Skip to main content

Should you buy a Dolby Atmos soundbar?

Home cinema soundbar: Sony HT-A7000
(Image credit: Sony)

MORE

18 of the best Dolby Atmos movie scenes to test your home cinema sound

Best budget soundbars 2021: excellent, affordable TV speakers

11 of the best spatial audio tracks in Dolby Atmos on Apple Music

If you like to enjoy your home cinema viewing at its very finest, then no doubt at some point you’ve considered upgrading your TV’s built-in speakers to a surround sound system only to recoil at the cost and clutter implications.

But gone are the days when the only way to create an immersive audio experience meant turning your living room into the speaker version of Stonehenge. Soundbar technology has come a long way, and you can now take advantage of a wide variety of Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbars designed specifically to envelop you with cinematic sound, no matter your size or budget requirements.

What is Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos is an object-based audio format that expands upon a traditional surround set-up by adding channels to produce sound from overhead. Filmmakers use the technology in the mixing stage to place sounds and voices at exact points in the soundfield rather than simply assigning them to channels, creating an enveloping soundstage even from the confines of a small soundbar.  

As well as adding thrilling movement to action sequences, Dolby Atmos enhances perspective and immersion in both effects and music. Most premium Atmos soundbars use upward-firing drivers to disperse sound vertically and reflect it off your ceiling – giving the effect of having overhead speakers and adding realism to vertical sounds such as planes and helicopters.

A slew of excellent Dolby Atmos soundbars have recently hit the market, and there’s now a range of models to suit all budgets. Some pocket-friendly models offer ‘virtual’ decoding of the format, using psychoacoustics instead of upward drivers. While realistic overhead sounds are a bit of a stretch for these more affordable Dolby Atmos soundbars, having the ability to decode the format well means that you’ll still find that movies and games have more compelling and nuanced soundtracks.

And as a bonus, because the majority of up-to-date Dolby Atmos soundbars have network connectivity, you can also benefit from upgrading your system with streaming features and voice control.

Where can you watch Dolby Atmos movies?

There’s plenty of Dolby Atmos content available, some of which you may already have access to and not be taking advantage of. Disney Plus has a generous selection of Dolby Atmos programming, including the back catalogue of the Marvel and Star Wars franchises. Meanwhile, Netflix’s top tier supports Dolby Atmos on Originals such as Squid Games, Roma and Uncut Gems.

Many titles available through Apple TV+, including Apple originals, support Dolby Atmos, and the Apple TV store offers possibly the largest selection of Atmos movies to rent or buy digitally.

Amazon Prime Video, Vudu and HBO Max also offer Atmos programming, though to a lesser extent. You can spot Atmos content by looking out for the Dolby Atmos logo or simply searching ‘Dolby Atmos’, but for starters, we can recommend Amazon’s Jack Ryan TV series and HBO’s blockbuster releases, including Dune and Wonder Woman 1984. However, it’s worth noting that the HBO Max app does not support Dolby Atmos on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Samsung TVsVIZIO 4K Smart TVsXbox consoles and Xfinity devices.

A more comprehensive selection of Dolby Atmos content is also accessible to owners of a Sky Q box and relevant subscription package via Sky Cinema and the Sky Store. Away from films, live sports (mainly football) broadcasts are available to subscribers of BT’s top-tier Total Entertainment package or Sky Q.

Many PC and Xbox games support Dolby Atmos, too, including Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Call of Duty: Warzone, Gears 5, Forza Horizon 5, Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War.

Of course, if you’re still partial to the disc, then you’ll find Atmos on many Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray releases, too. Blade Runner 2049, Baby Driver, Mad Max: Fury Road, Bohemium Rhapsody, 1917, Ready Player One and Tenet are among the best releases of recent years.

The best Dolby Atmos movie scenes to test your home cinema sound

Which Dolby Atmos soundbar should you buy?

So, we've explained what Dolby Atmos is and where it's available – now we turn to the meat of the matter: which Dolby Atmos soundbar should you buy this Black Friday? Below, you'll find our favourite models along with the latest, lowest prices.

Should you buy the Samsung HW-Q800A?

Samsung HW-Q800A

(Image credit: Future)

Very few Dolby Atmos soundbar packages have a sub that can perform as well as that of Samsung’s Q800A, which provides a muscular, room-filling sound and a gut-busting bass.

The main soundbar unit houses three forward-facing channels, and on the top are two upward-facing tweeters that provide height channels for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X formats. The whole system offers a capable 3.2.1 channels of articulate, cinematic sound. There’s also the option to add upward-firing surrounds (SWA-9500S) to boost the Q800A to a mighty 5.1.4 system.

And if you happen to own a 2021 Samsung TV, you can enhance the Q800A’s sonic performance by using a new feature called ‘Q-Symphony’, which allows the TV’s internal speakers to work in conjunction with the soundbar package to add more height and space to the soundfield.

Not only does the Q800A offer powerful overall performance, but it also has a broad feature set. Alongside two HDMI ports (one equipped with eARC) and an optical input, there’s Bluetooth and, once connected to wi-fi, you can stream via Spotify Connect and AirPlay 2, all of which can be controlled by the built-in Amazon Alexa voice assistant.

Why should you buy the Samsung Q800A Dolby Atmos Soundbar?

The Q800A is priced slightly lower than the Sonos Arc, and although the latter is crisper and more precise when handling height elements, the Samsung offers a present and compelling listen as well as an epic sense of scale at the low end of the sonic spectrum, which no solo soundbar could ever hope to match.

Read the full Samsung Q800A review

Should you buy the LG SP11RA?

LG SP11RA

(Image credit: LG)

The SP11RA is a significant investment in terms of space as well as money – this package includes a separate sub and two surround speakers, and the soundbar itself clocks in at 144cm long.  However, it’s still a more convenient and less overwhelming undertaking than building a true home cinema system that matches up to the LG’s 7.1.4 channels of excellent Dolby Atmos action.

The main bar has three front-facing channels, two ‘surround’ channels at either end of the bar, and a pair of upward-firing height speakers on the top surface. The wireless sub houses an 18cm driver and rear port, while the rears each have a front and upward-firing driver.

At the rear is an HDMI-out port that supports eARC, plus two HDMI 2.1 inputs with 4K Dolby Vision pass-through. There’s also an optical input and a USB port, the latter for connection to a mass storage device. Meanwhile, there’s wireless connectivity via WiFi and Bluetooth 5.0, as well as compatibility with both Alexa and Google Assistant.

Why should you buy the LG SP11RA Dolby Atmos Soundbar?

The SP11RA is surprisingly agile, with a detailed top end and easy-going character. It’s not got the robust low end of Samsung's Dolby Atmos soundbars or the precision of Sonos or Sony, but it does offer an even and immersive listening experience with a tech spec that is one of the most comprehensive and future-proofed we’ve seen.

All those drivers don’t come cheap, though, so if you fancy maximising your sound per pound ratio, we’d suggest keeping an eye out for discounts, which you'll see below.

Read our full LG SP11RA review 

Should you buy the Samsung HW-Q950A?

Dolby Atmos Soundbar: Samsung HW-Q950A

(Image credit: Samsung)

With a generous 22 drivers delivering 11.1.4 surround sound, the HW-Q950A offers the greatest number of channels of any soundbar on the market right now, as well as 3D audio format support from both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

The Q950A has two HDMI inputs and one output (with support for eARC), plus optical-in for older TVs. The soundbar’s microphone allows for commands to the built-in Amazon Alexa voice assistant and can also be used to monitor background levels, as the Q950A has a nifty feature to boost the centre channel for clearer dialogue if ambient noise increases – though we doubt you’ll feel the need to use it. 

At 130cm long, the main unit of the HW-Q950A isn’t tiny, but it’s nevertheless shorter than many other flagship Dolby Atmos models available at the moment. Inside the left, centre and right channels sit alongside a pair each of upward-firing, surround and wide surround drivers. The separate sub houses a single 8-inch speaker while the wireless surround units each contain 3 drivers - one facing towards the front of the room, one upwards and the last one towards the listening position.  

And if you happen to own a 2021 Samsung TV, you can further enhance the driver count by using a Samsung feature called ‘Q-Symphony’, which allows the TV's internal speakers to work in conjunction with the soundbar package to add more height and space to the soundfield.

Why should you buy the Samsung Q950A Dolby Atmos Soundbar?

With plenty of sonic vigour, features and speakers, the Q950A offers a potent listening experience. While it’s not the most nuanced or spacious performer, those looking to splash out on a Dolby Atmos soundbar that can deliver big, punchy audio and supremely clear vocals will likely not be disappointed by the Q950A.

What's more, Samsung is already offering considerable discounts off the Q950A's  £1600 / $1800 / AU$2100 launch price. You'll see the new deal price below.

Read our full Samsung HW-Q950A review

Should you buy the Sonos Arc?

Sonos Arc Dolby Atmos Soundbar

(Image credit: Sonos)

Launched just last year, the Arc is Sonos' pricier soundbar but is the only soundbar from the brand to deliver Dolby Atmos with vertical speakers. It sits above the brand's virtual Atmos bar, the Beam (Gen 2), and uses 11 drivers to create your soundfield. Several of these drivers are upward-firing and angled into your room to bounce sound off your walls and ceiling and create one of the most convincing Atmos performances you can get from a soundbar.

There's Apple AirPlay 2 connectivity for easy streaming, and eARC for Dolby Atmos from compatible TVs. You can have a choice of voice assistants, too, with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa both built-in. It's simple to set up, slots into the Sonos ecosystem as well as you'd expect and delivers detailed, dramatic audio for a very reasonable price, transporting you straight to the heart of the action. 

Surround effects are expertly placed, and there's excellent dynamism and good weight to the sound too. Tonally, it's nicely balanced if you want to listen to music, though lovers of low end may wish to explore adding the optional Sub (£699 / $699 / AU$999). But, there's no doubt that this is a hugely impressive Dolby Atmos soundbar for the money, even on its own.

Why should you buy the Sonos Arc Dolby Atmos Soundbar?

The Sonos Arc picked up Product of the Year at the What Hi-Fi? Awards last year and has retained award-winning status in 2021 in the face of stiff competition. Its 'true' Dolby Atmos performance is still above and beyond anything we've heard for the same money over the past year, even considering its recent price increase. It's rarely reduced, though, so if you spot a discount, pounce. You'll see the latest, lowest prices below.

Read the full Sonos Arc review

Should you buy the Sony HT-A7000?

Sony HT-A7000 Dolby Atmos Soundbar

(Image credit: Sony)

Sony has excellent form with soundbars, and the 2021 What Hi-Fi? Award-winning HT-A7000 is the company's best yet. A 7.1.2 slab of sound, this Dolby Atmos soundbar packs two up-firing speakers, two beam tweeters, five front-facing drivers and a built-in dual subwoofer into a single chassis. Using a combination of driver placement and psychoacoustic techniques, the Sony HT-A700 delivers a broad and high soundstage, whether you’re watching immersive content or not, while retaining musicality, presence and detail.

In terms of supported audio formats, the A7000 excels itself by including Dolby Atmos (in both the Digital+ and TrueHD formats), DTS:X, LPCM, hi-res wireless audio and Sony 360 Reality Audio.

It’s as packed with streaming smarts as it is stuffed with speakers, with Spotify ConnectApple AirPlay 2, and Google Chromecast all on board, and integration into a multi-room system – with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit and Google Home all supported. 

Alongside two HDMI 2.1 pass-through sockets capable of handling 8K@60Hz, 4K@120Hz, and Dolby Vision HDR, there are ports for eARC, analogue and optical audio inputs, and USB type-A. There’s also an analogue output for Sony’s Acoustic Center Sync, which lets a compatible Bravia TV become part of the soundbar’s centre channel when the two are connected using the supplied cable.

Why should you buy the Sony HT-A700 Dolby Atmos Soundbar?

In terms of height and precision, the Sony HT-A700’s performance is similar to that of the Sonos Arc, but the width of the soundstage and its forward projection is more convincing. The integrated sub is also one of the most impressive we’ve heard, with a taut, controlled and powerful performance.

Packed with next-gen features and streaming options, the A7000 is an incredibly competent, future-proofed performer that sets a new benchmark for Dolby Atmos soundbars. It's brand new, so discounts will be rare. The latest, lowest prices are below – if you spot a deal, grab it while you can.

Read the full Sony HT-A7000 review

Should you buy the Sonos Beam Gen 2?

Home cinema soundbar: Sonos Beam Gen 2

(Image credit: Sonos)

Delivering Dolby Atmos from a small chassis is no mean feat, but the 2021 What Hi-Fi? Award-winning Sonos Beam Gen 2 achieves a convincing, immersive performance without so much as a vertical speaker in sight. Instead, when watching Atmos content, two of the soundbar's five front-facing arrays are dedicated to reproducing overhead and surround sounds. With its hefty processing power, the Sonos Beam Gen 2 uses psychoacoustic HRTF (head-related transfer function) technology to give the impression of height without needing to get genuinely vertical.

Not that many soundbars at this price point come with networking capabilities, but this being a Sonos product, the Beam Gen 2’s ability to integrate into a wireless multiroom system is fundamental to its design. This means you can stream to the Beam Gen 2 from a handheld device using Apple AirPlay 2, and Spotify Connect is built-in too. There will also be a forthcoming upgrade to add support for Amazon Music Ultra HD audio, which will give access to lossless 24-bit/48kHz tracks and Dolby Atmos Music.

Why should you buy the Sonos Beam Gen 2 Dolby Atmos Soundbar?

While genuine overhead sounds are perhaps a stretch too far for this petite performer, its virtual delivery of the Atmos format outstrips any similarly priced soundbar and even a few that are more expensive. The Beam Gen 2 offers an enveloping, spatial soundscape with rich, detailed audio and tangible motion and depth. 

Unlike some of the more premium soundbars listed here, there's no support for Dolby Atmos rival DTS:X or additional HDMI inputs. Still, it speaks volumes of the performance of the Beam Gen 2 that, despite these constraints and the lack of upward drivers, if space and budget are limited, there isn't a better Dolby Atmos soundbar that we'd recommend. 

Unfortunately, since it was only released in September and Sonos is pretty rigid with its pricing, big discounts on the Beam Gen 2 are unlikely. That said, it's well worth its RRP, and if it drops by even a fiver, you'll see that in the deals box below.

Read the full Sonos Beam Gen 2 review

 

Mary is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi? and has over a decade of experience working as a sound engineer mixing live events, music and theatre.