Today's best soundbars don't just offer stereo sound: the best of them are all-singing, all-dancing surround sound systems that can add a whole new dimension to your home entertainment audio.
Whether it's more gripping games or more magical movies, a good Dolby Atmos soundbar can make a really big difference to the sound of your system, and you don't necessarily need to spend huge sums of cash to get a good one.
Here are five very good reasons to upgrade to a Dolby Atmos soundbar.
1. Even the best TVs sound awful
Okay, okay. Maybe not the very best TVs, the ones so expensive that if you have to ask the price then you can't afford them. Samsung's Object Tracking Sound and Sony's Acoustic Surface Audio technologies are both really good. But, and it's a but so big Sir Mix-A-Lot would rap about it, the vast majority of flat-screen TVs have pretty tiny speakers, and those speakers can't match the sheer thump of a decent soundwoofer system.
2. Atmos is everywhere
Wherever you get your movies and TV shows from, chances are it's available in Atmos: you'll find Atmos on Netflix, on Disney+, on Amazon Prime Video, on Apple TV+, on Sky... you get the idea. Most 4K Blu-Rays are now Atmos too, and so are many Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X games.
Dolby Atmos is a really big deal in music, too. I listen to a lot of Atmos tracks in Apple Music, and when it's done sensibly – that is, not like in 3D movies where everything is coming out of the screen all of the time for no reason whatsoever; the Atmos mix of Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the audio equivalent of that – it really adds life to the songs. It's particularly good on quieter, more acoustic music: it's been out for ages but the Atmos mix of REM's Automatic For The People is still absolutely gorgeous.
3. Atmos in soundbars really works
If you're thinking "surely a soundbar can't deliver the same 3D experience as a dedicated Dolby Atmos speaker system?" I'd say: you're right, and don't call me Shirley. But the best Atmos soundbars are much better than you might expect thanks to a combination of clever processing and lots and lots of speakers, including wireless ones. Take the T3 Award-winning Samsung HW-Q990B, for example: it has an incredibly powerful soundbar, a sub and two rear speakers, with upwards-firing drivers in the main soundbar to deliver that all-important Dolby Atmos height. As we said in our Samsung HW-Q990B review, "the way sound expands out to fill your room from the soundbar’s compact, narrow physical start point defies comprehension."
4. You don't need to run cables
I've got an Atmos system at home, but it's a wired one through an AV receiver and I can confidently tell you that wiring it up was a right pain in the backside – and because of the shape of the room it's in, I had to spend ages running and taping down cables for various speakers so they wouldn't be visible or become trip hazards. Even the most complex sub-and-speakers soundbar system is much simpler, much more elegant and much less likely to make you use terrible swear words.
5. You don't necessarily need an Atmos sound source
In much the same way that many of the best TVs can do a good job of upsampling video from HD or even SD to 4K, many Dolby Atmos soundbars can do the same with audio – so even if content isn't made for Atmos, you can get a very similar surround sound effect. Like video upsampling the results can be quite unpredictable so it's something you might want to use sparingly, but when it's good it's very, very good.