The name Samsung HW-J650 probably doesn't mean much to the average audio enthusiast. A string of letters and numbers can neither begin to describe what the soundbar can do nor paint a picture of this surprisingly good, moderately expensive sound stick.
The HW-J650 is the latest in Samsung's line of space-saving soundbars and, at $499 (about £320, AU$675), is also one of the firm's least expensive options. The bar delivers solid sound quality for music and plenty of volume, as well as a few options to connect wirelessly to your Samsung TV or any number of Bluetooth-equipped mobile devices.
Discouragingly, however, it's not the easiest soundbar to set up in the world. Plus, for its sticker price, this offering lacks the audio clarity of many of its competitors.
Design and connections
The 160-watt J650 is undoubtedly the longest, thinnest soundbar I've ever used. It measures 41.73 x 2 x 2.82 inches (106 x 5 x 7cm; W x H x D) and comes with a relatively boxy, 17.80 x 13.19 x 6.06-inch (45 x 33.5 x 15.4cm; W x H x D) subwoofer. The subwoofer connects wirelessly to the main system and has a single status LED that will tell you whether the system is on, off or on standby.
One major boon for the J650 is that it comes with wall mounting brackets. That's a serious plus if you're considering putting together a slick-looking home entertainment center.
But before you start dreaming about your movie theater-grade equipment, know that the J650 may not be the best choice for a huge, multi-channel audio setup due to its lack of connectivity options. On its underside, you'll find HDMI-in and out, USB, auxiliary and digital S/PDIF optical audio-in, though switching between these connections isn't seamless.
Thankfully, wired connections aren't the only options available on the J650. The soundbar supports both Bluetooth PowerOn and TV SoundConnect, a wireless technology that connects compatible Samsung soundbars with Bluetooth-enabled Samsung TVs. It also can be synced to other Samsung sound devices to form a multiroom network.
The J650's greatest strengths are incredibly loud volume with minimal distortion, walloping bass – thanks to the tandem subwoofer – and a handful of adjustment options, accessed via the remote.
Utilizing four speakers inside the main, 160-watt unit, the J650 did an exceptional job serving up the lower audio range while keeping the midrange crisp and clear. For music, this meant wall-shaking bass. For films and games, this meant rumble-ridden explosions.
But as a trade-off, treble-heavy music came off slightly muddled and produced a cave-like echo effect when using the auxiliary connection or Bluetooth. Tweaking the settings could generally rectify any of these issues, but retuning the soundbar every few minutes became an exhausting practice.
For audio generalists that favor volume over pitch-perfect precision, the HW-J650 is more than serviceable.
For its relatively tiny footprint, this soundbar can produce a plethora of sound. It's suitably rumbly for the bass lovers out there and can handle mids with ease.
Add to that some great wireless connectivity options and included wall mounting brackets and suddenly $500 doesn't seem so steep.
For massive A/V systems, there just aren't enough connections on the J650. Worse even, Samsung doesn't provide all the necessary cables for the ports the system does have.
Sound quality, on the other hand, met my expectations for a Samsung soundbar, but didn't quite outshine the competition at its price point. Also upsetting was the lack of a smart surround sound option that other soundbars have. The built-in surround sound is fine, but isn't as immersive or convincing as other options.
So, who should buy the HW-J650? Anyone who craves the volume of a massive audio system with the space for a small soundbar. The J650 doesn't sound as nuanced or crisp as a full 5.1 or 7.1 system, obviously. Regardless, for the most part, the Samsung HW-J650 hits the right notes.