Samsung HW-Q990C Soundbar
In 2016 Samsung said it wanted to be known as the next Bowers and Wilkins, but a few months later the company fast-tracked these ambitions when it bought Harmon. And while Samsung now owns JBL and a boatload of other respected brands, its own audio products have nevertheless continued to stand up well against the competition. Products such as the Q990C.
The HW-Q990C is Samsung’s flagship soundbar and it includes most of the things people are looking for in a $1,000-plus speaker system. Those extras include Dolby Atmos and wireless streaming — and even both at the same time.
I’ve always believed that if a soundbar costs over a grand, you’re better off with an AV receiver and speakers. (The $359 Klipsch Reference Cinema and the $589 Onkyo TX-NR6100 are two good picks.) Yet, I also recognize that there are plenty of people who prefer the space-saving and convenience aspects of soundbars.
In my tests the Samsung definitely sounded better than my favorite Atmos soundbar system overall, the Vizio Elevate, but how much are you willing to pay for that improvement? The Vizio is currently selling for $800 and the Samsung is at least $500 more than that right now. Yet, the Samsung 990C is the best dedicated surround soundbar kit I’ve heard in years, and will reward anyone willing to pay extra for the privilege.
Design and features
My usual recommendation is to limit your soundbar budget to $300, but there are definitely benefits to spending more. Pricier models like the Samsung 990C, for instance, can offer a better array of features including Wi-Fi streaming and voice assistance. And this particular model promises better sound, too.
Design-wise the Samsung 990C is of the same chunky style the company has employed for years, which carries some of the drawbacks I’ve seen with previous designs. For example, the display is hidden behind a mesh screen and it can be difficult to read.
The Q990C is a 11.1.4 soundbar but you should take its claim of 11 discrete channels with a good pinch of salt. Instead think of it as your standard 5.1.4 surround configuration (left, right, center, two rears, subwoofer and four height channels) with a few more wide and side-firing drivers for wide effects.
The set includes four separate speaker boxes, and they’re all quite large. The main soundbar measures 48.5 by 2.7 by 5.4 inches. The next-largest is the wireless subwoofer at 8.7 by 16 by 16 inches. The surrounds are about the same size as computer speakers at 5.1 by 7.9 by 5.5 inches.
If you were considering this soundbar you may have been attracted by its wireless Dolby Atmos capability. I’m talking about its ability to connect wirelessly with select 2023 Samsung TVs and stream Dolby Atmos wirelessly. Right now, however, the only TVs in that “select” group are the relatively inexpensive CU7000 and CU8000 models.
My question is: Are people with a $600 TV really going to buy this soundbar, especially just to forsake a $10 cable? Maybe that’s you. And I’m not the boss of you, you can do what you please! But really, by using a cable you’re going to get better reliability and performance too.
The Q990C will decode all of the relevant formats including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X while also including compatibility with audio standards Spotify Connect and Apple AirPlay 2. The soundbar also tucks in Q Symphony, which pairs the speaker with the onboard speakers of your Samsung TV, but given that every speaker on this kit is better than the ones that go into TVs, I don’t think you should use it. Other audio gubbins include the SpaceFit Sound Pro Calibration routine and the voice-optimizing Active Voice Amplifier.
Connections include two HDMI 2.0 inputs (so, sadly, no gaming-friendly 4K/120Hz) with an HDMI eARC output, digital optical, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. It would have been good to see seen a few more connections including an analog input for people to connect a record player, for instance.
The remote control is compact and feels premium, with a faux-metallic finish. It misses out on the solar power charger of the TV remotes, but if you own a Samsung TV you can use its remote to control the soundbar too.
How does it sound?
I compared the Samsung Q990C against an array of different soundbars in CNET’s audio lab, including the Vizio Elevate, the LG S9C and the Bose 600 Smart Soundbar and subwoofer combo. With its four height speakers and large sub, the Samsung definitely had an advantage against the others when it came to cinematic immersion. As you’d expect with a brand hoping to become a household name in audio, the music replay of the Q990C was also excellent.
I began my tests with Dennis Villenueve’s Dune and compared the Samsung against a Bose Smart Soundbar 600 and Bass Module 500 subwoofer combo, plus the LG S9C. When watching the scene where the ornithopters land in an attempt to rescue spice miners from a sandworm (1 hour, 1 minute into the movie), clarity was one word that came to my mind. The whispered dialog, the sound of the spice filtering through Paul Atreides’ airways and the deep thump of the sandworms were exceedingly clear and impactful. Compared to the Samsung, the Bose offered less presence and slam, and the Samsung’s immersion was helped greatly by the its discrete rears speakers (you can add them to the Bose system aftermarket, however). The LG S9C was the weakest of the three and I was unable to get much volume out of it. The LG got a little lost trying to convey the majesty of the scene.
Next I swapped out two of the soundbars and substituted them for the Vizio Elevate — a great speaker in its own right. However, the Samsung pulled ahead in Dune as it did for the remainder of the tests. While the Vizio had more low-end punch, the Samsung was able to delve deeper into the low frequencies and sounded better overall.
Next I fired up Mad Max: Fury Road and found that both the Samsung and the Vizio were excellent at surround steering and creating an all-enveloping sonic world. The Samsung sounded more accomplished however, especially in its ability to place a girl’s voice directly overhead when she inquires, “Max?”
Finally I listened to a selection of music on the Samsung 9900C including the excellent remix of The Replacements’ album Tim. Paul Westerberg’s newly uncovered voice sounded fuller on the Samsung during the fist-pumping Bastards of Young and the instruments were more cohesive in the soundstage. Though fans of the band might argue that “together” is something that the ‘Mats never were.
Should you buy it?
At the end of the discussion it becomes a matter of how much money you want to spend. The Samsung sounds noticeably better than the Vizio Elevate, and it’s better built too, but it’s also a lot expensive. The Samsung’s price is currently reduced for Black Friday at $1,400, and at this kind of money I think it’s fair, and certainly I wouldn’t want to pay the full $1,800. Plus, while I’m on a nitpicking jaunt, that integrated display on the unit itself is a little annoying.
Nevertheless, designing a soundbar which performs this well with both music and movies is quite a feat, and Samsung has achieved it with the Q990C. While most people won’t use most of the features, it’s the performance that should draw people in.