Born out of necessity, soundbars were originally designed to satisfy a simple need: upgrade the sound of TV speakers. Most TV speakers sounded fairly awful then and the situation hasn’t improved much, if at all. The soundbar category has exploded as consumers have opened their wallets and virtually every speaker maker on the planet has joined the fray.
Soundbars have evolved into far more advanced solutions than they once were. Analog and fiber optic inputs have been replaced or augmented by digital HDMI ports. Simple stereo sound has transformed into multi-channel immersive surround sound that can rival expensive component-based systems. Sound quality has improved tremendously. And with all that, prices have also risen.
Today, many companies are offering fully integrated soundbar systems that can reproduce the Dolby Atmos immersive experience at home. To this effect, soundbars are typically enhanced with rear channel speakers and powered subwoofers. These are sometimes included with the soundbar but normally available as additional cost add-ons. Most of these add-ons connect wirelessly to the main unit so you won’t have to worry about running wires across the floor or along the walls. They do need power though so make sure you’ve got outlets near wherever you want to place the speakers.
Most of these higher end sound bars use upward-firing speakers built into the bar, and sometimes also built into the rear speakers in order to provide that overhead sound component which is crucial to immersive surround sound. While they may be a bit more complicated to set up than basic soundbars and they cost more, the improvements gained in sound quality and functionality are worth the effort, and the expense. Here are a few soundbars currently on the market that get our highest recommendations. Scroll down to read the full article or jump to individual recommendations below.
- Sonos ARC – Best Soundbar with Whole Home Integration
- Sony HT-A7000 – Best Soundbar for Immersive Surround
- Vizio Elevate 5.1.4 – Best Soundbar with Rear Speakers and Subwoofer Included
- Theory Audio Design SB75 – Best Cost-no-Object Soundbar
Please Note: this site is reader-supported. Purchases made using our links may earn us a commission.
SONOS ARC/ARC SL ($849 to $2,000, depending on options)
The SONOS ARC (and the microphone-free version, the ARC SL) include upward-firing and side-firing speakers built into the bar to handle the height channels for Dolby Atmos and to provide some surround sound effects from the sides as well. So technically you can get a hint of that immersive surround sound from a simple one-piece sound bar. In reality though, for a truly immersive 5.1.2-channel Dolby Atmos system, we recommend adding a pair of wireless rear speakers and a wireless subwoofer. The surround speakers are the Sonos One SL. The subwoofer can either be the Sonos sub or the recently released Sonos sub mini.
The main benefit to a Sonos soundbar (beyond its sound quality, which is impressive) is that it brings with it the Sonos whole home music platform. This is currently one of the simplest ways to bring music and sound to any room in your home. Say goodbye to expensive, complicated control systems or in-wall wiring. With Sonos, you simply plug in each new speaker, add it to your home network in the Sonos app and you’ve got music anywhere you want it.
You can put a Sonos ARC in your living room, a pair of Play Ones in the bedroom and a Sonos Roam in the shower for music, audio books or podcast playback throughout your home. You can play different music in each room or synch them all together for a rocking house party. Sonos ARC is also compatible with Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa and Google Home for smart home integration and voice assistant control.
Another benefit with Sonos soundbars is that they are currently the only soundbars, or really component speaker systems of any kind, that support Dolby Atmos in Amazon Music (as of November, 2022). Add on an Apple TV 4K streaming box to your TV, you’ll be able to listen to Dolby Atmos Music from all three music services that support it: Amazon Music, Apple Music and Tidal. In a recent firmware update Sonos also finally added support for DTS to the ARC – something that Sonos customers have been requesting for some time. Alas, DTS support on Sonos is only its compressed form. DTS:X and lossless DTS:HD Master Audio are not yet supported on Sonos products.
Joel Burgess over at Tech Radar named the ARC the best soundbar of 2022, calling it an “an excellent all-in-one surround sound system.” Kate Kozuch at Tom’s Guide also offered a glowing review, referring to the ARC as “premium in every sense — with its precise tuning software and Dolby Atmos support, it’s the best soundbar for Sonos fans that can afford it.” The tuning she refers to is Sonos’ unique “TruePlay” feature which allows you to use your iPhone or iPad to optimize the sound of the ARC for your specific room and listening position using the microphone built into your device.
The main drawback of the Sonos system is the price. While the ARC alone is a reasonably affordable $899, a full 5.1.2 channel Sonos system currently sells for around $2,000 with the Sonos Sub or around $1,730 with the Sonos Sub Mini. The ARC also only includes a single HDMI input, so you’ll need to plug any of your sources (streaming stick, cable box, Blu-ray player, gaming console) into your TV and run the HDMI cable from the TV to the sound bar. For this to work, your TV must also support a different type of ARC – “Audio Return Channel” – or eARC (enhanced Audio Return Channel) on one of its HDMI ports. Happily, most TVs and projectors made within the past few years support ARC or eARC.
If you’re a Costco member, you may have noticed a version of the ARC on their shelves, the ARC SL “Shadow Edition.” The ARC SL is exactly like the ARC except that the “SL” version lacks a built-in microphone. If you don’t need the ability to control music with your voice (and you’re not interested in using Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant on the bar) then you can go with the SL version for about $50 less. The ARC SL is currently exclusive to Costco but the standard ARC is widely available online and in stores.
For those with funky/eclectic style, you can also use Sonos Symfonisk speaker/lamps as rear channel speakers with the Sonos ARC. An ingenious idea to hide speakers in plain sight, the Symfonisk speaker lamp is exclusive to Ikea. You’ll need two for rear channels. The Symfonisk is also available as a wireless bookshelf speaker only (no lamp), at a lower cost than the Sonos One SLs ($119/each compared to $199/each for Sonos One SL). Again, buy two if you’re using them for rear channel speakers with a Sonos ARC. Check them out at Ikea.com.
Because of its integration with the Sonos whole home music system and compatibility with the major smart home platforms, we’re naming the Sonos ARC the best soundbar for whole home integration.
Pros: Very good sound on its own, truly immersive surround sound with sub and rear speakers added, supports Dolby Atmos including Dolby Atmos Music from Amazon Music, discrete and appealing form factor, part of Sonos whole home music ecosystem, can use lamps as surround speakers
Cons: fairly expensive when optioned up, includes only one HDMI port, lacks support for DTS:X and Reality 360 Audio
Note: Watch out for third party Amazon marketplace sellers with inflated prices on Sonos products. The list price of the ARC is $899, the ARC SL is $849, the Sub is $749, the Sub mini is $429 and the One SL is $199 each. Crutchfield is an authorized Sonos dealer and currently has a package price on the Sonos Arc 5.1.2 system for under $2000 (less than the regular retail price of the individual components). See links below. Also, from Black Friday to Cyber Monday, 2022, Crutchfield has the Sonos Arc on sale for $719 and the complete 5.1.2 bundle for $1636.
Where to Buy Sonos Arc:
- Sonos ARC soundbar – Amazon, Crutchfield
- Sonos Sub subwoofer – Amazon, Crutchfield
- Sonos Sub mini subwoofer (smaller, cheaper sub for smaller spaces) – Crutchfield
- Sonos One SL (for rear channels – you’ll need 2) – Crutchfield
- Sonos ARC 5.1.2 System Bundle with ARC, Sub and 2 x One SL (Crutchfield)
Sony HT-A7000 Soundbar ($1398-$2699, depending on options)
Sony’s HT-A7000 in Sony’s flagship soundbar, and is priced accordingly. It is currently discounted $300 on Amazon, but even at $1,098, it’s a little bit pricey. The HT-A7000 soundbar supports immersive surround sound in multiple flavors: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Sony’s own “Reality 360 Audio.” Never heard of Reality 360, you say? Well that might soon change, if Sony has its way.
While Dolby Atmos is the 800-pound gorilla in the room, Sony has been quietly developing and spreading its own flavor of immersive sound called “Reality 360 Audio.” Like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, Reality 360 includes a height element to enhance the surround sound experience. Many studios have begun mixing music in the format, and you can find Reality 360 content on several streaming services, including Amazon Music Unlimited, Deezer, nugs.net, and Tidal. The Sony HT-A7000 is one of only a handful of products which can decode Reality 360 content creating a 3D soundscape all around and above the listener.
Like the Sonos ARC, Sony’s HT-A7000 soundbar is available as a single standalone unit. It uses electronic/psychoacoustic processing and directed speaker drivers to create a dome of sound coming at you from all directions. But, as with the Sonos, we recommend purchasing the optional powered subwoofer and rear speakers. This will give you a truly immersive surround experience, with deep solid low bass and seamless placement of objects in movies and music.
The HT-A7000 has multiple upgrade options: small rear speakers (RA-RS3) with only front-facing drivers or slightly larger rear speakers (RA-RS5) which also include upward-firing drivers for more sound from above. We recommend the RS5 for the best, most immersive experience. There is also the choice of a 200W powered sub (SW3) or larger 300W powered sub (SW5). In an average sized room, the smaller sub should be sufficient, but if you’re filling a larger space or need that deep, deep bass then go with the larger subwoofer.
The HT-A7000 has a built-in microphone which can be used to control any home automation tasks or play music via a virtual assistant. The soundbar supports the three main home automation platforms: Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit and Google Home. The soundbar also supports direct connections to Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast. In terms of set-up, the HT-A7000 has an automated calibration function for setting the ideal speaker levels in your specific room.
The HT-A7000 includes two HDMI 2.1 inputs as well as an eARC-compatible HDMI output. This allows you to plug in a cable box and Blu-ray player directly to the unit while still being able to get Dolby Atmos sound from the apps built into your TV and any additional devices plugged directly into the TV.
Our friends over at WhatHifi praised the HT-A7000 for its spacious immersive sound (even without rear speakers), impressive dynamic range and clear dialog reproduction. Simon Cohen over at Digital Trends called it a “fully loaded soundbar experience” and rated its performance 9 out of 10. Simon pointed out that while the automatic calibration does a fine job setting up speaker levels and distances, you can tweak the sound for your own personal preferences if you feel like you need a bit more bass or a tad more sound from the height speakers.
The HT-A7000 earns uniform praise from both critics and consumers alike for its large, spacious cinematic sound. If budget is an issue, you can start with the HT-7000A soundbar alone, then add the rear speakers and powered subwoofer later if you feel the need for deeper base or a more spacious and immersive surround sound experience.
With its broad immersive surround format support and its ability to create a seamless “dome of sound” around the listener, we’re naming the Sony HT-A7000 the best soundbar for immersive surround sound.
Pros: Outstanding immersive surround sound, multiple HDMI ports, supports the three most popular immersive sound formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Reality 360 Audio
Cons: Expensive, bass response somewhat lacking without subwoofer
Where to Buy the Sony HT-A7000:
Vizio Elevate 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos Soundbar System ($999)
If you want a complete Dolby Atmos soundbar system which includes both the rear speakers and subwoofer at a fairly affordable price, the Vizio Elevate 5.1.4 (Model P514A-H6) is worth a look and a listen. It’s currently on sale on Amazon for under $700 – that’s less than the price of the Sonos ARC on its own.
The Vizio sound bar has upward-facing speakers for the height channels (when needed), and you’ll find both a powered subwoofer and a pair of small but effective rear channel speakers in the box. The rear channel speakers include front-firing and upward-firing drivers so this gives you a full 5.1.4 channel configuration for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Like the Sony HT-A7000, the Vizio Elevate soundbar offers two HDMI inputs plus an eARC HDMI output that can carry video signals to your TV while also receiving the audio signal back from your TV. This gives you some connectivity options which are not possible on the Sonos ARC.
Our friend Ty Pendlebury at CNET reviewed the Vizio Elevate system and gave it a hearty recommendation, praising its sound quality and intelligent design. As a nifty (but also useful) gimmick, the height speakers at the outer edges of the Vizio Elevate sound bar rotate upwards automatically to bounce sound from the ceiling when you play back content in Dolby Atmos or DTS:X. The VIZIO Elevate 5.1.4 channel sound bar system has a list price of $999, but currently sells online for less.
With its unique motorized up-firing speakers and inclusion of rear speakers and powered subwoofer for Dolby Atmos 5.1.4 channel surround, we’re naming the Vizio Elevate the best complete soundbar system with rear speakers and subwoofer included.
Pros: True immersive surround sound with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, reasonably affordable, comes with everything you need
Cons: rear speakers must be plugged into subwoofer which limits their placement a bit
Where to Buy VIZIO Elevate 5.1.4-Channel Sound Bar System:
Theory Audio Design SB75 Soundbar/5.2.2-Channel Surround Sound System ($11,000-$15,000 Plus Processor)
Some products don’t fit neatly into tidy little boxes. While Theory Audio Design’s SB75 looks like a sound bar – it is a bar with speakers that produces sound – it doesn’t do some of the things a traditional soundbar does, and yet it does so much more. While it does come with a power amp module to drive all the speakers, it does not come with a preamp/processor, so you’ll need to get one of those, or use a high-end AV receiver with preamp outputs. This is not a simple one-cable plug and play soundbar.
The SB75 bar handles the front three channels (left, center, right) and is sized to match the width of a 75-inch flat panel TVs. The company also makes bars optimized for 65-inch and 85-inch screens. Although the soundbar is a single one-piece unit, the left, center and right speakers are each housed in independently sealed enclosures. Each channel includes two 5″ Theory carbon fiber low frequency drivers and one 1.4″ advanced polymer compression driver. The bar is finished in elegant brushed aluminum and weighs a hefty 68 pounds. Be sure to invite a strong friend over to help mount it.
There are no bouncy speakers on board, nor any psychoacoustic tricks to fool your brain into thinking that sound is coming from different directions. If you want immersive sound like Dolby Atmos or DTS:X or Reality 360 or AURO 3D, you’ll need to do that the “old-fashioned” way: with speakers on the ceiling and on the rear and/or side walls. Theory Audio recommends their SB25 wall/ceiling mount speakers for the task. As for subwoofers, Theory recommends two of those, specifically the Sub15. Each of these features a 15″ driver and a 3″ voice coil. They are rated to extend down to 22 Hz. Theory also offers a smaller 12-inch subwoofer (Sub12) for smaller spaces.
Our Editor in Chief Ian White did an extensive review of the Theory system in a 5.2.2 configuration for immersive Dolby Atmos surround. He paired it with an Acurus Muse preamp/processor ($5,500) bringing the total system cost to a little under $20,000. That’s an expensive “soundbar.” In Ian’s words, the Theory Audio system, “delivered the scale, dynamics, and detail of the best movie theaters that I’ve spend the better part of 43 years escaping reality in.” He went on to rave, “the tonal balance of the entire system is extremely neutral; but it never strays into the analytical camp. Not for a second. Dialogue is clean, bold, and you are able to discern every nuance in a character’s voice.”
If you’re looking for an elegant but powerful surround system; one that can capture the cinematic experience without dominating your room, the Theory Audio SB75 with its accompanying subwoofers and on-wall speakers are ready to rock your world.
With its top notch fit and finish, impeccable build quality and truly cinematic sound, we’re naming the Theory Audio Design SB75 5.2.2-channel system the Best Cost-No-Object Soundbar system.
Pros: Elegant design, extremely solid build quality, true cinematic sound at home
Cons: Expensive, requires external processor, fairly complicated set-up (we recommend dealer installation)
Where to Buy Theory Audio Design SB75:
- See Theory Audio Design’s Website for a list of independent dealers