For those of you familiar with my reviews, and specifically, my speaker reviews—you may already be aware of my rule of 3 when it comes to speakers: The Budget speaker, the Go-To speaker, and the Beast. And, while I’m not necessarily a proponent of spoilers, I may have just stumbled across my “Beast” replacement. But, I’ll Tarantino it back for you and break it down bit by bit.
The notion of a big, beefy speaker that can put all your other speakers in their place is something that is simultaneously deliciously tempting and financially excessive. My current Beast is a near 10-year-old XtremeMac iPod dock that puts out some seriously heavy sound. The bass is heavy, it is extremely loud, and while not designed for mobility (it doesn’t have a built-in battery) you can certainly bring it out to your garage for some tunes outdoors. And by the way, I think it cost me all of $120…although the 30-pin connector is bent and the bluetooth doesn’t work anymore, a line-in plug is all I need (unless I’m connecting it to a phone without a headphone jack).
I’ve been searching for the better part of the last 5 years for a replacement to the Beast, and since the portable speaker market has exploded with Hiroshima-sized output, you’d think I’d have no issue finding a suitable understudy. And throughout those 5 years I’ve purchased (and in most cases, returned) probably a half-dozen speakers that I had hoped to be contenders.
At the level of performance I’ve gotten from the Beast, I’d expect to pay probably between $200 and $300 for a 2017 replacement, noting that at the high-end that is 2.5 times what I paid for a speaker nearly a decade ago. The problem is, the portable speaker market is more focused on, well, portable speakers—and that’s just not what I’m looking for. I had hoped to find a slightly lower quality speaker (from a frequency balance perspective) that brought home the bacon, so to speak. Sadly, though, my expectations were too high.
What I did find is a speaker that, while its price exceeds my budget by 33%, its performance far exceeds my expectations for a device in the Beast category…and for that reason, has unseated my decade-old sound equipment.
Bear in mind one caveat—I know I keep saying “speaker,” yet the review title indicates this is a soundbar. So perhaps to answer your question, yes, I understand that most decent soundbars can out-perform ten-year-old low or mid-tier bluetooth speakers. But that’s not what this is about…I’m not really looking for a soundbar, or at least not specifically. Soundbars can’t be great soundbars unless they are great speakers, and that is where this review comes in.
The product is the Samsung HW-M5650 Soundbar, in Samsung’s Sound+ lineup. There are multiple in the lineup specifically designed for Samsung TVs, and more precisely for the 2017 or newer panels which will integrate the soundbar’s controls into your existing remote. Sadly, my panel is from Samsung’s 2016 lineup, so I’m stuck using separate stock remotes that are visually very similar…truly first-world problems.
So how does one, in 2017, pick a suitable soundbar for your set up? Well, I’d look first to my preferred or existing surround sound manufacturer to determine if they have a soundbar option—and pick it up to maintain cohesiveness there. If you’re like me, though, and you don’t have a surround sound system, look next to your preferred speaker manufacturer and see what they have to offer. I’ll admit that Samsung’s unification of TV and Soundbar controls is a nice touch, and assume that other manufacturers either have or will follow suit…so matching your panel for design cohesiveness is always a nice approach if the others fail.
From a design perspective, this soundbar is impressively sturdy. At nearly 14 pounds and 3.5 feet long, this isn’t something you’re going to want to carry around. In that sense, it fulfills its role well as a soundbar and less as a bluetooth speaker…but as I’ll cover shortly, in almost any room in my house, I can hear the thing just fine if I want to.
The entire body of the unit is matte black with a glossy black speaker grill on the front, and along the right side of the device are the volume, source and power buttons. On the right side of the front is a small display sitting behind the speaker grill that indicates volume levels, source choice, paired devices, and other relevant things you might want to know about your sound experience (like mode information). Although it sits behind the grill, it is perfectly visible and easy to read provided you’re directly in front of it; at an angle it’s more difficult to read the display.
From an input perspective, Samsung provided a 4K HDMI pass-through as well as a power pass-through (Samsung One Cable purchased separately) to reduce cable clutter. Otherwise, there is an optical audio input along with a 3.5mm analog jack, and the device supports both bluetooth and wi-fi connectivity.
The bar combines 9 separate internal speakers, all with dedicated amps, and among other things (like HDR, a variety of sound modes and wireless surround sound support), my favorite feature by far is the built in distortion cancelling features that make this a phenomenal speaker experience.
Yes, that was my transition to the fun part.
With all of the tech that Samsung packs into this speaker, the experience is every bit as rich as you’d expect from a high-quality Samsung product. At every frequency, this thing puts out some serious sound—and without heavy distortion. The bass is so heavy and full that the device will only be limited by the surface it is mounted on, as the vibration of the speaker against my TV stand is the only off-putting sound coming from that corner of my living room. The mids are clear and crisp, and the highs are sharp, pointy and precise.
And, it gets loud…as in really, really loud. This is the speaker I’d use at a block party, provided I had an extension cord to power it. I’m a bit of an audio nut, and although my hearing after retirement will certainly suffer as a result, I like music, shows and movies to be loud…when it’s important (I’ve always said, The Notebook is better muted anyway). Seldom do I find a speaker or a set of headphones that get so loud that I’m not at 80% of the device’s capacity, or more. But, I’ve now met my match in the Sound+ soundbar, as I couldn’t stand 100% volume in the same room for more than a minute or two. That said, if I were vacuuming, or cleaning the basement, or jack-hammering my driveway—the soundbar gets plenty loud to not require I move it with me, although my neighbors may not be so appreciative. Maybe that’s why the lady next door is moving out.
Well I’m sure you get it by now. Loud, great build quality, excellent balance at all frequencies. So then what? Well, if you’re in the market for a soundbar at a $400 price range, and specifically if you’re looking to match with an existing Samsung TV — and most certainly if you’re Samsung TV is a 2017 or newer model, this soundbar is a great fit. That’s not to say proud LG or Vizio owners should pass; it is a fine soundbar for just about anyone looking to spend that kind of money on some home entertainment audio quality.
A nice bonus here is the ability to add wireless surround at some point in the future, as this device will integrate seamlessly with Samsung’s Rear Wireless Speaker Kit for another $180…although I’m not sure that’s a requirement considering the feature set on the device. While it doesn’t give you a true surround sound experience without extra hardware, it does a great job emulating the experience regardless of where you’re sitting in the room.
And, obviously if you’re not in the market you’re not reading this, so I don’t have to worry much about the non-buyer. But, I’d imagine that the soundbar market is much like the portable speaker market: highly saturated and entirely subjective from a user experience perspective. At least from Best Buy and most online retailers, picking this one up and test driving it (with the option to return within a certain time period) is one of the better ways to give it a shot. If you’re interested, though, I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
One precaution, believe it or not, is its size. At almost 42 inches long, this soundbar may be too wide for your current TV stand. A lot of this depends upon your TV size, which usually drives the TV stand’s size. I find a 49” TV to be ideally sized for my living room, and my TV stand is ideally sized for a TV up to a 49” diagonal…but not so much for a 42” long sound bar. Wall mounting is certainly an option for the bar as much as it is for TVs, and with the power pass-through cable from Samsung that becomes a bit easier (not to mention, the included wall-mount brackets).
Otherwise, this thing is a home run in many ways. Price seems to be the sticking point with most people, and while a good speaker is always going cost you some coin, at $399 this one may be a bit out of the price range for most. That said, there are some soundbars that play in the $600+ range, and in that sense this soundbar (which sounds great and has a great feature set) puts you right in the middle of the field of options. You can definitely get good sound spending less, but for what you get I’d call the Samsung Sound+ competitively priced with a fair feature set.