Soundbar systems are usually considered as modest, budget-friendly step ups from the underpowered speakers built in to most televisions. And many soundbar systems - especially those with a separate powered subwoofer - do a very good job of elevating the audio quality far beyond what your TV could muster.
Though traditionally, soundbar systems do not gather the adoration reserved for a dedicated audio system like a multi-speaker (5.1, 7.1 or even 9.2 + AV receiver) surround system, which can easily cost ten times more than a sound bar.
This Spring, Samsung introduced the HW-J8500 soundbar that definitely challenges the concept of what a soundbar can sound and look like.
Simply, this curved soundbar with its beefy subwoofer can fill a living room with the kind of high fidelity audio that you might expect from one of those more expensive multi-speaker dedicated audio systems.
Then again, the HW-J8500 is perched at the top of the Samsung line of subwoofers and it's endowed with 9.1 channel discreet center and side-firing speakers that are capable of a total 350 watt output (161W Subwoofer, 189W Soundbar).
And it does sell for around $1100 (at the time of this publication date), which is in the range of a modest A/V receiver plus a 5.1 surround speaker bundle. It's little wonder that this captivating curved soundbar blurs the lines, it's basically a multi-speaker system wrapped into one eye-catching package.
Of course, for that price, Samsung has provided this soundbar with a range of the connectivity options including Bluetooth, which allows it to communicate with all your Bluetooth enabled smartphones, phablets, tablets and plain old computers.
And as a bonus, this unit can integrate into Samsung's Wireless Multiroom ecosystem.
Out of the Box
The HW-J8500's gentle sweeping curve matches the arc of Samsung's curved TVs. And is a great complement to their flagship series curved 4K SUHD TVs, especially the 65 and 78-inch models. The soundbar can be wall mounted with the hardware supplied in the box.
Beyond the curve, the HW-J8500's stock black exterior helps it recede into the background, affirming that old adage that soundbars should be heard and not seen. Importantly, the bar is less than two and a half inches high. Therefore, when sitting on the stand in front of the TV, it should not impede the IR signals that your remote sends to the TV.
Inside the sound bar are seven front firing speakers and two side-firing speakers, which expand the sound field in the room.
The 161W powered eight-inch ported bass reflex subwoofer connects to the 189W sound bar wirelessly. The two are paired out of the box. Of course, the subwoofer still needs to be plugged into a wall outlet for power.
The manual states, "The maximum transmission distance of the wireless signal between the main unit and subwoofer is about 32.8 ft, but may vary depending on your operating environment. If a steel-concrete or metallic wall is between the main unit and the wireless subwoofer, the system may not operate at all, because the wireless signal cannot penetrate metal. " It also cautions, "If you use a device that uses the same frequency (2.4GHz) as the Soundbar near the Soundbar, interference may cause some sound interruption."
On the top of the soundbar are Power, Volume and Source controls. Your selections are displayed on the LCD panel. Its white lights illuminate from behind the black speaker grille mesh on the front.
On the bottom of the unit is the connection panel. Samsung designers have furnished one Analog Audio Aux In (3.5mm stereo mini-jack), one LAN port for a wired network connection, and one HDMI In and one HDMI out (TV-ARC compatible) and one Optical Digital Audio In (S/PDIF).
For connecting wirelessly, the HW-J8500 includes an integrated Wi-Fi adapter. Next to the power cord input on the back is a recessed button to assist in Wi-Fi setup (consult the manual). And alongside it is another recessed button labeled SPK ADD. The manual states, "Press this button to connect the Soundbar to a Samsung HUB. (not supplied)"
Finally, on the back is one USB port for connecting USB devices such as MP3 players and flash drives.
The compact (1.5" x 5.25"), non-backlit, textured black remote control contains the basic buttons including one for selecting Input sources, like USB and Bluetooth. .
In addition, it also provides dedicated ones that directly access submenus for features like Sound Effect (with presets for Standard, Music, Voice, Sports, Cinema and Night modes), Sound Control (for setting Treble and Bass) and Subwoofer (volume adjustment).
If your TV is mounted on the wall, then the sound bar is usually mounted right under it. Except for concealing the wires, the procedure is straightforward.
If your TV is sitting on its stand, the HW-J8500 can be placed right in front of it. And if the TV is curved, the soundbar nestles nicely in the arc.
The manual also illustrates how you can attach the soundbar to your TV's stand if you have a Samsung TV that has a stand that is compatible with this soundbar. The manual does not suggest that you stack the TV directly on the soundbar. In fact, it states, "Do not place heavy items on the main unit."
The subwoofer comes with four little cover feet that you need to attach to the unit.
As for locating the wireless subwoofer, you need to stay within the suggested 32.8-foot range and near a power outlet. The only other advice the manual gives is "For optimal listening performance, make sure that the area around the wireless subwoofer location is clear of any obstructions."
The subwoofer should be paired with the sound bar out of the box. If they get decoupled, the manual explains how to re-pair them.
Next, you need to connect the TV to the sound bar. The common way to attach this HW-J8500 to your TV is with an HDMI cable from the HDMI out (TV-ARC compatible) on the soundbar to an HDMI (ARC compatible) connector on your TV.
But if you have a Samsung TV with the TV SoundConnect feature, you can hook up the soundbar to your TV wirelessly via Bluetooth. You will still need to plug in the soundbar to an electrical outlet, but at least you won't need an unsightly HDMI cable running between the two units.
With this system all of the connections from devices like set top boxes and Blu-ray players go directly to the TV (or the Samsung One Connect box) and then the audio is sent from the TV to the sound bar wirelessly. It's an elegant solution.
If your TV is not SoundConnect enabled but does have an ARC (Audio Return Channel) HDMI, then you can run an HDMI cable from that HDMI connector to the HDMI In on the sound bar. Once again, the TV receives all the audio and visual signals from the set top devices and directs the audio to the HW-J8500.
One of the two above methods should work with the newer Samsung curved TVs. If you are hooking this curved soundbar to a TV that is neither SoundConnect nor ARC enabled but does have a digital audio output, then you can connect it to the sound bar's optical digital input.
Finally, if for some reason you are connecting to a TV that is neither SoundConnect, ARC nor digital audio enabled, then you can run an analog audio cable between the TV and sound bar. It won't give you the greatest audio quality but it works.
There's yet another possibility. You can connect a set top box directly to the sound bar with an HDMI cable. In this case, the sound bar is inputting both audio and video. The HW-J8500 plays the audio and sends the video out through its HDMI Out and into the TV's HDMI In.
This solution contains a couple of shortcomings. First, if your system has more than one HDMI source, like a set top box and a game console, then you will need some sort of switcher to select the source to send to the one HDMI In on the sound bar.
In addition, if you think one HDMI cable behind the sound bar is unappealing, two cables can be distasteful, especially if you are planning to wall mount the unit.
I realize the setup might sound more difficult than it actually is. Once you decide on a connection method, the procedure should only take a couple of minutes.
And Bluetooth pairing an iPad or an Android device to the sound bar often only takes seconds. (Remember that the recommended range for streaming between Bluetooth devices is about 33 feet.) And using an MP3 player or flash drive inserted in the USB port is plug and play.
The HW-J8500 sound bar does handle Dolby Digital and DTS audio signals, and the formats listed in the table.
With the HW-J8500, Samsung makes an almost convincing argument that a soundbar + subwoofer can substitute for a dedicated surround sound system - almost. The J8500 sounds damn good with enough power to fill a medium sized room.
The audio quality is clean and well-defined. The nine speakers in the soundbar provide good separation of channels. With every type of music that I spun, the HW-J8500 performed quite well. And when watching TV, the dialogue is easy to hear and comprehend. If you want it even more distinct, then switch the Sound Effect to Voice.
My one reservation is that even with those side-firing speakers, the soundbar just can't achieve that true surround sound field that satellite speakers placed behind you can produce. For most content, you may never notice the difference between this HW-J8500 and a five, seven or nine speaker system. Of course, if you are a big action movie fan, then go with the latter.
Though if you desire the deep muscle massage that a beefy subwoofer can deliver, than the 161W eight-inch unit won't disappoint. The playback of the deep bass of a Gregorian chant can reach in and vibrate your soul. You can adjust subwoofer volume separate from the system volume.
The six Sound Effects (Standard, Music, Voice, Sports, Cinema and Night modes) have their own personalities and are worth testing on different types of audio content.
Finally, you can perform some minor Tone tweaks on Treble and Bass.
With the HW-J8500's $1700 list price, Samsung has left no doubt that they consider this soundbar as a premium product. And indeed, the unit's design and audio quality place it in that category. Currently, on their website, Samsung is listing the J8500 at $1100, which is a significant reduction. But I still wouldn't necessarily call it a bargain, even with the nine speaker layout.
Then again if you are paying almost $10,000 for the top of the line 78-inch Samsung 4K SUHD JS9500, the matching curved HW-J8500 would be a great - and comparatively inexpensive - companion.
If you are looking for a curved soundbar to pair with one of Samsung's smaller curved TV's, Samsung offers a number of more moderately priced choices like the 6.1 Channel HW-J6500 for around $500.
Samsung's HW-J8500 curved 9.1 channel soundbar with wireless subwoofer delivers the power and high fidelity that places it firmly in the class of dedicated multi-speaker systems.
With its gentle curved design, the soundbar is a perfect fit with Samsung's 65 and 78-inch curved SUHD TVs. If the J8500's over $1000 price tag gives you pause, Samsung does offer other more moderately priced curved models.