High-end soundbars reviewed and compared: Samsung HW-Q90R and Senneheiser Ambeo, VESA stands for flat-panel televisions (Week 44, 2019)

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 44, 2019

Q. I am a Vietnam combat veteran and though my hearing is compromised, good sound is very important to me. I want to get a soundbar but only have 3 inches of clearance under my TV, which has a pedestal-style stand. Unfortunately, wall mounting is not possible. I am willing to spend a few thousand to get great sound from my TV, Blu-ray and streaming sources.

-R.G., Minneapolis, MN

A. Thank you for your service!

While very short soundbars exist, the 3-inch height requirement is very limiting. Fortunately there are ways to get around this without wall mounting.

One way is to get a soundbase instead of a soundbar. A soundbase is a low-profile platform speaker large enough to place a television on top of it. Soundbases have fallen out of favor somewhat because many televisions have gone from a centrally-located pedestal stand to small legs attached at the edges of the set. I will discuss a way around that as well.

ZVOX soundbases have long been the industry standard and you can get their top-of-the-line model, the Soundbase 770, for $399 right now. Though far under your budget, it will sound surprisingly good and is very easy to set up. The Soundbase 770 also includes ZVOX’s famed AccuVoice processing to make it easier to understand on-screen dialogue.

Almost all flat-panel TVs have standardized VESA wall mount screw holes in the back. You can buy aftermarket stands and legs that attach to these VESA mounting points, replacing the factory stand and elevating the TV. The narrower footprint also allows users to place televisions on smaller pieces of furniture, and I recently used a VESA-mount stand to put a 65-inch TV with edge-mounted feet on a 45-inch-wide table. Some stand and leg brands are Wali, Vivo and Perlesmith and they can be found on Amazon for $15.99 and up. This will allow you to use a soundbar that requires more than 3 inches of clearance.

Armed with your new stand and the extra clearance, we can look at some top quality soundbar solutions. I’m going to start with the $1,497 Samsung-Harman/Kardon HW-Q90R, which I have tested in my home. The HW-Q90R includes a separate powered subwoofer, wireless rear speakers and Dolby Atmos technology to create a realistic 3D soundfield that rivals much more expensive and complex home theater component systems. Not only is the listening experience spacious and enveloping, the sonics have impact and presence along with the excellent sound quality you expect from a Harman/Kardon product. While $1,497 is not cheap, the HW-Q90R is worth it because it convincingly recreates the theater sound experience in your home with nothing else to buy.

No discussion of high-end soundbars would be complete without the $2,495 Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar. Regarded by many reviewers as the best single piece soundbar you can buy, it incorporates high-quality speakers and amplification along with sophisticated processing to provide Dolby Atmos surround sound from a single speaker. Setup is automatic using the included calibration microphone.

I heard the Ambeo Soundbar at the Consumer Electronics Show last January and was very impressed. The sound quality is excellent and the surround effects seem like they are coming from all around you, not from a single soundbar. Unfortunately is difficult for me to declare either the Ambeo to the HW-Q90R the winner because I heard them in such radically different environments. The HW-Q90R, with its separate subwoofer and wireless surround speakers, promises better bass and surround effects, the Ambeo, simplicity and perhaps better ultimate sound quality, but at a higher cost.