Samsung's HW-K950 and HW-K850 Dolby Atmos Sound Bar Systems

Samsung brings a more immersive soundbar listening experience for TV viewing.

Samsung HW-K950 with Dolby Atmos Demo Illustration
Samsung HW-K950 with Dolby Atmos Demo Illustration. Images provided by Samsung

Soundbars are definitely evolving, and Samsung is not sitting back. In 2016 they introduced their first twoDolby Atmos-enabled soundbar, the HW-K950, and HW-K850, which, going into 2018 still rest at the top of their soundbar product line.

The Samsung HW-K950

The HW-K950 soundbar system combines a 5-channel soundbar, a wireless subwoofer, and two wireless surround speakers.

The system can be configured for a 5.1.4 channel Dolby Atmos speaker setup. For those not familiar with Dolby Atmos speaker layout terminology, this means that the soundbar and surround speakers project 5 channels of audio in the horizontal plane, along with the subwoofer, and there are four vertically firing speaker drivers (two embedded in the sound bar and two embedded in the surround speakers). The total number of speakers (minus the subwoofer) incorporated into the soundbar and surround speakers is 15.

Once you get it up and running, the entire setup encases the room in a bubble that provides the listener(s) with a fully immersive surround sound listening experience from compatible Dolby Atmos-encoded content (mostly Blu-ray Discs, but if you have a compatible smart TV, you may be able to access some Dolby Atmos-encoded content via online streaming).

For non-Dolby Atmos content, the HW-K950 also provides a surround sound expansion mode which takes advantage of the vertically firing speakers, providing a "simulated Dolby Atmos-type" listening experience.

However, although the HW-K950 offers up both comprehensive Dolby Digital, Plus, TrueHD, and Atmos decoding, on the DTS side, only 2-channel decoding is provided.

On the other hand, there are 6 additional surround sound processing modes that users can take advantage of:

  • Standard - Best frequency balance for most listening situations.
  • Music - Brings out the best balance of music content.
  • Movie - Provides a better balance subtle sounds and effects present in movie content.
  • Clear Voice - Provides added emphasis to the dialog.
  • Sports - Balances elements such as announcers and crowd noise.
  • Night Mode - put emphasis on dialog and bass that is lost when the volume is turned down low.

The HW-K950 does not incorporate built-in internet streaming but does include built-in Bluetooth which allows direct audio streaming from compatible smartphones and tablets, as well as access to Samsung's WiFi Multi-room audio app, which allows the soundbar, via your mobile phone, to stream audio to compatible Samsung wireless multi-room audio speakers.

The should bar unit is 47-1/2 inches wide which makes it a great fit for larger screen TVs, and its slim 2.1-inch high profile can fit and can be shelf just below the TV without blocking the bottom portion of the TV screen, or you can opt to mount on the wall above or below the TV.

The surround speakers can be placed on a shelf or stand. However, although they are wireless, they still need to connect to a power source for amplification.

Physical connectivity includes 2 HDMI inputs and 1output (HDMI ARC-enabled). The HDMI connections are also compatible with 3D and 4K video signal pass-through.

Audio-only inputs include digital optical and analog stereo.

A USB port included on on the sound bar, but, unfortunately, it is only there for firmware update installation, you cannot use it to play music files from USB flash drives

The Samsung HW-K850

In an interesting twist, since the release of the HW-K950, Samsung has followed up with a step-down version of the HW-K950, the HW-K850.

What makes this system different (in addition to a lower price point) is that it eliminates the wireless surround speakers, but still retains Dolby Atmos functionality. In other words, instead of being a 5.1.4 channel system, it is a 3.1.2 channel system.

What this means that the sound bar incorporates three channels that send sound out horizontally in the traditional left, center, right configuration, but still includes two vertically firing channels for a front-height, Dolby Atmos effect. The thing that is missing is there are no dedicated rear surround or rear height channel speakers. The total number of speakers in HW-K850 is reduced from 15 that are included on the HW-K950 to 11. The wireless subwoofer is still included.

Although the full impact of Dolby Atmos is lessened, for those that don't want (or feel they don't need), the additional clutter of surround speakers, or will be using the system in a smaller room, the HW-K850 might be a better option.

All the other features are the same as provided on the HW-K950, including its width and height.

The Bottom Line

Soundbars are definitely a popular alternative to the speaker clutter caused by traditional home theater speaker setups. Although not that great for large rooms, soundbars provide a cost-effective option for improving the audio for the TV viewing experience.

With the incorporation of Dolby Atmos surround audio decoding and additional processing, Samsung has enhanced the soundbar platform further by providing a more immersive surround sound listening experience.

Although more expensive than most soundbar systems, HW-K950 and HW-K850 are definitely worth checking out.