There was a time when folks rolled their eyes at the mention of soundbars. Many average consumers thought they were a silly upsell at the electronics store; something for audiophiles, maybe. But we’ve come a long way since the first soundbars. With TVs continuing to slim down, soundbars are now a necessity for one key reason: TVs are just too thin to contain proper speakers with power, projection, resonance, depth, and audio magic that matches 4K video sound sources.
There are many soundbars out there worth your dough, and most major electronics manufacturers make them, so you can choose a favorite brand, shop within a budget, look for a particular color, or hunt for the best in audio quality. But there’s another option in soundbars that’s also worth considering: Those with Dolby Atmos capabilities.
In a nutshell (and more on this below in our buying tips section), Dolby Atmos soundbars utilize upward-firing speakers to mimic the immersive 3D sound that would otherwise be delivered by ceiling-mounted speakers, and other surround sound speakers, in a traditional Dolby Atmos home theater system. The beauty of an Atmos soundbar is that it can do a pretty great job with much less fuss (and cost).
For our money, theyou can buy. High-performing, room-filling sound is what you get, and even though the price tag is a bit on the steep side, it’s well worth it. That said, we’ve also taken a look at some of the other top Dolby Atmos soundbars and lined them up for you.
The best Dolby Atmos soundbars at a glance
Why should you buy it? Sonos Arc is the full package: Great sound, Dolby Atmos capabilities from its upward-firing speakers, a sleek and modern design, all with Sonos quality.
Who’s it for? Audiophiles who want Dolby Atmos surround sound for their movies but don’t want to mess around with the cost and complications of a full home theater system.
Why we picked the Sonos Arc:
Arc, according to Sonos, is its “most immersive home theater experience.” With movie theater-caliber sound, support for Dolby Atmos, and your choice of voice assistants, Sonos is carving out more space for itself in the premium home theater category. This all-in-one soundbar is also at the higher end of the price spectrum at around $800, but since it has all the bells and whistles, that’s perhaps not surprising.
The sound quality of the Arc is outstandingly detailed, it gets plenty loud, and it’s got loads of low end, which is key for movie watching (though you can also add the separate Sonos Sub to your kit, too, if you need more). The Arc is a big, powerful soundbar that fills the room. Highs are sharp, mids and voices slice through easily when watching TV and movies, but it’s just as impressive when it comes to music, with a wide soundstage.
But let’s get right to the main attraction — what’s the Sonos Arc’s Atmos sound like? Our reviewers referred to it as a “stellar audio experience,” and although the results can vary depending on your room size and ceiling heights, the Arc’s upward-firing speakers do a great job at creating a sense of a bigger 3D space, with ricocheting bullet sounds and speeding cars bouncing off the walls for some great movie immersion.
The Sonos Arc soundbar is controlled via the Sonos app on your smartphone or by asking Google Assistant or Alexa. You can also listen to music, podcasts, and other audio on this since the Arc can act as a home speaker too.
Place your Arc in front of a standing TV or mount it to the wall with a separate custom-designed wall mount. A simple HDMI eARC or ARC keeps set-up simple. The Sonos system is of course expandable, too, meaning if you do end up wanting to create more of a sound ecosystem, you can add other speakers or the aforementioned Sub into the mix any time since all Sonos speakers are designed to play nicely together.
The Sonos app lets you take control of your speakers in your home and customize the sound, plus with AirPlay 2, you can stream from your iPhone and keep more of the sound quality.
Read our in-depth Sonos Arc review
Why should you buy it? Rotating speakers that blast you with overhead channels of sound. Need we say more?
Who’s it for? Gamers and those looking for serious bass.
Why we picked the Vizio Elevate:
As we noted, the best way to get that overhead audio effect is to have overhead speakers, but when you can’t, upward-firing speakers as part of your soundbar can go a long way toward replicating that full 3D sound.
Packed inside theare 18 high-performance speakers with four up-firing speakers in the soundbar, plus more upward-aiming speakers as part of the two rears included in this kit (a separate subwoofer is also part of the package). With this kit, you’re literally being surrounded by sound.
The bar of the soundbar actually rotates to aim the sound up and over your head to project all that Dolby Atmos goodness all over your ceiling. Our Vizio Elevate review shows just what this rotating soundbar can do in more detail.
Elevate’s Adaptive Height Speakers also rotate forward to blast you with the full force of the audio that aims to create a much broader soundstage. The Vizio Elevate also boasts you’ll hear clearer vocals and concert hall levels of power and performance. The bass to shake your space vibrates down to 30hz and the whole system gets up to 107 decibels, making Vizio Elevate a perfect Dolby Atmos soundbar for gaming, movie watching, and listening to music.
Read our in-depth Vizio Elevate review
Why should you buy it? You want the added depth that additional speakers give, plus bass that comes from a dedicated subwoofer.
Who’s it for? Cinephiles and folks with a bit more space to spread out their system
Why we picked the Samsung HW-Q950T:
This immersive 9.1.4-channel sound system uses four up-firing channels to wrap your room in quality audio. Interestingly, Samsung also added wide speakers on both corners of the soundbar so the audio fills the space between it and the rear speakers to enhance your overall surround sound experience.
Meant to work best with a Samsung TV, thecombines sounds, using both the speaker kit and the TV’s speakers to fill the space. Naturally, it also has digital assistant smarts, and you can adjust music, get information, and manage your day with just your voice. Plus, with HDMI eARC, you can hear lossless sound even when connected to other devices through your TV, like game consoles. If you prefer going the DTS:X route, it’s ready for that as well. Overall, the audio quality is standout and the additional speakers give you a lot more detail to play with.
Why should you buy it? Another top-notch all-in-one kit with a sub and rear speakers, this setup from Vizio packs nine high-performance speakers into the low-profile soundbar.
Who’s it for? Someone looking for a full kit that’s customizable, without the premium price tag.
Why we picked the Vizio M-Series M51a-H6:
Utilizing virtual surround instead of the up-firing speakers of some of the other soundbars on our list, the Vizio M-Series M51a-H6 fills the room with spacious sound, with support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. This soundbar set also comes with a pair of low-profile surround speakers that are volume-adjustable, plus a 6-inch wireless subwoofer for deep bass with power and boom. A backlit display remote control rounds out the offerings inside the box, making this a great get-it-all-for-a-great-price option.
A flexible setup allows you to choose two placements for your speakers. They can go traditionally at the rear or use Front Surround Mode, where they can be placed at the front of the room for a wider soundstage (also handy for smaller spaces with no room behind the sofa), or Dual Stereo Surround Mode, which sends the same audio to all the speakers at once. An HDMI eARC port is an added bonus (and a rarity at this price point), allowing high-bandwidth and lossless audio when paired with a compatible TV, and the M51a-H6 also includes Bluetooth, optical, and USB connections.
Thekit is also smart, and you can use it with Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant devices too.
Read our in-depth Vizio M-Series M51a-H6 soundbar review
Why should you buy it? With powerful enough low end that you can skip a separate subwoofer, this soundbar has incredibly immersive Atmos sound in a single speaker.
Who’s it for? Audiophiles with a big budget.
Why we picked the Sennheiser Ambeo soundbar:
Under the hood, 13 high-end drivers power the Sennheiser Ambeo soundbar to deliver a 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos sound experience, with support for various other 3D audio formats. Sennheiser also brags that the Ambeo is capable of producing extremely deep 30Hz bass without the need for an extra subwoofer. Plus, outfitted with advanced room calibration, it immerses you in studio-grade sound adapted to the specifics of your space for a truly fine-tuned sound.
Engineered to produce more realistic highs and lows, more dimension, and more nuanced details than you ever imagined possible, the Sennheiser Ambeo soundbar lets you tailor your listening experience — whether you’re watching a movie, TV show, or listening to music — with a built-in equalizer and three sound modes so you can adjust things to your own individual taste. Its auto-calibration feature makes setting it up for your unique listening quirks easy, too.
Sennheiser is billing the Ambeo as a soundbar unlike anything else on the market, and it flags two aspects in particular that set it apart: Ambeo virtualization technology, which creates what it believes to be the best 3D sound that can be reproduced by a single device, and its six proprietary 4-inch, long-throw woofers that achieve improved bass reproduction without that external subwoofer. For $2,000, we’d expect no less.
Read our in-depth Sennheiser Ambeo soundbar review
Research and Buying Tips
A soundbar can both enhance your TV’s often meager internal audio and streamline your setup by doing away with the messy cables and cumbersome speakers. No longer do you need multiple speakers to get great quality audio from your TV. A soundbar provides the ability to pare down your setup, particularly if you have a wall-mounted TV.
There are a few key components to watch for when shopping for a soundbar, and number one is audio quality. Check out multiple reviews of soundbars to make sure you’ll be getting what you pay for.
You also want to ensure the soundbar is going to fit your space. If you have a wall-mounted TV, make sure there are mounting brackets in the back, and it’s nice if any additional wall mounting hardware is included. Double-check the dimensions to ensure the soundbar won’t be wider than your furniture if you’re opting to place it on a TV stand (this is particularly important with something like Sonos Arc, as the soundbar is long and heavy).
Finally, you may be inclined to purchase a color other than black. While Sonos makes its speakers and components in white, many manufacturers do not, so if you’re considering your aesthetics, keep this in mind.
A wireless subwoofer as part of a soundbar kit takes things a step further by offering better bass and flexibility in positioning, though it does need to be on the floor and unobstructed. Ask yourself, how much do you like bass? For a lot of us, having some extra rumble and thump in the room can take TV viewing and movie night to a whole other level. Still, other folks may find the intense vibrations to be too much.
Whether or not you need a subwoofer with your soundbar is a matter of personal preference. If you want that additional low-end capability from your soundbar, a separate wireless subwoofer is a great idea. But if you’re okay with what you could call average-sounding bass, you’ll probably be just fine with a straight-up soundbar. With still others, like the Sennheiser Ambeo, the company claims there’s simply no need for an extra sub because the soundbar is just that good.
With a 5.1- or 7.1-channel home theater sound system, your system is pushing specific audio to specific speakers, and that helps to make it sound like it’s coming from different areas in the room. With Dolby Atmos, instead of sending sound to a speaker, it’s pushed to a spot in 3D space, sometimes by more than one speaker.
Dolby Atmos isn’t the sound or the soundtrack, it’s simply metadata that is used by compatible audio gear to control which speakers are reproducing particular sounds and their location.
Key to Dolby Atmos’ ability to give a more all-encompassing 3D sound effect is the addition of overhead channels or speakers. In a true Atmos system, you’d have actual speakers overhead. Perhaps worth noting, the overall Atmos overhead effect is best enjoyed with those dedicated overhead speakers. Some Dolby Atmos soundbars use upward-firing speakers to deliver this effect, while others try to replicate the 3D effect virtually. Using upward-firing speakers from the soundbar is an effective dupe for Dolby Atmos, while virtual replication can be anywhere from OK to great, depending on the soundbar.
In short, yes. As noted above, those overhead speakers are required to create that extra dimension. In a Dolby Atmos soundbar, there are specially built speakers that either direct the sound upward physically (you can often see them under the grill) or they have the ability to use artificial intelligence to simulate pushing that sound to where it needs to be.
Dolby Atmos has some advantages and disadvantages. While it’s definitely been marketed well, it has a competitor: DTS:X. Another surround sound system that adds width and directional sound, DTS:X also provides that third dimension of height for a more immersive 3D experience.
DTS:X launched a few years after Dolby Atmos and offers users more commercial flexibility. When it comes to big theaters, you can only have up to 64 Atmos-enabled speakers, but with DTS:X, there’s no limit. DTS:X costs theater owners nothing to license, unlike Dolby Atmos.
DTS:X is also more flexible when it comes to the number of “objects” a sound engineer can place virtually in a scene. While DTS allows for virtually unlimited objects, Atmos limits the objects in a scene to 128.
So is DTS:X better than Dolby Atmos? Maybe. But Dolby Atmos has a bigger marketing machine behind it, so a lot of folks may never know. Read up on DTS:X in our article, What is DTS:X?
Netflix does support Dolby Atmos content, but to get it you need to make sure absolutely everything in your setup is Dolby Atmos-ready: The TV, the soundbar and speakers, the content, and potentially, your streaming device if you’re not playing via the TV.
While it’s possible to find plenty of Dolby Atmos demo videos on YouTube, they won’t play properly. YouTube doesn’t have support for Dolby Atmos yet.
The simple answer is yes, but this is one of those technologies that you need to experience. You probably thought your old SD or HD TV at home looked great until the first time you walked by a 4K TV in a store and wondered what rabbit hole you’d just fallen down.
The same applies with 3D audio like Dolby Atmos: If you’re sitting at home listening to 5.1 surround sound, you probably think life is pretty good. If any electronics stores near you have a dedicated Dolby Atmos display or test room, it’s really worth going in and listening to the difference. You can really see and hear how a helicopter can take off from the TV screen at the front of the room then lift up and over your head, before fading off into the background.
The overall result is a more realistic, lifelike sound that feels like it’s coming from all around you, not just being beamed at you from two or three speakers pointed in your general direction.
Article Tags: Atmos · Dolby · Home · Setup · Soundbars · Theater