The best sound bar in our latest tests has Dolby Atmos, designed to create powerful virtual surround sound. But our experts have also uncovered a Don’t Buy with the potential to make films and shows sound worse than your TV’s original speakers.
One of the main lessons learned from our years of testing sound bars is that smart, hi-tech features look good on paper but don’t always work in practice. Even the biggest sound bar brands have models with technology that should create a convincing, room-filling surround sound experience, but in reality fail to deliver.
We’ve also learned that a higher price doesn’t always equal better sound – we’ve found sound bars costing thousands of pounds that have dull and flat sound. Conversely, we’ve found excellent cheap sound bars costing less than £200. So it seems you can never truly rely on a product’s marketing description.
Browse all our sound bar reviews to find the best model within your budget.
What is Dolby Atmos and does it make a difference?
Dolby Atmos is the latest innovation in surround sound technology and originally emerged through cinema. It’s designed to deliver a convincing cinematic experience in the comfort of your own home, by immersing you in three-dimensional audio and creating the illusion that audio is flowing all around you. It’s known as object-based sound because it bounces sound waves off the walls and ceiling, transporting you to the heart of the action.
A sound bar with Dolby Atmos should deliver effective virtual surround sound without the need for additional speakers. However, most sound bars struggle to do this well.
There are models that get it right, though, and some of the best sound bars we’ve tested have Dolby Atmos.
On test: Dolby Atmos sound bars
Find out more about their additional features below and follow the review links to see whether they can bring the cinema experience to your living room.
Sony HT-X8500, £350
Sony has launched the cheapest Dolby Atmos sound bar yet. The HT-X8500 is an all-in-one, meaning it has a built-in subwoofer for deeper bass. Along with Dolby Atmos, it also has DTS:X, another popular and innovative surround sound technology. Sony promises that this sound bar can fill rooms of any shape or size with powerful, cinematic audio.
Other features include pre-set modes, which select the best sound setting for the particular type of media playing. If you find that dialogue in TV and movies sounds dim or muffled, Sony recommends the ‘News’ setting for the clearest speech quality.
You may be particularly drawn to this sound bar if you have a compatible Sony Bravia TV, which can be connected to it wirelessly. But how does it measure up to models by the likes of LG and Samsung? Read our Sony HT-X8500 review to see whether its price is bigger than its sound.
Samsung HW-Q70R, £799
This is the cheapest sound bar Samsung offers with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. It has eight built-in speakers and Acoustic Beam technology, designed to immerse you in captivating audio.
As one of Samsung’s new Q-Series sound bars, the HW-Q70R is designed to work best with its 2019 QLED TVs. When connected to a Samsung QLED TV, this sound bar will automatically switch to ‘Adaptive Sound’ mode, choosing the best sound setting to optimise whatever’s playing.
If you have an Alexa-enabled device, you can use it to control this sound bar. The HW-Q70R works with Alexa so you can pause, play and rewind using effortless voice control. This means it can also work as part of a smart home with the help of the Samsung SmartThings app, which lets you play music through connected Samsung speakers and control other smart home devices.
But we’ve learned that just because a sound bar is brimming with features, it doesn’t mean its sound quality will live up to expectations. Read our Samsung HW-Q70R review to see whether it gets our stamp of approval.
LG SL9YG, £999
LG has teamed up with Meridian, pioneers of High-Resolution Audio, in an effort to improve the sound quality of its sound bars. The inclusion of Meridian’s superior audio quality to three new LG sound bars (SL10YG, SL9YG and SL8YG) is supposed to create an entertainment experience that can’t be matched. And at just shy of £1,000, you would probably expect nothing less.
The feature-packed SL9YG has DTS:X as well as Dolby Atmos. Built-in Google Assistant lets you control the sound bar with your voice and behaves in the same way as a Google Home device. If you already own Google Assistant-enabled smart products, you can use this sound bar to control connected devices with your voice.
For a full surround system, you can choose to buy the SL9YG with LG’s SPK8 wireless rear speaker package.
This model looks good on paper. Find out whether LG and Meridian’s collaboration will be music to your ears by reading our LG SL9YG review.
Other sound bars on test
If you’re not too fussed about Dolby Atmos, check out the other new sound bars we’ve just tested to see whether one of them could be the perfect solution to your TV’s poor sound:
- Wharfedale Vista 200, £149 – a cheap all-in-one sound bar with a range of connection options and pre-set modes
- LG SK1 (reworked), £100 – a cheap sound bar that launched last year, but has been reworked to improve sound quality
- Sony HT-S350, £250 – a simple sound bar, designed to focus more on sound quality than smart features
- LG SL5Y, £299 – has many features including DTS Virtual:X technology
- Samsung HW-Q60R, £599 – similar to the HW-Q70R but without Dolby Atmos
- Samsung HW-R550, £299 – a simple entry-level sound bar that’s similar to the HW-R450 but more powerful
- Samsung HW-R450, £249 – a small, basic sound bar with common features such as Bluetooth and a wireless subwoofer