Samsung HW-Q90R soundbar review: Punchy 7.1.4 audio plus Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, if you can afford it
The HW-Q90R delivers exciting, immersive sound, but we expected more features given the sky-high price tag.
By Ben Patterson
TechHiveDec 3, 2019 4:00 am PST
At a Glance
Rich, detailed audio with a wide soundstage
Surround mode upmixes audio sources to 7.1.4
Two HDMI inputs
Big, bulky design
No night mode
No room correction
While it’s missing features such as a night mode and room correction, the Samsung HW-Q90R delivers the goods when it comes to killer 7.1.4 audio without needing to wire up your entire home theater.
If you want to add quality 7.1.4 sound to your living room with a minimum of fuss, the Samsung HW-Q90R is the way to go, although you’ll have to pay a pretty penny for it. With a list price of $1,700, the HW-Q90R is among the priciest soundbars we’ve ever tested, and while we quickly became enamoured of its rich, exciting sound, we were disappointed by such missing features as a night mode and room correction. The soundbar itself is also quite heavy, wide, and bulky, which means it might block the bottom of your screen if you put it directly in front of your TV on a table or credenza.
We should also point out an issue that dogged early adopters of the HW-Q90R: frequent dropped connections between the main soundbar unit and its wireless surround speakers and subwoofer. A firmware update has largely ironed out those kinks, although I did have some minor pairing issues during setup.
Counting its wireless subwoofer and surround speakers in addition to the main soundbar unit, the Samsung HW-Q90R comes equipped with a total of 17 drivers capable of delivering 7.1.4 sound. For the front left and right surround channels, the soundbar relies on a pair of side-firing drivers, while the wireless subwoofer’s 8-inch driver handles the low-frequency effects. Last but not least, four up-firing drivers (two in the soundbar itself and one each on the two wireless surround speakers) supply the four height channels.
Those four up-firing speakers achieve their height effects (which are critical to fully experience Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio) by bouncing sound off your ceiling, and not just any ceiling will do; indeed, Dolby recommends a flat ceiling between 7 and 12.5 feet high. If you have a vaulted ceiling, the up-firing trick won’t work well, if at all. If your ceiling doesn’t fit the bill, you might want to consider a soundbar that supports virtual height effects via DTS Virtual:X, or ditch soundbars altogether and install actual height speakers in your ceiling (paired with a Dolby Atmos/DTS:X A/V receiver).
Measuring 48.26 x 3.26 x 5.35 inches and tipping the scales at 19.4 pounds, the HW-Q90R’s main soundbar unit is hefty, bulky, and tall. When I placed it on my TV stand right in front of my 55-inch LG C9 OLED TV, the Q90R blocked a couple of inches from the bottom of the screen. (To be fair, the LG C9’s built-in stand is notably short, leaving only a 1.5-inch gap between the bottom of the screen and the surface on which it’s sitting.) As a temporary solution, I propped up the soundbar on my own free-standing (and relatively short and squat) left and right speakers, so I could see my entire TV screen, but you’d probably be better off mounting the HW-Q90R on a wall beneath your TV. Mounting brackets and screws for that purpose are included in the box.
The 15.86 x 15.86 x 8.07-inch wireless subwoofer is average for its size and can be placed pretty much wherever you’d like in the room, although you’ll get more bass if you put the subwoofer near a wall or in a corner. Next come the wireless surround speakers, which (like the subwoofer) aren’t truly wireless, given that they each come with AC cords. The power cords, incidentally, are only about 4.5 feet long, which might make placement a little tricky unless your wall outlets are in just the right places.
Inputs and outputs
The Samsung HW-Q90R is relatively generous when it comes to HDMI inputs, which is to say you get two rather than just one. The twin HDMI inputs sit in a cavity on the right rear side of the soundbar cabinet along with an optical (Toslink) input, and an HDMI with ARC port.
A second cavity on the left side of the soundbar contains a port for the power cord, while a USB Type-A interface on the bottom of the unit allows only for installing firmware updates.
Getting the HW-Q90R up and running is about as straightforward as you could expect for a 7.1.4-channel sound system. You just place the main soundbar unit in front of the TV or (ideally) mount it on a wall, plug in its power cord, then arrange the two surround speakers and the subwoofer and plug in their power cords.
The surround speakers and the subwoofer are supposed to come pre-paired to the soundbar, but when I first powered everything up, the satellite speakers failed to connect. Luckily, pairing the wireless speakers with the soundbar is easy: Just press the “ID Set” button on the back of each speaker for five seconds, and then press “Up” on the included remote. Once I did that, the speakers connected to the soundbar, and the problem never recurred.
It’s worth noting that upon its initial release, the HW-Q90R was plagued with wireless speaker disconnection problems, with the surrounds and subwoofer failing to reconnect after the main unit went to sleep. The latest firmware update (which was already installed in my review unit) seems to have solved the problem, provided you remember to update the wireless speakers themselves in addition to the main soundbar.
The HW-Q90R’s two HDMI inputs allow you to connect two video sources directly to the soundbar, a rare (and usually pricey) luxury when it comes to soundbar designs. If you have more than two video sources and you don’t want to deal with yanking HDMI cables, you could connect your video components to your TV and then send audio to the soundbar via HDMI ARC. I used the latter setup with my LG C9 TV and it worked flawlessly.
Of course, using ARC for audio means you’ll have to (for now, anyway) forgo lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio formats, given that the ARC standard doesn’t have the bandwidth for lossless high-resolution audio. The good news is that Samsung is reportedly teeing up a firmware update that will add support for eARC, a new version of the ARC standard that does allow for lossless audio. (You can read an in-depth article explaining HDMI ARC and HDMI eARC here.) As of this writing, the eARC firmware hasn’t arrived yet, but we’ll update this review once we receive confirmation from Samsung. It’s also worth noting that you can still enjoy Dolby Atmos sound via the lossy Dolby Digital Plus format, which the standard version of ARC does support.
Connecting the HW-Q90R to Wi-Fi is a snap. You just download the Samsung SmartThings app to your iPhone or Android phone (assuming you haven’t already installed it), then tap the “+” button at the top of the interface. The SmartThings app found the soundbar and connected to it within seconds; it then led me through the process of tapping into my Wi-Fi network. All in all, connecting the HW-Q90R to Wi-Fi was a refreshingly seamless process, particularly compared to the Wi-Fi headaches I’ve experienced with other soundbars.
We were, however, miffed by the HW-Q90R’s lack of room correction. If you’re going to plunk down $1,700 for a soundbar, it would be nice to be able to tailor the audio to your room’s acoustics via a plug-in microphone or the mic in your smartphone.
Controls, remote, indicators, and Bluetooth
The HW-Q90R shares many of the controls and interface elements of its fellow Samsung soundbars, starting with the four small buttons on top of the cabinet for power, volume adjust, input select, and Bluetooth pairing.
A three- or four-character indicator (depending on the width of the letter) sits behind the soundbar’s front metal grille on the right side of the unit, displaying such information as the current input, the selected setting, the volume level, or whether you’re listening to Dolby Atmos sound. The indicator only stays lit for a few seconds before turning off, and there are no other indicator lights on the soundbar that might distract during a TV show or a movie.
The HW-Q90R’s remote is very similar to what Samsung provides with its smart TVs, and it’s identical to those I’ve seen that come bundled with other recent Samsung soundbars. It isn’t backlit, but it has a pleasingly ergonomic design and only a few well placed buttons, making it easy to control even in the dark. A couple of prominent volume rockers (one for the main volume, the other for the subwoofer) sit near the middle of the remote, at thumb level, while mute, sound mode, and settings buttons are directly above, along with a four-way navigation pad.
If you’re lucky enough to own a Samsung QLED TV, you can access the HW-Q90R’s settings from the menu of the TV, as well as via the Samsung OneRemote. As I’ve previously noted, I own an LG TV, not a Samsung, so I wasn’t able to test this feature.
The Samsung SmartThings app also gives you some basic control over the soundbar. Besides being able to power it on and off, you can also switch input sources, tinker with the EQ settings, adjust the volume of the wireless subwoofer, and set a sleep timer. Unfortunately, the app won’t let you change sound modes or fiddle with other settings.
Finally, you can control the HW-Q90R using Alexa voice commands, such as “Alexa, turn Samsung soundbar volume down” or “Alexa, switch to Bluetooth on Samsung soundbar.”
Connecting the Samsung HW-Q90R to my iPhone XS via Bluetooth was a snap; I just pressed the Bluetooth pairing button on the remote, and the soundbar appeared in my iPhone’s Bluetooth settings screen as an available device. The HW-Q90R also functions as a Spotify Connect device, and I was easily able to funnel my Spotify playlists to the soundbar from the Spotify app.
Samsung’s latest soundbars have impressed me with their big, powerful sound, and the top-of-the-line HW-Q90R is (as one would hope) the best of the bunch, boasting a wide soundstage (thanks to those side-firing drivers), deep but not overpowering bass, and refined high-end details. You’d expect nothing less from a soundbar this pricey, and thankfully the HW-Q90R delivers.
First, a few words about the HW-Q90R’s quartet of sound modes. First, there’s the Standard mode, which presents the audio more or less as its creators intended, and without any upmixing for the height or extra surround channels. Adaptive mode is similar to Standard mode, except it’s designed to boost the sound of dialog. Game Pro mode significantly boosts the width of the soundstage and adds some height presence (or at least, that’s how it sounds to my ears). Finally, Surround mode upmixes all sound sources to 7.1.4 audio, perfect for those who want to hear those height channels even while they’re watching 5.1 or even stereo content. Unfortunately, there’s no night mode, so you’ll have to be careful when cranking the volume while your housemates and neighbors are dozing.
To test out the HW-Q90R’s Dolby Atmos performance, I teed up 1978’s Superman, which was recently remastered for Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. The swooshing and spectacular opening credits of Superman never fail to give me chills, and the HW-Q90R did a nice job of adding a palpable sense of height as Marlon Brando’s credit soared up and over the screen. I also liked the sound of the twirling Phantom Zone as it sailed above my right shoulder and captured General Zod and his minions.
Next, I tried one of our favorite Atmos demos: the sequence in X-Men: Apocalypse when a younger Scott Summers wrecks a bathroom stall with his nascent energy beams. The key moment in this scene isn’t the crashing and booming, but rather the shower of tiny plaster particles that fall from the ceiling. Again, the HW-Q90R’s four up-firing speakers give you the sense of debris falling around your head, a subtle yet impressive height effect.
I also tried the HW-Q90R with some non-Atmos content. Streaming Avatar on Disney+, the soundbar’s Surround mode did a fine job of upmixing the film’s 5.1 soundtrack, adding plenty of noticeable height effects during the big, airborne battle scenes in the final third of the film.
Switching to music, I played the title track of Bruce Springsteen’s The Ghost of Tom Joad, and I was struck by the detail of the lean acoustic intro as The Boss plucked his guitar strings and let loose with his harmonica, as well as the warm swell of the synthesizer and the gentle percussion. Moving on to Vlado Perlemuter’s rendition of Ravel’s solo piano works for the Nimbus Records label, I enjoyed the subtleties of Perlemuter’s keystrokes as well as the atmospherics of the concert hall. (For the Ravel, I tried both the Surround and non-upmixed Standard sound modes, and the Standard mode maintains plenty of atmospherics compared to the 7.1.4 Surround upmix.) Finally, I cranked Ciara’s “Level Up,” and I got a kick out of the pounding yet restrained bass (no need to dial down the subwoofer) as well as Ciara’s crisp (but never harsh) vocals.
While it’s missing such key features as a night mode and room correction, the Samsung HW-Q90R delivers the goods when it comes to killer 7.1.4 audio. The soundbar’s two HDMI inputs and easy-to-use remote are also a plus, as well as word that lossless-high-res-audio-friendy eARC support is supposedly on the way. That said, the HW-Q90R’s $1,700 price tag is a tough pill to swallow.