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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Speakers

We compare Sonos and Samsung's best sound systems

Sonos Playbase and Samsung HW-K950 sound bar systems come to blows in the CNET listening room.

The Samsung HW-K950 and Sonos Playbase are two of the finest sound systems I've heard in ages. The HW-K950 is a four-piece sound bar-wireless subwoofer-wireless surround speaker system with a $1,299/£1,299/AU$1,999 price tag, and the PlayBase is a $699/£699/AU$999 sound base. Both were favorably reviewed by Ty Pendlebury here on CNET, and those reviews have in-depth information about the products.

Samsung HW-K950

The first thing you'll notice about the HW-K950's sound is the way it completely fills a room, a feat few sound bars can match. That's because most 'bars only spread sound across the front wall of a room. In addition to the sound bar, the HW-K950 system has a pair of wireless surround speakers, and not only that, those speakers each have two sets of drivers. One forward-firing driver, and a second upward-firing one, aimed toward the ceiling. The HW-K950's sound bar has a similar arrangement with up-firing drivers required for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based surround sound.

The Samsung HW-K950 system

Sarah Tew/CNET

So it's no wonder the HW-K950 produces such an immersive sound. With my favorite Atmos Blu-ray, "Gravity," the sounds of the astronauts voices moving through space were well reproduced by the HW-K950, though I wasn't as aware of the height effect of their voices moving up as I had with the Pioneer Elite SP-EFS73 speaker system, paired with an Atmos AV receiver. Granted, separates-based systems are far more expensive than the HW-K950, but in terms of producing the full Atmos or DTS-X experience, there's no doubt, separates are far more effective.

That said, the HW-K950's sound floated free of the speakers with the scenes in "Gravity" where astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) moves around and through different chambers in the International Space Station, and I was immersed in the sounds of buzzing and beeping electronics, air circulation systems and the film's music score.

When I popped on Mel Gibson's World War II film, "Hacksaw Ridge," to test the HW-K950's home-theater stamina with a barrage of explosions and onscreen mayhem the HW-K950 didn't flinch. It was so good I almost forgot I was listening to a sound bar system. That's high praise indeed!

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The Samsung HW-K950 and Sonos Playbase

Samsung/Sonos

Sonos Playbase and more!

With the "Avatar" Blu-ray, ­­the Sonos Playbase's sound was lively, clear, with a big and spacious image. Dialogue was remarkably natural. Bass was plentiful, which also made the Playbase sound a lot bigger than it really is. Even so, I couldn't resist adding the Sonos Sub ($699/£699/AU$999) to the Playbase, and that subwoofer propelled the sound to the next level. The Sonos Sub is far and away the best sub I've heard with any sound bar or base system. The bass is deep, defined and taut. It not only blended well with the Playbase, together they increased the system's dynamic range and impact.

The Playbase/Sonus Sub system played rock, dance, jazz and classical music with ease. The tonal balance was smooth, and this system can play loud without sounding like it's working very hard.

Things were going so well I added a pair of Sonos Play:3s ($299/£299/AU$395 each) for use as wireless surround speakers. They all but disappeared as sound sources, and with the Playbase, they united to seamlessly fill the room with sound. Continuing with action sequences from "Avatar," the HW-K950 system was nowhere as potent and dynamically alive as the Sonos Playbase-Sub-Play:3 system. However, the Sonos system doesn't have Dolby Atmos and DTS:X surround capabilities, so it lacked the HW-K950's ability to add a vertical dimension to the sound.

Even so, I still preferred the Sonos system for its superior clarity, dialogue intelligibility, dynamic punch and potent bass -- it's simply terrific. Yes, it is expensive, but a worthy upgrade over the Samsung HW-K950. Then again, for $1,299 the HW-K950 is no slouch, and its performance is ahead of the Playbase on its own.