Samsung HW-F751 AirTrack
This sound bar features a two-channel vacuum tube amp and a wireless subwoofer.
At the top of Samsung’s AirTrack series of sound bars, the HW-F751 features a two-channel vacuum tube amp and a wireless subwoofer.
Just in case you managed to miss the whole ‘sound bar’ thing, it’s a modern counterpoint to the last decade’s push for a million-speaker surround-sound system in every living room. Even ‘wireless’ surround systems still need a power cable to each of their six or eight speakers, making installation a tightrope-walk between appreciable cost and cable-spaghetti. Still, the ever-decreasing thickness of modern TVs leaves little room for speakers, and a space in the market for ‘high-fidelity sound without the hassle’ has seen sound bars rise in popularity.
A sound bar is just that: a wide bar that sits beneath your TV on the cabinet or wall, with a pair of speakers to provide stereo sound. All of Samsung’s AirTrack range also include external subwoofers, thus providing ‘2.1 channel’ sound from your TV, Blu-ray player, game console or whatever else you decide to connect.
Build & Installation
The HW-F751, which I’ll henceforth call the AirTrack as that’s a far sexier name, measures up to 943 x 57 x 120mm and weighs in at a wall-mountable 3.5kg. At that width, it’s just about perfectly to sit below a 40-inch TV. However, it won’t look too ridiculous perched beneath a wider model. A silver metallic grille covers the top and front edge of the unit, making it best matched with a silver-edged or near-borderless TV.
An ‘installation position sensor’ detects whether the unit is sitting flat, as on a cabinet or shelf, or wall-mounted in its upright position. This apparently alters the sound output from the bar’s six speakers to best suit the situation. I didn’t notice a difference in sound output when mounted in either position, which suggests that the system is working. More visibly, the installation position switches between two small but easily-visible LED screens, one on the front edge of the unit and one on the top (which becomes the ‘front’ when wall mounted).
Also on the top are the AirTrack’s only physical controls, four small touch-sensitive buttons. It’s the usual list of power, input select/mute, and volume up/down. Everything else (such as switching between the inbuilt equaliser modes) is on the included remote control.
A wall-mounting bracket is included, which is essentially a thin metal strip with screw holes, and a couple of hooks on the ends to catch protrusions on the rear of the sound bar. The sockets on the back are all recessed , so the power and other cables could run straight into a recess (or hole) in the wall.
The subwoofer is a 291 x 369 x 291 silver-plastic block, floorstanding only and weighing 7.25kg. It has a single cable connection to a mains power socket, and communicates with the sound bar wirelessly. This is particularly useful if you wall-mount the bar, as it saves you from having to run an unsightly or expensive cable between the woofer and main unit. The woofer and bar were paired out of the box, no setup required to get them talking. There’s a small pushbutton on the rear of the woofer to pair with a different sound bar, if you ever needed a replacement unit, for instance.
Auto Sound CalibrationAn optional ‘auto sound calibration’ process can be performed by plugging in an included microphone on a long lead. You sit the microphone wherever you intend to listen from (e.g. at head-level on the back of the couch), the system spends a couple of minutes playing loud and increasingly irritating tones. I would seriously recommend leaving the room and closing the door, because by the end I was beginning to consider whether the calibration process counts as a form of torture under the Geneva Convention.
This calibration is meant to adjust sound output to compensate for the subwoofer position, distance from speakers to listener, room characteristics and so forth. It adds an ‘ASC’ mode to the list of built-in equaliser modes, where it uses that calibration. In other modes (e.g. ‘Music’), calibration data is not used. You should only have to repeat the process if you move the subwoofer or sound bar, move your seating around, or do something that might affect the acoustics of the room (pull up the carpet, or move a few bookcases around).
Is it worth it? Calibration did seem to level the volume of the sub nicely to match its position in my living room (close to the listener), but apart from that I didn’t really notice much of a difference. In a larger room, or a different installation, the results might perhaps have been more obvious.
Connectivity & OperationBehind the AirTrack are an HDMI input and output, analogue input (3.5mm minijack), and digital optical input (TOSLINK). All very standard, just what you’d expect. More interesting is the built-in Bluetooth support, which allows you to connect to certain compatible Samsung TVs, or to any Bluetooth-capable audio source such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop.
Pairing by Bluetooth is simple and easy – I was up and running in less than a minute when testing with Android, Windows Phone 7, iOS, Windows 8, and Mac OS X. The only issue I encountered was a difficulty in reconnecting to the sound bar in Windows 8, after having put the laptop to sleep then woken it. In the end I have to unpair and re-pair the devices via Bluetooth Settings in Windows. However, this seems to be more of a Windows 8 issue than anything to do with the AirTrack, as I encountered similar problems with other Bluetooth speakers I tested.
Tested connected to a Windows 8 laptop playing uncompressed high-quality audio files, we were unable to discern any difference in sound quality when connected over Bluetooth or HDMI.
While I connected my older, non-Bluetooth-capable TV via HDMI, the Bluetooth function was still a great asset. I play a lot of music from my smartphone and laptop, and often watch YouTube clips and other streaming video on my iPad. Quickly connecting either up to the AirTrack via Bluetooth provided a great increase in sound quality and volume, without needing a dedicated speaker system.
A USB port allows playback of various common audio formats (MP3, WMA, etc) directly from a USB flash drive.
Though hardly its intended purpose, the AirTrack also makes a great desktop PC speaker system for gamers. It sits nicely on any computer desk behind your monitor, or could be mounted to the wall just as easily. It would be a pricey option for such a setup, but worth considering if you use your PC for most of your media.
Sound QualitySound quality is what sells a speaker system, and Samsung’s AirTrack is a truly impressive piece of kit in that regard.
At its core, and differentiating the HW-F751 from the lower-end models in the AirTrack range, is a 310-watt vacuum tube (valve) amplifier that Samsung claims provides “warm and rich tones”. This is normally where I’d make some kind of pun based on the marketing, but I can’t.
Given good quality source material – nice uncompressed audio, not a low-quality MP3 – the AirTrack’s audio output has the texture and richness of warm honey. That may sound poetic and pretentious, but it’s true. Even if you do feed it regular-quality MP3s, or music streaming from something like Spotify or Pandora, the AirTrack produces beautifully rich output that puts any TV speaker system to shame.
The mid range is clear and detailed, bass is beautifully deep and rich, and the upper end is sharp and fine. It does tend to be just a tiny bit tinny in the treble area at high volume, though that seems somewhat dependent on the quality of the source material.
High volume really is loud enough for the largest lounge, and you’ll be keeping it well in the bottom few percent if you take my extreme suggestion of using the AirTrack as an absolutely overkill PC speaker setup.
ConclusionSamsung’s top-end AirTrack is a brilliant alternative to a clumsy surround-sound system or large speaker set, if you simply want better sound quality than your TV can provide without a whole lot of fuss.
The price may be off-putting to some – at $850NZ, the AirTrack is just a little less than a name-brand 40-inch TV. It is, undeniably, expensive. However, the leap in audio quality over any TV we’ve tested is well worth it. Further justifying the expense is the AirTrack’s Bluetooth capabilities, making it an ideal speaker system for your smartphone, tablet or laptop.
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