Samsung Q990C 11.1.4 Channel Soundbar Review
Tony O’Brien is most impressed by this affordable, compact soundbar, rear speakers and subwoofer package…
Q Series Q990C 11.1.4 Channel Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer
USD $1,899.99 MSRP
Big home cinema sound needs a lot of equipment – speakers, subwoofers, AV processors, amplifiers - the list goes on. It’s a major investment, not only in terms of money but also in space. Enter the soundbar, designed to provide a home cinema-like auditory experience from just one comparatively small, budget-friendly box. It won’t beat dedicated amplifiers and speakers, but how good can it get?
Samsung’s Q990C package that you see here isn’t strictly ‘a soundbar’ because it’s actually a package that includes wireless rear speakers and subwoofer – and boasts no less than 22 speakers or 11.1.4 channels. The system is compatible with a range of audio formats, including DTS:X, Dolby Atmos, Atmos Music, Dolby True-HD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby MAT and multichannel LPCM.
Samsung has incorporated custom sound modes, including Surround Sound Expansive, Game Pro, Standard and Adaptive. It’s also equipped with Samsung’s Q-Symphony, which is a rather interesting – if not quite unique – feature that uses the TV speakers in conjunction with the Q990C to create a more expansive soundfield with compatible televisions.
Its HDMI (2.0) inputs/outputs provide 4K video passthrough with support for HDR10, HDR10+ and eARC. It’s also equipped with the SpaceFit Sound Pro Calibration tool, which will – courtesy of the Q990C’s inbuilt microphone – calibrate the sound to its listening environment. In addition to being Bluetooth and Wi-Fi-compatible, the Q990C supports a range of smarts, including Google Chromecast and Alexa. It’s also compatible with AAC, Airplay2, AMP3, WAV, OGG, FLAC, ALAC and AIFF. It’s also able to interface with compatible smart home devices via its Smart Things hub.
At 1,232x69.5x138mm, the Q990C’s soundbar is large enough to be taken seriously yet small enough not to dominate. Finished in graphite, it’s relatively décor-friendly, if not a tad pedestrian – I couldn’t help but wonder if black would have been a better choice.
Weighing 7.7kg, it sports front, side and upward-firing drivers, which are, for the most part, hidden behind its graphite outer jacket grille. A small LED display – visible when commands are received – is located on the right, while power and volume buttons are at the top. Coupled with the Samsung S95C OLED I had in for review, it cuts a sleek, inoffensive profile.
The rear speakers – which measure 129.5x201.3x140.4mm – are equipped with four drivers consisting of front, side and upward-firing Atmos drivers. Although wireless, they still require power, which can present some placement challenges. Samsung is well aware of this and provides an option in the settings menu to designate the rear speakers as additional fronts, creating a larger frontal soundstage. The heaviest of the package’s speakers is its subwoofer, which weighs 11.7kg and measures 220x413x410mm. It’s also wireless, doing away with the need for long cable runs.
The box – which put me in mind of a guitar case – also includes a remote control, power cord and user manual. The remote, which is a more button-packed version of Samsung’s smart TV type, cuts a dashing figure in matt black, and has all of the necessary controls. It fits snuggly in the hand and, like Samsung’s TV remotes, is both intuitive and easy to use. In reality, though, if you connect the Q900C via HDMI, you’re not likely to need it, as volume and most of its setup options can be accessed directly from the TV.
Getting the Q990C up and running is a relatively simple procedure, courtesy of the Smart Things app, which goes so far as to apply all of the necessary firmware updates. Although the system surprisingly does support Dolby Atmos wirelessly, DTS:X decoding requires a HDMI connection. Pairing the surrounds and subwoofers is also both a simple and one-off proposition, even if you decide, as I did, to put aside the rear speakers for casual viewing, connecting them back up for movie nights.
The Samsung Q990C is capable of producing room-filling sound with surprising bass extension. It creates a large soundfield that defies its small confines, creating a highly credible Atmos experience. On a good home cinema system, the 4K Blu-ray of Fury is an assault on the senses, brimming with enough bass to rattle free all but the stubbornest of fillings.
With this powerful Atmos soundtrack, it was surprising just how much sound these tiny boxes created, easily filling my 5.8x4.5m lounge room. While it doesn’t match the effortlessness of my own JBL Synthesis separates – which I might add cost many times the asking price of the Q990C – there was enough volume on tap to provide a pleasing and immersive movie experience.
It should come as no surprise the Q990C cannot reproduce the bandwidth or attack of a good home cinema separates system, but what does surprise is both how much bass it produces, and the quality of that bass. As the troops advanced on the entrenched Germans, the little Samsung sub sprang into action, producing a bottom end that was not only heard but felt at the listening position. No, it’s not going to rearrange the furniture, but rest assured that there is enough here to bring smiles to faces.
The quality of bass that the Q990C delivers is unexpectedly high. Where most budget-friendly solutions swamp the room with a bloated bottom end, the Samsung understands its limitations. Its snappy transients gave blasts from tanks and artillery fire a pleasing amount of extension that didn’t last beyond its expiry date. Wanting to see just how far I could push this system, I nudged the volume even further. While I did experience some compression at higher levels, I had to push it above my threshold of comfortable listening.
Moving to the equally impressive Atmos soundtrack on the 4K Blu-ray of Blade Runner 2049, the Samsung package again put in a solid performance. Here, the combination of the speakers in both the Q990C and S95C via Q Symphony creates a sense of scale and height well above their respective confines. While the former is a solid performer in its own right, the addition of Q Symphony is the clear winner. In addition to the sound being less localisable, it creates more of a wall of sound, which the Q990C on its own can’t compete with. This gives any Atmos soundtrack a grander sense of scale.
It’s not just the big things where the Q990C does well, however. With the volume at a level that won’t disturb the rest of the house, the Q990C produces a fine sense of substance, space, and intelligibility. It provides a quality of sound performance that leaves both my own LG C9 and Samsung’s S95C OLED inbuilt speakers in the dust. As K wound his way through the crowded city streets, there was both a depth and width to the sound that extended further than I’d expected.
With the ever-familiar DTS-HD soundtrack on the Blu-ray of The Wolverine, the Q990C puts in a pleasing surround-sound performance. With such fare, the four-way drivers in the rear-speakers pay dividends, and here the sound of arrows, gunshots and the accompanying mayhem whizzed around the room with untrammelled energy.
Moving to the Dolby Atmos Demo Blu-ray, and the Q990C served up a few more surprises. Here, the upward-firing drivers of the main and surround speakers create an exciting Atmos experience. As the spaceship in the Horizon demonstration flew from the front to the back of the room, it occupied a point of space to the right of the room, seemingly flying by overhead, just below my lounge room ceiling. It was an impressive performance from a comparatively modestly priced soundbar.
It should come as no surprise that the Samsung Q990C cannot match the performance of more expensive dedicated cinema components. What is unexpected, however, is how good it is for the bargain-basement price. Capable of punching above its size in terms of both volume and scale, while it’s not going to produce earth-shattering bass, there is certainly enough to create satisfying amounts of low-frequency rumble.
The jewels in the crown are its four-way rear speakers and Samsung’s Q Symphony, which delivers a noticeably larger front soundstage, while the rear speakers create a credible surround feel. I would recommend experimenting with the placement of these to leverage the best performance. For those looking for just that bit more beyond what their TV speakers can offer, this Samsung package puts in an admirable performance. At low listening levels, it boosts dialogue intelligibility and imparts a sense of scale that’s not going to annoy anybody trying to sleep. An excellent performer that offers superb value for money, then.
As the owner of ‘Clarity Audio & Video Calibration’, Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator with over a decade of experience. Tony is an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products.
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