Samsung HW-Q990D 11.1.4-Channel Atmos Soundbar Review

Build Quality
PRICE $2,000

Supports Dolby Atmos/DTS:X up to 11.1.4
Immersive surround sound
Impressive subwoofer performance
Lots of adjustment options
Limited front panel display
No on-screen display
No room correction/test tones
Adjustments with remote are cumbersome

The newest version of Samsung’s top-of-the-line Atmos soundbar maintains the exceptional sound quality, performance, and style of its predecessor. However, the new model comes with some added features, such as 4K/120 Hz HDMI support, making it an even more capable product. It’s an effortless recommendation for anyone seeking a high-performance soundbar solution.

Soundbars have advanced beyond their initial role of making TVs sound better. At the highest levels, the current generation of flagship soundbars includes virtually all the features of AVR-based multi-channel surround sound systems, often including higher channel counts, the ability to decode modern immersive audio systems, far easier installation and operation, and a lower cost.

While I’ve had a chance to review my share of high-end soundbars from Sony, LG, Sonos, Bowers & Wilkins, Sennheiser, and others, I had never had the opportunity to experience a Samsung bar outside of a trade show demo, so I was excited to get a chance to bring its latest flagship, the HW-Q990D, into my home for a listen. And, spoiler alert: it did not disappoint!

For those wanting to cut to the chase to know if this is a worthy upgrade over the previous Q990C, which is on sale for $1,400, know that the Q990D is just a small evolution over that bar. It adds a couple of new listening modes—Private Rear Sound and Sound Grouping, which I’ll discuss later—and upgrades the HDMI connections to support 4K/120 Hz pass-through from gaming systems like a Sony PS5. Otherwise, the drivers, amplification, subwoofer, and processing are all the same.

Beyond just a soundbar, the Q990D is a surround speaker system and comes boxed together with the bar, two PS-RQ990D surround speakers, and the PS-WQ990D subwoofer. Removing the bar from its packaging, I could tell it was a serious bit of gear. It measures 48.5 inches wide, 2.7 inches high, and 5.4 inches deep, making it a near-perfect match width-wise for 55-inch TVs, though it is substantial enough to hold its own beneath larger sizes as well. The bar feels solid and well-constructed, weighing in at a healthy 17 pounds and is covered in a thin metal perforated grill that covers the front, top, and sides. It has two angled facets at each side, which house front wide-firing and side-firing speaker drivers.

The simply stated black bar isn’t out to win any industrial design awards but is rather formed by design and does an outstanding job of not calling attention to itself.

By the numbers, the bar has 15 total active drivers driven by 246W of power. In Dolby speak, the bar houses speakers for front left, center, front right, side left, side right, wide left, wide right, and top front left and right. The 15 drivers are individually powered via 12 18-watt amps and three 10-watt amps. Samsung did not provide details on the driver size or material.

The top of the bar has four small buttons for power/input changing, volume ±, and a microphone on/off button. In practice, I never used these short of seeing how it responded to the mic button press. The front right side of the bar has a small display screen. Ergonomically, this is one of my least favorite things about the bar, but I’ll get into that later. In normal operation, the front panel display is completely dark, which is nice, unless you have the microphone turned off, in which case there is a small red “mic off” indicator that glows constantly while the bar is powered on. When you press a button, change inputs, or adjust the volume, the display lights briefly to scroll information.

The bar includes wall-mount brackets, hardware, and a mounting template. Like many modern bars, the mount holds the bar an extra bit (roughly an inch) off the wall. It should be mounted at least two inches below your TV so as not to impact the performance of the height drivers, so keep that in mind. Since I would be returning my review sample, I set it on the tabletop below my 65-inch Sony, which put it at the perfect listening height in my room. A bonus is that the bar’s low profile doesn’t intrude upon the screen, so it should work unless your TV stand slams the screen to the deck.

Weighing in at 7.5 pounds, it’s clear the RQ990D surround speakers aren’t just an afterthought. Visually, they reflect the bar’s design aesthetic and measure 5.1 x 7.9 x 5.5 inches (WxHxD). Each speaker has active drivers driven by 105 watts of power: rear, rear side, and top rear. A label on the rear of each speaker identifies whether it is left or right, so pay attention to where you place them. Since they’re active, the rear speakers each require a power connection. The plug smartly recesses into the bottom of the speaker with a channel for routing the power cord, allowing the speaker to sit flat on a stand or shelf. The speakers have a threaded insert enabling you to mount them using a third-party wall mount. I would have preferred they just have a standard keyhole slot for mounting—which also holds the speaker tighter to the wall—but they don’t.

Finally, we get to the sub, another serious piece of kit weighing in at just under 26 pounds, making it one of the beefiest included soundbar subs I’m aware of. The sub houses an 8-inch driver driven by a 200-watt amplifier in a rear-ported bass-reflex enclosure and measures 16.3 x 8.7 x 16.1 inches (HxWxD).

Included in the box was the remote, a guide to using the remote and mounting the bar, and a “Simple User Guide” that walks you through basic installation. I received my review sample just shortly after the bar was announced at CES. Possibly the shipping version will include the full manual, but mine didn’t. (Fortunately, the full manual will be available online once the bar is launched.)

Connections are in recessed bays on the bottom of the bar, none of which will affect wall or tabletop mounting. (The exception is the USB connection used for service, which would require you to raise the bar if it was on a tabletop.) In the center bay are three HDMI connections, one eARC/ARC capable. As mentioned, one of the big updates over last year’s model is that these inputs are now 4K/120 Hz capable. However, I don’t have a next-gen gaming console that, so I wasn’t able to test this.

The power connection sits in a bay on the right side, with another on the left housing a Toslink optical audio input. While HDMI eARC will be the connection most people will likely use—raises hand—you could also connect the bar wireless via Bluetooth (though, dear God, please don’t do this as there are so many comprises, such as no Dolby Atmos) or you could connect via Wi-Fi to Samsung TVs released from 2017, which Samsung says will support Atmos. But if you’re dropping this kind of coin on a premium soundbar, use the eARC for reliability and best practices.

If you have a compatible Samsung TV—again, I didn’t—you can use Samsung’s Q-Symphony function, which utilizes the built-in TV speakers to enhance the system’s front-stage presentation. According to the manual, “You can play the sound simultaneously through the Soundbar and the TV.

If you use the Q-Symphony function, the surround sound played on the TV allows you to enjoy a richer, more three-dimensional surround sound effect.” I have experienced Sony’s version of this, and it does help to create a large center-height effect and better anchor dialogue to the screen, so a nice argument to pair this with a capable Samsung TV.

The bar offers four different sound mode options: Standard, Surround, Game Pro, and Adaptive Sound. Standard outputs the sound in its original format: stereo is 2.1, Dolby Digital is 5.1, and Dolby Atmos is 7.1.4.

The other modes extrapolate the incoming signal—whether 2.0 or Atmos/DTS:X—up to the bar’s full 11.1.4 speaker complement. I didn’t hear much difference toggling between Surround and Adaptive, which the manual claims “analyzes the content in real time and automatically provides the optimal sound field based on the characteristics of the content,” so I did the majority of my listening in Surround mode.

As mentioned, there are two new listening modes. Private Rear Sound mode turns off all the drivers in the bar and sends all audio to the rear speakers only so as not to disturb others, which I could actually see being super helpful for those hard-of-hearing.

The second is Sound Grouping, which is like an all-channel stereo mode where the front left/right signals are broadcast to the rear speakers. The bar also offers voice enhancement, bass enhancement, and night mode settings.

For wireless music streaming, the bar supports Chromecast, AirPlay2, Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, and Bluetooth.

After connecting my TV to the bar’s eARC HDMI input, I positioned and powered on the speakers, and they paired immediately with the bar. If you aren’t as lucky, there are instructions for manually pairing all speakers to the bar.

From there, completing setup—and getting the bar connected to Wi-Fi—requires using the SmartThings app. This has been Samsung’s home control platform for a while now, so it’s no surprise the bar supports it, and the bar can act as the hub for a smart home, allowing you to add other products such as sensors, locks, lights, etc.

The Apple iOS integration wasn’t quite ready when I received the bar, and I did not happen to have an Android phone handy. Howveer, Samsung sent me a Galaxy phone that immediately paired with it and added it to my account (iOS support is now available).

As mentioned, my biggest complaint about the bar is the tiny front panel display, which shows only four scrolling characters at a time and is all but useless when trying to navigate a menu, or even make a fairly basic adjustment. Also, the perforations of the grille make it challenging to read the display from certain angles. A bar of this caliber would benefit from an on-screen display that aids in setup and making adjustments. Fortunately, once you’ve connected the SmartThings app, you have much quicker and easier access to all of the bar’s adjustments, adjusting channel levels ±6 dB or choosing a sound mode.< p> I did like that the display scrolls Dolby Atmos or DTS:X when an appropriate signal is received—or displays the format if you press info on the remote twice—letting you know that you’re getting the best audio. (Oddly the SmartThings app doesn’t indicate the signal format being received.)

It’s also disappointing that there’s no form of room correction here. This was a feature of the Q990B bar Rob Sabin reviewed last year where the system optimized the subwoofer’s audio by playing and analyzing test tones from the sub, but it has been removed. Even something as simple as having the bar generate test tones for channel leveling or being able to input the distance of the seating position to the various speakers and subwoofer would help to get the best in-room performance. I understand that part of a soundbar’s allure is its simplicity, but we’re talking about a bar at the premium end of the market, so these aren’t unreasonable expectations.

The soundbar does have a feature Samsung calls SpaceFit Sound that the manual says, “analyzes the user’s listening space with the Soundbar’s microphone and provides optimal sound for the space. Sound optimization proceeds automatically.” However, I couldn’t ever discern any difference in sound whatsoever—especially in the bass performance—when toggling this feature on/off.

Using the optimization didn’t seem to do any harm, so I left it turned on.

After playing with the channel levels using a test disc with Dolby Atmos tones, I bumped the front height, width, and side channels, and rear height levels a bit. I lowered the subwoofer by 4 dB and sat to listen.

What constantly stood out to me was the spaciousness of the sound. It just seemed to open the room up, with a big front presentation that was thoroughly wrapped around the sides and back of the room and a wonderful canopy of sound that spread overhead. On numerous occasions, the bar would clearly place distinct sounds exactly in a place where there wasn’t a speaker for eight feet in any direction, and the sense of height and action happening overhead was entertaining and convincing.

It was fun to experiment with two-channel music and see how the bar handled stereo versus surround, which extrapolates any incoming signal up to 11.1.4. We just saw a traveling production of My Fair Lady, and my youngest daughter asked to listen to the soundtrack on Tidal. In surround mode, the opening of “Wouldn’t it be Loverly” has the opening male voices split in the rear channels before moving up to the front for Marni Nixon’s vocals and a nice chorus swell across the front, whereas in stereo they were just presented in the front right and left front speakers.

Miles Davis’ opening track “So What” from Kind of Blue in surround mode almost sounds like you’re in the middle of the group, with instruments placed around you in a circle. Davis is right up front where you’d expect him, spread wide across the front of the room, but pianist Bill Evans is spread into the left rear and side of the room making for a very full sound. Most interesting, drummer Jimmy Cobb was positioned in the right side of the room where no speaker existed, sounding like he was set up with his kit about eight feet to my right. Taking it out of surround and into standard where the bar played in 2.1, the music still retained stereo channel separation, but utterly collapsed back into the bar.

The only time I heard the sub give any grumblings and sounds of distress was the very opening moments of “Beginnings Are Such Delicate Times” from the Dune: Part Two soundtrack. That opens with some monster, ultra-low frequency bass drums, and when played at high volumes, I heard the sub chuff a bit. However, as interesting as the Kind of Blue mix sounded, these ethereal, dreamy tracks from Dune sounded wonderful in surround sound, really filling the room and surrounding me with a really great vibe totally fitting the music.

Whether you like stereo (Standard) or the full surround treatment will likely depend on your mood and the content. The music listening made me wish that the bar had a couple of different speaker-level presets to dial the channel levels of the rear down for music, and up for movies. Having two presets to quickly jump between would be a great feature.

Listening to music mixed with Dolby Atmos will have you re-experiencing favorite albums, and I played a bunch using the TV’s Tidal app. You expect The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to have a trippy mix, and it does, with each song really pushing audio effects, instrumentation, and vocals around the room. In “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds,” John’s vocals are tangibly wide, and when the chorus comes in after John’s opening, the vocals and music really fill in the back of the room, and you can also really appreciate the layering of vocals in the repeating chorus. “Getting Better” has instrumentation that swirls around the room, and “Within You Without You” has dreamy sitars and strings that move around the room from front to back.

The Doors “Riders on the Storm” has a rainstorm that comes in from the sides of the room and then spreads to the back with thunder that pans through the rear speakers. Right before Jim Morrison starts singing, there’s a nice thunderclap overhead, and while Morrison’s vocals are big up front, you can also hear the backing vocals more clearly in the rear channels.

Rush’s Signals received the Atmos treatment (I’m sure Mike Mettler has a full review of this posted somewhere!) and “Subdivisions” is a great example of how a new mix can give an old track a new and modern feel. There’s a ton of rear and side fill, but when Mark Dailey repeats the chorus line “Subdivisions” it comes from overhead.

To test how the bar handled DTS:X content, I broke out a few trusty DTS Demo discs (numbers #18 and 19) which featured a variety of movie scenes with DTS:X audio and 4K HDR video.

During the big finale attack in Battleship, with the classic battleship dropping “some lead on those mother…”, you hear the clang and rattle of the heavy anchor chains dragging across the deck from the back of the room to the front, then the twirl of sound as shells fly overhead and into the back of the room, followed by a debris field that rains around the room. Bass is deep and authoritative, letting you feel the explosions which have different weights and impacts based on their size. All the while dialogue is clear and understandable.

The classic T-Rex escaping from its pen scene from the OG Jurassic Park still holds up, and in DTS:X you hear rain pattering all around, clearly sounding different when inside the vehicle where it is bouncing off the plastic roofs of the jeeps versus the room-filling rain when outside along with the impact tremors of T-Rex foot stomps. Thunderclaps fill the room and T-Rex’s roar is huge from all channels.

While escaping the volcano in Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom, you hear the sounds of dinosaurs running past you and into the back of the room, followed by the smoke cloud from the volcano that passed through the room. Then as they fall into the water, you hear things pelting off the roof of the plexiglass ball, with the sounds of water and bubbles drifting up overhead as the sphere sinks into the ocean.

What the bar really excels at is creating a spacious atmosphere in the room. There is a scene in King Kong (2005) where Naomi Watts’ character awakes next to Kong in the jungle, and you are immersed in the sounds of birds and bugs, and just this huge sense of outdoor space all around. The speakers disappear and create a canopy of sound all around that perfectly places you in the environment. Then you are jarred right out of it when Kong slams his fist on the ground, shaking the room with the massive blow, and then bellowing a massive growl and snorts that you feel in your chest. I noticed this expansive sound and just general “openness” throughout many movies and Atmos-encoded programs I watched.

Occasionally when something was starting or when changing sources there would be a brief single burst of digital static. I’ve had numerous other bars connected to this same TV and never experienced that before, but it happened enough times with the Q990D that I felt it was worth mentioning.

The Samsung HW-Q990D soundbar offers a ton to love about it, in a simple-to-install package delivering performance that would have been unfathomable for a soundbar even a few years ago. Usually, when I’m reviewing a soundbar, I wish I was out in my main room listening to my reference system (a 7.3.6 Trinnov rig), but the Q990D never left me feeling wanting and did everything you would expect an immersive Atmos experience to deliver.

With the addition of 4K/120 Hz support and the new listening modes, Samsung has evolved an already great product into an even better one. While there is still some room for improving the ergonomics and adding some test tones and room correction, the Samsung QN-Q990D sets the benchmark of what a truly exceptional soundbar should deliver.


HW-Q990D Soundbar
Drivers: 15 total (left, center, right, side left, side right, wide left, wide right and top front left and right) including Atmos up-firing drivers
Connections: HDMI 4K/120 Hz (3, one eARC), optical digital input, USB-A (service)
Wireless: Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Bluetooth
Microphone for Amazon Alexa or Bixby
Dimensions: 48.5 x 2.7 x 5.4 inches (WHD)
Weight: 17 lbs.

PS-RQ990D Wireless Surrounds
Drivers: 3 total (1 each front, top, side)
Dimensions: 5.1 x 7.9 x 5.5 inches (WHD)
Weight: 7.5 lbs.

PS-WQ990D Wireless Subwoofer
Driver: 8-inch in a ported bass-reflex enclosure
Amplifier: 200 watts total
Dimensions: 8.7 x 16.3 x 16.1 inches (WHD)
Weight: 25.8 lbs.

Mike Mettler's picture
My Atmos-inclined ears musta been burning, as I see Mark said/wrote the magic words "Rush," "Signals," and "Atmos" fairly close together in this fine soundbar review. The answer to his parenthetical musing about how I covered it is two-fold...

1) My two-paragraph review of the Atmos mix of Rush's Signals appears at the midpoint of my Spatial Audio File column on "The Ten Best Immersive Audio Albums of 2023" that posted here on S&V on December 28, 2023.

2) Also, Signals Atmos mixmaster Richard Chycki goes into great depth with me about this particular Atmos mix in my Spatial Audio File column dubbed "New World Man" that posted here on S&V on April 28, 2023.

Also, one final note, for additional context -- it's actually a bit unclear if the late Toronto broadcaster Mark Dailey is in fact the one who repeatedly vocalizes the word "Subdivisions" in the choruses of that song. Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson mimes the line in the band's official "high school halls" video for the song, and Alex continued doing so onstage whenever Rush performed the song live -- which was pretty much every show they did after the Signals album came out in September 1982 until their final touring curtain call in 2015.

Listening to "Subdivisions" again more closely, it sounds more like drummer Neil Peart's voice there if you compare it to his "we have assumed control" sequence at the end of "2112," though I have pretty much always tended to ascribe it to Lifeson after seeing him do it onstage all those years... c'est la vie!

"Conform or be cast out..."