal level.
There are also special modes like a Night mode and Active Voice Amplifier in case the conditions in your rooms asks for any of these.
The last thing you have to do is select the appropriate sound mode. Here you can either choose one according to the material being played or if you are the kind of person that just wants to leave the settings alone then you can use the Adaptive mode and let the soundbar determine the best audio mode to be used each time.
For this review the movies we decided to test on this soundbar were Saving Private Ryan and Midway, both of them in 4K UHD format. For that reason we connected our Panasonic UHD player to the soundbar itself and used its pass-through capabilities to pass the signal to our test TV.
From the first action scene you really understand the difference between the HW-Q990B and the rest of the mid and lower tier soundbars available. This unit is really in a class of its own as the kind of immersion is really close to a true home theater system. The only other soundbar this year that comes close to this is the LG S95QR but other than that we haven’t found another unit with the kind of prowess and immersion capabilities of the Samsung.
First of all let’s talk about the front. As every soundbar the Q990B is heavily front oriented but Samsung made sure to take its performance to a whole new level. Except from the main three front channels that do all the heavy lifting we get side firing ones also. This is not the first unit we test with side firing woofers but the difference here is that there are two channels at each side.
One channel is firing at a 90 degrees angle from the viewer while the other at an almost 45 degrees angle. This way the soundbar is able to cover all the space in front of us, no matter where you sit in the room. As a result panning effects feel far more precise and distinct no matter how they move in space.
Also the Atmos channels did a nice job at giving the overhead layer some height. As always, keep in mind that while the Q990B may offer nice overhead activity, it is a notch below what real height or ceiling speakers can do. Usually with up-firing speakers, sound feels a little lower and a bit less precise and this is the case here also. So don’t expect the Q990B to directly compete with a true Atmos system, but is the next best thing if having speakers above your head is not an option.
Also compared to the LG S95QR the overhead effects felt slightly less precise due to the missing third center Atmos channel in the LG unit. But the difference was really small and was not something noteworthy.
In terms of surround performance the Q990B was amazing and the inclusion of the rear speakers make a huge difference. What makes things even better was the fact that these speakers include two surround channels, one directed towards you and another one that is responsible at feeling the space outwards from your viewing position.
These channels, along with the side firing ones of the main unit create an immersion bubble around you that you really have to hear in order to understand how far soundbars have come in the last few years.
Surround effects sounded exactly as they should and positional audio was precise and with pinpoint accuracy. When it comes to surround sound in a soundbar the Q990B is the best this market has to offer.
Lastly we have to make a special mention to the bass. The new subwoofer is a real powerhouse and it will offer you plenty of shaking and low end output that can satisfy even the most hardcore of users. Surely it cannot reach the deeps of a dedicated high quality subwoofer but it surely is a cut above most subs we have tried that come bundled with soundbars the last few years.
We spoke about how immersive and how good the soundbar is in terms of surround activity, Atmos performance and low end power. From everything we wrote you may be wondering, can the Q990B really challenge a trued Dolby Atmos surround system?
The answer is no. There are many things the soundbar does great but no matter how many channels and how many woofers you add to the system these are not on the same level to a good quality set of separate speakers. In terms of sound resolution, clarity and HiFi quality all these soundbars are a step below and this cannot change no matter what manufacturers do. Immersion may be close but the quality of sound is very hard to improve due to the small and lesser quality of woofers used.
But this doesn’t make the Q990B any less impressive. The soundbar can be considered one of the best when it comes to cinematic immersion and there are very few other options that can really compete with it at the moment.
The Q990B lacks USB playback, which is inexcusable for such a top tier flagship, so what we did instead was to connect our media player to the HDMI port and stream some high resolution audio to the soundbar this way. For all our reviews we use a Zidoo Z9X to playback a selection of FLAC files we have at hand for these situations.
To be honest when it comes to music output the soundbar felt a lot like what we experienced with the Q950A last year. There is no Music mode available so your best bet is to either use the Standard mode or Adaptive Sound. Keep in mind that Standard mode will output music in 2.1 channels while in Adaptive mode all available channels are active.
From the above you understand that the Standard mode may feel a bit more accurate but the Adaptive mode surely feels more impressive even if less accurate. So it is really a matter of what you seek the most.
The Q990B behaved very nicely with music even if it doesn’t offer the same kind of jaw dropping performance as with action movies, something that was to be expected. The soundstage had the right amount of energy to it and brought the whole performance to life.
Sound imaging was good enough and all sound sources were nicely separated in space. This was due to the high number of available channels but keep in mind that the more you push the volume the less distinct sound will be and it will feel like everything comes from a single position. So try to keep the volume at normal levels.
Sound resolution was not the best of the best if you compare it with good quality HiFi speakers but again this is to be expected as the small woofers in these units cannot do much in comparison to what separate speakers are equipped with.
The mid-range was balanced enough with no concerning irregularities to be heard while the high end was enjoyable and full of excitement. The bass was a bit overpowering but with a bit of calibration we managed to make it blend nicely with the rest of the sounds.
As we always do we tried out different genres including pop, rock, heavy metal, electronic and Jazz and the soundbar had a pretty stellar output in all of them. It didn’t seem to favor some specific genre and it managed to offer us a very satisfying session.
We always keep saying that even a top tier flagship soundbar cannot directly compete with a good quality pair of separate speakers and this is the case here. The HW-Q990B is a good performer with music and most people that go for such a unit will have absolutely no problem with the quality of music it outputs, just make sure not to have extremely high expectations out of it and you will surely enjoy it to the max.
The new HW-Q990B is not all that different from last year’s Q950A but to be honest the 2021 flagship was already a powerhouse to begin with so it would be hard for Samsung to offer something that would be a huge upgrade in just one year. Nevertheless there are two major differences, or upgrades if you like, in 2022 and these are the complete design overhaul and the better subwoofer included.
The Q990B is a real flagship soundbar no matter how you look at it. It can deliver the most immersive performance we have heard in a soundbar unit, no matter the price and it comes as close as possible to a separates, Dolby Atmos capable, home theater system. It comes with plenty of extras if you are the kind of person that likes to use these and it’s the kind of system that is easy to use but delivers much more than what you would expect from a soundbar in general.
On the downsides there is not much to say as far as its actual performance is concerned as it gets top marks in this regard. The two HDMI 2.0 ports do not cut it for today’s home theater systems while its inability to pass 4K@120Hz will surely disappoint many gamers. Also the omission of USB playback is unacceptable for a flagship system as is the missing Google assistant and Chromecast in some specific markets.
If you are on the lookout for a flagship soundbar and price is of no concern there are not many choices really and the Samsung HW-Q990B should be on your very short list. The unit can do excellent in all kinds of content but its surround and Atmos performance in movies is what this is all about and its perfect if you want a simple to use system with an output that comes as close as possible to a complete Atmos system. Highly recommended.