Samsung HW-Q800A review: Samsung TV users will get the most out of this 3.1.2 Dolby Atmos soundbar

If you want to try the HW-Q800A’s Q Symphony and SpaceFit features, you’ll need a Samsung TV.

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Sound modes

The HW-Q800A comes with four main sound modes: Standard, Surround, Game Pro, and Adaptive. The Standard mode is akin to the “Direct” mode on other soundbars, meaning that 2.0-channel audio sources aren’t upmixed to full-on 3.1.2-channel sound. The Surround mode does upmix everything, including stereo sources, to 3.1.2 sound.

Game Pro Mode is optimized to deliver “3D directional audio” for gamers, while Adaptive Sound mode analyzes the sound and intelligently optimizes it depending on what you’re watching or listening to. Adaptive Sound mode also boosts the dialogue, while both Adaptive Sound and Game Pro mode upmix all audio sources to 3.1.2-channel sound.

As I mentioned earlier, the SmartThings app offers a few more sound options, including a dialogue-boosting voice enhancement mode, a bass booster mode (which I left disabled, given that the Q800A’s subwoofer already cranks out more bass than you’ll need), and a night mode that narrows the dynamic range of the sound for late-night viewing sessions.

Performance

I put the Samsung HW-Q800A through its paces with a variety of video and music content. For starters, I played the UHD Blu-rays for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (which has a Dolby Atmos soundtrack) and Apollo 13 (which has DTS:X audio), as well as the standard Blu-ray of Titanic (DTS-HD Master Audio sound), and Top Gun (Dolby Atmos) on the iTunes movie store. My wife and I also binge-watched Younger on Paramount+ to see how the Q800A handled dialogue-heavy content.

Overall, I’d call the Q800A’s sound tight and precise, as well as immersive without quite making it into “thrilling” territory. (The addition of Samsung’s rear speaker kit might tip the scales, however.) The Q800A’s subwoofer kicked into hyperdrive as the Millennium Falcon roared past a trio of pursuing Tie Fighters in The Empire Strikes Back, leading me to dial back the subwoofer level about three or four notches; even then, the sub remained a tad boomy, but not overpoweringly so. Height effects were present but not in-your-face, particularly as chunks of snow clattered through the crushed ceiling of the Rebel base on Hoth, and as Luke cleverly blew up an Imperial Walker after tossing a grenade inside and dropping to safety.

Switching to Apollo 13, the Q800A delivered James Horner’s rousing score with power and finesse, while the Saturn V’s fiery exhaust felt like it was billowing all around me, even without physical surround speakers (although to be clear, the Q800A’s virtual surround effects can’t match the audio from actual surround speakers). For Titanic, the clunking of the great ship’s pistons was deep and robust, while the hiss as the bow sliced through the sea was sharp and airy (which means the Q800A’s height-channel upmixer was doing its job). And in the opening credits of Top Gun, I liked the precise metallic clinks on the deck of the aircraft carrier as “Danger Zone” blared on the soundtrack.

Just as it’s billed, Adaptive works as a solid jack-of-all-trades, although it has its trade-offs. The mode deftly handled a range of content, from beefy film soundtracks to sitcoms, and it does help the dialogue—including whispered lines—to cut through ambient noise. For example, Adaptive Mode helped ensure we didn’t miss any witty banter in Younger as a pair of fans whirred in our steamy Brooklyn apartment. But for Top Gun, Adaptive Mode made the dialogue sound too harsh; in that case, I switched back to Surround Mode—indeed, I found myself switching back and forth between the two modes during my testing, with varying results.

For music, I queued up a grab bag of tunes from Apple Music, from Taylor Swift and Bruce Springsteen to Ciara and Shostakovich, and streamed them to the soundbar via AirPlay 2. Taylor Swift’s “The 1,” from Folklore, sounded warm and smooth in Adaptive Mode, but—as with some movies—the mode pushed Taylor’s vocals to the point of harshness, so I ended up sticking with Standard Mode (which, remember, doesn’t upmix stereo content to 3.1.2, keeping it instead at 2.1). With that tweak, I was pretty happy with music on the Q800A, with The Boss’s spare acoustics and vocals in “The Ghost of Tom Joad” sounding tactile and alive, while the pounding timpani heralding the fourth movement of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 feeling big and bold, but not overcooked.

As for Game Pro Mode, I tried it while hunting a Rakna-Kadaki in Monster Hunter Rise for Nintendo Switch, and it was… OK, I guess? I honestly couldn’t detect much difference between Game Pro Mode and Surround Mode; then again, the heavily compressed audio of Switch games like Rise makes it difficult to fairly judge the Q800A’s gaming audio prowess. 

Bottom line

I can understand why Samsung’s Q Symphony feature, which syncs the Q800A’s drivers with the built-in speakers on a TV, only works with Samsung sets; after all, it’s a little much to ask that such a feature work with the speakers on any TV. But designing the SpaceFit room calibration feature so it depends on a Samsung display is more disappointing, given that other soundbar manufacturers offer room calibration (which is becoming more common in this price range) independent of other hardware. For that reason, owners of LG, Sony, Vizio, or other TV brands might want to consider their options (such as the Sonos Arc, or the sensational Vizio Elevate) before going with the Q800A.

Still, I can’t argue with the Q800A’s sound, physical design, or its AirPlay 2, Dolby Atmos, and DTS:X compatibility, and (once Samsung irons out the volume kinks) built-in Alexa means you’ll have a voice assistant in yet another room in your home. It’s also nice having the option of starting with a 3.1.2-channel soundbar and upgrading later if and when you’re ready. So while I’m giving the HW-Q800A a mixed recommendation for most TV owners, Samsung users should put it near the top of their lists.

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At a Glance
  • With its tight, precise, and immersive sound, the Samsung HW-Q800A makes for a compelling, compact, and feature-packed soundbar, although some of its best tricks are reserved for those with Samsung TVs and phones.

    Pros

    • Tight, precise sound
    • Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, AirPlay 2, and Spotify Connect support
    • Built-in Alexa
    • Low-profile design

    Cons

    • Q-Symphony and room-correction features only work with Samsung TVs
    • Only one HDMI input (besides HDMI-eARC)
    • Alexa gets shout-y if the main volume is too loud
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