Samsung HW-J8500 Curved Soundbar Review

Having recently tested the impressive Samsung HW-J7501, we were chomping at the bit to get our hands on the Korean manufacturer’s flagship HW-J8500 curved monster of a soundbar. Not content with 8 speakers, the J8500 represents Samsung’s most comprehensive sound bar configuration to date, housing 9 speakers including a dedicated centre driver focusing exclusively on dialogue. With a new-look wireless sub and 350 watts of total power, this should be something special to savour. Let’s take a listen.

Samsung HW-J8500

Design

The HWJ8500 is almost identical to the HWJ7501 we recently reviewed. Build quality is once again first-rate, with the same high quality brushed metal and plastic design. However, this one is finished in black, which we have to say is so much nicer and offers a more stylish look than its silver sibling. Also new to the HW-J8500 are 3 feet at the bottom, which slightly angle the bar upwards while isolating it from the surface on which it’s placed.

Spanning a whopping 1450mm across, the J8500 is almost 10 inches wider than the HW-J7501, and so would be the perfect option for owners of 65-inch TVs such as Samsung’s top-end UE65JS9500 SUHD TV. The HW-J8500 boasts 9 drivers that include its own centre channel with the driver reserved exclusively for dialogue, which should deliver a more accurate playback from movie sources.

Curved soundbar from top

Everything else on the soundbar is the same as the HW-J7501. On top of the HW-J8500 in the middle you’ll find the power, source, and volume buttons. To the rear of the unit you have a USB connection, D/C input, and pairing buttons for WiFi and compatible add-on speakers. Underneath there’s a recess with access to various other interconnects, including Aux in, LAN, HDMI in, HDMI (TV ARC) and optical in. Once again there is only one HDMI, and this on a flagship model is disappointing.

Rear connections

The wireless subwoofer is beefed up with an 8-inch driver, and like the bar itself looks so much better in its brushed black metallic finish. It also comes with additional feet to isolate it, and there is the option of having it vertical or horizontal. We will try both positions later in the review.

Features & Set-Up

Apart from the higher output, beefed-up sub, and additional centre speaker, the Samsung HWJ8500 and the HWJ7501 are very similar in terms of features. There’s no mention in the spec sheet of the “Clear Voice Technology” found on the J7501: there’s simply no need for it owing to the dedicated centre driver implemented on the J8500.

The HW-J8500 provides various sound presets, including Standard (original sound), Music, Voice, Sports, Cinema, and Night Mode. The Samsung supports Dolby Digital and DTS tracks, and will decode AAC, WAV, OGG, MP3, WMA and FLAC music files. There’s also the option to wirelessly connect and add more speakers, such as Samsung’s impressive M7 line via the multiroom feature.

Set-up is again a breeze. Samsung’s TV SoundConnect is the easiest way if you have a Samsung television, but for us it’s just a case of connecting our Blu-ray player to the HW-J8500, and then using the HDMI ARC (audio return channel) out to our display. The subwoofer links seamlessly as soon as it is switched on, but in the rare case it doesn’t, a manual connection can be performed.

Sound Quality

On paper, the Samsung HW-J8500 should sound amazing, but in reality we were a bit disappointed. We were expecting to be blown away by 350 watts of flagship awesomeness, but in all honesty the smaller, less powerful HW-J7501 we reviewed last month sounded better. We know what you’re thinking, how can this be? The J7501 is less powerful, has a smaller sub and less drivers, but believe us, it outperformed the its step-up cousin when it came to overall audio performance.

The first thing that concerned us was the J8500′s handling of bass. Once we found the best spot for the wireless subwoofer in our test room, we threw some super-low soundtracks at it, but the sub struggled and broke up. The first was War of the Worlds which the step-down HW-J7501 handled really well with a great low-end and no break-up. However, the HWJ8500 practically begged for mercy trying to reproduce those low notes. Maybe we just got lucky with our J7501 review sample, but the difference was night and day.

The same thing happened with the famous cave scene in Iron Man. To be fair to the Samsung HWJ8500, this is a sequence that will test the best subwoofers, let alone a soundbar sub, but our thinking is that if the kit can handle this scene then it can handle anything, but unfortunately it couldn’t and would break up once again. The integration of the sub and soundbar seemed a bit off to us too: we found we had to dial down to -6 on the sub’s volume to get a balance where the bass wasn’t bloated or overpowering the rest of the soundtrack.

Bass gripes aside, the rest of movie playback was very good with a nice open soundstage reproducing even the tiniest details of the film soundtrack, and apart from the occasional stumble with those low notes, the sub’s performance was good, adding weight to action scenes and explosions. The new centre speaker design was most welcome during movie playback, with dialogue sounding clear, central, focused, and perfectly balanced in the mix.

We tried the wireless sub both horizontally and vertically, and it’s safe to say it sounded so much better in the vertical position. The huge width of the soundbar gave an impressive immersive experience with plenty of dynamic range, not just for action-heavy scenes, but also in more subtle, quieter passages.

The HW-J8500 comes loaded with several sound presets, but once again we urge you to just opt for the Standard setting which has no additional processing, and will bring you the truest representation of what the director wants you to hear. Why manufacturers continue to create these presets is beyond us, as they do nothing but rob the soundtrack of everything the sound engineers who mixed the film are trying to achieve.

Music playback again for us wasn’t as good as the Samsung J7501. We’re guessing that it’s to do with the new centre speaker, but vocals came across too centralised in the soundmix, and the whole sense of stereo was a little lost on playback. Bass playback however was very good even at low volumes, giving depth to the playback source. The problem was that it all sounded too centralised.

Conclusion

Having tested two of Samsung’s 2015 curved soundbars, it’s easy for us to pick our favourite, and unfortunately it’s not the HW-J8500. According to the spec sheet it should be, but at a suggested retail price of £899, the reality is that the £150-cheaper HW-J7501/ J7500 at £749 is the better buy. The J8500 was let down by a heavily centralised stereo performance as far as music playback was concerned, and some LFE issues with the subwoofer.

These aside, the rest of the acoustic performance is great: if you must have a curved soundbar to perfectly match your 65in (curved) TV, and can tolerate the occasional sub stumble and centralised stereo playback, then grab the HWJ8500. However, if you can live with a slightly smaller curved soundbar, and what is an overall better-balanced playback quality, then the HW-J7500/ J7501 gets our vote.

Qualified Recommendation