Source: Android Central
Dolby Atmos Soundbars
True Dolby Atmos setups require you to place between 8 and 12 speakers throughout your living room—including up to four mounted on your ceiling. For audiophiles who want cinema-level audio quality but can’t spare the space, consider investing in an Atmos-supported soundbar like the Samsung HW-Q90R Soundbar. The excellent products below ship on their own or with two discrete speakers and a subwoofer, but still mimic a full 3D audio sphere using built-in drivers that blast object-based sound in all directions.
Best Overall: Samsung HW-Q90R Soundbar
Source: Daniel Waraksa / Samsung
Many soundbars on this list produce amazing sound as an all-in-one package, and we can’t fault buyers who want to keep things simple. But the inclusion of discrete speakers and a subwoofer has a tangible, positive impact on 3D sound quality. As such, the Samsung HW-Q90R beats out some healthy competition for the top spot from the Sonos Arc and Sennheiser Ambeo.
The HW-Q90R is an upgrade on last year’s respectable Samsung HW-N950 soundbar. Each feature upward- and side-firing drivers for excellent total ambiance; both support Atmos, DTS:X, and most other audio inputs through Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or HDMI 2.0; they even look similar enough that you may have trouble telling them apart. Still, the savings you’d get on a discounted N950 will lock you out of some excellent upgrades.
One area where the HW-Q90R surpasses its predecessor is in its revamped wireless subwoofer with an 8-inch driver for impressive, side-firing bass. You also get improved sound modes geared towards gaming or movies, as well as a new Adaptive Sound mode that analyzes audio in real-time to make dialogue easier to understand. Best of all, the HW-Q90R was patched in 2020 to include eARC capabilities. Audio sourced from TVs is often downgraded by default during the transfer to the soundbar, undermining its capacity to produce good-quality sound. Yet with “enhanced” ARC support, you get the uncompressed signal 100% of the time.
Samsung does a great job of making their products easy to set up and simple to control, and the HW-Q90R is no exception. Unfortunately, one area in which the setup is too simple is in-room calibration: you don’t have an excellent option to optimize the speaker output to better fit the confines of your room. Plus, Google and Apple users will be disappointed by the lack of Chromecast or AirPlay support, though the speaker does work seamlessly with Alexa.
- Truly excellent audio
- Support for virtually all audio formats
- Discrete, upward-firing speakers and excellent subwoofer
- Simple to set up
- No Chromecast or AirPlay compatibility
- No room calibration
Surround yourself with sound
Samsung’s top-end soundbar comes with excellent peripheral speakers for a straightforward yet impressive 3D audio package.
Best Value Atmos Soundbar: VIZIO 36″ 5.1.2-Channel Soundbar (SB36512-F6)
Source: Shootmepeter2016 / Vizio
You can find some strong, affordable soundbars for under $100, and many of our overall picks for the best soundbars available fall under $500. Most of the best Atmos soundbars, on the other hand, have premium pricing: the side- and upward-firing drivers that replicate surround sound aren’t cheap, and Atmos often goes hand-in-hand with other premium audio formats. You’ll find some soundbars that allow for Atmos’ object-based sound format at a low cost, but these devices often lack the hardware to make the surround sound convincing.
Vizio’s 36-inch soundbar series strikes the best middle ground, avoiding a high price tag but still achieving a serviceable level of quality. This is primarily achieved through its rear discrete speakers and 6-inch subwoofer: expensive soundbars can mimic 3D audio with lots of upward-firing drivers, but lower-level devices can’t accomplish this, so the best option is actually to surround yourself with affordably priced speakers.
In terms of pure sound, this model will impress most buyers for its strong showing despite a low price. As an Atmos speaker, it does about as well as can be expected, but won’t achieve the same level of immersion as anything else on this list. Plus, as with the Sonos Arc, the one HDMI port ensures your audio data will have to run through your TV, with only an ARC-enabled connection instead of eARC.
- Great price for Atmos
- Google Assistant, Bluetooth and Chromecast support
- Excellent budget surround sound
- No DTS:X, Alexa or AirPlay
- Only one HDMI input
- Atmos won’t blow you away
Best Value Atmos Soundbar
Vizio has created a surprisingly dulcet soundbar for a much more reasonable price than most Atmos speakers.
Best All-in-One Soundbar: Sonos Arc
Straight out of the box, the Sonos Arc is petite enough to slot beneath most TVs (or can be mounted), doesn’t take long to set up, and has no peripherals to connect to it. While it lacks discrete speakers or a subwoofer, the all-in-one design compensates for this with eight woofers, three tweeters, and 11 amplifiers, as well as Sonos’ Trueplay Tuning tool—which tunes these drivers to match the specific dimensions of your living room.
Our reviewer found the audio quality to be truly top-notch, and was impressed with its ability to isolate distinct sounds with Atmos-enabled content. Still, how well your Arc performs will depend in part on the room it’s in. In a smaller, enclosed space, it can easily use drivers to guide sound objects into an impressive 3D bubble. In a larger or wider room, no soundbar on its own is going to perfectly recreate surround sound. Most buyers are just looking for an upgrade on TV speakers, however, and will find the Arc perfectly fulfills this role.
One caveat of the Arc is its single HDMI port and missing Bluetooth support. Most soundbars feature two or more HDMI slots, which allows you to directly connect other devices to your soundbar besides your television. With the Arc, all sound data must run through your TV, meaning if you have an older TV, it will limit your Arc’s capacity to produce good sound or properly sync audio and video. Essentially, make sure you have a recent 4K TV if you want features like eARC to work properly.
- Simple form factor with 11 drivers
- Big, room-filling sound
- Easy setup
- Alexa, Google Assistant, AirPlay support
- Only one HDMI port
- No DTS:X, Bluetooth support
Best All-in-One Soundbar
Skip the side speakers
The Sonos Arc is perfect for buyers who want excellent quality without extra wires or speakers cluttering your living room.
Best For Music: LG SN11RG Dolby Atmos Soundbar
The newest soundbar on the block, the 7.1.4-channel LG SN11RG, stands out from a crowd of dark, dull bricks with its sleek metal finish and a bright LED front-screen that displays useful information before dimming after a period of inaction. The subwoofer and two discrete speakers aren’t flashy, but they’re not meant to stand out, only to enhance the surround sound.
Of course, you’ll mainly care about the sound quality and features, which thankfully measure up to most competing flagship soundbars. You get all the Dolby audio formats, DTS:X, two HDMI 2.1 ports with eARC, automatic room calibration, built-in Chromecast and Google Home support, pass-through 4K, and Dolby Vision, even FLAC-level music at 192kHz. Buzzwords aside, you get another surround-sound setup with side- and upward-firing drivers that rival Samsung’s HW-Q90R in 3D quality.
Like other speakers, it adjusts sound data based on what you’re watching, using “AI Sound Pro” tech to bring out specific notes or highlight dialogue. Where the SN11RG shines is its ability to upscale audio using this AI tech to turn lower-quality, single-channel audio into a convincing multi-channel output. Considering not every music track or movie soundtrack you listen to will have High-Resolution audio, it’s great to pick a speaker that will make most music sound better than it is.
- Distinctive design with LED screen
- Impressive array of supported audio modes
- AI Sound Pro
- No Alexa or AirPlay support
Best For Music
LG’s best soundbar yet supports studio-quality music and looks as good as it sounds.
Best premium soundbar: Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar
We won’t beat around the bush: only the wealthiest of sound snobs should consider Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar, which sells for more than double most of the other soundbars on this list. At nearly half a foot tall, this behemoth can squeeze in 13 large drivers that create the most impressive surround sound you could hope for in an all-in-one device. It’s so large, in fact, that you’re basically required to mount your TV so it can fit underneath it.
Most people spending over two grand on a sound system would invest in a hardcore home theater like the Bose Lifestyle package, and litter their living room with speakers. Yet Sennheiser does an admirable job of imitating an actual surround-sound layout with the Ambeo while leaving floor and table space for something besides speakers.
The Ambeo supports most audio formats and connections that you could ask for, including DTS:X, HDMI 2.1, eARC, 4K video pass-through, 3 HDMI inputs, Chromecast, multiband EQ, and more. Plus, it has a custom microphone that maps out your room to calibrate the sound perfectly.
- Best soundbar audio of any device
- Excellent room calibration
- HDMI eARC support
- Too large to slot under TVs
- Absurdly pricy
- No subwoofer means average bass
Best Premium Atmos Soundbar
Mighty music for a massive price
More a sound slab than a soundbar, the giant Ambeo houses excellent speakers and impressive future-proofed tech.
Coming Soon: VIZIO Elevate Soundbar (P514a-H6)
If you want a high-quality soundbar but don’t mind making do with your current model a bit longer, this Fall 2020 device is worth the wait. While most speakers on this list require you to choose its Dolby Atmos setting manually, the Vizio Elevate automatically detects soundtracks with Atmos or DTS:X objects and rotates its speaker pods towards the ceiling for proper 3D audio. Then, they switch back to forward-firing surround-sound by default for regular tracks.
Specs-wise, it more than matches the competition: 18 speakers including four up-firing speakers, adjustable dialogue EQ, 4K Dolby Vision HDR Pass-Through, 8-inch wireless subwoofer, and voice assistant support for Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. It also upgrades to HDMI 2.1 eARC, which allows for speedier transfer of uncompressed audio data and perfect syncing of video and audio to remove any lag.
Vizio’s P-Series line has supported Dolby Atmos in the past, and currently has another solid 5.1.4-channel soundbar, the SB46514-F6, available for sale at the same price. But with the new and improved model so close to launch, there’s no reason not to hold off for now.
- Automatic rotating speakers
- 18 discrete drivers
- Chromecast, Google Assistant and Alexa support
- HDMI 2.1 with eARC support and built-in sync correction
Future of audio
Vizio Elevate’s flashy rotating speaker pods shouldn’t distract from the soundbar’s excellent specs and desync-proof sound.
Comparing most of these devices, it’s surprising how similar most of these soundbars are in terms of features and specs. Certainly, the all-in-one versus four-speaker difference is important, and audiophiles will dislike certain missing features like DTS:X or enough HDMI ports. But ultimately, this list is chock-full of excellent audio quality, and you get diminishing returns the higher the list price climbs. The Samsung HW-Q90R Soundbar is exhibit A of this.
With seamless Atmos-quality sound, settings that cherry-pick certain sounds or dialogue based on what you’re watching, and either eARC support for excellent data transfer speeds, the HW-Q90R matches its more expensive competitors in most areas. Admittedly, the lack of AI-based room calibration is a minus, but you can always manually customize the sound to match your space.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Michael Hicks got his tech start in 2016, covering emerging tech like VR and self-driving cars before expanding to all things tech. When he’s not gaming or reading SFF novels, he writes freelance for Android Central and Windows Central.
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