Dolby Atmos is one of the coolest and most sought-after sound formats around. It brings a new dimension to surround sound (literally) that allows supported TV shows, films, and games to engulf you in sound. But a traditional speaker setup, including ceiling-mounted or upward-firing speakers to add the “height” element of Dolby Atmos, is not only costly but may require a dedicated theater room. That’s where Dolby Atmos soundbars come in, providing a one-stop solution for exhilarating home audio.
Not all Dolby Atmos soundbars are created equal, of course, and we've tested dozens of them to find the best models whatever your limitations, from space concerns to budget. If you want the very best, the Samsung HW-Q950A(available at Amazon for $1,799.99) is the king, offering tons of features and great performance. But there are several other good choices on our list, from the value-packed Vizio Elevate (available at Amazon), to single-piece models like the Sonos Arc (available at Best Buy). Follow our list below to find your perfect Dolby Atmos solution.
These are the best Dolby Atmos soundbars we tested, ranked in order:
Vizio M-Series 5.1.2
Polk Audio Signa S4
Bose Smart Soundbar 900
Sonos Beam Gen 2
LG Eclair QP5W
Dimensions (HxWxD inches): 2.7 x 48.5 x 5.4 (bar), 15.9 x 8.3 x 15.9 (sub), 8 x 4.9 x 5.6 (surrounds)
Speaker configuration: 22 speakers; 15 in the bar, 3 in each surround speaker, one 8-inch subwoofer
Connections: HDMI eARC/ARC, HDMI in (2), digital optical, Wi-Fi, Spotify Connect, AirPlay 2, Bluetooth 4.2
Samsung’s HW-Q950A is a fully equipped solution, offering 22 drivers, multiple speakers, and 11.1.4-channel audio for brilliantly immersive sound. The system slots upfiring and side-firing drivers not only in the bar, but also in the wireless surround speakers, punching out enough Dolby Atmos expansion to make you question the need for discrete speaker surround sound systems.
As noted in our Q950A review, no soundbar can deliver the full dynamics, resonance, and presence of a true multi-speaker home theater system. But the Q950A comes about as close as we’ve heard, and at a more approachable price. Its reams of drivers combine for a thrilling Dolby Atmos (and DTS:X) experience that transforms your room into a “dome” of sound.
The system also offers impressive musicality for such a thin device (Samsung acquired AKG for a reason). While we’d still take a pair of good bookshelves for music over any soundbar, the Q950A does a number on our favorite tunes, especially when you let the system spin your stereo tracks into a surround sound cloud of instruments and vocals.
The Q950A also packs great features, including HDMI eARC (and dual HDMI inputs) with 4K HDR passthrough for your Atmos-ready devices. It supports high-resolution audio at up to 24bit/92kHz and all major surround formats, Wi-Fi connection with AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect, a well-loaded app for control, and voice control via Amazon Alexa (though it leaves out both Google Assistant and Chromecasting). The bar is also intuitive to use and offers an Adaptive Sound mode to optimize all media content in real-time. That lets you (for the most part) set it and forget it.
So what’s the catch? At $1,800 MSRP, this is a massive investment that falls only a few hundred dollars short of a traditional home theater system (with all the frills). In addition, the visual display is puzzlingly set atop the bar rendering it mostly useless. You can use the app for almost all tuning, but it somehow doesn’t allow for channel control, meaning you’ll have to get up to adjust the levels there.
Luckily the price has dropped a fair bit online, making this bar more reasonable—especially considering all you get. If you’re looking for the mother of all Atmos soundbars, and you have the money to invest, this monster is our top pick.
Dimensions (HxWxD inches): 2.64 x 48 x 6.5 (bar), 15.6 x 10.83 x 13.7 (sub), 5.91 x 2.8 x 3.74 (surrounds)
Speaker configuration: 18 total drivers; 13 in the bar, 2 in each surround, 8-inch subwoofer cone
Connections: HDMI eARC/ARC, HDMI in (2), optical input, 3.5mm, USB, Wi-Fi with Chromecast, Bluetooth
Vizio’s Elevate soundbar features an acrobatic trick not shared by any other soundbar on this list: rollable speakers that “elevate” the sound upward to serve as height channels for 3D audio content like Dolby Atmos, and roll back down again for any other content. This makes the height speakers more versatile, allowing you to blast sound from all 13 speakers at all times.
But apart from that, it’s the sheer amount of cinematic chutzpah this Dolby Atmos machine delivers that sets it apart from most other soundbars on the market. Simply put, you’ll have a hard time finding better (or even equivalent) surround sound might at this price in any other bar.
With 18 speaker drivers in total, including dual surround sound speakers and a thunderous subwoofer, the Elevate is a joy for action scenes. It's especially immersive when bouncing sound off your ceiling and walls via well-mixed Dolby Atmos content, from The Mandalorian on Disney+ to Blu-ray Atmos demos in full-resolution Dolby TrueHD. It also delivers premium detail and clear dialogue to enhance prestige dramas, alongside features like Chromecast streaming over Wi-Fi, two spare HDMI inputs, and HDMI eARC for seamless, future-proof connection to the latest TVs.
Where the bar falters a bit is in its music delivery, which tends to go to extremes both in the bass and the upper midrange, resulting in less musicality than our top pick. In addition, the interface isn’t the best for novices, requiring manual tuning for best results.
Luckily, the simplified remote is relatively easy to use and the overall design is equal parts robust and sleek, thanks to plush materials like anodized aluminum and a striking overall design. If you’re looking for unadulterated Dolby Atmos might, without going full-on A/V enthusiast, this system is a fantastic choice.
The fact of the matter is, no competing brand is offering a more complete Dolby Atmos package for under $500 than Vizio. Better yet, the performance Vizio managed to fit into this relatively affordable soundbar setup is impressive. You get a full front soundstage (including a clear center channel for dialogue) complemented by rear speakers and a subwoofer that produces solid audio quality for music, movies, and TV shows alike. The upfiring drivers inside the bar provide palpable Dolby Atmos punch for a variety of content.
The M-Series 5.1.2 also incorporates HDMI eARC and DTS:X, two future-looking features that the bar’s predecessor, the SB36512-F6 lacked. It does so at the cost of a Wi-Fi connection, meaning you’ll only be able to stream music over Bluetooth, and there’s also no built-in smart assistant (a plus or a minus depending on your stance). It also means the bar will be more difficult to update with future firmware updates and can’t connect to other wireless speakers. If features like Wi-Fi and multi-room audio are among your top demands, you’ll want to look toward Sonos, Bose, or others on our list.
As with other Vizio surround soundbars, including the pricier Vizio Elevate, the M-series 5.1.2 does require you to wire the rear speakers into your subwoofer for connection, which can limit where you can place it depending on your living room. Luckily, Vizio offers plenty of length in the connection wires for most setups.
Those digressions aside, the overwhelming value that the Vizio M-Series 5.1.2 represents can’t be overlooked. Vizio yet again delivers great sound quality for Dolby Atmos content, 5.1 content, and just about anything else you’ll play, all at a price that undercuts the majority of the competition. It may not be the best Dolby Atmos soundbar available on the market but if you don’t have thousands to spend on audio, it offers a ton of bang for your buck.
Connections: HDMI eARC/ARC, digital optical (adapter), Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2
Sonos’ first-ever Dolby Atmos soundbar, the Sonos Arc, is more than just a pretty (and tubular) face. This powerful hunk of well-fashioned plastic is loaded with 11 individually powered drivers, including dual speakers pointed upward to bounce off your ceiling, creating an impressively potent example of the hemispheric immersion for which Dolby’s Atmos sound format is so highly praised. While it’s not the best soundbar for Dolby Atmos content, it does an impressive job for a singular bar.
But Dolby Atmos is far from the only trick up the Arc’s sleeve. Its well-tuned drivers offer a rich and smooth sound signature that’s fantastic for anything you play, from sitcoms to streaming music. And it also comes with a host of other features that make it among the most versatile soundbars on the market.
Like all Sonos speakers, the Arc offers Wi-Fi connection through the Sonos app, along with the ability to connect with other Sonos speakers, either in a group, or as part of a surround sound setup. This allows you to add dual surround speakers and a Sonos subwoofer if you want, though the Arc offers impressive bass response even without one. Like the Sonos Beam, it also sports built-in microphones and your choice of Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa support, making it both a soundbar and a powerful smart speaker.
The price, while high, is lower than many top Dolby Atmos soundbars. One drawback, though, is that although the bar includes an HDMI eARC port for seamless connection to your TV it doesn’t offer a secondary HDMI input for outboard devices like streamers and game consoles. This could limit its usability for older TVs (those without HDMI ARC) and it won't be the right choice for those who play a lot of physical media or those who want to plug in gaming consoles to their soundbar directly.
That said, since most folks get their Dolby Atmos from streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ these issues may not matter to you. Moreover, this bar sounds fantastic with just about any content, and its many features and loaded app make it an intuitive and versatile way to step into Dolby Atmos sound. With great performance and tons of features, the Sonos Arc is a good choice for those who want minimal hassle and a great experience in a single bar that can grow into a broader system to meet your needs.
Speaker configuration: 11 discrete channels including built-in woofers, dual upfiring speakers, side-firing beam drivers, and left/center/right channels
Connections: HDMI eARC/ARC, HDMI in (2), digital optical, 3.5mm, USB, Wi-Fi, Spotify Connect, AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Bluetooth 5.0
Sony’s HT-A7000 is a magician of a soundbar, offering solid Dolby Atmos effects and some of the best virtual surround sound we’ve heard from a single bar in a slick and stylish design.
This system is loaded with drivers, including a pair aimed at your ceiling for effective Dolby Atmos effects, but it’s the virtual immersion that mixes with those upfiring drivers that really makes the bar sing. When paired with the right content, the A7000 offers spooky accuracy that places sound all around, and even behind you, all from its position at the front of the room.
The bar also brings tons of features to bear, from its full on-screen interface and a clear front display to multiple ways to connect over Wi-Fi (including Spotify Connect and AirPlay 2), and decoding for virtually every audio format under the sun. from uncompressed Dolby Atmos to DTS:X and Sony 360 Reality Audio.
HDMI eARC allows for versatility and simple connection, especially with HDMI eARC-ready TVs. For those without newer TVs, it can also accept up to two devices directly and passthrough video at up to 8K thanks to dual HDMI 2.1 inputs, making this among the most future-proofed soundbars we’ve tested.
This gives you a ton of freedom in how you connect outboard devices like a [PS5 or Xbox Series X or S. It also offers Alexa and Google Assistant support (though you’ll need a separate speaker to use it), as well as automated room calibration mode.
With impressive performance, tons of features, and among the best Dolby Atmos and surround sound you can get from a singular bar, the A7000 is tough to beat. But there is a catch: it’s extremely expensive for a single bar, and if you want to add a subwoofer for more authoritative bass, you’ll be paying through the nose. If it's too rich for your blood, Sony's to HT-A5000 (also on this list), offers similar performance and features at a lower price.
Speaker configuration: Dual upfiring drivers, left, center, right channel speakers, dual built-in woofers
Connections: HDMI eARC/ARC, Wi-Fi streaming via Spotify Connect, AirPlay 2, and Chromecast.
If the Sonos Arc’s lack of a spare HDMI input is a problem for you, the HT-A5000 could be the solution. Sony’s follow-up to its mondo-sized HT-A7000 is a powerful, single-piece Dolby Atmos tool in its own right. While the HT-A5000 loses some of the performance chops and aesthetic luster of the beautifully sculpted A7000, it brings a lot of the same assets, including excellent virtual surround sound, hi-res audio support, tons of A/V features, and future-proofing tech—all at a lower price.
The A5000 isn’t quite as rich or immersive sounding as its pricier sibling. It does a solid job with your standard sitcoms and newscasts for its price point, offering much better clarity and gobs more power than your TV alone. Feed it some high-octane surround sound or Dolby Atmos videos and this system really takes flight, blasting sound around the room for impressive immersion.
When compared to the Sonos Arc (and even Samsung’s HW-Q950A), the A5000 takes a bit of effort for setup and daily use. Its HDMI eARC/ARC connection assures you can control it with your TV remote for most scenarios, but you’ll need the included remote to switch inputs (they don’t always switch automatically). You'll also be trading a simplified app for a more traditional on-screen A/V interface and an onboard display.
But those willing to shed some simplicity will be rewarded with rich A/V options like hi-res audio support for multiple file types and a spare HDMI input with support up to 4K/HDR at 120Hz, making this a great choice for gamers. The A5000 also supports not only Dolby Atmos, but also DTS:X for Blu-ray collectors, and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio. There's also built-in auto-calibration, making it easy to tune the system to your room, and other modern features like the ability to add on wireless speakers, and Wi-Fi streaming via Spotify Connect, AirPlay 2, and Chromecast.
While it requires a slight learning curve, Sony's HT-A5000 offers excellent performance and a lot of the goodies we love about Sony’s flagship bar at a more approachable price. For A/V enthusiasts and gamers alike, this future-proofed single bar is a great choice.
Connections: HDMI ARC/eARC, optical, 3.5mm, Bluetooth
Leave it to Polk Audio to deliver quality sound—with legitimate Dolby Atmos—in a budget-minded soundbar package. The value-packed Signa S4 is an impressive 3.1.2-channel system that makes up for a lack of extras by consistently producing great sound.
The Signa S4 is a plug-and-play package that takes 10 minutes or less to set up and start listening. It features a compact, simple remote that streamlines important functions, such as adjusting bass level and picking between sound modes. Regardless of the mode you choose, the Signa S4 provides a wide, detailed soundstage that meshes well with nearly everything you toss its way. The system’s toaster-sized subwoofer won’t shake any pictures off the wall, but it delivers adequate bass that rounds out the bar’s overall sound nicely.
The S4’s upfiring height channels also do a solid job of adding three-dimensional Atmos immersion into the movie-watching experience. While it can’t compete with the best Dolby Atmos bars we’ve tested, it’s an exceptionally stellar option for those who want to experience Atmos immersion on a budget.
The Signa S4 has its faults. Polk somehow omitted controls for vital settings like treble, individual channel levels, and height channel adjustment in the main interface, and unlike most bars we see these days, there’s no app for supplemental adjustments. The soundbar is also without Wi-Fi, meaning Bluetooth is the only way to stream music and you won’t get any advanced features like multi-room audio. That’s in stark contrast to the Sonos Beam, which offers easy integration with multiple speakers, letting you easily build a full surround system or whole-home audio system as you go.
If you can get by without Wi-Fi and a few key controls, Polk Audio’s Signa S4 is the best Dolby Atmos option we’ve tested at its price point. It’s meant to be an instant upgrade in sound quality, and by those measures, this soundbar checks off every box. There are certainly other soundbars available that offer more complete systems with deeper lineups of features. But you will be hard-pressed to find quality sound on a budget that lines up with the latest from Polk.
Speaker configuration: 7 total drivers, including 2 beam drivers, 2 upfiring drivers
Connections: Ethernet, HDMI ARC/eARC, digital optical input, proprietary subwoofer output, Adaptiq input, IR repeater, Data port, Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi, Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2
Bose’s Smart Soundbar 900 offers clear sound, stylish design, and a slice of pristine Dolby Atmos in a minimalist package. Though this single-piece soundbar is fashioned very similarly to the Sonos Arc in both features and functionality, Bose’s solution is both smaller and sleeker, with a plush glass top that makes it among the most stylish bars on the market.
It’s not just about aesthetics, though. The 900 provides premium sound, especially for dialogue and effects, alongside expansive virtualized effects thanks to its laser-sharp upfiring drivers and beam speakers. It also offers all the network features you could ask for in a modern smart bar, from built-in Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa to Wi-Fi streaming over Spotify Connect and Apple AirPlay 2 (with plenty more options in the Bose Music app).
As with rival bars from Sonos and others, the 900 makes it simple to build from a single speaker to a full surround Dolby Atmos system with a Bose wireless subwoofer and surround speakers (at a considerable cost), or you can create a whole-home sound system by linking Bose speakers through the home via the Bose Music app. The 900 also comes with some extras Sonos bars don’t include, such as a separate remote, Bluetooth streaming, and a built-in room calibration system to tailor the sound to your space (Sonos requires an iPhone).
Where the bar falls a bit short is in its overall power and bass response. Due to its small size, the 900 simply isn’t able to reproduce big and booming frequencies with much authority. Its soundstage also isn’t quite as expansive as larger Dolby Atmos bars, simply due to physical restrictions. It also offers no extra HDMI input or DTS decoding, so it won’t be the best choice for those with a large Blu-ray collection.
That said, though it’s not cheap, this bar offers impressive detail and precision for everything from your favorite Dolby Atmos TV shows to an episode of Friends. If you value clear sound and minimalist design first and foremost, the Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is a quality choice.
We’ve adored the compact-but-powerful Sonos Beam since it launched, and the Gen 2 upgrade brings even more to love. With this update, Sonos kept everything we liked about the original Beam—a minimalist form factor, powerfully tuned speakers, and versatile features—and added virtualized Dolby Atmos. It’s not the best in the book by any means, but if you’re looking for light Dolby Atmos plus tons of other features in a versatile, expandable package, the Beam gen 2 is a fine choice.
Despite lacking the upfiring drivers of most Dolby Atmos soundbars we test, the Beam Gen 2 is surprisingly adept at creating an immersive soundstage. The sounds of cars screeching around corners or footfalls onto rainy pavement boast a convincing level of aural placement. The clarity that Dolby Atmos brings to just about every sound effect and musical swell is well worth the price of admission here, even if the bar struggles to create the full overhead impact you’ll get from bars with dedicated height speakers.
But the value really comes in the overall package. Like all Sonos products, you’ll get more than just a standalone speaker here: the Beam Gen 2 connects over the Sonos app for access to the full ecosystem, which integrates excellent Wi-Fi connectivity, Sonos Radio, Spotify Connect, AirPlay 2, and more. Tasks like adding additional Sonos speakers for surround sound, or syncing up multi-room audio are a snap. Admittedly, starting with the Beam Gen 2 alone and upgrading with additional Sonos products is an expensive task, but the built-in flexibility is still a big boon—especially if you’ve already got a Sonos One smart speaker or other components.
The Beam Gen 2 isn’t perfect. It lacks a spare HDMI input, meaning it’ll hog your TV’s HDMI ARC or HDMI eARC port and may introduce some format-based headaches on older TVs. But ultimately, the list of pros handily outweigh the cons, and the new Beam stands out as one of the most fetching soundbar buys in its price range. It was a real triple-play even without Dolby Atmos compatibility: with it, it’s a home run.
Dimensions (HxWxD inches): 2.4 x 11.7 x 4.9 (soundbar), 11.4 x 13.3 x 7.3 (sub)
Speaker configuration: 3.1.2-channel (320W total): 2 x 20W front speakers; 20W center speaker; 2 x 20W upfiring; 220W subwoofer
Connections: HDMI eARC/ARC, optical, HDMI input
The scrumptiously named LG Eclair QP5 is one of LG’s more curious soundbars: a super-compact bar and subwoofer combo that delivers full-bodied sound and true Dolby Atmos performance via height speakers. Available in fetching white or black finishes, the Eclair brings a unique mix of sought-after features in a space-conscious form factor, not unlike the beloved Sonos Beam (which the Eclair is almost certainly inspired by). But unlike many compact bars, the Eclair also includes a wireless subwoofer.
The result is a soundbar that benefits (or suffers) from Goldilocks syndrome. If you desperately need to save space, the subwoofer feels like an odd inclusion; but if you want true (non-virtual) Atmos in a minimalist form factor, the Eclair is one of your only options. During testing, the Eclair delivered a robust audio presentation over HDMI eARC and provided surprisingly immersive spatial Atmos during movies and video games for its size, although its full sound field is (like the bar itself) quite small.
The subwoofer has been tuned almost specifically for crowded urban living, and uses special dampening technology to limit how much it rumbles during playback. This emphasis on civility makes for a somewhat weak bass presence in the mix, but that’s the trade-off for pleasing the downstairs neighbors.
The Eclair’s other weak link is that, unlike the Sonos Beam, it offers few extras. Like many modern bars, the Eclair supports a mobile app, but the bar’s lack of Wi-Fi makes it extremely limited. There’s no way to connect to a multi-room ecosystem a la Sonos or Bose, and no Wi-Fi extras like Apple AirPlay or Spotify Connect. There's one unique feature called TV Sound Share that allows your TV's EQ and sound modes to be copied directly to the Eclair, but it only works with certain LG TVs. Finally, we also had an issue with volume, which would sometimes get much quieter or louder after a single button press.
Because of some of the drawbacks we've detailed, we'd recommend trying to find this one on sale rather than at MSRP. But if you aren’t looking for Wi-Fi or multi-room features and you need a compact system with some solid Atmos performance that won’t end with angry calls from the neighbors, the Eclair QP5 might be the right fit. If it's not, your TV stand must be shockingly small.
Reviewed staff have spent over a decade evaluating soundbars—everything from simple 2.1-channel value models to the huskiest Dolby Atmos bars—in order to narrow down the picks and find the best soundbars for every buyer. Our soundbar testing is spearheaded by Reviewed's experienced team of home theater and tech experts, including Reviewed's Electronics Managing Editor, Ryan Waniata, contributor Nick Woodard, and our former A/V Editor Lee Neikirk. All results are backed up by a rigorous rubric of testing data to ensure accuracy.
Reviewed has listened to, loved, and argued over standalone soundbars, soundbar/sub combos, speakers, and a few home-theater-in-a-box products to find the best soundbars you can buy for years.
Testing mostly involves using them as any consumer would, utilizing each bar as an audio substitute for a TV (via either HDMI ARC or optical connection), testing its Wi-Fi streaming and Bluetooth functions, and analyzing its sound modes, voice-boosting modes, setup and calibration settings, and individual proprietary features.
We also conduct back-to-back analyses of sources like Netflix/Blu-ray movies, surround sound, and Dolby Atmos demo discs to ensure accuracy for height speakers and object-based 3D-sound mixes, Spotify over Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi, and occasionally, 3.5mm aux sources and USB audio.
While the best soundbars all have different combinations of drivers, tweeters, woofers, and external subwoofers, generally, audio quality is respectable across genres and sources for the bars on our list. Performance features like surround sound speakers and, of course, Dolby Atmos/DTS:X height speakers' ability to create an effective 3D dome of sound are at the top of our list, as are factors like usability and especially value.
Other factors that set soundbars apart in like price ranges include setup and operational pain points, design aesthetics, and overall responsiveness—where the day-to-day rubber meets the road, so to speak.
What to Know About Buying Dolby Atmos Soundbars
In short, the point of a Dolby Atmos soundbar is to either replace a home theater speaker system with a less obtrusive device or, more simply, to replace your TV's built-in speakers with something that takes advantage of today's 3D audio formats. Dolby Atmos (and DTS:X) soundbars are designed to offer a more immersive and cinematic audio experience, adding height channels that bounce sound off your ceiling to create a vertical element of sound alongside the horizontal. How well they do this, and how easily they are to incorporate into the average home are extremely important factors to our evaluation.
Soundbars aren't your only option for improving your living room/home theater audio, but they're generally the most affordable and convenient. If you don't have the ability to build out a dedicated home theater room, or simply don't want to shell out the considerable funds it requires to install a surround system complete with a receiver and mounted speakers in your home, a Dolby Atmos soundbar is a simplified way to greatly improve your audio experience.
What Determines a Dolby Atmos/DTS:X or Surround Sound Bar?
Soundbars that support true surround sound may offer separate "satellite" speakers that can be set behind you in a multi-channel configuration. There are also bars that offer "virtual surround" that use digital processing and acoustic trickery to make it sound like there are speakers all around the room. In general, the more speakers that "surround" you, the better the effect. In some cases, such as with bars from Sonos, Sony, and Bose, satellite surround speakers can even be added later for an additional cost.
The soundbars on this list all support 3D audio formats like Dolby Atmos and some also support the less common DTS:X to take things even further. The vast majority add upfiring speakers in the bar and potentially in surround speakers (either 2 or 4), which can bounce sound off the ceiling so that it appears to be coming from above. The goal? Immersing you in a hemispheric globe of sound.
While they only reach their full potential when fed content mixed in 3D audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, these soundbars offer the most immersive sound field, bringing you even closer to what you'll experience in a high-quality theater. It's also important to note that some soundbars may be Dolby Atmos or DTS:X compatible, without offering upfiring or surround speakers, meaning the 3D audio is virtualized with digital signal processing or even wave-guide technology to varying degrees of efficacy. Again, dedicated speakers for each audio channel make for the best experience
Either way, you will pay a premium for this technology, and if you want the best experience you'll likely have more speakers to spread around your TV room, so these concessions must be considered before making your choice. Those who don't want to deal with separate surround speakers may be better off with single-bar solutions such as the Sony HT-A7000 or Sonos Arc (though, again, you can add surround speakers to these bars later for a fee).
HDMI ARC and HDMI eARC Connection Explained
HDMI ARC and HDMI eARC are the preferred soundbar connection options, not only because these connections allow for newer TVs (around 2017 and later) to pass advanced audio formats like Dolby Atmos, but also because they usually allow you to control the soundbar's power and volume with your TV remote—without the need to program said remote. (To do this, you may need to turn on HDMI CEC in your TV's settings.)
The optical audio connection that also comes standard on virtually all soundbars can carry 2.1-and 5.1-channel surround sound, but that's where it tops out. For more advanced soundbars with Dolby Atmos (which usually includes upfiring speakers), you'll have to use HDMI ARC or eARC to pass these high bandwidth formats.
Nearly all modern Dolby Atmos soundbars have an HDMI eARC connection rather than HDMI ARC. As pointed out in our HDMI ARC and eARC guide, eARC stands for "enhanced Audio Return Channel" and is designed to provide high-quality, uncompressed audio from your TV (including the highest quality Dolby Atmos) as well as address any sync issues between on-screen video and the soundbar's audio. As HDMI eARC is becoming more common, it’s important to note its most important functions: to allow for high-resolution audio to be passed down from any device plugged into your TV, as well as to quell any sync issues that may arise between the soundbar and TV.
One last note. As touched on above, Dolby Atmos comes in two primary versions, one of which is higher bandwidth and, as such, higher quality. To learn more about how this works (and what it means to your system), check out our Dolby Atmos guide. Otherwise, if you're concerned about getting the highest quality audio possible (including the best Dolby Atmos possible), you'll want to look for soundbars with decoding for the highest quality formats like Dolby TrueHD and, for DTS content, DTS-HD Master Audio (the latter of which is only available via physical media).
What to Look For in a Soundbar
The major things to look for when shopping for a soundbar are price, audio output, and connectivity, the latter two usually being directly related to the first. If you don't want to shell out the extra cash for Dolby Atmos, satellite surround speakers, and/or a huge range of decoding/pass-thru options for advanced or lossless audio modes, you may want to check out our versatile list of the best soundbars for any budget for other options.
Tweeters refer to smaller speakers (drivers) assigned to the high-mid and high (treble) frequencies of the audio spectrum. Woofers and subwoofers refer to speakers (drivers) assigned to the midrange and bass/sub-bass frequencies of the audio spectrum respectively.
What About a Subwoofer?
Soundbars that offer what is known as a 2.1-channel configuration or higher usually include a separate subwoofer to handle lower frequencies (which makes up the ".1" of the equation). Others may simply have a dedicated subwoofer “channel” with larger speakers built into the bar itself to handle low frequencies. This is, in almost all cases, not as effective as a separate subwoofer. A soundbar without a subwoofer or one that has built-in woofers, rather than a separate cabinet, may even be preferred in smaller apartments.
That said, if you're looking for cinematic rumble—whether for movies, TV, or video games—you'll want to seriously consider a soundbar that includes a separate subwoofer. This will greatly enhance action scenes and other dramatic moments, while also helping thinner bars fill in some of the gaps in the frequency spectrum created by their smaller drivers. There are a few cases where low-frequency sound is well-handled without a subwoofer, such as in Sonos' Arc soundbar or Sony’s HT-A7000, but for the most part, you’ll want a subwoofer to add cinematic power.
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
Hailing originally from Montana, Ryan parlayed his time working as a musician and audio engineer into a career in digital media in 2012. Since then he's had extensive experience as a writer and editor, including everything from op-eds and features to reviews on TVs, audio gear, smart home devices, and more.
Nick Woodard is a tech journalist specializing in all things related to home theater and A/V. His background includes a solid foundation as a sports writer for multiple daily newspapers, and he enjoys hiking and mountain biking in his spare time.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.