There are plenty of features you’d like to look for if you’re in the market for a soundbar. The most popular and oft-requested feature by CNET’s readers is Dolby Atmos audio. Like DTS:X, Dolby Atmos differs from standard surround sound by adding height to your music and movies for a more dynamic and immersive sound and better listening experience. The best Dolby Atmos soundbar options are able to deliver exceptional audio quality that fills your room.
Dolby Atmos soundbars are now more affordable than ever, especially compared with a traditional Atmos receiver and surround-sound speakers. These soundbars are also more compact and easier to set up than a home theater system, with the trade-off being they can’t provide the same level of performance.
The Vizio M512a is my favorite Dolby Atmos soundbar for under $500 — it offers both dedicated height channels and surround speakers and quality sound into the bargain. Some competitors at the price — such as the Sonos Beam Gen 2 and Sony HT-G700 — can only offer simulated height speakers, while you can hear the difference that the dedicated height speakers of the Bose Smart Soundbar 600 make.
Though you can easily stop at the $500 mark, there are benefits to be had from the more expensive models: improved sound quality, music streaming and voice assistants like Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. For example, the $900 Sonos Arc is an all-in-one soundbar that offers great sound, exquisite build quality and excellent multiroom capabilities.
If you want a soundbar with Dolby Atmos audio, read on. These are my favorite Atmos soundbar options from $400 and up, periodically updated as I review new products. Be aware: Some of these products are currently on backorder, so check back to see if a specific model is once again in stock.
How I test
At CNET I test audio equipment from compact soundbars though to surround sound speakers systems, but regardless of the device my methodology is largely the same. I always compare products against one or more reference devices which offer the best performance at a similar price.
When it comes to soundbars I want to see how well a system performs with music as well as with movies, as most people will want to do both. I watch from a handful of test scenes from 4K Blu-ray or streamed from a 4K streaming service (Vudu, for example) and evaluate aspects such as bass performance and dialog clarity. I also use a number of test music tracks and evaluate any streaming features such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. It’s systems that can perform well with both types of entertainment that inevitably score the highest.
Other soundbars I’ve tested
I have tested the following soundbars in the CNET audio lab against models of a similar price. Each if these soundbars are worthy in their own way, but aren’t quite as recommendable as our main picks.
- Sonos Beam Gen 2 ($499) The Beam may only offer simulated height speakers, but it’s the best simulated Atmos I’ve heard yet. The Sonos Beam also offers a lot of features, while the Bose Soundbar 600 and Vizio M512a-H6 deliver even better Atmos performance for the same money. Read CNET’s review of the Sonos Beam Gen 2.
- Bose Smart Soundbar 900 ($899): This is a great Bose soundbar, and it pairs well with the company’s QuietComfort headphones for late-night listening, but it’s simply not as robust as the Sonos Arc. Read CNET’s review of the Bose Smart Soundbar 600
- LG QP5 Eclair ($599): Very cute, minimalist system which provides real Dolby Atmos from two boxes. However, I found that its performance doesn’t match the $500-$600 asking price with a surprisingly over-bright sound. Read CNET’s first take.
- Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 ($999): An excellent soundbar with HDMI connectivity and multiroom music streaming. While music is where this soundbar shines, the system does cost more than the Arc and the peripherals are expensive.
- Sennheiser Ambeo Plus ($1,500): A cut-down version of the $2,500 Sennheiser Ambeo Max which offers many of the same features including Chromecast built-in and voice assistance. I found the sound was enveloping and music to be more nuanced than some of the cheaper ‘bars. Yet, at its retail price of $1,500 it’s not quite $600 better than the Sonos Arc, nor is surround sound as convincing as the Max. Read CNET’s first take of the Sennheiser Ambeo Plus.
Check out my soundbar buying guide for more about the features and things you should consider when looking for a new system.
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