Samsung HW-K850 Soundbar with Dolby Atmos review

Can Dolby Atmos really work without rear speakers?

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The lack of rear speaker action arguably makes the K850 feel a touch expensive when you consider that you can get some very effective three- or two-channel soundbars for much less than £899/$899. 

Whether you decide to go with the K850 or a cheaper alternative depends on how much you want/need the K850’s admittedly effective height channel, wireless speaker networking and HDCP 2.2 passthrough.   

That said, if you can live without HDMI inputs and just two channels of sound delivered - for both films and music - with lovely refinement, then you can currently pick up the Q Acoustics M4 Sound Bar for a mere £329/$379. 

The £450 Philips Fidelio B1, meanwhile, does a remarkably good job of conjuring up a soundstage far grander in scale than you’d expect from the soundbar’s relatively petite design. There’s no HDCP 2.2 HDMI support, though, and nor can it be integrated into a wider wireless speaker system like the Samsung K850. 

Finally, if money’s no object I’d strongly recommend that you step up to the £1,299/$1,299 Samsung HW-K950, since its brilliantly designed rear speakers give you a much more immersive Atmos experience.   

Final verdict

The K850 shares much of the DNA of Samsung’s debut Dolby Atmos sound bar, the flagship K950. It still combines 11 speakers in the main sound bar with an unusually large and powerful subwoofer, and it still crams all those speakers into a really attractive, misleadingly compact body.  

It takes just minutes of listening to the K850, too, to realise that it delivers a front soundstage every bit as potent, epic in scale and full of aggression and precision as that of the more expensive K950 system. Even the height channel is rendered with conviction despite the fact that the speakers creating it are in the top of the soundbar rather than in your ceiling. 

The lack of rear speakers and on-board DTS multi-channel decoding may persuade you to either step up to the full Dolby Atmos surround sound K950 system or down to a cheaper three- or even two-channel alternative. If you're like us, though, and you’ve come to love having height as well as width with your movie sound – and you can’t afford the K950 – the K850 will work just fine.

John Archer
AV Technology Contributor

John has been writing about home entertainment technology for more than two decades - an especially impressive feat considering he still claims to only be 35 years old (yeah, right). In that time he’s reviewed hundreds if not thousands of TVs, projectors and speakers, and spent frankly far too long sitting by himself in a dark room.