Given the ubiquity of its licence badges on all manner of AV equipment, it’s hard to believe that not long ago Dolby Atmos was new terrain for cinema sound. Initially tethered to the big screen and then available only to those with home theatre installs, Dolby Atmos sound from a system with height drivers can now be easily added to your living room courtesy of any number of premium soundbars.
But just because this new pinnacle of home audio has hitherto been the preserve of pricier products doesn’t mean that it can’t successfully exist at a lower price point. As the Turkish writer Mehmet Murat Somer said, “Something good is a frontier; something better is also a frontier, and something excellent is just another frontier! You can always go beyond these frontiers!”
Seeking to blaze that trail is Majority’s Sierra Plus soundbar, which offers 2.1.2 channels of sound with Dolby Atmos decoding for just £270 / $300 (around AU$470), less than the price of many standard non-Atmos soundbars.
You may not have heard of Majority before, but the British brand has been producing affordable AV equipment, including radios, microphones and DVD players, for a decade. Based near Cambridge, the company, which offers a three-year warranty on all of its products, ships to the UK for free from its website and worldwide via its Amazon storefront.
The Sierra Plus sits at the top of Majority’s nine-strong range of affordable, mountain-themed soundbars, the cheapest of which, the Atlas, is a mere £30 / $25 (around AU$52). It’s also available as a standalone Sierra soundbar without the sub for £210 / $215 (around AU$367), but there aren’t any options to expand it with rear surround speakers.
Dolby Atmos soundbars with upward-firing drivers are a rarity at this price point, and most of the Sierra Plus’ competitors use virtual Atmos decoding. Those competitors include the wireless-enabled JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam, which launched last year at £349 / $399 / AU$600 but can now be found for £199 in the UK and $475 in Australia (it’s still $399 in the US).
Virtual Atmos, without height drivers, isn’t necessarily inferior to ‘true’ Atmos, and it’s fair to say we’d rather listen to a top-performing soundbar with virtual decoding than a lacklustre one with height drivers. The Sonos Beam Gen 2, for example, is the benchmark in this price category (although significantly pricier at £449 / $449 / AU$649). It may only have front-facing drivers but this What Hi-Fi? Award winner has a class-leading sound, wi-fi streaming and can be supplemented by adding two One SL rear speakers (£358 / $358 / AU$538) and, if required, a Sub (£699 / $699 / AU$999).
Features and build
Wi-fi connectivity is a bit beyond the scope of what the Sierra Plus can offer. Instead, this budget bar has Bluetooth onboard for music streaming and hard-wired inputs for HDMI ARC, optical, mini-jack and USB. Unlike the Sonos Beam, however, the Sierra Plus also gives users two further HDMI 4K HDR passthrough ports to directly connect external devices such as a games console or Blu-ray player, reducing the number of cables you need to run to your TV.
Despite its low cost, the Sierra Plus has a smart appearance with black metal grilles and wouldn’t look out of place under a TV several times its price. At just over 8cm high, it’s on the tall side but should still skirt under most TVs. Alternatively, wall mounting brackets are included in the box.
Across the front of the main soundbar is a left-right system. Each channel consists of a pair of drivers and a port, with two more ports at either end, while on top is a pair of angled height drivers. The centre of the front face is occupied by a 7-segment digital display that gives feedback on control changes as well as format confirmation and, slightly irritatingly, is always active when the soundbar is powered on.
Meanwhile, the satin black sub houses a 5.25-inch side-firing driver and front-facing port. At the rear is an LED to indicate Bluetooth connection to the main bar, a USB service port and a 13A power lead that, unfortunately, is hardwired and at 1.2m doesn’t have a long reach.
Connectivity HDMI ARC, optical, coaxial, 3.5mm aux, USB
Audio Formats Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos 2-channel, MP3, FLAC, WAV, WMA
Total power 108W Class D amplification
Weight 2.7kg / Subwoofer 7.9 kg
Dimension (hwd) 8.1 x 96 x 10.8cm / Subwoofer 37 x 19 x 30.6cm
On the top are rubber push buttons for basic functionality, and if using the ARC connection, your TV remote will also be able to adjust the volume. Primary control, however, is via the small included remote, which gives quick access to playback functions as well as a bass control for the sub, treble control and four sound modes: movie, music, news and 3D. The last of those adds processing to enhance the spaciousness of the soundbar’s presentation but is a little chaotic and generally best avoided. Meanwhile, ‘news’ crispens up dialogue, and there doesn’t seem to be much difference between ‘music’ and ‘movie’ other than a marginally wider soundstage in the latter, which is the mode we use for most of our testing.
As the Sierra Plus has ARC, as opposed to eARC, it can only decode Dolby Atmos in its lossy Dolby Digital Plus format. However no streaming service currently offers Dolby Atmos content in lossless True HD, so unless you also plan to connect a 4K Blu-ray player into your TV and then pass the sound out to the soundbar, this should be no great loss.
While Majority may pride itself on its customer support, be warned that the product manual is on the vague side, and there’s more than a hint of evasiveness about the Sierra Plus’s usability too. For example, when you begin playing back content in Dolby Surround or Dolby Atmos, confirmation scrolls across the display, but once it's gone, it’s gone.
Bluetooth pairing is a simple affair using the pair button on the remote, while USB playback (MP3, FLAC, WAV and WMA formats are supported) is done blindly using the skip button to jump around files on your external drive.
Kicking off with Unbroken on Blu-ray in Dolby Atmos, while the opening flypast lacks a bit of height and hits a dynamic ceiling fairly early on, the Sierra Plus still reflects the expansive soundscape well with a feeling of width and solidity.
The soundbar is relatively impressionistic, reproducing soundscapes competently but lacking some of the finer detail we might expect on a more premium speaker. Inside the aircraft, the whirr of the gunner's chair isn’t as clearly reproduced as it is by the best, and the changes of location, from interior to exterior, aren’t as distinct, but there’s no real sense that anything is lacking and, remarkably, the dialogue in this noisy scene is clear and well projected, if a little compressed, despite the lack of a dedicated centre channel.
Swapping to the Live Aid performance in Bohemian Rhapsody, the Sierra Plus proves to be surprisingly capable musically, with the sub lending a nice touch of weight and depth to proceedings, despite being tonally rather loose. Again there’s some refinement lacking, with the noise of the crowd merging into an amorphous sound, but overall it’s a cinematic sound that’s far more engaging than the in-built speakers of all but the most expensive TVs.
It even copes well with the complex soundtracks found in Gravity, with vocals that move across the extremities of the soundstage. Some virtual Dolby Atmos soundbars rather overdo the processing in the opening scenes of this zero-G thriller, leaving dialogue indistinct, but the Sierra Plus maintains clear and solid projection, only veering off course when the camera angle switches to inside Sandra Bullock's helmet.
Streaming the Ani DiFranco track Little Plastic Castle, the loose droning quality of the sub becomes a bit more distracting and drives us to pull back the bass level considerably. It remains disjointed from the main bar by a fairly gaping lower-mid void; however, it’s not overpowering and the overall performance is better with the sub onboard than without.
The Sierra Plus does a good job of presenting the detail in the vocal and acoustic guitar in the first verse and, when the bouncy ska accompaniment and percussion kick in, manages to keep things relatively composed, with decent timing and rhythmic integrity. Sometimes, cheap soundbars lean toward a brighter sound that can quickly become harsh, but the Sierra Plus has smartly been designed to avoid this pitfall – a little extra sparkle to the treble wouldn't go amiss though.
It’s fair to say that almost all in-built TV speakers are sonically disappointing, and we really do think that adding a decent sound system can really improve the experience of almost everything that you watch.
The Sierra Plus is an affordable Dolby Atmos soundbar that knows its limitations but still delivers an entertaining, enjoyable home cinema sound. It’s not the most detailed performer, and its sub is vague and monotone, but its soundstage is broad, and dialogue is clear and engaging. Overhead effects aren't going to make you duck for cover, but we really wouldn’t expect them to. If you want to enjoy more clarity from your TV and drama from films but can’t stretch to a Sonos Beam, the Majority Sierra Plus is well worth considering.
- Sound 4
- Build 5
- Features 4
Read our review of the Sonos Beam Gen 2
Also consider the JBL Bar 5.0 Multi Beam
Read our Sony HT-G700 review