Whether gimmick or game-changer, curved TVs are here to stay – but sadly so is the typically inadequate sound quality. Soundbars provide the solution, but a straight one looks odd in front of a curved TV. That’s why Samsung has conjured up a range of curved 'bars to complement its bendy screens.
The flagship HW-J8500 heads up Samsung’s second-gen curved series. It’s designed for larger sets up to 78in.
Aesthetically the HW-J8500 walks the line between functional and fancy. The brushed black aluminium top panel forms a contrast with the grey speaker mesh on the front, although the silver version is prettier. Build quality falls short of high-end rivals but is solid enough to justify the cash.
Clutter is limited to a small panel of buttons on top and an informative front LED display. It’s placed off-centre to make way for a (new for this year) centre speaker, which ensures a consistent sound all along the bar.
Connections include an HDMI ARC output and lone HDMI input, which is measly for the money. You also get optical and 3.5mm inputs, plus a USB port that lets you play hi-res music files up to 96kHz/24-bit.
In action the HW-J8500 fulfils the first part of the job description, namely delivering a bigger and more commanding sound than a flatscreen. There’s a terrific sense of scale to the audio that turns movie viewing into an exciting, visceral experience.
The pulsating beach battle scenes from Edge of Tomorrow are delivered with snap and vigour, while the wireless subwoofer anchors explosions and gunfire with beefy bass notes. Side-firing speakers spray bullets and swooshing quadcopters towards the walls, enhancing the overall feeling of width without sounding artificial.
You get an even spread across the front of the room, with nicely organised effects and authoritative dialogue. The Surround Sound Expansion mode doesn’t produce surround sound in the classic sense but its boosted output does feel strangely immersive.
It never struggles for volume, filling my room with the level barely over half-way. Push it further and it remains surprisingly composed, with only a touch of colouration and hardness creeping into the midrange.
Where the HW-J8500 falls down is the subwoofer’s lack of agility and detail. The fat bass is initially gratifying, but it’s a one-trick pony – during action scenes the enthusiastic rumbling plasters over low-frequency nuance and variation. And it requires a little taming of the volume controls to quell boominess.
And while treble is clean and crisp, other soundbars like the (cheaper) Q Acoustics M4 or the (more expensive) Paradigm Soundscape take it to the next level in terms of refinement and transparency.
Neither of those models are curved, however, and the HW-J8500 is definitely the best-sounding 'bar Samsung has produced. Worth a punt if you need a sonic tonic for your new curved TV.
£900 approx, www.samsung.co.uk
Highs: Snappy, vigorous sound; beefy bass output and room-filling volume; generous features; decent design and build
Lows: Bass lacks shape and detail; only one HDMI input; lacks top-end finesse of rivals
Drive units: 9 x midrange drivers
Connections: HDMI input; HDMI output (ARC); optical input; 3.5mm minijack input; USB port; Ethernet
Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD MA: No/No
Separate sub: Yes. With 1 x 8in driver
Remote control: Yes
Dimensions: 1,450(w) x 60(h) x 185(d)mm
Features: Bluetooth; TV SoundConnect; dual-band Wi-Fi for multiroom functionality; dedicated amps and active crossover for each driver; wall-mounting with supplied L bracket; Multi Air Gap wireless subwoofer; Dolby Digital 5.1 & DTS 2.0 decoding; Surround Sound Expansion; Clear Voice; six Sound Effect audio presets; bass, treble & subwoofer level controls; High-Frequency Audio Restoration
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