The best soundbars rival traditional home-theater sound systems in sound quality and features, but soundbars are much simpler to use. With its stellar sound quality and Dolby Atmos support, Samsung Harman/Kardon’s $1,100 HW-N850 sets the bar high for what a soundbar can do and could make you want to ditch your old home-theater system.
The HW-N850 is a beast of a soundbar. The 48.3 x 5.4 x 3.3-inch main soundbar is so long, it dwarfs any TV smaller than 55 inches. At 19.4 pounds, it weighs a lot for a soundbar, too. The 16.4 x 15.8 x 8-inch wireless subwoofer is also larger than most that ship with soundbars.
The main soundbar uses its size well for the most part. It features 13 drivers inside: two of those are on top for Atmos height, and two more are on the side to help produce a wide soundfield and virtual surround sound.
The HW-N850 is a beast of a soundbar.
The unit features a small – too small given its overall size — LED display on the front right that shows the input, volume level and settings as you engage each feature. I frequently found myself wishing for a larger screen while adjusting the settings.
The HW-N850 has one HDMI ARC output and two HDMI inputs; you can also connect via optical digital audio and wirelessly through Bluetooth and Wifi.
The HW-N850 delivers very detailed sound, spread across a wide soundfield. I sometimes found the sound too bright or the bass too loud, but overall it achieved an excellent mix of treble, midrange and bass.
The HW-N850 was at its best while watching movies and shows that were encoded in Dolby Atmos. When Danny Rand's Iron Fist smashed into the ground, the subwoofer rattled my floor, but the bass didn't get muddy. The height channels helped make a swirling leaf in an Atmos demonstration video feel like it was moving in the room, though having separate wireless surrounds would have improved the illusion.
When Danny Rand’s Iron Fist smashed into the ground, the subwoofer rattled my floor, but the bass didn't get muddy.
The soundbar also handles dialogue well; Quincy Jones' voice-overs during the documentary Quincy were clear and easy to understand.
The HW-N850 plays music almost as well as it does video, though I needed to dial back the bass in the mix on songs like Silk City's "Electricity." But even on that track, the vocals were nicely separated from the backing track. Similarly, Amanda Shire's voice soared on her song "Parking Lot Pirouette," while the bass and guitar sounded full.
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The HW-N850 can get painfully loud; at max volume it hit 99 decibels, but it felt much more damaging to my eardrums than that. Even at that volume, the sound didn't distort. It should easily fill a large room with sound.
To get the full effect of Atmos and all the features of the HW-N850, you'll want to connect to the HDMI ARC input on your TV; if you use optical digital audio, you can get only 5.1 channels of sound. Once that connection is made, you can start watching, though the soundbar has plenty of ways to adjust the sound to your environment.
The HW-N850 offers three sound modes: surround, smart and standard. The Smart mode produced the biggest sound and best took advantage of the speaker's abilities. When the signal is Dolby Digital or Atmos, the speaker automatically engages those modes.
Using the remote, you can tweak the center, surround, side and front top speaker volume to match your preferences, as well as the bass and treble level. If you download the free SmartThings app, you can even access a seven-band equalizer. Unfortunately, the SmartThings app doesn't let you adjust the speaker levels — which would be much easier than using the remote.
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The HW-N850 doesn't include a virtual assistant like Alexa baked in, but if you have an Alexa device you can have it operate the soundbar using the SmartThings skill. I set up a routine to turn on the soundbar, and it worked well.
The HW-N850 offers a lot for $1,100 — big, detailed sound that you can adjust to match your surroundings and tastes. Last year, a system with this quality and features would have cost $1,500 or more.
It doesn't include separate surround speakers, which would further improve the Atmos experience; for that, you'll need to upgrade to the $1,700 HW-N950 — and that's a steep premium. Or can you go with Vizio's $500 SB36512-F6, which has separate surround speakers but not nearly as much detail in the audio as the HW-N850.
If you want to go big with your soundbar and you have a budget of around $1,000, the HW-N850 is the best choice right now.
Credit: Tom's Guide