- Big and immersive sound
- Great for movies and games
- Well-integrated subwoofer
- Excellent build quality
- Easy setup
- No HDR support
- Review Price: £699/$944
- 5.1ch system with wireless sub
- Dimensions: 110cm x 5.9cm x 10cm
- 360W total power output
- 2 x HDMI, 1 x optical, 1 x analogue, 1 x USB
What is the Samsung HW-N650?
The HW-N650 is the latest soundbar offering from Samsung, and it’s specifically aimed at movie fans and gamers. It boasts a new ‘Acoustic Beam’ technology, designed to create a larger and more immersive front soundstage.
Although quite wide, the soundbar itself uses a low form factor and should comfortably fit in front of most modern TVs. There’s also a wireless subwoofer, thus allowing for greater flexibility in terms of placement, whilst boosting the overall bass performance at the same time.
The Samsung HW-N650 does provide the option of an HDMI input and output, but we expect for an asking price of £699/$944. Being limited to lossy Dolby and DTS sound formats is also something of a surprise. At least there’s optical and analogue inputs, a USB port and Bluetooth connectivity, however.
The HW-N650 takes a page out of Samsung’s existing design book, with a look and shape that isn’t all that different to last year’s models. Build quality is excellent and the soundbar, with a largely metal construction with a black finish. The brushed-metal end plates are more angled than seen on previous generation of soundbar, but otherwise it’s very much business as usual.
There’s a sleekness to the design that not only matches today’s TV styling, but makes for an elegant appearance that won’t block the screen. The metal grilles on the front and top cover forward- and upward-firing drivers respectively, so make sure they aren’t blocked. Otherwise, placement is very flexible and you can even wall-mount the soundbar using an optional bracket.
The subwoofer is composed of MDF, uses a black styling that matches the soundbar; it measures 21.5 x 38.5 x 30.4cm. It’s a rear-ported model with a forward-firing 6.5-inch driver, which Samsung claims can get down to 42Hz. The sub is wireless but you’ll need a power source, although it should pair automatically with the bar. Again, placement is fairly flexible, but I’d recommend locating it at the front of the room and slightly away from the wall.
At the front right of the soundbar is an LED display that lights up when you select inputs, change the volume or choose a sound mode: Standard, Surround and Game. It also shows the treble, bass and audio delay settings, as well as the subwoofer level.
On the end panel at the right, you’ll find some basic controls for power, volume and source select; it’s all controlled using the included remote. The remote is ergonomically designed and effective to use, with all the controls you’ll need to set up and operate the Samsung HW-N650.
There are central navigation and play/pause buttons, along with controls for volume, mute and the subwoofer level. There are buttons for accessing the treble, bass and audio-sync features, source select, sound mode and a Bluetooth pairing button. Speaking of Bluetooth, there’s a handy control app and, if you own a Samsung TV, you can also use its remote to operate the soundbar.
Features and connectivity
The main new feature on the Samsung HW-N650 is Samsung’s Acoustic Beam technology. This essentially uses two tweeters at the top of the soundbar – one on either side – that each fire into pipes with 28 holes in them. These pipes basically act like an organ pipe, firing sounds upwards in different directions and creating a more immersive sound field.
It’s worth stressing that this soundbar doesn’t support Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, and is in fact limited to the lossy versions of those audio formats.
Actually, what’s most surprising about the HW-N650 is the number of features it’s lacking. Whilst Samsung now includes a wireless subwoofer, which was absent from many of its models last year, the company doesn’t use its excellent distortion-cancelling technology, nor is there support for its multiroom system.
More disappointing still is that whilst the HDMI 2.0 connections will pass 4K/60p, they don’t support high dynamic range (HDR). This is a bizarre decision, especially when you consider this soundbar’s price – and the fact it’s aimed at movie fans and gamers, who’d presumably like to enjoy both in HDR.
As a result of this omission, the best approach to set-up is to connect all the sources to your TV and then send the audio via ARC over HDMI. That will allow you to benefit from HDR; since the soundbar doesn’t support lossless formats, you’re not missing anything in terms of audio quality.
If you don’t want to lose an HDMI input on your TV, you could use the optical connection. However, in this instance you won’t benefit from CEC control of both the soundbar and the TV.
The three sound modes are designed to complement different content, with the Standard mode aimed at music and dialogue-heavy TV shows. This mode uses the front-firing left, right and centre drivers and turns off the Acoustic Beam feature. The Surround mode is intended for watching movies, delivering a more immersive surround presence whilst keeping dialogue clear; the Game mode places the emphasis on effects.
Whatever reservations I may have had about the Samsung HW-N650’s features, there were no such doubts when it came to its performance. Starting with the Standard sound mode, which uses only the three front-firing drivers and sub, I tested the soundbar on a range of music via Bluetooth from my phone. Although not its primary purpose, this is a lovely sounding bar that can certainly deliver an agile and pleasing musical performance.
It isn’t quite as impressive as last year’s HW-MS750, but listening to ‘Resistance is Futile’ by the Manic Street Preachers showed a decent level of clarity and detail retrieval, while the sub added weight to the drums. There was an openness that suited the music, and the HW-N650 used its width to ensure excellent stereo separation.
The relatively large size of the bar itself resulted in a clear and concise mid-range, and the tweeters delivered the high-end without sounding harsh.
Watching various TV programmes, the dedicated centre channel ensured that dialogue always remained clear and focused, while music was delivered with the same sense of balance and consistency as before.
When I moved on to dramas, where the soundtracks tend to display a more cinematic feel, I engaged the Surround mode. On a show such as Lost in Space, this immediately gave the front soundstage greater presence, with significantly more height to effects and music. The sub remained extremely well integrated, proving solid support at the low end.
The processing itself wasn’t too aggressive, enhancing the experience by creating a greater sense of immersion, rather than losing the focus of the original soundtrack. This was admirably proved by putting on Gravity and listening for the highly directional nature of the effects, which the Samsung HW-N650 managed to replicate to a degree – despite not actually having any rear speakers. I’m not saying it can replace a genuine multi-channel system, but if space is an issue then you’ll get a suitably panoramic experience from this bar and sub combination.
My current favourite soundtrack is Dunkirk, and the Samsung was particularly effective at delivering the high-end effects – the Stuka dive bombers, along with the deep bass explosions, for example. There was genuine dynamic range to the way the soundbar reproduced the key moments on the disc, making me jump out of my skin when a single gunshot pierced the hull of a ship.
Other sequences, such as those underwater, had a real sense of immersion. I was also impressed by the way the soundbar kept pace with the rhythm of the film, picking out the ticking clock motif as the story builds towards its unbearably tense finale.
Finally, I tried the Game mode, which also creates a bigger soundstage but with greater emphasis on effects. This really helped to place me in the games and made identifying the locations of sounds much easier. If you have a 2018 Samsung TV and connect using HDMI, there’s another handy feature. When a games console is detected, both the TV and soundbar will automatically select their respective game modes.
Overall I was genuinely impressed, and although the HW-N650 might be lacking certain features, there’s no denying its sonic capabilities.
Why buy the Samsung HW-N650?
If you’re looking for a soundbar that can deliver a panoramic soundstage for watching movies and playing games then the Samsung HW-N650 is right up your street. Samsung’s Acoustic Beam technology really works, immersing you in your favourite film or game. It’s no slouch with music either, producing a clear and detailed sound that’s sure to please.
My only real compliant is that it’s missing features found on previous Samsung soundbars, and while none are deal-breakers, their absence is puzzling – especially at this price.
For the same money, LG’s SJ9 comes with a wireless subwoofer but has a greater number of HDMI inputs, supports Dolby Atmos, can pass HDR, and includes multiroom functionality. The HW-N650 can hold its own in terms of performance, but its feature-set is lightweight in comparison.
This innovative soundbar delivers an excellent performance, but is slightly marred by missing features and a hefty price tag.