Samsung’s compact new HW-Q800T soundbar : SLIM NEW DOLBY ATMOS SOUNDBAR PACKS A POWERFUL PUNCH
Samsung’s compact new HW-Q800T soundbar (available at Amazon for $797.99) may look plain-Jane, but this unassuming hunk of perforated plastic is a slimline ticket to clear, full, and dimensional sound. It offers a well-stocked feature set, including built-in Amazon Alexa, modern eARC connection, and both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support. Though its $899.99 MSRP is too high, its usual sale price of $750 to $800 puts it more in line with competitors and well worth consideration for your audio upgrade.
- Clear, powerful sound
- Plenty of features
- Impressively slim design
- Stunted overhead effects
- Buggy Alexa performance
- Pricey compared to its sibling
Samsung has diversified its Dolby Atmos lineup significantly since its first entry, the $1,500 5.1.4-channel HW-K950, now offering a slew of Atmos options to fit a wider array of setups (and budgets). An iteration of 2019’s Q70R, the two-piece Q800T is pared down when compared to flagship Atmos setups with surround speakers, offering just a bar and subwoofer combo. While there are a few big competitors in its class (including Sonos’ brilliant Arc and LG’s loaded SN9YG), the bar’s top competition for value may come from within: Samsung’s much cheaper HW-Q70T stacks up extremely similarly, with just a few notable differences. Here’s how it all breaks down.
About the Samsung HW-Q800T soundbar
Before we dig in, a quick look at the HW-Q800T’s basic specs:
- Height x Width x Depth: 2.4 x 38.6 x 4.5 inches (bar), 15.9 x 8.1 x 15.9 inches (sub)
- Weight: 7.9 pounds (bar), 21.6 pounds (sub)
- Speakers/drivers: 8 drivers, including dual upfiring drivers using Acoustic Beam technology
- Amplification: 330 watts of claimed power
- Wireless Connection: WiFi, Bluetooth, wireless connection to Samsung TVs
- Wired connection: HDMI eARC/ARC input/output, spare HDMI input, optical input
- Smart features: Amazon Alexa built in
- Sound formats: Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital+, Dolby TrueHD, DTS:X, DTS Digital Surround
- Video support: 4K/HDR passthrough including Dolby Vision and HDR10+
The HW-Q800T supports both major “3D” surround formats in both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. A 3.1.2-channel system, the bar offers left, center, and right channels at the front, a side-firing wireless subwoofer, and dual upfiring channels to create the hemispheric effect for which Dolby Atmos and its contemporaries are prized.
But the Q800T does Atmos differently than competitors. Instead of a traditional driver for each of its dual height channels, it employ’s Samsung’s Acoustic Beam technology, a series of up-firing sonic chambers designed to work similarly to the keyholes of a flute. As we’ll explore below, this offers both plusses and minuses when it comes to its performance.
Along with the bar, the HW-Q800T ships with a basic manual, power cables, a wand-style remote, an HDMI cable, and mounting brackets.
What we like
A surprisingly small footprint
As touched on above, the Q800T is impressively compact for a Dolby Atmos bar, especially one without any surround speakers to spread the soundstage around (though you can add Samsung’s wireless rear surround kit for around $180). At just over 38-inches across and 2.4 inches high, its cut to fit on most TV consoles without obscuring your TV screen like Sonos’ beefy Arc.
Set in all black, the bar looks good (if basic) on the mantle. The only notable issue is that the fully perforated cover is a styrofoam magnet; I was never able to remove all the little white bits without resorting to tweezers.
Slick and simple control
Samsung has stuck with its wand-style remote for its soundbars (and many of its TVs) for years now, and there’s good reason. The remote is attractive and well laid out, with tactile keys for both subwoofer and volume levels that feel like those electric window switches on your parents’ old station wagon—in a good way.
I was also perplexed to see no power key on the soundbar’s topside controls but, importantly, there is a mute key to keep Alexa’s nose out of your business.
Samsung’s Adaptive Sound mode works pretty well to automatically optimize the bar for most content, and I only occasionally switched to the Standard mode for a bit more clarity. I found a good balance by simply raising the adjustable center channel by 1 point, which allowed for clear dialogue across genres. The bar auto switches to your input source when you dial something up, meaning you can usually just stick with your TV remote for basic control when connected via HDMI eARC/ARC (required to source Dolby Atmos).
A (nearly) comprehensive feature set
The Q800T offers just about everything you’d expect in a new bar that nips at the $1,000 price point. That includes WiFi streaming alongside built-in Alexa support to control basic playback and a litany of smart features. For connection, the bar offers a spare HDMI input to source Dolby Atmos directly from a Blu-ray player or game console (something Sonos’ Arc doesn’t have), as well as HDMI eARC connection. The latter allows you to source full-resolution audio from your TV via HDMI, as well as adjust audio sync issues—provided you’ve got a newer TV that also supports eARC.
The Q800T also supports HDR passthrough, including both the newer HDR10+ format (which Samsung champions) as well as Dolby Vision, though Samsung doesn’t list it in the specs. It will decode Dolby Atmos in both compressed Dolby Digital Plus (for streaming from your TV) and uncompressed Dolby TrueHD, as well as DTS Surround Sound and DTS:X, though the latter is seemingly going extinct.
While I wasn’t able to test this feature, the Q800T also features Samsung’s Q Symphony, designed to incorporate select Samsung QLED TV speakers into the soundstage. The only notable omissions are WiFi add-ons like Chromecast and AirPlay 2 support and a 3.5mm analog input—handy for connecting legacy devices like turntables, but increasingly rare in 2020.ADVERTISEMENT
Detailed, powerful, and dimensional sound
While the sound signature is notably light in the midrange, the Q800T sounds quite good, even when playing back standard fare like sitcoms. There’s plenty of detail, light and lyrical treble response, and impressive balance, to the point that I rarely found myself pumping the sound up or down between the loudest and quietest moments. Feed it something of higher quality and things get even more intriguing.
One of my favorite Blu-ray test discs, Sam Mendes’ Skyfall, offered a brilliant palette on which the Q800T’s skill set flourished. Dialogue rang through with pristine clarity, gunshots were punchy and full in all the right ways, and dynamic scenes like the epic helicopter crash toward the climax proved this little bar has plenty of oomph. While the hefty subwoofer hammers home the vibrant thump demanded in such scenes with accuracy and aplomb, it’s the intricate placement and wide expansion of the soundstage up front that really called my attention.
I’d wholly forgotten about Samsung’s Acoustic Beam technology, which first rolled out in a gaming soundbar at CES a couple of years back. From the start I was caught off guard by how well the beaming tech builds the soundstage up front, seeming to project the effects both vertically and horizontally like a sonic light show. Even if most of the sound is confined to the front of the room, it pulls you into the action, allowing you to bask in precisely placed ambient details and yet never miss a line of dialogue.
Streaming music over Spotify Connect via WiFi provides a similar, if more toned-down, effect. The Q800T places even stereo tracks along the vertical plane with care, dropping an acoustic guitar to the upper left here, a Hammond organ whirling to the lower right there. As you’d expect from its compact speakers, the bar’s lighter sound means acoustic instruments sound less natural than what you’ll get from traditional speakers, as well as the Sonos Arc’s bulbous tube. Still, the Q800T sounds more organic and sumptuous than LG’s ultra-thin SN9YG, especially in the upper midrange.
What we don’t like
Overhead effects fall flat
The flipside of the Acoustic Beam coin, in my experience at least, is that the overhead immersion you expect from a soundbar with upfiring drivers is significantly diluted. Playing my go-to Dolby Atmos demo discs, I found myself waiting in vain for effects to effectively rain down upon me. From shards of glass to a jungle thunder storm, the overhead trick so integral to creating the hemispheric immersion of Atmos is stunted here. Turning the height channels up didn’t help much, instead making effects sound strained.
How much this matters may depend on how much Atmos content you watch—it’s still relatively limited on most streaming services. I should also note that Atmos content like Marvel’s Ant-Man on Disney+ still sounds compelling and dynamic even without the striking overhead effects.ADVERTISEMENT
Unlike its Sonos and LG rivals I keep referencing, the Q800T also foregoes side-firing drivers. This further diminishes the immersion level you’ll get from Dolby Atmos and other surround sound content; swirling effects are cut off starkly before they curl behind you, and those designed to blow past you from behind seem to just suddenly appear at the front of the room, breaking the illusion.
Display and interface could be friendlier
As soundbars (even of the Dolby Atmos variety) get increasingly compact I’ve become used to digital displays creeping out of the picture—Sonos soundbars offer nothing more than a color-coded LED strip. Still, while it’s a small gripe, the words crossing the Q800T’s compact display keep you waiting to identify them like a skywriter when adjusting settings. And when compared to Sonos, the backup display in the form of Samsung’s SmartThings app is relatively rudimentary.
Alexa integration is buggy
While Alexa responds dutifully when you bark out commands (if you’re into that) there seems to be no way to quiet her down when she barks back. That’s fine for content at the same volume level, but depending on the content it can be a problem. When I streamed The Office on Netflix, for example, it was about half as loud as Alexa, resulting in her shouting responses with biting force. A Samsung rep tells me this may be caused by a known bug for Alexa when connected to a hardwired digital source, which he expects to be corrected in a firmware update.
However, even when connected over WiFi, Alexa integration had issues. The main hangup again seemed to be balancing the volume of streaming audio with Alexa responses. Volume is naturally lowered when she responds to a query, but sometimes the bar seemed to get stuck and kept the music at the lower volume.
She’s not set up for Spotify commands, either, though you can control Spotify from both the SmartThings app and Spotify Connect directly. Samsung says Alexa Spotify control is coming, again via firmware, but gave no indication of when. Overall, the Q800T’s Alexa integration just doesn’t seem ready for primetime.
Bluetooth streaming sounds heavily compressed
My first audition of the Q800T—streaming music via Bluetooth—sounded significantly compressed, especially for treble instruments like cymbals. At first I thought it was simply overcooked digital processing, but switching to Spotify Connect (via WiFi) seemed to quell the issue. As a Spotify Connect user, Bluetooth streaming isn’t a huge concern, but I’ve heard it much better implemented. Further, Apple Music users may want to take note, as there’s no Apple Music or AirPlay support.
Should you buy it?
Yes, but with some caveats
While 2020 has been short on mid-tier and premium soundbars compared to “normal” times, the HW-Q800T’s sound performance is among the best we’ve heard all year. It offers all the major features we expect for a soundbar in its class and, on semi-permanent sale at least, its price is generally in line with the competition. It’s also pretty easy to use and doesn’t take up much space on the mantle (for a Dolby Atmos bar anyway).
That said, Samsung’s HW-Q70T soundbar offers nearly identical specs with two standout exceptions: there’s no built-in microphones for Alexa, and it offers a smaller subwoofer. Given the fact that it can still support Alexa commands with the addition of an Echo speaker at $50, it’s definitely a way to cut down the price significantly (especially given those Alexa bugs). Bass lovers will miss the heftier sub, but those with smaller living quarters may welcome the swap.
Those who want better Dolby Atmos immersion—particularly when it comes to overhead and surround effects—may want to opt for the Sonos Arc instead. The Arc is bigger, doesn’t include a subwoofer, and doesn’t come with a spare HDMI input, meaning you’ll need a newer TV with Dolby Digital Plus to source Atmos directly. However, it offers warmer, more natural performance, simpler ways to build out a surround system (like adding the Symfonisk wireless speakers), and is backed by high-powered software. At the time of publication, Vizio’s 46-inch 5.1.4 soundbar (with separate surrounds) also rings in at similar pricing and offers much better surround immersion.
In the end, whether the HW-Q800T is right for you may depend on your love for overhead effects, bass, and Alexa herself. That said, at its sale price, the Q800T is a stalwart new competitor that should fit quite nicely into most living rooms.