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Best Dolby Atmos soundbar of 2021

Cinema-quality audio is available on TV-friendly speakers, but having a Dolby logo doesn't guarantee it will sound great.

Wireless subwoofers? Bluetooth? HDMI? Of all the features available on a soundbar, one of the most requested by CNET readers is Dolby Atmos audio. Like its rival DTS:X audio format, Atmos differs from normal surround by adding the dimension of height to your music and movies.

The best Dolby Atmos soundbars used to cost an arm and a leg. These days, thanks to relatively inexpensive systems Dolby Atmos audio is now much more affordable. Compared with a traditional Atmos receiver and surround sound speakers, they're easier to set up and are much more compact, though the trade-off is they can't provide the same level of performance.

The Vizio SB36512-F6 was my favorite Dolby Atmos soundbar for under $500, but sadly, this sound system is now discontinued. It has been replaced by the M512a, while the competitive Monoprice SB-600 offers excellent build quality for around $400. Look out for reviews of both units in the near future. 

In the meantime there are benefits to be had from the more expensive models, such as improved sound quality and even onboard virtual assistants like Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa. For example, the $800 Sonos Arc is an all-in-one soundbar that offers great sound, exquisite build quality and excellent multiroom capabilities.

It's worth noting that there are plenty of simulated Dolby Atmos soundbars on the market -- they can process Atmos but lack upfiring speakers -- and they can't properly express the height dimension. Even the best systems I've heard, such as the Sony HT-G700, were outperformed by systems with upfiring drivers when it came to placing objects in 3D space. There's no substitute for physical speakers.

These are my favorite Atmos soundbar options $800 from and up, periodically updated as we review new products.

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

If you like a bit of "high tech" in your tech then look to the Vizio Elevate. This is a 5.1.2 soundbar system that uses motorized drivers to switch between Atmos and normal surround sound. It's not just a gimmick -- it also sounds good! The Elevate also includes everything you want from a modern soundbar, including multiple HDMI inputs and Wi-Fi music streaming. It's currently on sale for $900.

Read our Vizio Elevate P514A-H6 review.

 

Ty Pendlebury

If you want the best Dolby Atmos sound from a single bar, but balk at paying $1,000 or more, the Sonos Arc is for you. This soundbar is a bit quirky, as you'll need a 2019-onwards 4K TV to make the most of it, and yet it still performs better than most. The Arc offers a bunch of great features too, including a choice of voice assistant and Sonos' excellent streaming architecture.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you have a bit more money to spend on high-resolution audio but want as few boxes as possible, then the Sony HT-ST5000 sound system with true Dolby Atmos technology and a wireless subwoofer is a decent buy. It has some of the best virtual surround sound from a single bar that we've heard under $2,000. The Sony Dolby Atmos soundbar also offers plenty of HDMI input options -- something cheaper bars lack.

Read our Sony HT-ST5000 review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Want the ultimate Atmos audio home theater sound system experience with just a single box? It may be a grand more than the Sony but the Sennheiser Ambeo standalone soundbar offers the best immersive sound we've ever heard. Google Chromecast and Bluetooth connectivity are built in for a seamless experience. The Ambeo's lack of a subwoofer, while still sounding full, should be especially attractive to apartment dwellers.

Read our Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar review.

 

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