Review: Samsung HW-N650 5.1 Soundbar with Acoustic Beam Technology

Samsung’s HW-N650 soundbar is an all-in-one audio solution that uses a unique waveguide with its tweeters to trigger beamforming and project a panoramic image, all while maintaining precise imaging and object placement. The result is a reasonably priced, two-piece soundbar plus subwoofer system that happens to sound so good, I gave it a “Best of CES 2018” award after hearing a demo in Las Vegas, back in January. Now it’s time for the full review, so read on.

Features and Specifications

The N650 all-in-one soundbar system processes select Dolby and DTS 5.1 surround-sound formats and renders it panoramically using Samsung’s Acoustic Beam technology. On the top of the soundbar are two rows of precisely-placed and sized holes (they not visible through the grill but are there) that the soundbar uses to create its uncanny and enveloping surround effect. Inside the soundbar chassis are eight independently amplified drivers. Three woofers and three mid-tweeters (two per channel) each get a 30–watt amp and two tweeters that are used for the Acoustic Beam feature get 10 watts each. Counting the subwoofer, you are looking at 360 watts of total system power, with 160 watts going to the sub.

This soundbar offers one HDMI 2.0a input and output. It also has an optical-digital input as well as a USB port that supports content playback. Plus, there’s Bluetooth 2.1 support for easy wireless streaming and a USB port for media playback from connected storage.

Samsung touts the game mode on the N650 as offering enhanced clarity; it’s one of three listening modes and that makes it the first soundbar from the company to explicitly target gamers. Also, this soundbar offers compatibility with Samsung’s wireless surround speaker kit ($129), for an enhanced surround-sound experience. But, because of the soundfield the Acoustic Beam tech creates, you also get an expansive and immersive listening experience with just the soundbar and sub. Please note, this review does not include the wireless rears.

Dimensions are 43.3 x 2.3 x 3.9 inches, which is quite wide but also very low-profile—meaning it won’t block the view when placed in front of most TVs. Supported audio formats are 2-channel LPCM, Dolby Audio (supporting Dolby Digital), and DTS. What it will not accept is multi-channel PCM, so if you add the wireless surrounds it’s best to feed it bitstream audio.


Setup

Setup was super simple. I used the one HDMI input to connect an Xbox One X and ARC to receive any other audio coming from the TV. It’s a simple, 2-piece system where the sub pairs immediately and you are good to go within minutes of opening the package. In terms of setup, there’s nothing to report here aside from this: Open the box, unpack, plug, play. This soundbar comes with a wall-mount kit that looks easy to use, but you’ll have a few more steps to perform if you go that route.

As for pairing it with a TV, near the end of the evaluation Samsung sent me a 75″ Q8FN and it turns out that this soundbar is a perfect fit between the feet on that TV, as well as an aesthetic match. It’s worth noting that at almost 44 inches, this is a fairly wide soundbar, so you’ll want to check how much space there is between your TV’s feet if you’re going to use it on a stand.


Performance

The best way to understand how well the Acoustic Beam technology works is to hear it for yourself. It’s not something that shows up in measurements or is reflected in the price point, but the quality and immersiveness of the panoramic soundfield the HW-N650 puts out is self-evident once you hear it.

On this soundbar, Samsung has pared down its listening modes to three: Standard, Surround Sound and Game. Even the Standard mode had more stereo separation than I am used to hearing from a 2.1 system—without sounding processed. The Surround Sound mode significantly expanded the perceived soundfield and did so in a manner that felt expansive and appropriate. Meanwhile, the Game mode sounded a lot like Surround Sound but was more explicitly immersive, with a soundfield that was more forward, seeming to put the listener right in the action.

Now, please do not expect miracles from a (roughly) $400 soundbar system. It sounds excellent for the price and does a lot with two channels. But it’s not going to replace an AVR or outperform Samsung’s own Dolby Atmos soundbar system, the HW-N950. It’s the sort of product that nails its category and price point by looking good while performing well.

Since gaming is a focus, I made a point of using Game mode with Xbox One X titles like FIFA 2018, Forza Motorsport 7 and Assassins Creed: Origins. Filling between the three modes, I found no reason not to use Game mode. It enhances quiet sounds and makes it perfectly clear whether an opponent/enemy is coming from the right or left hand side.

For music I found Standard mode was the most pleasing option. This is a fun soundbar to listen to, and the panoramic spread offered by the Acoustic Beam tech offers the illusion of stereo speakers creating a proper soundfield. As for Surround Sound mode, it’s there for movies and does offer a more spacious sound without being as forward as the Game mode. I’m sure personal preference plus room acoustics are going to be factors in which mode people choose and I think it was a good move for Samsung to go with three modes that are all useful in their own way.

As for movies, whether in Standard Mode or Surround Sound mode, dialog was clear and properly centered, and the soundbar delivered on the promise of the Acoustic Beam technology by spreading the action out in front of the screen and beyond.

Commendably, this system’s subwoofer blended perfectly with the soundbar, never revealing its location. In other words, localization was not an issue. Furthermore, the bass from that sub was tight and transparent, you really could not tell that an affordable soundbar’s subwoofer was what was making it. Indeed, this may be the system’s greatest accomplishment because it allowed me to place the sub just about anywhere in the room and still get nice cohesive sound from the HW-N650.

I performed a quick frequency response sweep in each mode to see what’s really going on in terms of EQ and also to verify the bass extension of the sub. In Standard mode I found flat response from 50 Hz to 20 kHz, with a -10 dB point at 40 Hz. To my surprise, the curve for the Surround Sound mode was identical to Standard Mode, meaning that the surround effect does not impact tonality. Meanwhile the Game Mode showed a very slight boost in treble and midrange (less than 1 dB) and overall uses the same curve. It’s impressive performance, for sure.

Conclusion

Spending $400 to $500 on a soundbar these days buys you a surprising amount of performance. But it’s a category where competition is fierce and each new generation of soundbars raises the bar in terms of value for the dollar. Thanks to the impressive performance of the Acoustic Beam technology and the inclusion of a Game Mode that’s genuinely useful, the HW-N650 rises above its peers, earning a Top Choice! 2018 award.


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