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Best Dolby Atmos soundbar of 2021

Cinema-quality audio is available on TV-friendly speakers, but sporting a Dolby Atmos 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 height to your music and movies.

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, with the trade-off being they can't provide the same level of performance.

The Vizio M512a, which replaces the excellent Vizio SB36512-F6, is my favorite Dolby Atmos soundbar for under $500. Yet, 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 -- speakers like the Sonos Beam Gen 2 and the Vizio M51ax can process Atmos but lack upfiring speakers. However, even the best virtual systems I've heard, such as the Sony HT-G700, have been outperformed by systems with dedicated drivers when it comes to placing objects in 3D space. There's no substitute for physical height speakers.

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

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

The Vizio M512a improves on its predecessor in almost every way: it looks better, it sounds better, and it's easier to use. While it keeps Bluetooth capability it does lose the ability to stream over Wi-Fi. If you're looking for the most cost-effective way to add Dolby Atmos to your television this is the one. 

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.

Best soundbar-and-subwoofer combo

Sony HT-ST5000

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 bar that we've heard under $2,000. The 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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