Audioholics.com recently published a review of the Samsung HW-F750 soundbar ($950 MSRP)—billed as the world's first to incorporate vacuum tubes in the signal path. Samsung's nearly $1000 home-theater accessory appears to promise audiophile performance, but according to the review, any contribution to sound quality provided by the tubes is irrelevant in the face of lackluster overall performance.
"The tubes are part of the input stage of the design, meaning the signal passes through them before it reaches the main amp. I think it was a brilliant marketing idea for Samsung to include vacuum tubes in this design. Not only does it look cool (they’re backlight with dimmable orange lights), it makes a bold statement that this is a high-end soundbar. But, the real question is, “Is it simply a marketing gimmick, or is the rest of the unit also high-end audio-oriented?” - Source: Audioholics
When I first saw the HW-F750 in-person
, I wondered if the tubes were anything more than a marketing gimmick—it was apparent that an amber LED was artificially lighting the tubes—which made me suspicious that their inclusion had nothing to do with sound quality. At a Samsung press event I attended, it was not possible to properly audition the new soundbar, but I did manage to snap a close-up of the tubes.Close-up of the HF-W750's vacuum tubes - photo ©2013 by Mark Henninger
According to the audioholics.com review
, any contribution the tubes may have toward overall sound quality is lost due to the relatively modest capabilities of the soundbar's drivers and wireless subwoofer.
Based on what I read, the primary issue with the vacuum tube soundbar was that it ran out of power before it reached truly satisfying listening levels, as did the wireless subwoofer.
"the 6" driver means it likely can’t play very low, and the amp power ratings are listed in a tricky manner so as to significantly inflate the reported wattage (150w). The small port also increases the likelihood of port chuffing (which I could hear during my measurements). Samsung also fails to supply some of the most important specs for a subwoofer: how low it can play and at what SPL. For such an expensive soundbar system, I would expect a much more robust subwoofer." - Source
Samsung's inclusion of vacuum tubes in a soundbar certainly raised some eyebrows when it was introduced at CES 2013—as it turns out, the tubes did not result in an exceptional-sounding soundbar. It's too bad, because the concept really got people's attention. Did Samsung "jump the shark" when it comes to soundbars? Or is this a product that just needs some refinement?Update
I decided to find a HW-F750 that I could listen to. I headed to a Best Buy with a Magnolia and asked if I could check out the "Samsung Soundbar with the Vacuum tubes." The employee, who was lingering in the Magnolia lobby, said "There aren't any Samsung sound bars in Magnolia, I'm not sure if we have that sound bar on display anywhere in the store."
We stepped out onto the main floor, and eventually we found it—the F750 is used as part of the Samsung 3D HDTV display. The TV was a 55" F7100, and the soundbar was mounted right under the panel, in its vertical configuration. Retail price was $750, which turned out to still be too high.On sale for $750, the Samsung HW-F750 still costs too much, relative to its performance.
The Samsung demo was sorely lacking in terms of audio dynamics. A monotonous narrator droned on about smart features while elevator music played in the background. I asked if it was possible to demo some music instead. The employee cracked a smile and whipped out his phone. "I'll pair it via Bluetooth," he said. I pulled out my own phone, a Samsung Galaxy S4, and ran my own scan. It's amazing how many devices have Bluetooth connections these days.
My phone found the F750 and I started a connection. I cued up "Trip and Glide" by Love and Rockets. Initially, the volume was really high and the system instantly started distorting and compressing the music. The Best Buy guy scrambled to lower the volume, and I settled in for a quick listen.
There is not much to report about the sound quality, it was as thin as the soundbar itself. I was surprised that it could not project any sort of a convincing stereo image, either. I won't go into details, because I think the Audioholics.com review got it right. Even if the tubes do contribute to the overall sound quality in some sense, the end result is still mediocre.Found it! In this Best Buy, the F750 was banished, sent to the 3D demo zone.
I figured maybe I could find one more example of the soundbar at another Best Buy, and I did. At the South Philadelphia Best Buy, the 3D demo booth was modified, removing the glasses. Instead of 3D, Smart TV features are the focus—and vacuum tubes!Do I dare push the button?Modified demo booth at South Philly Best Buy—so long 3D, hello Smart TV and vacuum tubes?
Pushing the button resulted in one of the poorest audio demos I have ever experienced. A completely indecipherable voice started rambling over what might have been music. I don't mean to be cynical, but this exercise in futility can only be a bad thing for the reputation of tube amps. The only thing the inclusion of this soundbar in the demo proves is how dead 3D is—as a marketing concept.