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Samsung HW-MS650 review: Lose the subwoofer, drop the bass

Sound is invisible. Sound bars are not. People want sound bars to be invisible. The Samsung HW-MS650 makes the subwoofer disappear. You've got to start somewhere.

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7.7

Samsung HW-MS650

The Good

The Samsung HW-MS650 offers very good music replay and an excellent array of features, especially for Samsung TV owners. The sound bar features HDMI in and out with 4K support, and its array of Wi-Fi features are second-to-none.

The Bad

Lightweight bass leads to less-intense sound with movies. Wi-Fi streaming your TV's sound is more hassle than just connecting a cable.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung HW-MS650 boasts advanced technology and a pleasing sound, but can't match the bass of competitors with separate subwoofers.

The Samsung is an "all-in-one" sound bar which integrates an onboard woofer instead of requiring an additional box to lurk in your living room corner. Does this approach work? It can, as in the case of the excellent, bass-rich Zvox SB500. In Samsung's instance though, it's a little reticent when it comes to bass, and there isn't yet the option to add a sub if you want more. Samsung informs us it is readying a separate wireless sub for later in 2017.

Feature-wise it's right there with plenty of connectivity, and its ability to pass-though 4K HDR means it will remain future-proof for the time being. If you want something that's easy to hook up and which will also do streaming music, the Samsung is a fine option. However at the price rivals such as Yamaha and Zvox can put up a better performance, especially when it comes to watching movies.

The Samsung HW-MS650 is available now for $450, £549 or $799.

Design

Most sound bars, like the HW-MS650, are designed not to draw attention to themselves. The Samsung offers a gun-metal body and a black steel grille at the front, which is intended to mirror the flagship HW-K950 and HW-K850 models.

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Sarah Tew/CNET


Along the right-hand side of the speaker you'll find the capacitive control panel with a power switch, input selector and volume buttons. At the front right lives the corresponding LED display, which indicates volume level and inputs. One thing we found with the display is that the grille can obscure the text, particularly if you are off-axis.The bar lacks an onscreen display, so the LED and the Samsung Multiroom app are the two ways to adjust the sound bar's settings.

As a speaker the Samsung is fairly compact at 3 inches high, but you should watch that it doesn't block your TV's infrared sensor. The speaker is 41.7 inches long, which should meld well with a 46-inch screen.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The speaker comes with a pair of wallmount brackets in the box, but as the speaker juts out five inches into your room you'll want to be sure your wall can handle its 13.7 pounds (6.2 kg) weight.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The Samsung comes with a stylish control wand, based on the company's TV remotes, that offers most controls you'd want including volume, bass level and a settings button.

Features

The $420 HW-MS650 is a 3.0-channel sound bar, and its features are commensurate with its price. It's here where it gets the better of its main rival, the Zvox SB500. First and foremost, the HW-MS650 offers not only a 4K HDR-ready HDMI in-out but also Samsung's Multiroom music app. The app offers access to a dozen different streaming services including Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio and Tidal.

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Sarah Tew/CNET


In addition to HDMI and Wi-Fi, the HW-MS650 also includes a digital optical connection, USB and an analog input. Uniquely the sound bar also includes a power input that enables you to connect your (2017 Samsung) TV and only require one power socket in the wall. This is designed to go hand-in-hand with the ONe Mount (sold separately), which attaches your TV to your sound bar.

While previous sound bars have enabled users to add Samsung wireless speakers (read: surrounds) via the Multiroom app, the HW-MS650 has its own dedicated set. The SWA-9000S consists of a wireless module and two wired surrounds and runs $179 extra.

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Samsung Multiroom app

Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Multiroom also lets you sync your sound bar to your Samsung TV via Wi-Fi, which could be handy if you use your TV as a connection hub. We tested this feature and found the sync went in and out, and for some reason we weren't able to cycle through the Sound options to correct the sync with the remote. Connecting an HDMI cable between the two components is a lot easier.

Listening tests

The Samsung HW-MS650 doesn't require speaker setup or calibration, so once the cables were hooked up we were good to go. The HW-MS650 has a way with movie dialogue; it sounded natural and articulate, and overall clarity was impressive, but this sound bar doesn't do room-shaking bass or dish out big dynamics with gusto. It just goes about its business playing movies and music without calling attention to itself, which is a good thing.

It's a three-channel -- left, center, right -- sound bar, so we didn't expect (or get) a big, room-filling sound from the HW-MS650, but when we played the "La La Land" Blu-ray, it was the clarity of the sound of struggling jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) playing in clubs and in the studio that made the strongest impression. The HW-MS650 made all the right moves, except the bass was lightweight, so we turned it all the way up and still wanted more. The CNET listening room is relatively small, just 11 by 20 feet, and most $400-to-$500 sound bars have no trouble making adequate bass in that space.

Justin Hurwitz's jazzy "La La Land" score's tone was lush, but the front soundstage was flat and lacked depth. The HW-MS650 excelled with reproducing voices with natural tone, and that's something that you can't always get with sound bars.

With the World War II drama "Hacksaw Ridge" the HW-MS650 couldn't deliver the full intensity of the battlefield scenes, but when we swapped out the HW-MS650 for the Zvox SB500, almost everything got a lot better. The Zvox sounded bigger and brawnier when artillery blasts were going full-tilt, and returning to the HW-MS650 reduced the scale and impact of the film, so it was a lot less satisfying. True, the HW-MS650 doesn't come with a wireless subwoofer, but neither does the SB500 which on its own proves it is possible to get a big sound from a subwoofer-less system. On the upside, dialogue via the HW-MS650 remained clear even when the combat escalated, and it was a little better than what we got from the SB500. With straight dramatic films the HW-MS650 was at its best.

Stereo music files displayed another side of the HW-MS650's talents. John Mayer's "The Search for Everything" album's gorgeous production bloomed, and vocals were crisp and clear. Bass definition was pretty good, but nowhere as full as the SB500's low-end. Even so, we enjoyed listening to Tom Petty's "Mojo" album at low to moderate volume levels up to a point, but the HW-MS650 isn't a party speaker.

Final thoughts

The Samsung HW-MS650 is a competent, amply featured sound bar, and its array of features should appeal to people who want something beyond "make my TV sound better". However the Samsung faces stiff competition from not only the Zvox SB500, but also the Vizio SB4551-D5 which also offers true surround sound. Just be aware that the Vizio, and to a lesser extent the Zvox, can't hold a candle to the Samsung HW-MS650's sound for music. If playing tunes is important to you, then the Samsung might be a good option.

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7.7

Samsung HW-MS650

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Sound 6Value 8