Simple can still sound great

The Best Dolby Atmos Soundbars of 2020 (So Far)

January 27, 2020 Tech By

Soundbars are hardly the flashiest sector of the home audio market, but their sales exceed the rest of the home theater surround sound category combined, so it is easy to understand why manufacturers keep introducing new models each year. From a practical perspective, soundbars take up very little space, are a huge improvement over the sound quality of your television and are increasingly easy to install and integrate not only with your TV but also with smart assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home.

It’s very easy to understand why couch potatoes would want to minimize the footprint of their surround sound systems and eliminate all of the clutter that comes with multiple HDMI and digital audio cables. Fortunately, you don’t have to compromise on sound. Long gone are the days of substandard soundbar performance, with groundbreaking products like the Sennheiser Ambeo offering Dolby Atmos technology in a very innovative package, albeit at a rather steep price. Here are a handful of the best soundbars available in 2019 that can also support that high bar of audio quality, at a variety of price points.

Vizio SB36512-F6

Best Budget Atmos Soundbar

Price: $300

Expecting a minimalist-looking 5.1.2 soundbar like the SB36512-F6 to compare to a dedicated Atmos system is rather unrealistic but you might be rather surprised to hear just how good this system sounds. Vizio includes both a wireless subwoofer and pair of rear surround speakers in this package. The main unit contains upward firing drivers which act as your height channels and give the SB36512-F6 high marks for excellent connectivity. The Vizio features five different types of inputs: HDMI in/out (with ARC), coaxial, optical, USB (for .WAV playback) and a 3.5mm analog input jack. Wi-Fi is supported, with Chromecast built right in, and Bluetooth connectivity is an option as well. The 36” wide soundbar is wall-mountable and blends rather well positioned below most HDTVs.

The Vizio does a very respectable job with clarity, detail, and recreating an immersive sounding soundstage with movies. Its performance with music doesn’t quite impress in the same manner, but you can’t have everything at a price point as low as $300.

Yamaha YSP-5600 Digital Sound Projector

Best Affordable Audiophile Soundbar

Price: $1,600

Yamaha has been building audio components for 98 years and the YSP-5600 DSP was the world’s first true Dolby Atmos soundbar. This 7.1.2 wall of sound incorporates 46 powered drivers in a relatively compact enclosure that was designed for 65”+ HDTVs and installation on the wall. The YSP-5600 supports Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and MusicCast. Advanced auto calibration is part of the package and Yamaha includes a microphone to dial in the sound of the beam drivers so they produce lifelike atmospheric effects with your specific room and exact seating position. The 12 drivers are utilized for the two height channels and the effect is surprisingly effective with Atmos-encoded films. Yamaha does not include a subwoofer with the YSP-5600 and low-end bass response is noticeably absent with films. An entry-level subwoofer from SVS or REL is necessary to make the Yamaha soundbar truly full-range.

Sennheiser AMBEO

Best Overall

Price: $2,500

Sennheiser took its time developing the 5.1.4 AMBEO and while some may raise their eyebrows at the asking price, the proof is definitely in the listening. Featuring 13 dedicated drivers and support for UHD 4K pass-through, HDR10, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and multiple HDMI inputs/outputs, the AMBEO is a true high-end surround sound system in one enclosure. What makes this 49” wide soundbar stand out is the sheer scale of the presentation. It plays cleanly down to 35Hz without a subwoofer, delivers a warm and detailed midrange that excels with both movies and music, and it actually reproduces Atmos-encoded films with a level of immersion that will convince you that there are height and surround channels in your room.


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Ian White

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