Not content with dominating the TV world, Samsung now has its sights set on becoming the number one brand for home entertainment audio, too.
To bolster its claim to the audio kingdom it’s nabbed talent from a range of the hi-fi world’s biggest players, built a new, no-expense-spared audio laboratory in California, and got busy establishing close working relationships with key audio luminaries such as Dolby. All this effort has already delivered outstanding results in the forms of both the HW-K850 and HW-K950 Dolby Atmos soundbars, as well as a range of ground-breaking multi-room wireless speakers.
The Samsung HW-MS650 is the culmination of these efforts and remains one of the best soundbars Samsung has ever produced - yes, even a year later. While Samsung's 2018 models - the Samsung HW-N650 and Samsung HW-N400 - are both well-made, good-sounding products, they can't hold a candle to the MS650.
For our full thoughts on one of the best soundbars ever made, read on.
This is one attractive soundbar. Its no-nonsense rectangular sculpting is suitably serious, yet the brushed finish on the top and industrial-style grille over the speakers look lovely in their own right and harmonize together beautifully.
The little slope down from the top edge to the speaker grille ties the design together well too, and we're pleased to see that the brushed top plate doesn’t cause too much reflection from the screen it will likely be sitting below.
Note, though, that at 78mm the sound bar stands quite high - high enough, in fact, to obscure the bottom of the picture, if sat directly in front of one of Samsung’s own Q9F QLED TV, and high enough to obscure an IR sensor on some other makes and models. If you’re going to rest the soundbar on the same bit of furniture as your TV, you should definitely measure how high your TV sits (and where its IR receiver is located) before committing to the MS650.
That said, at least Samsung includes VESA mounting points for attaching the MS650 to the wall, and a TV power loopthrough feature that means you can use just a single plug socket to power both the soundbar and your TV.
The MS650’s other connections include a 4K-capable HDMI loopthrough system, optical and auxiliary audio inputs, an output for adding an optional subwoofer, and support for both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless streaming. A second HDMI might have been nice in an ideal world, but you could always route multiple audio sources to the soundbar via your TV’s audio output options.
Dimensions: 1060 x 78 x 130mm (W x H x D) | Speaker configuration: 3.0 | Claimed audio power: 9 x 20W | Connections: Single 4K/HDR HDMI loopthrough, one optical audio input, 3.5mm audio port, 2-way Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
You'll most obviously use your soundbar in wired mode most of the time, but the MS650’s wireless options can be used for streaming from both Bluetooth devices and via Samsung’s multi-room app that supports a wide range of music services including Spotify, Deezer, Tidal, Amazon Music, TuneIn and Pandora.
The MS650 can also be paired with Bluetooth headphones or other Samsung wireless speakers as part of a cable-free home network audio solution. Want true surround sound? All you need to do is incorporate a pair of upcoming SWA-8500S or 9000S speakers to add a true rear-channel effect. (Correction: According to Samsung, the SWA-8500S optional wireless speakers are no longer usable with the MS650. Only the SWA-9000S option will be available going forward.)
The MS650’s one-body design delivers a 3.0-channel (left, right, centre) configuration delivered via a startling combination of six woofers and three tweeters - all powered by their own individual 20W amps. The tweeters are the same wide-dispersion ones used so effectively on the K950 Atmos soundbar to expand the listening ‘sweet spot’ to accommodate more seating positions.
Where things get really interesting, though, is with the MS650’s’ innovative distortion-cancelling technology that helps it to achieve bass levels much deeper than those you can get from a standard speaker design. Samsung’s specs conservatively state that the MS650 can hit frequencies as low as 40Hz. That said, during our tests it actually managed to get even deeper than that.
The MS650 ships as standard with a Dolby Digital 5.1 decoder on board, down-converting multi-channel inputs to its 3.0 speaker configuration unless you add an external subwoofer and Samsung’s wireless rear speakers.
As with Samsung’s K950 and K850 soundbars, the MS650 currently receives DTS multichannel mixes in stereo, before using processing to create a virtual centre speaker channel suited to its 3.0 speaker array. Happily, though, Samsung says that it expects to bring proper multi-channel DTS decoding via firmware update to the MS650 (and K950 and K850 Atmos soundbars) in the next few months.
One final feature worth covering here is the audio file formats the system can cover. Namely, that includes AAC, MP3, FLAC, WAV, OGG and ALAC.
It’s immediately apparent as you start to use the MS650 that all that talk of non-linear control and distortion cancelling technology is much more than just marketing hype. In fact, the MS650 is the best all-round single-body soundbar we’ve heard – yes, it's really that good.
Starting off with movie playback, the scale and attack the MS650 delivers with a powerful film soundtrack is outstanding for a three-channel system – especially when you select Surround mode, which expands the height and width of the soundstage into a fantastic ‘wall of sound’ without diminishing the vocals or making special effects and heavy bass moments sound overwhelming.
The scale of the MS650’s sound is enhanced greatly by a bass extension so profound that it’s almost incomprehensible that it’s coming from a one-body speaker. It works flawlessly even if the speaker is sat on a table (rather than being suspended on a wall) and, even more remarkably, this bass never overwhelms the rest of the sound, or leaves you with any sense of a ‘gap’ between mid-range and low frequencies.
While the MS650’s 3.0-channel speaker system isn’t capable of delivering any real sense of surround sound information, you can always add optional extra rears to the MS650 in the future if you really decide you want them. Another huge benefit of the MS650’s sound is the way its verticality makes vocals seem more ‘attached’ to the pictures coming from screens sitting above it than is often the case with soundbars.
Sound bars that excel for movies don’t commonly also deliver the goods with music. The MS650, though, is the exception that proves the rule.
For starters, it’s got an excellent sense of timing, and delivers a much wider dynamic range with music than you customarily hear with soundbars. Its smooth, rich bass handling is to the fore again, too, hitting beautifully musical depths without sounding forced, billowy or baggy. The MS650 even manages to deliver not just the full bass depth of Lorde’s Royals, but also the sense of swelling and expansion that song’s bassline deploys.
Listening to music also makes you aware of just how easily the sound escapes and expands from the speakers; there’s no hint of muddiness or swallowed tones. This enables its music to fill a large room even at fairly moderate volumes, so that you can be enveloped in sound without needing to push the fantastically robust drivers to anywhere near the sort of volume where they might start to sound strained or uncomfortable.
Detailing is strong, too. We were able to pick out subtle harmonies, breathing and other small audio elements during high quality recordings that only the best music players can reproduce well enough to make you aware of them.
The balance of the sound seems immaculately judged, with no part of the music - vocals, bass, drums, snares, synths - standing out too much from the mix.
Last up in the plus column, we were pleasantly surprised by how adaptable the MS650’s musical qualities are, as it handled pretty much every musical genre I played with equal tenacity and precision.
That’s not to say the MS650 is perfect. High-end hi-fi fans may feel its presentation with very delicate tracks such as Nick Cave’s Distant Sky is a touch too aggressive. Its focus on creating a wall of sound also means its stereo presentation is a little narrow for music. Also, amazing though the MS650’s bass performance is for a single-box soundbar, inevitably a few high-end soundbar/subwoofer combinations can go deeper still.
However, we feel that while there may be one or two soundbars out there from hi-fi brands that deliver music with a little more delicacy, and soundbar-with-subwoofer combis that can deliver even more bass, the bottom line is that no single-body sound bar has sounded as brilliant with both films and songs as the Samsung MS650.
If you’re in the US, the MS650’s $449 price looks remarkably good value for such a cutting edge and high performance soundbar. Given the US price it’s a little hard to understand why the MS650 should cost £599 in the UK. That said, once you’ve taken into account the quality and flexibility of its sound and the innovative technology it uses to deliver that quality, the price still holds up well against the UK soundbar competition.
If you want more detail in the wall of sound your soundbar can produce, three hundred pounds more gets you to Samsung’s K850 system, with its extra up-firing speakers. The K850 ships with an external subwoofer, though, which might not suit everyone.
If you want to spend less and value music playback over movies, you could also consider the $399/£329 . Though while this sounds outstanding with music for its money, it’s much more restrained with films than the MS650.
Samsung has rewritten the rulebook with the HW-MS650. No other one-body soundbar has combined so much raw power with so much clarity, scale and, especially, bass, or excelled so consistently with both films and music. It’s the sort of performance that only genuine audio innovation can deliver - and with that in mind, it’s well worth its £599 price tag.
The MS650 produces unprecedented amounts of bass for a single-body soundbar as well as a huge but cohesive soundstage. This makes it a superstar movie performer - yet while most soundbars only excel with movies or music, the MS650 is almost equally brilliant with both types of audio experience. It also looks good, and offers plenty of source flexibility.
Hi-Fi fans would appreciate a little more stereo definition and delicacy with relatively quiet, minimal music, and the MS650’s slightly tall design could be a problem for TVs that sit very low on their stands.
Samsung’s seemingly money’s no object bid to establish itself as a serious audio brand continues to deliver the goods. Just as the K950 Dolby Atmos system reached new standards for the soundbar plus rear speakers and subwoofer market, the £599/$449 MS650 sets a new bar for the one-body soundbar market. Its bass performance is unprecedented, the scale of its sound is remarkable, and its ability to switch between movies and music is uncanny.
- The Samsung HW-MS650 sits at the top of our Best Soundbars of 2017 list