Best Dolby Atmos speakers and soundbars: your guide to object-based audio

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The best Dolby Atmos soundbars and speakers you can buy today are the latest evolution in multi-channel audio, bringing you an experience that’s beyond the limits of conventional surround sound systems.

Best Dolby Atmos speakers and soundbars: your guide to object-based audio
© Provided by TechRadar best dolby atmos speakers

Dolby Atmos is a premium and immersive audio format you’ll increasingly find in the latest and greatest audio devices, as well as the best music streaming services. It works by adding height to the otherwise flat soundstage you’d find in both cinema and home cinema audio set-ups. Many of the best Xbox One games take advantage of Dolby Atmos, too, which is able to provide a transformative experience for gamers.

But that’s not all Dolby Atmos speakers can do. As well as adding height to improve the audio mix, it introduces the concept of object-based audio. This is the idea that elements of a film’s soundtrack (let’s say a helicopter passing overhead) can exist as their own individual item in the audio, rather than as part of a channel mix. This allows these all important sounds to be placed and moved around a scene in a way that more naturally mimics real life. So when that helicopter passes overhead, it sounds like it’s really passing your head, not somewhere in the distance. 

You can find Dolby Atmos technology in nearly everything these days, from expensive high-end surround sound systems to hardworking soundbars. Even some standalone smart speakers like the Amazon Echo Studio can handle Atmos soundtracks and songs. 

That means there are a lot of options to navigate – to make your life easier, we’ve rounded up the very best Dolby Atmos soundbars and speakers you can buy today.

Our top picks

Let’s be honest. Accommodating eight or more loudspeakers in a living room is never going to be easy. However, French specialist Focal has produced a lifestyle Atmos sound system that could win over the most reluctant technophobe.  

The Sib Evo 5.1.2 package combines two compact Sib Evo Dolby Atmos speakers to handle left, right and height channels, with a slim Cub Evo subwoofer and three smaller Sib Evo satellites, for centre and rear surround. 

The main Sib Evo speakers cleverly incorporate a 76mm full-range up-firer for Atmos audio in addition to front-firing speaker drivers. Finished in piano gloss black, the whole set looks positively premium.

While the cosmetic design merits plaudits, the speaker cable provision is uninspiring. The rear of the enclosure has a locking terminal, but this only accepts low grade bell wire.

For the best results, it’s advisable to sit within 2m of the upfiring fronts, as this brings you within range of their reflected audio. 

Bigger rooms might require a 5.1.4 Atmos configuration. While you can replace the rear satellite speakers with Dolby enabled models, they cost quite a lot per pair, so it’s not an upgrade path many will feel inclined to take.  

Despite its compact size, this Focal system has range and attack. When the War Boys first roar overhead during the opening of Mad Max Fury Road, there’s a real sense of dynamic attack and spatial movement. 

All the satellites share the same midrange driver and soft dome tweeter, which aids timbre matching.

The subwoofer integration is spectacularly good, crossing over effortlessly with the front soundstage at 100Hz. The sub may not do subterranean bass, but it’s gutsy thanks to a downward firing 209mm woofer and 200W onboard amplification. The system’s slam to footprint ratio is impressive.

While the Focal system can be used for two channel music, it’s really not an audiophile proposition. Stereo music can sound a bit pointy.

That said, if you want a good looking Dolby Atmos speaker package to partner a mid-range AV receiver, this Focal speaker package is definitely one to short list. And when it comes to lifestyle Atmos speaker packages, it’s a very short list indeed.

Sonos has a new Dolby Atmos surround sound solution and it’s contained entirely in a single soundbar it calls Arc.

The Sonos Arc draws on Dolby’s latest TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus sound codecs to deliver the best quality lossless audio found on cutting edge Blu-ray disks and some of the leading streaming services. It then enhances the 3D soundscape using Dolby Atmos object tracks to bounce certain sounds off the walls around you so they feel like they’re coming at you from all angles.

While all this might sound complicated, the Sonos Arc setup couldn’t be simpler, involving just a couple of steps on the smartphone app. The minimalist cable connections and all-in-one system construction add to this no-fuss feeling and streamlined aesthetic – making it the best Dolby Atmos soundbar you can buy in 2021.

While the number of audio channels a home cinema sound system has isn’t everything, it certainly helps. It’s fair to say, then, that Samsung’s HW-Q950A soundbar hits the ground running by delivering no less than 16 separate channels of sound. The new rear side channels Samsung has added to 2020’s 14-channel maximum contribute to the most immersive Dolby Atmos performance we’ve heard from a soundbar. The Q950A’s price could assemble a decent separates system instead. But nothing better combines a near separates-grade performance with the convenience of a soundbar.

The Q950T sees Samsung retain its place at the top of the 3D audio soundbar league, beaten only by the Sonos Arc. It combines Samsung’s customary fearsome power with enhanced precision and dynamism by providing 14 separate channels of sound. Plus, its slimmer shape will see it fit under a wider range of TVs too.

The 9.1.4 system is pretty remarkable for a soundbar, and is clearly tailor-made for the object-based sound delights of today’s Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio formats.

Audio streaming is supported over both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which includes Hi-Res Audio file formats, and even lets you connect with certain phones just by tapping them against the soundbar’s bodywork.

Physical connectivity is fair for a premium soundbar, comprising two HDMI inputs, one HDMI output (with eARC support for obtaining lossless Dolby Atmos / DTS:X soundtracks from compatible TVs) and an optical digital audio input.

Not everyone planning a Dolby Atmos upgrade wants to junk their current sound system. If you have an existing multichannel layout, and simply want to add Dolby Atmos, then drafting in a pair (or quartet) of Dolby Enabled upfiring speakers will do the job.

But should you buy something cheap like the Onkyo SKH-410s, or invest in something more substantial? Canadian brand PSB offers a good deal more, for only a moderate price increase, with the Imagine XA.

These speakers, with their black ash cabinet and matching fabric grille, are a cosmetic match for the brand’s XT2, XT and XB floorstanders, but can be used with any brand. Ideally they should be located around a metre off the floor. An integrated wall-mounting bracket is provided if you don’t have floorstanders/stands/shelves (delete as appropriate) to accommodate them.

The Imagine XA speakers feature a ferrofluid-cooled titanium dome tweeter and clay-filled polypropylene cone woofer. A pair of chunky speaker terminals accept decent cable widths. They look far more expensive than they actually are, and they sound it too.

Highs are smooth and detailed, and the speaker easily creates a convinced Dolby Atmos canopy. The expanded soundstage becomes a tangible extension to the listening room. 

They have some bass output too, but expend most of their energy at 100Hz and above. We’d have no qualms about partnering them with premium floorstanders or bookshelf speakers, although we’d recommend asking a dealer for a trial first, just to check they’re a good timbre match with your existing speakers.

The Samsung HW-Q90R was the brand’s all-singing, all-dancing flagship soundbar for 2019 – and in 2021, it has only been pipped by the Sonos Arc for the best soundbar you can buy because it’s a little pricier. 

It not only supports object-based audio in the shape of both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, it was also the only soundbar from 2019 to achieve this with actual rear speakers and four upward-firing drivers.

Few soundbars come so close to producing the full Dolby Atmos and DTS:X experience, and thanks to tuning from Harman Kardon the HW-Q90 even sounds good with music. A decent set of features and fully-specified HDMI connections complete a nearly flawless package… as long as you can afford it, this is the best soundbar you can buy.

Given that rival Dolby Atmos-compatible soundbars typically sell for twice the price, Sony’s HT-X8500 warrants an easy recommendation – and it’s the best soundbar with Dolby Atmos that won’t break the bank. Cost-cutting can be attributed to connectivity and features but what’s genuinely confounding is just how great the HT-X8500 sounds. 

The key to the HT-X8500’s gutsy performance is Sony’s proprietary Vertical Sound Engine – working with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X content, it creates a convincing illusion of wraparound sound that allow Dolby Atmos movies to play with a clear sense of expanded height and width.

The build quality and design of the soundbar is exceptional, and its general audio performance impresses with its clarity and spatial presentation. 

Overall, if you want a home theatre sound system that won’t dent your budget, this is the best soundbar for you.

[Update: Sony has released the follow up to the HT-X8500; the Sony HT-G700 comes with virtual Dolby Atmos and a dedicated center speaker to enhance dialogue.]

The Amazon Echo Studio is an impressive offering – a smart-speaker and Dolby Atmos immersive sound home cinema unit, all in one tidy package. Some of its experiments with upmixing stereo sources can sound a bit confused, but it’s otherwise a very powerful, feature-rich smart speaker – especially considering the price.

It’s a good option for anyone who’s low on space and can’t stretch to an upfiring soundbar or multi-speaker setup, while Alexa smarts means that it can act as the center of your smart home, as well as your music player. 

If you’re upgrading from the simple speakers built into your TV, or a lowly stereo soundbar, it’s a fantastic and simple upgrade to make to your home cinema system. You’ll get a cracking, resonant bass response, excellent volume and far more depth than a comparably-priced soundbar can offer.

As ever with virtualized surround sound, it’s not as impactful as having discrete physical speaker channels above and behind you, hooked up to an AV receiver. But that’s a huge expense, and not practical for all living room arrangements, making the powerful Echo Studio an impressive value option.

Read the full review: Amazon Echo Studio

Dolby Atmos explained

Dolby Atmos is often referred to as an immersive sound system, or 3D audio, because it uses inventive ‘sonic steerage’ to create a wonderfully realistic soundstage. 

But it doesn’t always do this by engulfing you with sound. It can be surprisingly subtle. Consider the opening sequence in Transformers: Age of Extinction: When T.J Miller throws a football before the discovery of the Optimus Prime truck, it bounces into the rear right channel of a traditional surround mix. 

However in Dolby Atmos, the ball takes a different trajectory. It’s thrown higher and sounds less like a panning effect, meaning the result is far more convincing. Of course Atmos does the big stuff (explosions, thunder, rain) really well, too.

Dolby Atmos is a common sound format on Blu-ray discs, but can also be found on Sky 4K movie channel offerings as well as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. 

However, the 3D audio format isn’t just about film and TV soundtracks, as both BT and Sky use Dolby Atmos for sports events. It’s ideal for conveying stadium ambiance (as TechRadar can attest when attending one of the early showings of a game from BT Sport broadcast in a bar), helping to bring you closer to the pitch.

There are even Dolby Atmos mixes of classic albums. REM has remixed Automatic for the People in the format and the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’s Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band also enjoyed an Atmos makeover.

Dolby Atmos has also been drawn into the Pure Audio Blu-ray spec. The London Symphony Orchestra recording of Asyla, Tevot & Polaris, conducted by Thomas Adès is a live recording that puts you in the centre of the Barbican Hall.

On top of that, the sound system is also a routine element on premium Xbox One games too, showing that the new format is gaining traction as a new method of reproducing sound.

With either two height speakers or four in a home set up, and coupled to a surround layout comprising five, seven or nine channels, the only limiting factor is your amplifier – the more channels to be outputted, the beefier your amp is going to need to be.

The most common home cinema configuration for Dolby Atmos speakers is 5.1.2 (that’s the regular 5.1 configuration with two height channels), or 5.1.4 (the same, but with four height channels).

This extra height layer of sound is most commonly delivered via dedicated upfiring speakers (although if you have in-ceiling speakers, they’ll work too), if you’re using a Dolby Atmos-enabled AV receiver. Alternatively you can opt for an all-in-one Dolby Atmos soundbar, which is the ideal solution for the plug-and-play crowd.

What do I need for a Dolby Atmos setup?

In the simplest terms, you need a source and a speaker. 

Sources of Dolby Atmos include game consoles (Xbox One, Xbox One S, Xbox One X), some TVs (LG OLED, VIZIO M-, P-, R-Series), streaming devices (Apple TV 4K, Google Chromecast Ultra) and 4K Blu-ray Players.  

Hook those up to one of the Dolby Atmos speakers on this list and fire up your favorite Atmos-supporting streaming service (which is most of them at this point), and you’re good to go.

  • How Dolby Atmos can bring paintings to life

Dolby Atmos speaker deals

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