Unless you’re ready to drill holes in your ceiling and run wires all over your living room, soundbars are still the best way to get earth-shaking and immersive sound in your home theater.
It’s never been easier to get impressive surround and Dolby Atmos sound effects in your living room. Many entry-level and mid-range soundbars are able to do a lot with not very much, while premium soundbars continue to make it harder to justify a more traditional home theater installation.
While this guide is more for people looking to invest in a great home cinema experience, we also have several selections for the more economically conscious.
The best out-of-the-box soundbar
The Polk Maginifi Mini AX is one of two “virtual” Dolby Atmos bars in this guide, and in our opinion is the better value if you want to keep components in your system to a minimum. Polk isn’t joking around with the “mini” branding here, the bar measures only 14.4 inches long and 3.1 inches high, but the sound field it kicks out with the aid of the included not-so-mini subwoofer is truly mind-blowing. The Mini AX has been praised for its remarkable dynamic range and presence even in larger rooms, but we still recommend it for smaller places.
While the Polk soundbar can be expanded to full surround for $200 with the SR2 surround speakers, the system won’t impress as much as a fully kitted-out Sonos Beam Gen 2 (our other virtual Atmos pick). The only downside to the Beam Gen 2 is its higher price.
The best Sonos soundbars
We’re big fans of Sonos here at Inverse and their soundbars have only helped to grow our enthusiasm. The flagship Arc and middle-tier Beam Gen 2 bars each provide stellar performance out of the box, but these soundbars are better when you go all in on the Sonos ecosystem.
If you’ve been curious about a Sonos soundbar, we encourage you to buy one with rear speakers to start. Sonos’ incredible sound and TruePlay room tuning work best when they have the most possible components to play with. With the Beam Gen 2, the rear speakers will pick up some of the low-end load as well, so you may not even feel the need to pick up a subwoofer down the line.
So which Sonos soundbar should you look at? We've found that the space you’re putting the product in matters more than anything. The Beam Gen 2 is more flexible than the Arc since it’s virtualizing the surround and Dolby Atmos effects. If you want to listen in a large, open room with very high or vaulted ceilings, the Beam Gen 2 is the better pick over the Arc. Its lower starting price also makes it the more attractive option for some.
The Arc’s dedicated height drivers plus the sheer number of other drivers, tweeters, and woofers packed inside it will give you the best overall sound if you’re in an ideal listening environment. This means flat ceilings that are 10 feet or shorter and a listening area that’s reasonably close to some walls to help surround effects bounce. If you have the right space and higher budget for it, the Arc is an excellent soundbar that has impressively stood up to years of growing competition.
One final pro tip for anyone looking to get surrounds for their Sonos system: check out Ikea’s Symfonisk speakers over Sonos’ own One SL speaker. Two Picture Frames or Table Lamps may blend better with your home decor, while a set of Bookshelf speakers go for just over the price of a single One SL.
The best simple soundbar
Bose’s leap to Dolby Atmos has caught a lot of reviewers’ eyes but the mid-range Smart Soundbar 600 is the easiest of the lineup to recommend. While it drops the auto room tuning and advanced beamforming technology of the premium Smart Soundbar 900, the Soundbar 600 manages to maintain physical height drivers (something the Beam Gen 2 and Polk Maginifi Mini AX lack) and plenty of audio oomph to fill a small to medium-sized listening space. Expanding the Soundbar 600 with surrounds and a subwoofer gets pricey quickly (Bose’s recommended pairings go for $400 a piece), but we would expect room tuning if we're paying that much for a full kit.
The Smart Soundbar 600 should be the perfect pairing for bedrooms and small living rooms thanks to the great sound it kicks out with minimal component and wire clutter.
The best standalone soundbar
The Sennheiser Ambeo plus is a (on paper) cut-down version of the pricey Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar Max. While it does have fewer drivers and components packed inside, and less overall bass output compared to the Max, the Plus gains a much more attractive and accessible form factor and a price that’s more in line with the rest of the premium soundbar market. The Plus maintains Sennheiser’s auto-room calibration technology for ideal performance in most environments, and by all accounts still wows with how it creates virtual surround sound without the aid of physical rear speakers. If you find its low-end performance lacking, Sennheiser does sell the Ambeo Sub, but at $700 extra, you may actually find yourself able to justify the Ambeo Max by itself.
The Ambeo Soundbar Plus should appeal to anyone with a big viewing space who wants the best performance possible without the need for any additional components. Whether that’s for aesthetic reasons, or you just like to flex your wallet, there’s no doubt the Ambeo Plus is the perfect match for you.
The best home-theater-in-a-box soundbar
Samsung’s TV team may not play well with Dolby but its soundbar team could teach it a thing or two. The Samsung Q990B is one of the best-reviewed soundbar systems and leaves almost nothing on the table. In addition to the capable main soundbar, the Q990B includes a very powerful and stylish subwoofer, plus two wireless rear speakers with height drivers of their own, coming together in a 11.1.4 setup. The end result is a home theater in a box that is able to deliver one of the most immersive cinema experiences around. As a plus, it can even connect to Samsung’s TVs without an HDMI cable.
While the price tag is high, the Q990B actually comes in cheaper than the Sonos Arc ($1,946) or the Bose Soundbar 900 ($2,097) when you pair those systems with their respective rear speakers (which don’t have height drivers) and subwoofers. This delta is even more dramatic when the Q990B is on sale. The fully equipped Bose Smart Soundbar 900 and Sonos Arc are undoubtedly impressive systems but Samsung’s pre-bundled setup delivers the same or better performance for less money, making it a great choice if you're ready to take the plunge on a full Dolby Atmos surround system. If you have the space to fit it, there’s little reason to look at anything else.