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25 Sep 2020

Latest sound bar reviews: Dolby Atmos doesn't always deliver a cinema experience

We've just tested a cheap LG sound bar with dreadful Dolby Atmos audio, proving the latest tech alone won't guarantee great sound

Cutting-edge Dolby Atmos technology is designed to boost a sound bar's audio, bringing cinema-like sound into your living room. Once the reserve of £500-plus sound bars, it's now starting to make its way into cheaper models.

But just because you can find cheap Dolby Atmos sound bars, it doesn't necessarily mean you should buy one.

We've recently tested the £400 LG SN7CY sound bar, which had such dreadful Dolby Atmos sound quality we thought it was faulty. The experience was more like watching TV in a cupboard than having a cinema at home.

However, Dolby Atmos only works with compatible content (see 'What is Dolby Atmos?', below), and you don't have to have it turned on. We've tested plenty of sensational models that don't have this technology at all.

We've taken a look at whether the LG SN7CY is worth buying despite its lacklustre Atmos performance, and if three other Atmos-enabled sound bars can truly make you feel like you're at the cinema.

Sound bar reviews - browse more than 100 fully-tested sound bars and sound bases to help make your TV sound better

Latest from our test lab: LG SN7CY sound bar, £400

Atmos technology is designed to enhance the surround sound you get from a sound bar. But, in Atmos mode, this LG sounds decidedly monotone - there's no depth, height or any other dimension to the sound. It's just dreadful.

Atmos mode performance was so bad that we thought that there must be a fault. We contacted LG, which claimed that this would be fixed with a software update. However, even after retesting the sound bar post-update, the Atmos performance continued to be poor.

Could this affordable sound bar still be worth buying to enjoy non-Atmos content? Find out all you need to know in our full LG SN7CY review.

Three other Dolby Atmos sound bars

Samsung HW-Q800T, £700

Hailing from Samsung's QLED range, this premium sound bar has 3.1.2 channel sound. That means you hear left, right and centre channels (the 3), with the '1' indicating the presence of an included wireless subwoofer and the final '2' referring to the additional up-firing speakers in the sound bar itself.

This should create a pseudo surround-sound experience, and you can covert that to full surround-sound by purchasing the additional SWA-9000S rear speaker kit (around £200) if you prefer.

The HW-Q800T supports Dolby Atmos, so you can enjoy enhanced content available on streaming services such as Disney+ and Netflix. It's wi-fi-enabled and you can stream music to it from your smartphone via Bluetooth.

Get the lowdown on this premium sound bar in our comprehensive Samsung HW-Q800T review.

Sonos Arc, £800

Sonos' first sound bar to support Dolby Atmos is the Arc. It's typically stylish for a Sonos product and is best suited to large TVs (more than 46 inches). You can place it under your TV or mount it on the wall.

You mostly control the Arc by downloading the free Sonos app to your smartphone or tablet to use with the sound bar.

If you also download the Amazon Alexa app, you can control aspects of the sound with your voice, as it has a built-in voice assistant. You won't need an Amazon Echo or other device for it to work.

This premium sound bar has a pretty premium price. See if it justifies the cost in our full Sonos Arc review.

LG SN11RG, £1,299

Some Dolby Atmos sound bars will put a serious dent in your bank balance, such as this LG model. You do get pretty much every premium feature and function you could imagine in return, though.

The LG SN11RG, best suited to TVs that are 55 inches or larger, comes with a wireless bass subwoofer and two rear wired speakers, meaning it almost competes with home cinema systems for a surround sound experience.

It supports Dolby Atmos compatible content, is wi-fi-enabled and has built-in Google Chromecast functionality, so you can stream audio directly to the sound bar from any Chromecast-enabled mobile app, such as Spotify or YouTube Music.

Find out if it's worth spending the extra on this high-end model in our LG SN11RG review.

What is Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos, sometimes referred to as object-based sound, is designed to put you right at the centre of whatever you're watching. It wraps the sound around you, so you can feel the boom of an explosion or make out even the tiniest bird chirps.

With Dolby Atmos enabled, upward-firing drivers in the sound bar make it appear as though the sound is coming from overhead, as well as all around you.

To experience it you'll need an Atmos-enabled sound bar, and also be watching Atmos content. There's not much compatible content available on regular TV, but Atmos is now more common on streaming services, such as Amazon Prime, Disney+ and Netflix.

Many sound bars claim to deliver virtual surround sound, but we've found many fail to do it well. Check our sound bar reviews before buying one to ensure you don't end up with a dud.