We built a Samsung Q-Symphony system for streamlined Dolby Atmos movie and gaming action

System of the month
(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Go back over What Hi-Fi? television reviews this century – at any rate reviews for what used to be called “flat-panel” sets – and you will see a common theme recurring. No matter how good an image it may be capable of providing, pretty much any modern TV fails to back up those brilliant pictures with anything approaching stunning sound. And, please note, we would be happy to accept fairly basic sound here. Just decent stereo would be acceptable; we’re not getting into any discussions about surround sound or (hey, let’s not get carried away…) Dolby Atmos.

All that beautiful screen acreage, though, really does deserve sonic accompaniment to match – especially now that it has become acceptable in our living rooms to have sets with screens more than four times the area of an old 32-inch “large-screen” CRT TV. 

The system

TV: Samsung QE65S95D

Samsung QE65S95D QD-OLED TV

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

While the area of our TV screen might have increased in size, the space in which we put it – our living rooms, mostly – very much hasn’t. So while the review team here at What Hi-Fi? will always recommend complementing a large screen such as this 65-inch Samsung with a full-bore home cinema system – a multi-channel AV amplifier and a minimum of five speakers (though of course they would urge you to head up from there to seven, nine, or even 11 now that Dolby Atmos is very much “a thing”), not to mention a subwoofer – they also grudgingly admit that these things, as well as being really rather expensive, also take up a good amount of real estate in what is often not an enormous room. Tedious practicalities do, just occasionally, have to prevail. 

Soundbar system: Samsung HW-Q990D

Samsung HW-Q990D soundbar system

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Which was where soundbars came in. An undeniably substantial boost to what a television can provide in a relatively small, room-appropriate package, the soundbar has become a living-room staple in rather short order. As is the way with such things, they have improved exponentially over the past couple of decades and can now handle Dolby Atmos with varying degrees of effectiveness; but a soundbar on its own can’t hold a candle to a full-on surround system. Nor should we expect them to, to be fair: having all the sound emanating from just below your screen is making an already tough task – coming up with any semblance of ‘surround sound’ – verging on the impossible from a single unit. 

Soundbar engineers are a clever bunch, though and some efforts – the Sonos Arc and Sennheiser Ambeo spring to mind – have a darn fine stab at it. Play one of those five-star Award winners next to a full-ensemble set-up though, and it’s still in truth no contest.

But what if you add to that single soundbar? How about sticking a couple of small satellite speakers behind the sofa, so sound truly is coming from behind or beside you? It takes away some of the convenience of a one-unit solution perhaps, but in terms of surround-sound enjoyment and effectiveness it makes an enormous difference.

Enter the soundbar system. It’s a tough job, trying to be a jack of all trades – but when it is pulled off, it can be an impressive effort. Ironically (given the jack of all trades moniker I have just used) it tends to be the specialist sound operators who pull it off the best. Manufacturers better known as TV makers have come up with worthy efforts, but none has quite managed to attain the peaks of performance provided by the Sonos and Sennheisers of this world; LG and Samsung have come up with, at best, four-star efforts.

Until now. 

We really like Samsung’s HW-Q990D. It is a truly fine package that will do a great surround-sound job with any television, no matter the brand. It can provide a huge percentage of what a good AV amp and speaker set-up will give you – both at a relatively good price and in a far smaller package. The verdict in our review sums things up: “The Q990D delivers Dolby Atmos (and DTS:X) in a way that very few soundbar packages can match, and the added HDMI 2.1 support will be a game-changer for some.”  

It is simple to set-up and live with, and the sound it provides is really very impressive for a soundbar and satellites system. As we say in the review: “It delivers a very lively presentation that ensures there’s oodles of excitement to action scenes. The Q990D does a superb job of delivering Atmos-ness, too. It really fills the room with sound, and places effects in three-dimensional space with impressive precision for a soundbar system. [Watching Unbroken] It’s not only that planes sweep across, above and behind the listening position, impressive though that is, but the varied distance from you that effects appear in – some very close to your ear and others across the room. Most people think of height when they think of Atmos, and the Q990D certainly delivers that, but it’s this 3D audio effect that Atmos is really about.”

While the Q990D will work wonderfully with any non-Samsung TV, the joy of using it in this system with the Samsung QE65S95D, is that it gives you just a little bit more, working in tandem with the TV’s sound. And Q Symphony, which allows the Q990D and TV speakers to work together to create an even wider soundstage at the front, makes a noticeable difference to proceedings. 

This is the first time, really, that we have been able to recommend a one-make TV and sound package that can stand up to the best that top rivals can throw at it. And it isn’t a more expensive option either: match up the speaker count with Sonos or Sony, and the Samsung package comes in with around a 25 per cent or more saving. 

Blu-ray player: Panasonic DP-UB820EB

Top cover of the Panasonic DP-UB820EB

(Image credit: Panasonic)

We haven’t mentioned yet the Blu-ray player, but there isn’t really any need to say much more than that the Panasonic DP-UB820EB is a five-time What Hi-Fi? Product of the Year winner and will benefit from the 65-inch OLED's excellent contrast, colour and brightness, as well as the sound system’s terrific surround capabilities. You could of course just stick to streaming, but a TV this good really benefits from the higher quality that a 4K disc offers.

Games console: Sony PlayStation 5

Sony PlayStation 5

(Image credit: Future)

We've opted for the PlayStation 5 as our console in this system, but of course an Xbox Series X would work well too. Suffice to say that the HDMI 2.1 abilities of the soundbar mean that either console will work to its full potential with all the latest gaming features, and with some solid future-proofing at that. 

All in all, this system gets pretty much as close as you can get to a full-bore Dolby Atmos surround set-up without taking up a vast amount of space or costing a whole lot more than the layout required for this terrific quartet.


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Jonathan Evans
Editor, What Hi-Fi? magazine

Jonathan Evans is the editor of What Hi-Fi? magazine, and has been with the title for 17 years or so. He has been a journalist for getting on for three decades now, working on a variety of technology and motoring titles, including Stuff, Autocar and Jaguar. With his background in sub-editing and magazine production, he likes nothing more than a discussion on the finer points of grammar. And golf.