For a complete and immersive home theater experience, you need high-quality audio.
The speakers integrated into your television often fall short in this regard, as there is very little space to play with and the speakers are generally small with limited frequency response. For this reason, the sound from televisions is often lacking in bass and devoid of directionality.
For true immersion, the recommended solution is to add a soundbar and/or surround speakers to your TV.
Soundbars have come a long way over the years, providing advanced features, immersive surround sound, and high-fidelity audio. Modern soundbars often have multiple audio channels, separate subwoofers, and up-firing speakers that direct sound towards the ceiling of your room and use the reflections for an even more realistic experience.
All three are unique products that bring interesting and innovative features to the table and will integrate well with your existing home entertainment setup to provide a substantial audio upgrade. We will take a look at these features, the sound quality, and the versatility of these units to provide you with enough information to choose the right soundbar for your needs.
In terms of price, there is very little separation among these three soundbars.
The Vizio Elevate is the most affordable of the lot, usually coming in at a price of around $1000. The JBL 9.1 is usually available at around $1200. The Samsung Q950A is usually priced at around $1600 but is regularly can be found on sale.
If you are looking for a premium product, it is likely that the price difference will not matter that much. Rather, it is the audio quality and the features that will be your main considerations while choosing between the three.
The most crucial factor in this comparison is the number of channels you want for your home entertainment audio. While all three soundbars are capable of surround sound and have the appropriate codec and standard certifications, the Vizio Elevate and the JBL 9.1 are 5.1.4 units while the Samsung Q950A is a 11.1.4 unit.
This means that the first two soundbars have 5 main channels, 1 subwoofer, and 4 upward firing channels while the Samsung has 11 regular channels, 1 subwoofer, and 4 upward firing channels.
Usually, the more channels your soundbar has, the more sources the audio can emanate from. By strategic placement of these channels in your listening space, you can have a more immersive and directional audio experience.
Therefore, if you are fine with a 5.1.4 configuration you can choose either the Vizio or the JBL. Based on this, if you want a more involved 11.1.4 configuration, the Samsung will be the right choice for you.
Apart from this, another consideration you might have is pairing your soundbar to your existing entertainment ecosystem. Since Vizio and Samsung both manufacture TVs, there might be some specific features in their soundbars that can be used to their full potential only when paired with a TV from the same manufacturer. Keep this in mind while making your final choice.
Basic Features and Build
The Vizio Elevate soundbar package packs 5 standard audio channels with 4 upward firing channels and a subwoofer. The entire system has a massive total of 18 speakers including tuned woofers and tweeters for better coverage of the frequency spectrum.
The most convenient quality of this package is the fact that the rear speakers and the subwoofer aren’t wired to the center soundbar, so that you can easily place them anywhere you want in your listening environment without having to worry about cable lengths and tangles.
The main soundbar unit has a speaker housing that can automatically rotate vertically, making sure that you are always at the sweet spot in your listening space.
The construction of the main soundbar uses machined aluminum for reliability and aesthetic appeal, while also having a rear audio chamber design that allows the sound to breathe and the speaker membranes to vibrate optimally. This portion of the soundbar is also covered with a patterned, textured material that is easy to hold and fingerprint resistant.
In the box, you will find included all the cables you need, including audio cables, an HDMI cable that supports eARC, and passthrough cables for Dolby Vision.
The soundbar supports analog input, USB input for direct playback from USB storage devices, 2 HDMI ports with eARC support, optical ports, and voice assistant input. You also have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity with a handy remote that includes a small digital display so that you can browse presets and control the sound. The unit has a built-in Chromecast for easy streaming and casting and also can be docked securely to Vizio OLED TVs.
The JBL 9.1 comes in a similar 5.1.4 configuration, with the main soundbar, 2 wireless and detachable surround channels, and a wireless subwoofer. The advantage of this configuration is that you can choose to keep the surround channels attached to the main soundbar body for an integrated listening source or detach them and place them in the rear for a truer surround experience.
The large 10-inch subwoofer can add a lot of bass and the entire setup has a combined output of 820W. Both the soundbar and the satellite speakers can fire upwards and bounce sound off the ceiling.
The detachable satellites run on batteries and can automatically charge when you dock them back to the main soundbar body. The main body has 4 standard drivers, 2 upward firing full range drivers, and 3 tweeters. Each satellite has one upward firing full range driver and one tweeter.
The unit has USB input for playback from storage devices and supports HDMI eARC through its single HDMI input. There is also support for Bluetooth and an integrated Chromecast for streaming.
Taking all this into account, unlike the Vizio, the JBL unit integrates faster dual-band Wi-Fi and also supports the Apple Airplay standard.
With the unit, you get a power cord, a remote controller, an HDMI cable, and a total of 4 wall mounts with screws that can help you get the main unit, and the satellites, securely mounted to the wall. Now if this is somehow mauled by a Grizzly bear those screws may fail you, but this is unlikely, so you should be good to go!
The Samsung Q950A features a massive total of 22 speakers, with a wireless subwoofer and a pair of wireless read surround speakers included. It supports HDMI eARC, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth and comes with the One Remote which can also be used to control other Samsung devices.
It also has Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant built-in. However, there is no built-in Chromecast for streaming and the soundbar cannot play audio from a USB device. Airplay support, however, remains.
Total system power comes in at 616 W (for anybody that actually cares about this number), which is more than the Vizio but less than the JBL.
You get 2 HDMI input ports and one HDMI output port, with support for CEC. A wall mount bracket is included with the soundbar and it is also compatible with the Samsung SmartThings mobile app.
Surround sound certifications are very important when it comes to soundbars, as this lets you know the range of standard encoded media you can enjoy.
All three soundbars under review here come with the all-important Dolby Atmos and DTS:X certifications, ensuring that you can easily enjoy content delivered with these standards.
The Vizio Elevate has excellent audio directionality and depth of field with its rotating speakers while the JBL also presents a clear, broad soundstage. With their wireless speakers, you have a lot of freedom placing your subwoofer and satellites wherever you want to really mold the sound to the size and dimensions of your listening space.
Both soundbars have support for different EQ profiles which you can select and audition using the remote controls. The large subwoofers also ensure an extended and high-quality bass response, especially important while watching movies or playing games on your TV.
Of the three products, the Samsung Q950A has the most in terms of audio-specific features. It supports a wireless audio connection with your TV. Paired with a compatible Samsung TV, you can take advantage of the Q-Symphony features which syncs the integrated speakers of the TV with the soundbar, adding even more source channels to your audio.
The Spacefit Sound+ and Auto EQ features also help create a tailored listening experience based on the size and dimensions of your listening space, where it makes calculations and calibrates the output of the audio based on the space.
If you are looking to game on your TV, the soundbar includes the Game Mode Pro, which optimizes the sound for gaming (if you are playing as many games as Warlock in Die Hard 4 perhaps you are playing too much but this is another topic!), applies the right EQ curves, and minimizes audio latency.
The Adaptive Sound intelligently analyzes scenes from your content and optimizes the audio to match. The Active Voice Amplifier can isolate and enhance the reproduction of dialogue and speech data in your videos, making it easier to understand even in noisy environments.
How to Choose
Choosing the “best” soundbar system really comes down to your priorities.
- Choose the Vizio Elevate if you want to save a few hundred dollars (compared to the other options) and still get a great system. Vizio has more software issues than the others, but the sound quality is still good and the rear configuration (with the subwoofer and rear speakers capable of running on a single power source) makes setup easy.
- Choose JBL 9.1 if you want maximum bass or if you value the portability of the detachable surround speakers. The subwoofer on the JBL is hard to beat in this price range. The detachable surround speakers provide flexibility, especially if you don’t always need surround sound, but they do require frequent charging when detached from the center.
- Choose Samsung Q950A if you want the best overall audio experience and the widest soundstage. Neither of the other options can compete with the immersion of the Q950A, although the bass is somewhat lacking and the rear speakers each require their own power source.
- By adding surround speakers and a bass module to a Bose Smart Soundbar 900, you will be stretching your budget but getting an excellent overall setup. See here for our review of the bass module, and here for our review of the Bose Soundbar 900.
- By adding One SL speakers and a Sub to the Sonos Arc, you get a setup that can compete with the Bose 900 bundle discussed above. Although this will also be more expensive than the Vizio, JBL, or Samsung packages discussed here, the performance is hard to beat. See here for our review of the Sonos Arc.
Either Or, Your Call
If you want the most immersive experience money can buy, the Samsung Q950A should be your model of choice.
Moreover, if you want excellent quality on a slightly smaller budget with outstanding features, either the Vizio or the JBL are fine options.