I tried Samsung's ultra-slim Dolby Atmos soundbar, and it's a game-changer

Samsung HW-S900B on top of Sonos Arc
(Image credit: Future)

The Samsung HW-S800B Dolby Atmos soundbar is made for a very specific situation. It just so happens that I am someone in that situation, and so when I tested this new soundbar in place of my trusty Sonos Arc, it kind of blew me away.

Update: read our full Samsung HW-S800B review.

The pitch for the HW-S800B is simple: what if you could have full Dolby Atmos sound, but without the bulk that most of the best soundbars have? And I don't just mean that it's a little big smaller than others – that picture at the top shows the Samsung sitting on top of the Sonos Arc. It is just as wide, but in both other dimensions, it is tiny.

Specifically, the soundbar portion of the Samsung S800B (there's also a small subwoofer) is 38mm / 1.5 inches tall and 39.9mm / 1.6 inches deep. For comparison, the Sonos Arc is 87mm / 3.4 inches tall and 116mm / 4.5 inches, so the Samsung is less than a quarter of the volume of the Sonos. And yet it still packs in eight speaker drivers.

Why am I so obsessed about size and volume? Well, it's not really about the soundbars, it's about the TV.

Not all TVs have been designed with chunky soundbars fully in mind. In the pursuit of handsome, minimalist TV design, some sets have very low stands, which bring the panel close to the surface it sits on. I have a TV like this, and while it doesn't cause me any problems at all when watching movies that are letterboxed, it does cause a problem in lots of games when my Sonos Arc is in front of the TV. Observe.

Sonos Arc soundbar in front of TV playing video game. The text at the bottom is cut off by the soundbar.

(Image credit: Future)

When games put what controls I'm supposed to press right at the bottom of the screen, I have a visibility problem. Not every game shows the controls there, and mostly I know what buttons to press anyway, but still… it's not ideal.

Now here's the view with the Samsung S800B.

Samsung S800B soundbar in front of TV playing video game. The text at the bottom is visible

(Image credit: Future)

This isn't the fault of the Sonos Arc, of course – other TVs elevate themselves higher than mine does, and don't have this issue. And many other soundbars that have the same kind of speaker array that the Arc does are similarly tall, so would also cause me a problem.

But it's still a problem I have with using the Arc, and might be something that might (fairly) put people with a low-slung TV off the idea of a Dolby Atmos soundbar.

But here's the best part about the Samsung HW-S800B: it sounds pretty damn incredible despite being so small. I was worried that the small size of the soundbar working with a subwoofer would mean the sound is top and bottom heavy, without much strength in the mid-range, but that's no problem at all.

It's full across the frequencies, and the bar and subwoofer feel really well-integrated to create a dynamic total sound.

And not only that, but the Dolby Atmos positional effects are really strong. For height, it's actually even better than the Sonos Arc in the early testing I've done, with quick hits of height effect really coming from right above you.

There's tons of width too, and great precision and movement of sound from left to right. I need to do more testing for our full review, but so far I can't believe how strong the sound is considering what a squeeze it must be in there.

Speaking of a squeeze, though, the small size does come with a downside: not only is there no HDMI passthrough, but it uses a mini-HDMI cable instead of a full-size one. Mercifully, it came with a mini-to-full-HDMI cable in the box, so plugging it in was still easy, but this also means you don't get HDMI eARC, just plain HDMI ARC. That means it's not lossless audio transfer from your TV – I'll test more to see if it feels like this holds it back long-term.

But for now, if you want a soundbar that strikes the balance between being as diminutive as possible while still kicking out serious home theater thrills to match the picture quality of the best TVs, you should definitely be giving the S800B a close look.

It's available now, and costs $899 / £749 / AU$1,099.

Matt Bolton
Managing Editor, Entertainment

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Entertainment, meaning he's in charge of persuading our team of writers and reviewers to watch the latest TV shows and movies on gorgeous TVs and listen to fantastic speakers and headphones. It's a tough task, as you can imagine. Matt has over a decade of experience in tech publishing, and previously ran the TV & audio coverage for our colleagues at T3.com, and before that he edited T3 magazine. During his career, he's also contributed to places as varied as Creative Bloq, PC Gamer, PetsRadar, MacLife, and Edge. TV and movie nerdism is his speciality, and he goes to the cinema three times a week. He's always happy to explain the virtues of Dolby Vision over a drink, but he might need to use props, like he's explaining the offside rule.