Cinema-quality audio is available on TV-friendly speakers, but there's more to it than simply sporting a Dolby Atmos logo.
Updated Jan. 4, 2022 11:13 a.m. PT
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Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
ExpertiseTy has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He majored in Cinema Studies when studying at RMIT. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast.Credentials
Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
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 budget Dolby Atmos soundbar. 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 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 can process Atmos but lack up-firing speakers. However, even the best virtual systems I've heard 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 available right now.