Most budget soundbars can’t support Dolby Atmos, and those that do often struggle to convincingly recreate the cinematic bubble of sounds you’re used to in a theater. Soundbars like the Sonos Beam Gen 2 and VIZIO’s SB36512-F6, however, manage to achieve an impressive Atmos sound without screaming through your savings. We’ve tracked down the best budget Atmos-compatible soundbars that best straddle the line between quality and affordability.
Best overall: Sonos Beam Gen 2
Sonos knows how to make a great soundbar, and the brand has once again managed to deliver with the Beam Gen 2. The diminutive soundbar sounds much better than its size would suggest, and you get a host of connectivity options.
What makes the soundbar that much more enticing is the addition of Dolby Atmos. The Beam Gen 2 works incredibly well with Atmos content via streaming services, giving an additional dimension to the sound that you don’t get with a traditional soundbar.
Of course, being a Sonos product, the Beam Gen 2 works seamlessly with other Sonos gear for multi-room audio. With HDMI eARC on offer, you can easily connect the soundbar to your TV, and it is effortless to set up and use.
Also great: Vizio SB36512-F6 5.1.2-Channel Soundbar
The SB36512-F6 is the only soundbar to also justify a place on our best overall Dolby Atmos soundbars list, with specs that almost stack up against devices that cost twice as much or more. Vizio pairs a soundbar with good sound quality with a 6-inch wireless subwoofer and two discrete rear speakers with upward-facing drivers (soundbars without side speakers can only imitate its excellent surround sound). The speakers connect via wires directly to the subwoofer, so make sure you have somewhere to place them in the rear of your living room.
Google Home or Chromecast owners have the added perk of controlling the SB36512-F6 soundbar via Assistant commands. Alexa users, meanwhile, will have to rely on the simple remote control or SmartCast app to access the soundbar’s various features, such as switching between sound configurations for movies, music, or Atmos.
Vizio’s excellent bargain comes with an inevitable cost. Its narrow design cannot achieve the same powerful sound as more expensive Atmos speakers. Even comparably priced non-Atmos speakers can invest more drivers into rich, forward-facing sound. However, that trade-off pays off with better Atmos performance than any other soundbar or speaker in this price range.
Best value: Sony HT-G700 Soundbar
Sony took the concept of artificial surround sound to the extreme with its unique HT-G700 soundbar. Out of the box it is merely a 3.1ch device, yet Sony used Audio Enhancement to attempt to produce 7.1.2 surround sound without the usual rear speakers or height drivers. Its proprietary Vertical Surround Engine directs objects of sound straight at you, but processed to sound as if it’s above or behind you.
In practice, the HT-G700’s virtualized surround sound is two steps down from actual surround sound, and one step down from soundbars like the SL9YG, with actual side-facing and upward-facing drivers but no rear speakers. Still, the HT-G700 is a worthy alternative for some buyers. It’s compact enough to easily fit under most TVs without mounting; it doesn’t require (or even allow) separate speakers, for those who prefer an all-in-one solution; and most importantly, it doesn’t depend on your living room being a certain size or shape for its Atmos sphere to work properly.
Sony also managed to be the first to add eARC functionality to a budget Atmos soundbar. Most use ARC, which efficiently transfers data from your TV to your soundbar via the HDMI port, but can sometimes throttle or compress high-bandwidth audio sources. Yet with “enhanced” ARC support, the soundbar receives the uncompressed signal 100% of the time.
Just keep in mind that you’re getting an imitation of Atmos with this soundbar without true surround sound. Regardless, it still presents good sound quality and customization options.
Fabulous sound: Samsung Q70T Soundbar
Samsung’s usual business model is to provide a full price range of options in a category like TVs, then add tantalizing new features at each price tier to convince you to go past your budget. This year’s Samsung soundbars are no exception, and only one Atmos-supporting soundbar sits within our desired price range: the HW-Q70T. Even if this model doesn’t hit the specs you’d like, you can thankfully choose to upgrade one major element down the line once you can afford the extra cost rather than feel pressured to pay extra now on a fancier model.
The base 3.1.2-channel HW-Q70T has some strong features in its favor. The Q Symphony functionality will benefit 2020 8K QLED owners by letting you combine TV and soundbar audio. Amazon speaker owners can use Alexa commands to control your soundbar. It allows for an eARC HDMI or Bluetooth connection. However, just as with any soundbar without discrete speakers, it won’t necessarily blow you away with its Atmos performance. Thankfully, you can purchase a compatible SWA-9000S rear speaker set that will upgrade the HW-Q70T to a 5.1.2ch system with true surround sound.
The fact remains, however, that without this upgrade, an Amazon speaker, or a brand-new Samsung TV, you’re simply getting an Atmos and DTS:X-enabled soundbar with no true surround sound or embedded voice commands. Whether or not this is the right speaker for you depends in part on what other types of devices you use daily.
Which should you buy?
Our list of bargain Atmos soundbars is short because most of them cost at least a thousand dollars, so rest assured that any device on this list will have saved you a decent amount of money. Yet of all of these, two companies ask you to pay extra for discrete speakers, and two more are all-in-one speakers.
If you need a Dolby Atmos soundbar for under $500, the obvious option is the Sonos Beam Gen 2. It looks great, delivers an incredible sound, works with Dolby Atmos, and has multi-room audio. It doesn’t have a subwoofer, but the Beam Gen 2 sounds great in its own right, and it is the easiest way to add Dolby Atmos to your TV.
Then there’s the VIZIO 36″ 5.1.2-Channel Soundbar (SB36512-F6); this soundbar comes with a full set of speakers that allow for true Dolby Atmos straight out of the box—not a pale imitation.
Compared to the more expensive Dolby Atmos speakers like the excellent Samsung HW-Q90R Soundbar, Vizio obviously falls short in the number of drivers and channels. But outside of that and a few other minor areas — lack of eARC, Alexa support, or pass-through support for very specific video formats like Dolby Vision — the SB36512-F6 doesn’t fall that far behind its much more expensive competition.