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Samsung HW-K850 review: Half a surround system, but not half-hearted

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
900
inc VAT

Supreme sound quality, but expensive for a single soundbar and subwoofer combination

Pros 
Great sound quality
Multiroom support
Atmos effect is convincing
Cons 
Expensive
DTS support only stretches to stereo
A touch too tall
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The Samsung HW-K850 soundbar is an odd hybrid of a product. It takes the brilliant Samsung HW-K950 and, effectively, chops it in half. Sensibly, it’s the rear half that you lose here – the two rear satellite speakers; the soundbar, subwoofer and Dolby Atmos support all remain fully intact – but nonetheless, it’s half a surround system, and an expensive one at that.

I can hear the yells of derision already: "What’s the point of that?" "A £900 soundbar without satellite speakers? What WERE they thinking?" And there is a valid point nestling somewhere within these hypothetical complaints.

Before you completely write it off, however, it’s worth bearing a couple of points in mind. First, the sound quality of this soundbar is superb. For streaming and music listening (that is, for non-surround-sound sources), it’s the best soundbar I’ve ever clapped ears on. It sounds as good as the £1,300 HW-K950 and is a notable sonic improvement on the Bose SoundTouch 300.

And for surround it still isn’t half bad. The same complaints I had about the HW-K950 still apply, in that it doesn’t process DTS-HD in anything but stereo, so you need a player that will process the signal and spoon-feed it to the soundbar for you, but with Atmos soundtracks it sounds fabulous.

I popped the Atmos demo disc into my Blu-ray player and found there remained a convincing sense of height to the sound, and a decent sense of width and directionality, too. Clearly, it’s not as good as the HW-K950 at creating the 3D bubble of sound, but as single soundbar and subwoofer combos go, it’s the best I’ve heard. Plus, if you feel you need more surround later on, you can add a pair of Samsung’s multiroom 360 speakers – the R3, R5 or R7 – although these won’t deliver the Atmos height that the HW-K950’s rear speakers do.

Disappointingly, you can’t buy a pair of Atmos rears and add them to the system at a later date, either.

Samsung HW-K850 review: Design, connectivity and features

In fact, the soundbar and subwoofer are exactly the same as in the HW-K950 package. The former has 11 drivers in total, three each for the left, centre and right channels, plus a pair of upward-firing drivers for the upper-left and upper-right Dolby Atmos channels. The latter is a huge box nearly two feet high, two feet deep and a foot wide, with a single 8in driver mounted on the side.

With so many drivers packed in, it’s not surprising that this is a pretty big soundbar. At 121cm long, it’s best suited to TVs at least 49in in size, and it’s also worth bearing in mind that, at a height of 81mm, it’s tall enough to block the infrared sensor on many TVs.

That shouldn’t be a problem if you own a Samsung TV – you should be able to control your TV through the soundbar’s Anynet+ compatible HDMI output, but it’s certainly worth bearing in mind if you own a TV from another manufacturer. Regardless, it’s a good-looking speaker, and I do like the white OLED display behind the metal grille that tells you which mode you’re in.

Physical connections are a touch limited. There’s only one HDMI input and one output tucked away in a cubby hole beneath the bar. Both these are 4K-passthrough enabled, and the output supports ARC so you can pipe audio back from your TV to the soundbar. You do get optical S/PDIF and 3.5mm analogue inputs, but that’s your lot. There are no coaxial S/PDIF or stereo inputs.

Wireless connectivity is much better, with the aforementioned multiroom support allowing you to stream music from DLNA servers and via Spotify Connect, and there’s support for Tidal, TuneIn and Amazon Music via the Samsung app. There’s no AirPlay support, though, which is a tad disappointing.

Samsung HW-K850 review: Verdict

The Samsung HW-K850 is a cracking soundbar that sounds great with most sources, from music to movies. It has a delicate touch, and can produce audio with a dramatic sense of sense of scale and slam when it needs to. There are no rear speakers here, but it’s better at simulating surround sound than any other single soundbar I’ve heard.

However, there are issues here. First, it’s very expensive. Second, it only supports two-channel decoding for DTS tracks, and third, there are plenty of products out there that deliver true surround for less money. Whether you think it’s worth it depends entirely on your point of view, but I think if you want Atmos you should go the whole hog and get the Samsung HW-K950 instead.

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