SAM­SUNG HW-MS650 sound­bar

Sam­sung HW-MS650 sound­bar Sig­nif­i­cant word eat­ing re­quired here as we are gob­s­macked by our time with Sam­sung’s Sound+ sound­bar.

Sound+Image - - Contents - Jez Ford

With just a bar, no sub­woofer, Sam­sung has us throw­ing out our pre­con­cep­tions on bar qual­ity.

So, let’s re­main calm. We should keep per­spec­tive on what is, af­ter all, a sound­bar. Just a sound­bar. There’s not even a wire­less sub­woofer with it. Just a bar. Just a sound­bar.

Equip­ment

OK. So. Reg­u­lar read­ers may have gath­ered cer­tain sig­nals from many pre­vi­ous re­views in­di­cat­ing that we don’t gen­er­ally rec­om­mend sound­bars, par­tic­u­larly sound­bars un­der $1000. We dis­like many of them, es­pe­cially for play­ing mu­sic, and in­stead rec­om­mend per­haps con­sid­er­ing a nice neat pair of ac­tive speak­ers ei­ther side of the TV in­stead. Sound­bars with­out sub­woofers fare even worse, and Sam­sung’s MS650 doesn’t come with one, just the bar — 128cm wide, of­fer­ing three chan­nels of au­dio, no pre­tence at sur­round, though we note there is an op­tional wire­less rears ‘kit’ avail­able ($249).

De­spite those past sound­bar ex­pe­ri­ences, we al­ways en­deav­our to be­gin a fresh re­view with an open mind.

“All very straight­for­ward”, we wrote as we be­gan in­stal­la­tion. “Re­as­sur­ingly heavy. Sleek top — though the brushed-alu­minium look is rather re­flec­tive, just a lit­tle dis­tract­ing re­flect­ing your TV pic­ture. Con­nec­tions bay is un­der­neath, ex­it­ing to the rear.”

There are the usual con­nec­tions: op­ti­cal in, aux­il­iary mini­jack in, then HDMI in (best used for what­ever box is your main source of movies), and HDMI out to your TV, with ARC (Au­dio Re­turn Chan­nel) so the Sam­sung can re­ceive au­dio from the TV when it’s play­ing from its TV tuner, ex­ter­nal in­puts, or the many on­line sources avail­able to to­day’s smart TVs. It can also play via Blue­tooth from a com­pat­i­ble Sam­sung TV.

Sam­sung’s mul­ti­room app serves to con­nect the bar eas­ily with your home Wi-Fi, by which we could con­clude it will also work in con­cert with the rest of Sam­sung’s mul­ti­room au­dio fam­ily.

Per­for­mance

The re­mote con­trol was fa­mil­iar from our pre­vi­ous re­view of the com­pany’s At­mos-en­abled K950. The re­mote is small and pleas­ingly min­i­mal, with rocker switches at the bot­tom for vol­ume and bass ad­just­ment — these rather foxed us first time we met, but (wiser now) we like this so­lu­tion of a sin­gle ridge which can pivot to ad­just up or down, or press to mute. Oth­er­wise it’s just power, set­tings and info but­tons, a sub­tle four-way-and­s­e­lect ring, and then three but­tons for dif­fer­ent sound modes.

Reg­u­lar read­ers will also know what we tend to think about sound

modes, es­pe­cially on sound­bars, which rarely ben­e­fit by fur­ther mess­ing with their al­ready com­pro­mised clar­ity. And sure enough, here we mainly avoided the first two but­tons — ‘Sur­round’ on/off, and ‘Mode’ which shut­tles through ‘Stan­dard’, ‘Mu­sic’, ‘Clear’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Movie’ sound op­tions.

In­stead we used the third but­ton, which turns on ‘Smart Mode’, this seem­ingly tak­ing a re­li­able guess at what will work best, and thereby largely mak­ing the other op­tions re­dun­dant. Very rarely did we find we pre­ferred some­thing other than the Smart but­ton was do­ing al­ready, not that you get any clue ex­actly what that is. For video, whether TV or movies, the pref­er­en­tial choice was clearly down to ‘Movie’ or ‘Smart’, and ‘Smart’ may have of­ten been ‘Movie’ any­way. The ‘Mu­sic’ sound mode for mu­sic may pro­vide a sim­ple stereo, but also stripped out use­ful bass and peaked up the mids rather over-in­sis­tently. Rather go ‘Movie’, or ‘Stan­dard’, or just stay ‘Smart’.

Sound modes sorted, we were ab­so­lutely de­lighted to find the Sam­sung de­liv­er­ing a fine fist of mu­sic, which is the tra­di­tional big fat fail for sound­bars un­der $1000. Our lis­ten­ing notes get more and more en­thu­si­as­tic, start­ing with “this is quite a pleas­ant mu­si­cal sound, you know?” but soon ris­ing to note that Sledge­ham­mer (play­ing from the fi­nal Aus­tralian days of Pan­dora) had a good solid and true kick to the bass and kick drum, plus a clear non-spitty vo­cal, and the beau­ti­ful brass stabs and squawks up at the top. “Plenty of level too,” we noted. Then, un­der­lined, “Where the hell is the bass com­ing from?”

Yes, where in­deed. There’s no sub­woofer with the MS650, and we’ve never met a sound­bar with­out one that we’ve liked, be­cause ob­vi­ously they can’t do bass and so they sound thin, or cut off at the knees. Our ex­cep­tions would be the dif­fer­ently-shaped Q Acous­tics M4, and some few of the sound­base so­lu­tions, no­tably those from Z-Vox. But none of those ex­pends costs on smarts and net­work­ing; they de­lib­er­ately con­cen­trate on sound. We fig­ured per­haps it was economies of scale that were al­low­ing Sam­sung to de­liver smarts and sound at this price, but given its per­for­mance, there is clearly some re­mark­able en­gi­neer­ing and sound work too.

Six weeks we ran it, be­ing con­stantly as­ton­ished. Half­way through, af­ter a quizzi­cal WTF email to Sam­sung Aus­tralia, we heard that this ‘Sound+’ se­ries of bars has come out of Sam­sung’s Cal­i­for­nia Au­dio Lab. We’d heard of this, and of Al­lan De­vantier, the ex-Har­man (In­fin­ity, JBL) guy who had set it up and built a team even be­fore Sam­sung then went on to pur­chase the whole of Har­man. And as chance would have it, Al­lan De­vantier was com­ing over to Syd­ney for a launch of the larger MS750 sound­bar. Af­ter talk­ing with him (see in­ter­view over­leaf) we now know rather more about Sam­sung’s Cal­i­for­nia Au­dio Lab and how it is be­ing used to op­ti­mise the lat­est gen­er­a­tion of Sam­sung au­dio prod­ucts.

So there are nine driv­ers work­ing away in the MS650 — a tweeter and a pair of race­track woofers for each of the three chan­nels (see cut­away im­age). The Cal­i­for­nia Lab’s im­pres­sive mea­sur­ing cham­bers are used not only to tune the bar’s fun­da­men­tal per­for­mance, but also to iden­tify any dis­tor­tions pro­duced across a range of in­put sig­nals. The trick is then to in­tro­duce cor­rec­tions via DSP which are the pre­cise in­verse of the dis­tor­tion they pre­dict will oc­cur in the sys­tem from any given in­put. That, of course, will vary with the spe­cific mu­sic or sound­track, so such dis­tor­tion can­cel­la­tion re­quires, as De­vantier says, a rather clever al­go­rithm.

Yet the re­sult, he says, is greater bass ex­ten­sion, with the cor­rec­tions also en­sur­ing that the sound­bar’s woofers never bot­tom out at high lev­els. And this goes much of the way to ex­plain­ing what we were hear­ing.

For TV and movies we used the MS650 in our main view­ing room for a full six weeks. A Blu-ray re­mas­ter­ing of The Dirty Dozen not only looked su­perb, truly movie-like on a big TCL UHD TV, it sounded great too — the brass blast­ing clear, bright and rich dur­ing the theme, the mil­i­tary band slam­ming its big drum beats with real im­pact. On the mag­nif­i­cently sound-di­rected

Twin Peaks (via Stan), dogs bark­ing over the open­ing scene of Episode 11 were so en­tirely nat­u­ral and en­vi­ron­men­tally de­liv­ered that we had to pause the episode to be sure they weren’t com­ing from out­side. The MS650 isn’t one to fuzzily phase things up to cre­ate a faux sur­round ef­fect, yet some­times it could sur­prise by the width and depth with which it would ren­der a good sound­track. We re­watched the mid­dle of Twin

Peaks Episode 8 for a fourth time — guts and seat-arms clenched as we were im­mersed once more in surely one of the most amaz­ing se­quences of sounds and images to be broad­cast via the lat­est age of stream­ing. The Sam­sung goes plenty loud when you want it, yet it nei­ther shouts in the midrange nor wal­lows in the usual flabby bass from a bar of this size and price.

We ended our re­view pe­riod back on mu­sic. The Sam­sung app gives you ac­cess to Spo­tify, Tidal, Deezer, TuneIn, net­work shares (via Wi-Fi through the app) and Mur­fie. But we could also say things to the Google Home de­vice in the room like “Hey Google, play Steve Hack­ett Ge­n­e­sis Re­vis­ited to the Oppo”, trig­ger­ing (via anal­y­sis in some US data farm) Spo­tify to play though a Chrome­cast plugged into the Oppo and thence on via HDMI to the Sam­sung bar. It seemed not to suf­fer from such rout­ing one bit, and again, we en­joyed ac­cu­racy, de­tail and mov­ing mu­si­cal­ity — this wasn’t just ‘good for a sound­bar’, it was price-com­pa­ra­ble stand­mount speaker qual­ity. And get them big bass ped­als on Hack­ett’s Af­ter­glow and on Shadow of the Heiro­phant’s spec­tac­u­larly ‘prog’ clos­ing an­them. Throb­bing Taurus bass ped­als. Com­ing from a bar. Just. A. Bar…

Con­clu­sion

There’s no way around this — the Sam­sung MS650 is one of the very few bars un­der $1000 we can rec­om­mend, and the first sound­bar we’ve ever lived with at any price where we haven’t been itch­ing to fin­ish re­view­ing and go back to the high qual­ity Ger­man speak­ers we use as our daily ref­er­ence, with monobloc power amps driv­ing them. This bar needs no wire­less sub­woofer to fit in your home — you could add one, and those wire­less rears, if you want that larger-scale cin­e­matic sound, but we like the bar alone, for its im­pres­sive but never over­whelm­ing bass (those small sub­woofers do tend to throb away when the ads come on, as­sum­ing, of course, you ever watch any­thing with ads these days). The MS650 has a hi-fi level of mu­si­cal­ity, and in this re­gard we think its per­for­mance to be un­prece­dented at the price.

Bal­ance... qual­ity... sound­bar. Never thought we’d be writ­ing those three words to­gether in a sen­tence.

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