After years of doing just OK in the audio realm, Samsung’s soundbar line has made up serious ground in recent years, first with its impressive Dolby Atmos soundbar, and later with its easy-breezy Sound+ soundbar line. Born from Samsung’s new, state-of-the-art audio lab, the MS750, and especially the MS650 Sound+ offer ultra-simple control, plenty of features, and good sound, all in svelte, stand-alone designs that fit great in just about any room.
For its latest in the Sound+ line, the HW-NW700, Samsung has taken a markedly different approach. Built almost exclusively for its QLED TV lineup, the NW700 poses a simple question: Do you own, or are you about to own a Samsung QLED or new UHD TV? If the answer is yes, this is a pretty great soundbar — and one that comes at a serious discount when you plunk down cash for one of those two Samsung TV series. If not, however, Samsung’s gambit to cut key features for a cleaner design robs a lot of the NW700’s appeal to other potential buyers.
Out of the box
Opening the NW700’s box reveals what could be seen as a microcosm for the entire sound+ line. The simple packaging contains a very tall and impressively slim unit designed for mounting only, a small remote and batteries a white power brick, which provides power to the bar through a slim, silver wire reminiscent of Samsung’s slim One-Cable, a small instruction manual, and a wall-mounting kit. Unlike the other members of the Sound+ line, the NW700 does not include a power port for a Samsung TV connection. Also of note: There’s no connection cable offered in the accessory box — not even an optical cable – presumably because Samsung promotes wireless audio connections with its own TVs.
Features and design
At $700 the NW700 is the priciest bar in the Sound+ line (just edging out the MS750) and it looks the part. In fact, while showing off the aluminum brushed bar to a colleague, his first words were, “It looks expensive.” Standing six inches tall and stretching back just over two inches, there’s no doubt this tall drink of water belongs on the wall — and only on the wall. The NW700’s 47-inch width squares up nicely beneath Samsung’s QLED displays.
Before we talk about which features the NW700 supports, we’ve got to talk about what it doesn’t come with. The most obvious omission here is a separate wireless subwoofer, but that’s actually one of the hallmarks of the Sound+ line. Built for simplicity, these bars pack woofers inside, and while they don’t offer the gut punch you’ll get from a dedicated sub, all three get down into the low frequencies with enough authority to punctuate cinematic and musical moments nicely. Samsung’s own wireless subwoofer is compatible with this sound bar.
More surprisingly, at the outset at least, the unit offers no HDMI connections (unlike the MS650 and the MS750, which sport one and two HDMI inputs respectively). That being the case, it doesn’t offer an HDMI ARC option, leaving only the Optical port for anyone wanting to wire into the soundbar. The design means those with TVs from other brands can’t use their TV remote to control basic NW700 control functions like volume and power.
Owners of newer Samsung TVs will find connecting the NW700 stunningly simple.
Again, however, this is all by design — Samsung says it stripped HDMI to save space, allowing the thin bar to sit nearly flush against the wall. Moreover, owners of newer Samsung TVs (2017 and up) will find connecting the NW700 and controlling it with their TV remote stunningly simple. After plugging in a separately purchased optical cable, the bar automatically connects to newer Samsung TVs over Bluetooth for CEC control, instantly allowing control for power and volume with the TV remote. As our intro states, this makes the NW700 ultra-convenient for the Samsung faithful, but much less so for everyone else. It’s also worth re-stating that no wired connection is necessary for newer Samsung TV owners – the NW700 will connect via Wi-FI seamlessly and offers all the volume and power control necessary.
A lack of HDMI inputs has other drawbacks, though likely not prohibitive ones. Sound sources, be they Blu-ray players, streaming boxes, or game consoles, must be connected through the TV, so unless your TV offers unaltered audio stream output, that puts the onus of sound processing on the TV itself, which could limit performance (many older TVs down-convert everything to stereo). This may not matter much to most listeners with newer TVs, but it’s something to be aware of. Accordingly, the NW700 offers only limited sound processing formats, including only basic Dolby 5.1 and DTS 5.1, though again, we don’t think this limitation will be a major hindrance for most users.
The NW700 also offers wireless music streaming via Bluetooth 4.0 and over Wi-Fi with Samsung’s proprietary app — now called Samsung SmartThings. Two quick points here: One, Bluetooth didn’t work for us at first, telling us we’d entered the wrong passcode, but unplugging the bar and plugging it back in fixed the issue and it never came up again. Two, Samsung’s SmartThings app is a bit intrusive for those who just want to stream music, asking for just about everything but your mother’s maiden name. Then again, this is the anti-privacy age.
While inputs are scarce, the NW700 is relatively well appointed in the hardware department. Though it doesn’t match the 11 drivers found in the MS750, the NW700 does offer seven individually powered drivers, including dual woofers and a dedicated center speaker for clear dialog anchored to the center of a TV screen.
Surprisingly, the NW700 offers zero HDMI inputs and doesn’t support ARC.
Like other Sound+ bars, the NW700 boasts just three sound modes, including Smart, Standard, and Surround. While we normally use Standard for other gear to avoid unwanted DSP, the Smart mode is, well, the smartest way to go for the Sound+ line. The system automatically adjusts to whatever source you play, and, unlike many similar DSP systems, it works quite well.
The NW700 has a few other fancy features, including basic controls via Amazon Alexa (available with a separate Alexa speaker), as well as the Sound+ line’s digital distortion canceling, which aims to adjust for distortion before it happens. Samsung says this allows for deeper, more pointed bass, and we’re inclined to agree. As with the other Sound+ bars, you can also add a wireless subwoofer connected by a wireless dongle, and even surround speakers, though they require a separately powered module — all sold separately.
Select TVs can connect to the NW700 over Bluetooth by hitting the pairing button on the remote and finding the unit in your TV’s Bluetooth settings (though most older TVs don’t have this feature). Those who own newer Samsung TVs can also connect over Wi-Fi: If you’ve got a 2016 Samsung TV or newer, you can do so via the on-screen audio menu. Those with 2014-2015 Samsung TVs can also connect over Wi-Fi, but it’s a longer process involving Samsung’s SmartThings app.
Despite all its caveats, the NW700 is another successful strike for Samsung when it comes to sheer audio performance. Simply put, this bar sounds damn good for a stand-alone system, offering clear and full midrange presence that’s loaded with sparkling detail while churning out better bass response than a soundbar this thin has a right to.
Like the rest of the Sound+ line, we just dig listening to music on the NW700 — a rarity in soundbar land. Music of all genres is balanced, it’s snappy, and there’s a full and pointed punch to the bass that just carries the sound nicely. While the NW700’s weakness may be acoustic instruments — it just can’t quite offer the right touch to properly serve the organic flavors of stringed instruments — that’s really it’s only sonic downfall. Vocals are clear and smooth, synths are rendered with some pleasant sizzle, and the soundstage is relatively full for a soundbar with now help from surround speakers.
More than that, there are just nice subtleties happening here, as little nuances pop up even when listening quietly. Jason Isbell’s Flagship of the Fleet is a perfect example. The song’s intimacy is well drawn by the NW700 — you’re not busy thinking about how it’s just a single soundbar, you’re just drawn into the music.
Simply put, this bar sounds damn good for a singular system.
Cinematic moments are also well done by the NW700, of course, and when it’s fed a decent audio mix, it provides a fairly wide soundstage (though we wish it extended further into the listening room), with plenty of expressive bursts that bring the action to life without distortion.
Thor: Ragnarok, with all its Flash Gordon flavors, arpeggiating synths, and bombastic explosions, is a blast when heard through the NW700. We especially enjoyed Thor’s lightning awakening in the gladiator battle with Hulk — the curling electric lines buzzed brightly, while the booming thunder as Hulk is bashed into the sides of the arena offered plenty of fun up and down the frequency spectrum. The sound bar also has a penchant for exposing the little clicks and clacks of metallic instruments like Valkyrie’s cannon remotes with impressive clarity.
That said, we occasionally found ourselves missing the full punch of a real subwoofer, especially when moments like those dub-step inspired, falling-boom lines extend in to the lowest frequencies, where the full throttle of a 60Hz signal just can’t be provided by the smaller drivers.
Another small quibble are the sibilant frequencies in the upper midrange. There appeared to be a lot of DSP happening in some scenes, and when things got especially zippy in dialogue, the “S” moments all sounded like they were being heavily compressed — as if just on the edge of popping into sharp, serpentine cuts.
Samsung HW-NW700 Compared To
Still, the NW700 holds its own well, even at its $700 price point — as long as you don’t mind living subwoofer-free.
Samsung currently does not offer warranty information for the NW700. We’ve reached out to the company for information and will update as soon as we hear back.
Samsung’s hard play for its QLED and UHD TV owners with the NW700 comes with as many perils as it does spoils. For those intent on wall-mounting, there’s plenty to like in the NW700 when it comes to audio performance and form factor. But its convenience and overall viability live and die by your willingness to go all-in on Samsung — for better and for worse.
Is there a better alternative?
Yes, indeed. Those looking for single-unit convenience and solid performance within the Samsung family can get more value from both the MS650 and even the pricier MS750 — even if they don’t look quite as fancy — and they’re also much more versatile since they work well with any TV.
If you crave Alexa compatibility in a subwoofer-free sound bar, the Sonos’ Beam appears to be a pretty enticing option, with built-in microphones for Alexa voice command (so you won’t need an extra speaker), connection to Sonos’ multiroom sound system, and much more for about $300 less than the NW700.
If you’ve got room for a subwoofer, you can also get a lot more value and much more thunder in options like Yamaha’s YAS-207, while those who don’t mind giving up HDMI inputs can also get better music performance for around $300 less than the NW700 in Pioneer’s SP-SB23W.
How long will it last?
This is a difficult question to answer. The NW700’s build quality definitely feels solid, and there’s something to be said for simple design. As for future-proofing, we would have never believed you’d see a major release in 2018 without HDMI, but as long as you’re a new QLED owner, you shouldn’t really need it for the foreseeable future.
Should you buy it?
As noted throughout this review, unless you’re the owner of a Samsung QLED or newer UHD TV, the answer is no — there are just too many standard features missing here for the price.
If you’re about to buy a 55-inch QLED or UHD TV or larger, however, at time of publication the NW700 is available for a $200 discount, putting its price below the $500 line. In that case, as long as you plan on mounting your TV, we’d say go for it. Even if you’re the owner of a newer Samsung TV, the NW700 makes a pretty good case. Just know that the bar will lose a lot of its mojo if you ever decide to switch TV brands.