Samsung's Sound+ HW-MS650 ($399.99) is a three-channel soundbar that uses nine built-in speakers (three tweeters and six mid/bass drivers), each with a dedicated amplifier. Samsung touts the HW-MS650 as a one-box solution that doesn't require a subwoofer to produce full-range sound--so the package doesn't include the wireless sub that comes with many similarly priced systems. There are also no surround speakers, although Samsung does offer the optional SWA-9000S wireless rear speaker kit for $179.99 if you want to create a more complete, enveloping soundfield.
The connection panel includes one HDMI, one optical digital, and one auxiliary input, as well as one HDMI output with ARC (Audio Return Channel) support. The HDMI ports support 3D, 4K/60p, and HDR pass-through. The unit also has built-in Bluetooth and dual-band Wi-Fi, which allows the soundbar to become part of a whole-home audio system complete with music streaming from Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Rhapsody, SiriusXM, and Amazon Music via the Samsung Multi-room App for your mobile device.
The HW-MS650 has a basic black-box look. It measures 42 inches long by three inches high by five inches deep. Although five inches is deeper than most HDTVs, should you choose to mount this soundbar above or below your screen, it's still quite unobtrusive. A special mount kit is sold separately that allows you to mount the bar directly to your Samsung TV instead of the having to attach an additional mount to your wall.
Samsung also sells a curved version of this soundbar, which provides a better visual match for those who own a curved TV. The Curved HW-MS6500/ZA costs an extra $30, or $429.99.
I'm not sure why HDTVs come with sound systems at all anymore, since the demand for thinner and thinner TV cabinets translates into thinner and thinner sound. I guess I understand the need to have the TV work out of the box, with no requirement that you buy another product--and I'm sure some people are okay with the "big picture, small sound" approach. For readers of this website, however, let's assume you are interested in getting something better than the sound that comes with your HDTV ... way better. Can you get that for under $500, and can you really get that without a subwoofer? Perhaps as importantly, will the system be something I can easily hook up, operate, and maybe even mount on the wall by myself?
With the Sound+ HW-MS650, the answer is no ... and yes. You do get the simplicity, as well as some bass from the soundbar's drivers. However, you don't really get the thump. I demoed a few movie genres (action, drama, and comedy) and various music tracks (everything from jazz to EDM)--including Peter Berg's Patriots Day (CBS Films / Lionsgate) for a movie reference and William Onyeabor's "Fantastic Man" for music. I found that the HW-MS650 performed respectably for the price point. It's way better than the tiny and tinny speakers in most HDTVs. The soundbar has a dedicated center channel, and dialogue was clear. Plus, the wide-axis sound dispersion was pleasantly even.
Is there enough impact from the bottom end ... you know, the low-frequency energy that Samsung says you can get from this one-piece wonder? No. It's a very rich and full-sounding single-speaker enclosure, but it's just not able to take the place of a standalone subwoofer for movies or music. There is bass, and you can hear it--you just don't feel it.
• The HW-MS650 is available in a curved or flat form factor to match your TV type.
• Dialogue is clear, and the soundbar delivers nicely even dispersion across a wide sweet spot.
• Setup is fast and easy. The one-piece design simplifies setup and placement, and HDMI pass-through (including 3D, 4K, and HDR) is available.
• Aside from good left/center/right imaging, the soundbar lacks the 360-degree immersion of other competing systems. If you want a real sense of envelopment, you'll need to add the optional wireless rear speakers.
• The lack of a subwoofer really hurts this one-piece system's ability to provide impact and punch with movies and tight bass extension with music.
Comparison and Competition
There are a lot of soundbars available to choose from in and around this price point (sub-$500), including the LG Soundbar Flex SJ7 ($399.99) (you can read my recent review here), the Vizio SmartCast SB3651-E6 ($250), and the Yamaha YAS-203 ($399.99). Bose, Klipsch, and JBL have models in this price range, too. Most of them come with a separate wireless subwoofer.
If you really want a one-piece solution that doesn't require a subwoofer, you might consider buying a soundbase instead. These single-box solutions have bigger cabinets (designed to sit underneath your TV) and thus are better able to reproduce the lower frequencies. A few options include ZVOX's 770 SoundBase ($499.99), Sony's HT-XT1 ($299.99), and Fluance's AB40 ($249.99).
Why does Samsung offer a soundbar system without a subwoofer? The company has said that research shows a large number of potential soundbar shoppers who simply don't want a subwoofer. If that describes you, then the Sound+ HW-MS650 is a solid solution that's not too expensive. Just understand that you will be sacrificing some lower-end presence. There is one clear case where I would recommend this system--that is, if you own a curved Samsung TV. I would then unhesitatingly recommend the Curved HW-MS6500/ZA. Its performance is good, and aesthetically it's a perfect match.
• Visit the Samsung website for more product information.
• Check out our Soundbars category page to read similar reviews.
• Samsung Announces MU Series of UHD TVs at HomeTheaterReview.com.
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