Samsung HW-Q950A vs Sonos Arc which is better?

Samsung HW-Q950A vs Sonos Arc which is better?

When a reader recently asked my opinion on the Samsung HW-Q950A vs SONOS Arc I couldn’t wait to jump in and test these soundbar solutions. These are both premium soundbar systems that play at the top end so I went in expecting them to stand up well against anyone and each other.  I was not disappointed.

Plus, I’d already had the opportunity to get hands-on with the Sonos Arc when I wrote, “JBL 9.1 vs Sonos Arc, which is a better choice?”, back in September. That was a great deal of fun and I’d been hoping for the opportunity to put Sonos Arc soundbar up against stronger competition. The Samsung HW-Q950A certainly fits that bill.

Then, there is the very recent review done by a good friend that matched the Sonos Arc and the Samsung HW-Q950T, the predecessor to the HW-Q950A, done just a week before I jumped into this one, and interestingly, that turned out to be practically balanced. It’s titled “Sonos Arc vs Samsung HW-Q950T which is better?”.

So with curiosity piqued I was excited to jump on this one and as I said, these two competitors didn’t leave me the least bit disappointed.

Why Soundbars

If you’ve been following me you’ll know that I started as a true skeptic when it come to soundbars, and in fairness, they were little more than a bit of modern-looking hardware with very little pedigree. They were underpowered, unbalanced, and not worth the price of admission.

That seems ages ago and what was true back then has completely turned around today. The soundbar landscape has become a lush forest of soundbars that are well able to meet the challenges of the latest audio and video content. They are as capable as many traditional stereo component systems and when they’re matched to the right TV and adjusted for the physical space they’ll perform in, they just about match the experience you have when sitting in a movie theater.

I do own a component system. I use it primarily for music and especially for playing some of my old vinyl records but if it wasn’t for the vinyl, I could be very happy with many of the soundbars I’ve played with, including those from Samsung, Sonos, Klipsch, Bose, and others.

Remarkable Similarities – Two Glaring Difference

Both of these soundbars have a soundbar, a subwoofer, and two satellite speakers. They are practically the same size. Style-wise, the Samsung and the more traditional with its boxy design and fabric covering while the Sonos Arc brings some curves to that mix. Sonos also offers their soundbar in both black and white finishes.

Both of these soundbars support a full range of streaming services, including AirPlay and Spotify. They both support Dolby Atmos too. They also both support full-house installations where you can add satellite speakers anywhere as long as your router can deliver a WiFi signal.

Glaring Difference 1

The first glaring difference can be seen in the channel configurations of these two soundbars. The Sonos Arc is 7.1.2 channels but when you add satellite speakers two of the center channel speakers become disabled. That means the actual configuration is 5.1.2.

Compare this to the Samsung HW-Q950A is 11.1.4 channels and you can easily spot the glaring difference. Now add support for Q-Symphony when using a compatible Samsung Smart TV. This brings the two built-in speakers in the TV into the overall mix and that brings the total channel configuration to 13.1.4.

That is glaring but the question remains – how much of an impact does this have on the quality of the sound these soundbars deliver.

Glaring Difference 2

When you’re playing with systems at this price level a $1,000 difference in your total investment stands out as a glaring difference.

When buying the Sonos Arc you’ll be buying the soundbar, the subwoofer, and a pair of satellite speakers separately. The soundbar is listed on Amazon at $1,139. You then need to add the Sonos Sub, adding $854 to your total purchase price. To complete this package you’ll need a pair of Sonos One speakers. This adds $565 more. Your total for this Sonos Arc soundbar package will come in at $2,558 and while you may find some discounts, these prices don’t tend to move much.

In comparison, the Samsung HW-Q950A is sold as a single package. The normal price for this is commonly around the $1,498 range but with holiday sales you can often find this system at heavily discounted prices. The current Amazon price as of this writing is $1,295,

You may be thinking that it’s “Case Closed” at this point but hold on. Even with these two glaring differences, there are good reasons to keep an open mind with the Sonos Arc. Remember that this is a premium product offering from a premium player in Audio entertainment equipment. They, like Apple, can command premium prices because they consistently deliver top-end products.

The question then is, will performance justify cost differential?

Performance Specs:

Samsung HW-Q950A Sonos Arc + Woofer and Satellites
11.1.4 Channels 5.1.2 Channels
11 Soundbar speakers + 2 Upward Firing Drivers 7 Soundbar speakers + 2 Side Firing Drivers
8” Subwoofer Driver – Rear Ported 2 Force Cancelling Drivers – No porting required
Wireless Surround Sound (Subwoofer requires a power outlet, satellites are wireless) Wireless Surround Sound (subwoofer and satellite speakers require power connections)
Wired power Wired Power
Dolby Atmos, DTS:X Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
1 HDMI in 1 Digital optical adaptor
1 HDMI Out eArc only
HDMI ARC / eARC HDMI ARC / eARC
Supports Chromecast, Airplay 2, and Bluetooth Supports Chromecast, Airplay 2, and Bluetooth
Syncs with Alexa & Google Built-in support for Alexa & Google
820w Power output 512w Power output

Side by Side Impressions

First, the build on the Sonos Arc is solid, made from premium plastic, and unlike the Q950A, it is available in both black and white. It is nice to have choices but I think either one looks better than the fabric-covered Samsung HW-Q950A. With fewer speakers, it’s lighter than the Samsung but still, the length of this soundbar is only 10cm shorter.

The Samsung HW-Q950A is also well built and with the additional built-in speakers, it weighs a bit more, giving it an even more substantial feel. Without the curves that are present with the Sonos Arc, this sense of chunky substance is further enhanced. If only the fabric covering was swapped for something that attracts less dust…

The Sonos Arc has a single HDMI eARC connection. This is paired with a single ethernet connector for direct connections to your router. While sufficient, it is limiting, especially when compared to the Samsung soundbar and its 2 HDMI inputs, plus the eARC connector, and digital audio input. That means that the Samsung soundbar allows direct connection for devices like Blueray players and set-top boxes while still leaving space to grow. The Sonos Arc has no room at all.

The eARC connector allows the TV remote to take full control of the soundbar so you can use both TV and soundbar from a single remote. This connection also helps improve the quality of the sound by eliminating compression issues that can otherwise come into play with a connection like optical. This is equally true for both the HW-Q950A and the Sonos Arc.

Both of these soundbars support Dolby Almos but only the Samsung soundbar offers native DTS:X so those movies you’re watching from your Blueray player will deliver a far better viewing experience. You can also get this with the Sonos Arc but how they implement this makes it feel a bit flat. This is likely because their implementation eliminates the high speakers.

Both of these soundbars have well-designed Apps that allow a significant amount of control over the quality of the sound they produce, but there are a few important differences. With the Samsung App, you get a software solution that is well-designed but not specific to the soundbar. The App is designed to work with all the products in the Samsung Smartthings Lineup, including soundbars, TVs, and even your WiFi-connected refrigerator. The App that drives the Sonos Arc is purpose-built for the Arc and while that might seem better, it does nothing more than what you get with the Smartthings App.

These soundbars also deliver impressive sound enhancements that are automatically adjusted for your listening space. With the Samsung HW-Q950A, this is accomplished automatically, using a built-in sampling microphone set at the top of the soundbar.

With Sonos Arc, this is accomplished using the App as the sampling device and this means that you can move through the listening space as you sample the sound quality. This arguably improves the result. There is a drawback though. This only works with an iPhone so if you’re an Android user you’ll be making manual adjustments that may or may not achieve the best results.

They also do an equally good job delivering clear dialog during the most intense action scenes. The SmartThings App has a dedicated voice enhancement setting while the only way to improve this with the Arc is to pump up the center channel volume by a click or two. Neither needs these adjustments though.

Both soundbars pair well with TVs that are 55 inches or bigger. With smaller TVs, both of these will appear to be overkill. Both soundbars can be set in front of the TV or can be mounted to the wall. With the Samsung HW-Q950A package, all of the mounting equipment is included. They include a template as we so drilling holes and setting anchors is quick and simple.

With the Sonos Arc, you can also mount it to the wall but the hardware for this is sold separately and will add about $79 to the total cost. This also comes with a template and easy-to-follow mounting instructions.

With both soundbar systems, the satellite speakers come without any mounting hardware. These will have to be purchased separately. With Sonos, the hardware is purpose build for the Sonos One speakers. With Samsung, you will be using most any generic mounting bracket designed for satellite speakers.

The most eye-catching difference in the design features of these two soundbar systems is the design of the subwoofers. The Q950A is your typical subwoofer box, with cushioned feet, a solid wood box, and a port at the rear. With the Sonos Sub, you’re getting something that appears much more futuristic and with its offset drivers, it’s also technically very different.

Both deliver solid bass performance but with the offsetting drivers the Sonos Bass delivers a noticeable thumpyness, and yes, I know that’s not a word but I can’t think of a better way to convey the feeling that a powerful low-end thump delivers. If you like bass that slams into you then Sonos is the better choice. Still, the Samsung Q950A does a great job with bass performance as well, and if you weren’t comparing these two side-by-side, you’re unlikely to be even slightly disappointed.

The next significant difference is found in the satellite speakers. With the included satellites in the Samsung package, you’ll have 3 drivers in each, one forward-firing, one side-firing, and one upward-firing. With the Sonos One’s there is a subwoofer and a tweeter that are both forward-facing. The impact of this is most noticeable in the middle of the frequency range and with the separation created by Dobly Atmos.

Now that you have a sense of where these two soundbars systems match up and where they are different, let’s talk about what happens when the rubber hits the road, or in this case, when sounds start bouncing off walls.

Both do an outstanding job delivering an immersive movie viewing experience. Dolby Atmos has been effectively implemented, and with the range of individual speakers in the soundbar systems, they achieve excellent surround sound performance. However, with the additional channels and the additional speakers in the satellites, the Samsung HW-Q950A delivers a subtly better experience.

For music though, the differences are muddier and depend a lot on the type of music you listen to most often. The Q950A does a better job of delivering details, with each voice and instrument coming through with distinction. You hear the individual horns and strings with this soundbar and this is especially important when you want to experience all of the nuances the artist intended.

The Sonos Arc does a better job with the bottom end of the frequency range. The Sonos Bass and its 2 force-canceling drivers deliver more punch so if you’re listening to modern dance music, rap, and pop, this soundbar is going to put a bit more spring in your dance step.

On balance though, and considering the cost difference, there is only one answer to the question – Samsung HW-Q950A vs Sonos Arc, Which is better?, and that answer is the Samsung HW-Q950A. Even if you’re really into thumping bass lines, the Sonos Arc just doesn’t do enough. As good as it is, it isn’t that much better than the HW-Q950A, especially when you consider the significant price difference.

That’s my 2-cents worth at any rate. What do you think?

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