Today, soundbars, TV soundbases and Yamaha YSP systems are all viable alternatives to home theater systems consisting of an A/V receiver and several home theater speakers for those who don’t want to run cables through their living room. While the most affordable soundbars are generally limited to producing stereo sound, sometimes with the addition of a subwoofer, midrange and high-end models are capable of creating very convincing dimensional surround sound.
Investing in a Dolby Atmos soundbar means you can dive into the heart of the action when watching Dolby Atmos compatible movies and TV series on Netflix, as well as UHD 4K Blu-rays in Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and enjoy true 3D sound. It is a simple and aesthetic way to improve the sound of a UHD 4K TV, an OLED TV, or a QLED TV whose audio system often lacks in quality.
There are many compact home theater systems and high-performance home theater packs available on the market, but they require you to install numerous speakers and a lot of cables in your living room… Placed in front or under your television, a Dolby Atmos soundbar is less invasive and is ideal for adding dimensional soundtracks to your TV.
Dolby Atmos soundbars: 3D spatialized sound
A Dolby Atmos soundbar differs from a stereo (2.1) or multichannel (5.1) soundbar with its ability to deliver Dolby Atmos sound effects vertically, and therefore provide 3D surround sound.
There are two main categories of Dolby Atmos soundbars available on the market: those that provide Dolby Atmos Virtual surround sound and those that feature dedicated Dolby Atmos drivers.
Dolby Atmos Virtual soundbars
The soundbars that produce Dolby Atmos Virtual surround sound, thanks to digital signal processing (DSP), are generally 2.1 channel (two stereo channels and a subwoofer) or 3.1 channel (three LCR channels – Left Center Right – and a subwoofer) models. The transducers positioned at the front restitute the soundtrack by applying digital processing that broadens the sound field, horizontally and vertically.
The result is more or less convincing, depending on the technology used and the size of the room. Dolby Atmos sound effects aren’t as precisely positioned as they would be with dedicated Dolby Atmos speakers, but the soundstage is still sufficiently wide and elevated to immerse the viewer.
Dolby Atmos soundbars with dedicated Dolby Atmos drivers
Those who want to enjoy more precise Dolby Atmos surround sound will opt for a Dolby Atmos sound bar that uses up-firing drivers dedicated to Dolby Atmos surround channels. They diffuse Dolby Atmos effects that are reflected off the ceiling towards the viewer, using the same principle as the Dolby Atmos speakers in a classic 5.1 or 7.1 home theater speaker pack.
Some Dolby Atmos soundbars with dedicated drivers can even be paired with additional Dolby Atmos speakers to deliver rear Dolby Atmos sound effects.
Dolby Atmos soundbars: the different models
A recent addition to the home theater market, Dolby Atmos soundbars are now a must. LG, Sony, Panasonic and Yamaha are the main manufacturers. These Dolby Atmos soundbars range from 450 to almost 2000 euros, depending on their features and the complexity of their integrated technologies.
LG Dolby Atmos soundbars
In 2019, the Korean manufacturer has three Dolby Atmos soundbars in its catalogue, each paired with a wireless subwoofer. They all feature up-firing transducers for Dolby Atmos effects.
The LG SL8YG Dolby Atmos soundbar (€449) provides a 3.1.2 channel configuration with a total of 440 watts of power, of which 220 watts are dedicated to the subwoofer. It is intended for TVs with a 49” screen (125 cm) or more.
The LG SL9YG Dolby Atmos soundbar (€799) features a 4.1.2 channel configuration with a total of 500 watts of power. This larger model is intended for TVs with a 55” screen (140 cm) or more.
The LG SL10YG Dolby Atmos soundbar (€999) is 5.1.2 channel model, with a true center channel for dialogue and a total of 570 watts of power. It is meant for 55” to 65” (140 to 164 cm) televisions.
These three LG Dolby Atmos soundbars feature a WiFi controller and include Google Assistant and Chromecast Audio. They are certified Hi-Res Audio and are equipped with HDMI 2.0 (HDCP2.2) connectors with HDMI ARC function, as well as a Bluetooth receiver.
Best of all, these LG Dolby Atmos soundbars can be used with a pair of optional LG SPK8 wireless surround speakers to provide a more precise restitution of the rear surround channels:
- LG SL8YG Dolby Atmos soundbar + SPK8
- LG SL9YG Dolby Atmos Soundbar + SPK8
- LG SL10YG Dolby Atmos soundbar + SPK8
Sony Dolby Atmos soundbars
The Japanese manufacturer offers two Dolby Atmos Virtual soundbars and one Dolby Atmos soundbar with dedicated drivers, directed towards the ceiling. They are each paired with a wireless subwoofer.
The Sony HT-XF9000 Dolby Atmos Virtual soundbar (€499) features a 2.1 channel configuration and provides a total of 300 watts of power. It boasts an HDMI input and an HDMI (ARC) output as well as an optical audio input.
The Sony HT-ZF9 Dolby Atmos Virtual soundbar (€590) is a 3.1 channel model with a genuine center channel for dialogue. It has a total of 400 watts of power and features two HDMI inputs and one HDMI (ARC) output, as well as an optical audio input. This Sony Dolby Atmos soundbar includes an Ethernet/WiFi network controller and a Chromecast Audio.
The Sony HT-ZF9 Dolby Atmos Virtual soundbar can be paired with the Sony SA-Z9R wireless surround speakers to create a 5.1 home theater system without using any speaker cables.
The Sony HT-ST5000 Dolby Atmos soundbar (€1499) is Sony’s high-end model, capable of delivering a 7.1.2 channel Dolby Atmos surround sound. Compatible with Sony SongPal multi-room technology, Spotify Connect and Google Chromecast, it offers a plethora of connectivity features, thus extending its entertainment possibilities. The Sony HT-ST5000 features three HDMI inputs and one HDMI (ARC) output.
Samsung Dolby Atmos soundbars
Samsung has three Dolby Atmos soundbars with wireless subwoofers in its catalogue. They all feature true vertical surround channels with dedicated Dolby Atmos drivers or speakers.
The Samsung HW-Q70R Dolby Atmos soundbar (€699) provides a total of 330 watts of power. Its 3.1.2 configuration features Samsung Acoustic Beam technology, which uses two dedicated drivers to create vertical sound effects by reflecting sound waves off the ceiling. Its HDMI input and output are compatible with 4K HDR/HDR10+ (passthrough). This Samsung Dolby Atmos soundbar is compatible with the Samsung SWA-8500S wireless rear surround speakers.
The Samsung HW-Q80R Dolby Atmos soundbar (€999) is equipped with two vertical and lateral drivers to restitute three-dimensional sound over 5.1.2 channels. It features two HDMI inputs and one HDMI ARC output that are compatible with UHD 4K and HDR10+ (passthrough), a USB port to read audio files along with a digital optical audio input. Compatible with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, it can even be controlled using voice commands via a smart speaker with Alexa. Designed in collaboration with Harman Kardon, this Samsung HW-Q80R Dolby Atmos soundbar and its wireless subwoofer feature a total of 372 watts of power. In addition, it is compatible with the Samsung SWA-9000S wireless rear surround speakers.
The Samsung HW-Q90R Dolby Atmos soundbar (€1490) is identical to the previous model and comes with a pair of surround speakers featuring integrated Dolby Atmos drivers! The whole system can therefore deliver a three-dimensional sound over 7.1.4 channels, with Dolby Atmos sound effects at the front and the rear. The Samsung HW-Q90R Dolby Atmos soundbar, its subwoofer and Dolby Atmos surround speakers add up to a total of 512 watts of power. Note that Samsung already released a similar model in 2018, the Samsung HW-N950.
Panasonic Dolby Atmos soundbars
Panasonic’s catalog features two Dolby Atmos soundbars with wireless subwoofers.
The Panasonic SC-HTB700EGK Dolby Atmos Virtual soundbar (€599) is a 3.1 channel model (3 wideband transducers) with a true center channel and a 250 watt subwoofer. It offers two spatialization modes. The Virtual Surround mode broadens and deepens the soundstage. The 3D Surround mode adds a vertical dimension to the sound field. Its two HDMI inputs and HDMI (ARC) output are 4K and HDR (passthrough) compatible.
The Panasonic SC-HTB900EGK Dolby Atmos Virtual soundbar (€899) is also a 3.1 channel model, but it boasts 8 drivers while measuring the same size. Its right and left channels both feature tweeters compatible with Hi-Res. The audio section was designed in collaboration with Technics: it includes digital amplification which uses JENO Engine technology (Jitter Elimination and Noise-shaping Optimization) to provide hi-fi restitution.
Moreover, it has an integrated Chromecast Audio module and is certified Works with Google Assistant. Consequently, it can be controlled vocally using a smart speaker with Google Assistant.
Yamaha Dolby Atmos soundbar
Yamaha has been an expert in multi-channel soundbars for many years with its Yamaha Sound Projectors (YSP) and offers only one Dolby Atmos soundbar, but what a soundbar it is! For this model, the brand uses the appellation sound projector.
The Yamaha YSP-5600 Dolby Atmos soundbar (€1999) is the most powerful Dolby Atmos soundbar on the market. It features no less than 44 very precisely orientated drivers across the entirety of its front panel. They are responsible for reproducing the sound waves for all seven channels of a 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos home theater system (Left/Right Front, Center, Left/Right Surround, Left/Right front Dolby Atmos effects).
Each driver is controlled independently and is powered by its own amplification circuit. The sound beams of the front channels are projected towards the viewer, while the sound beams of the surround and Dolby Atmos channels are projected onto the walls and ceiling so that they are precisely reflected towards the listening position.
This technology allows the Yamaha YSP-5600 Dolby Atmos to generate a sound field similar to that obtained with actual speakers at the rear and on the ceiling. After the automatic calibration procedure carried out using the included microphone, you get genuine, not virtual, 3D surround restitution!
It has an impressive amount of connections, with 4 HDMI inputs and one HDMI (ARC) output, 3 digital audio inputs (2 optical/1 coaxial), an RCA stereo input and a subwoofer output.
Dolby Atmos soundbars: design and integration
From a strictly aesthetic point of view, most Dolby Atmos soundbars have a similar shape and size. They are generally between 100 and 150 cm long and 5 to 15 cm high, apart from the Yamaha YSP-5600 which is just over 21 cm high and is designed to be wall-mounted.
Dolby Atmos soundbars are meant to be placed in front of the television, on a TV unit. Consequently, the vast majority include an IR repeater which relays the remote control’s signal to the television. This is essential when the soundbar covers the TV’s infrared sensor. A lot of Dolby Atmos soundbars can also be wall-mounted under the television when the latter is mounted using a TV wall support.
Dolby Atmos soundbars: connections
Dolby Atmos soundbars usually have one or several HDMI inputs, with an ARC compatible HDMI output. This connection is essential for receiving Dolby Atmos audio streams from 4K UHD Blu-ray discs and transferring the 4K HDR or Dolby Vision UHD image to the TV. The HDMI output connected to the television is often compatible with the Audio Return Channel (ARC) function. Therefore, Dolby Atmos soundbar can receive sound from an HDMI ARC compatible television, as well as Dolby Atmos Netflix shows.
To enjoy the best image and sound quality with a UHD 4K TV and a Dolby Atmos soundbar, it is recommended to choose a 4K and HDR compatible HDMI cable certified by the HDMI Forum or an independent laboratory.
Most Dolby Atmos soundbars also feature one or several digital optical or coaxial inputs. However, they are limited to receiving PCM stereo sound and 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS tracks, from a CD player, a Blu-ray player or a network audio streamer connected to the Dolby Atmos soundbar with an optical audio cable.
In addition, USB ports are also becoming more commonplace on Dolby Atmos soundbars, to play music but also to view photos and videos (.avi and .mkv files in particular).
Lastly, it should be noted that a new Yamaha soundbar compatible with Amazon Alexa has been announced for 2019, and that the Sennheiser Ambeo soundbar, which is capable of producing a 3D sound field over 5.1.4 channels, should be released any time soon…