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Dolby Atmos All in One Soundbar
I recently visited the technology section in John Lewis’s and I was browsing around the technology dept I came across a number of Dolby Atmos All-in-One Soundbar. One of them was the Sony HT-X8500, which in-store sounded incredible and from that moment I began obsessing about the Dolby Atmos All-in-One soundbar.
I am not an impulse buyer and as I have said many times in my previous blogs, I always do my research before I buy anything, from a new TV to a new keyboard I will always do my research first.
Why you need a soundbar
If you have bought a brand new 4K TV in the last few years you will have noticed how thin the TV display can be. that is great if you are mounting it on a wall or even if it is on a TV stand, you can get quite flush with the wall. The downside of the newer, thinner TVs is that the speakers are not as good as they were in the thicker TVs.
This can be frustrating when watching a movie or listening to music, the sound can be quite thin and difficult to get the cinema feel you want while watching your favourite film.
A soundbar will improve the sound quality of music and movies. giving it some depth, bass and highs that you are looking for. When buying a premium TV such as a Sony, LG or Samsung 4K OLED or QLED TV, you will often find a soundbar included in the package.
You will see in shops that this is some kind of promotion with TV but in my experience, it is included in the price, so be careful if you decide to buy a TV and Soundbar package. Shop around first.
Over the past few Soundbars have been improving in quality and performance, not just in sound but also in build quality. My previous Soundbar was a basic stereo sound with a separate subwoofer and I was happy with that until I wasn’t and decided to look around for a Dolby Atmos All in One Soundbar.
What is Dolby Atmos?
Dolby Atmos allows your soundbar to give you the feeling that you are being surrounded by sound from a movie, immersing you in sound from the sides and above without the need to have speakers built into your ceiling, or speakers on the walls behind you. The technology works by bouncing the sound around you off walls and ceilings to create that cinema sound in your room.
One of the main elements of Dolby Atmos All in One Soundbar is the need for what is called up-firing speakers. That is speakers that have speakers on the top of the soundbar bouncing sound off the ceiling to give the impression something is flying over your head. Not all Dolby Atmos All-in-One Speakers have them and so they have to use some clever technology to give the feeling that it has up firing speakers such as the Sony HT-X8500 and Sonos Beam (Gen 2)
Many audiophiles and cinema buffs will say that you can not get true Dolby Atmos without having speakers behind you and speakers built into your ceiling, that may be true but some Dolby Atmos Soundbars will give you the impression of 360 surround sound.
I needed a Dolby Atmos Soundbar to suit my needs
When looking around for a new all-in-one Dolby Atmos Soundbar I had fixed criteria it had to meet. It had to have a decent bass response, clear voices when watching a film and great music reproduction when playing music from a movie or YouTube. One criterion had to be met that is unique to where I live and that is size, and how much space it will take up. When measuring the space under my TV I found that I had to have a soundbar that was less than 91 cm (36 inches approx.)
The All in One Soundbars that I was looking at were
- Sony HT-X8500 Dolby Atmos all in one soundbar
- JBL 5.0 Multibeam – Dolby Atmos all in one soundbar
- Sonos Beam (Gen 2)
- LG SN7CY All in One Soundbar
- LG QP5 Éclair
So, I began to do my research on these Dolby Atmos All-in-One Soundbars. My research began by looking at reviews on the internet for these products.
I checked customer reviews on retailer websites such as Curry’s, which is a UK retail company, Argos, another UK retailer, and Amazon which unless you have been sleeping for the last 20 or so years you would have heard of it. I also looked at websites such as Trusted Reviews and as I currently subscribe to the Which? Magazine and I also checked for reviews on Dolby Atmos All in One Soundbars there too.
The problem with reviews
The main problem I have reviews from places such as Amazon and other retailers is that after a while you can become confused by the differing opinions of a product. So, what I look for in reviews is a consistent opinion. For example, if people consistently say that a voice is muffled when watching a movie then I may take that on board, if it is just one or two people saying that then I will seek out the product and see if I can get a demonstration before I make up my mind.
My tests on Dolby Atmos All in one Soundbars
Sony HT-X8500 – Dolby Atmos all in one soundbar
When I was listening in-store to the Sony HT-X8500 it sounded incredible. I was listening to a Dolby Atmos demo video, and I felt that I could feel the sound all around me, helicopters flying over my head. It sounded great.
Testing Sony HT-X8500 at home
Setting up the HT-X8500 Dolby Atmos soundbar was easy to set up. I connected to the HDMI eARC slot on my Sony Bravia TV and plugged it and away we went with it. I am not technical when it comes to TVs, HiFi or even washing Machines but I did look up what HDMI eARC means.
HDMI eARC, which stands for Enhanced Audio Return Channel, allows the TV to pass audio to such things as a Soundbar allowing you to hear sound in full Dolby Surround Sound including Dolby Atmos. For those who want to know more about HDMI eARC then visit the HDMI.org website
The sound from the HT-X8500 was not as exciting at home as I had hoped. The stereo sound was good you could hear things moving from left to right, but I just could not get the same experience I heard in the store. I can only imagine that someone from Sony came into the store to set up the soundbar for the area.
What I liked about the Sony HT-X8500
As I have already said I liked the stereo sound that came from the soundbar and it just fitted in the space I had. The soundbar dimensions are 89cm wide (35 inches), 6.4cm high (2.5 inches) and 9.6cm (3.77 inches) deep. That was it! That is all I liked about it.
I have a long list of things I don’t like about the HT-X8500. As I said it was simple to set up but to operate, well that’s a different matter.
You can connect a phone or a tablet to the Sony HT-X8500 by Bluetooth but unlike some of its rivals you can’t connect to the soundbar by Airplay or Chromecast to play your music which isn’t a major setback, but it is a useful thing to be able to do.
The biggest deal-breaker for me is how you operate and change settings on the Sony HT-X8500. I did realise that there is no display on the front of the soundbar but what I wasn’t expecting was how difficult it was to know if it was playing in Dolby Atmos or Dolby Surround sound or playing in stereo.
You have to rely on the keypress on the remote and then lights on the top of the soundbar would display for a few seconds. You would have to stand and look over the top of the soundbar to see what it was doing, which isn’t very practical. I could not live with the overly complicated way that you had to change sounds. If Sony had put in a front-facing display showing what settings were selected that would have helped.
The Sony HT-X8500 Soundbar has no upfiring Speakers. Instead, it uses a little piece of technology called “Virtual Sound Engine” which is supposed to “deliver a cinematic, three-dimensional surround sound experience…” (Quote from Sony’s website) unfortunately that wasn’t my experience, though at the time I wished as hard as I could to believe it.
The other Dolby Atmos All-in-One Soundbars I looked at
To be transparent for the next 3 Dolby Atmos Soundbars I want to talk about I only tested them in-store. The reason was that I was not impressed with listening to them.
Sonos Beam (Gen 2)
Sonos is well known for its audio and smart speaker systems. They previously brought out a soundbar simply known as the Sonos Beam, let’s call it Gen 1 to save confusion. It is important to know the difference between Sonos Beam Gen 2 and the Gen 1 and that is Sonos Beam Gen 2 has Dolby Atmos which the Beam Gen 1 doesn’t.
If you. want to add a subwoofer to the Gen 2 it is possible to do that, at a cost! the Sonos Subwoofer cost around £699 ($872.95) at the time I published this blog.
If finances and space are not an issue you can buy the Sonos Arc, which also has Dolby Atmos but at the time of writing costs around £899.00 ($1135.44). That was out of my price range and also too large for the space I have under my TV.
What I liked about the Sonos Beam Gen 2
It was loud enough to fill a room with sound. I was listening to the roar of a dinosaur and the sound of a helicopter. The stereo sound once again was good, but I didn’t get the impression of height that I would expect from Dolby Atmos.
I understand that Sonos Beam 2 also uses Apple Airplay and Chromecast as well as built-in assistance such as Google and Alexa. You can also calibrate the Sonos Beam 2 to your room if you have an IOS Apple device. If you have an Android phone like a Samsung, then you are stuck. You may have to borrow a friend’s iPhone to calibrate it.
The size would fit in nicely under my TV with it being 65cm (25.6 inches) wide, 6.9cm (2.7 inches) high and 10cm (3.9 inches wide)
It comes in two colours, Black or White.
What I didn’t like about the Sonos Beam 2
The bass on the Sonos Gen 2 is not that good. In fact I could not feel or hear much bass when listening to it. If you wanted to add a subwoofer for that deep bass you would have to pay around £669 ($844.95) if you add that to the price of the Sonos Beam 2, which is currently £449 ($499) you are paying a lot for very little.
Though it was advertised as Dolby Atmos I didn’t get the feeling of height that I was expecting or hoping for.
I also looked at the LG SN7CY ((W98xH18.9xD16.8 cm) and the LG QP5 Éclair (W30xH6xD13cm) I am very careful not to use the term All in One Soundbar as the LG QPS Éclair also comes with a subwoofer.
You can play music through the LG SN7CY soundbar but only by Bluetooth, you are not able to use Chromecast or Apple Airplay. While the LG Éclair does allow you to play music via Apple Airplay and Chromecast.
JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam Soundbar
I did test the JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam Soundbar in my home rather than in-store, that was because I couldn’t find a store that was demonstrating it. I did purchase it to test it and decided to keep it.
The JBL is an All-in-one Dolby Atmos Soundbar. Like the Sony HT-X8500, it was very easy to set up. I connected it to the HDMI eARC as I previously mentioned. Also, it was very easy to calibrate to the room.
To calibrate the JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam you press and hold down the HDMI button on the remote until the words ‘Calibration’ are displayed on the front of the soundbar. The soundbar then emits sounds that bounce around the room and back to the microphone that is built into the soundbar to allow it to get an idea of the room and automatically calibrate it.
What I like about the JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam Soundbar
The first thing I liked about the JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam Soundbar was the price. At the time of purchase, it cost me £239 ($301.86), which in comparison to its nearest rival, the Sonos Beam 2, was a saving of £211 ($266.49).
The size of the JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam Soundbar is 70cm (27.5 inches) Wide 5.8cm (2.3 inches) high and 10.1cm (3.9) wide. It fitted in the space I allowed nicely.
The remote is small and simple to use and the display at the front of the soundbar makes it simple to use. The JBL 5.0 Multibeam Soundbar can also be controlled using the buttons on the top of the soundbar.
The JBL 5.0 Multibeam Soundbar is called 5.0 because of the number of speakers built into the soundbar. It has 5 active speakers and 4 bass passive speakers, two on top of the soundbar and two below the soundbar. This gives a nice bass to the soundbar. The total output is 250 watts which fills our room well.
If you use either a Google Home or an Amazon Alexa, you can connect them to the JBL 5.0 Multibeam Soundbar via the Google Home app or the Alexa app and ask Google or Alexa to play music through the soundbar.
You can connect the JBL 5.0 Multibeam to your home Wi-Fi through either the Google Home app or the Alexa app. I found this a bit of a challenge to begin with as I found the instructions on what to do a bit difficult to follow, that could just be me.
As soon as I opened the Google Home app on my phone, I could see it listed to be set up in the app. Don’t worry if you don’t have the Google or Alexa app you can download a JBL app that will allow you to connect the Multibeam to your Wi-Fi.
You can also play music via Apple Airplay or Chromecast. I find this very useful when I cast music from Deezer to the soundbar.
The Dolby Atmos surround sound is good and you do get the impression of a 360 surround sound with films that are made for Dolby Atmos. There are films in Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos on a lot of film streaming services like Disney+, Amazon Prime and of course Netflix.
What don’t I like about the JBL 5.0 Multibeam Soundbar
This is an honest review and so I will mention some things I don’t like about the JBL 5.0 Multibeam Soundbar.
Sometimes when watching a movie, the voice can be set to a reasonable and comfortable level to listen to, but sometimes when music comes in at some parts of the movie you want to turn down the volume a little, and then you have to turn it up again after to listen to voices.
The bass can be powerful for a front-facing speaker. You can change the level of bass using the remote. There isn’t a dedicated bass button, you have to hold down the TV button for more than 3 seconds, then press the volume button up to increase the bass (up to level 5) or press down to decrease the bass level (minimum level 1). I would have preferred it if there was a dedicated bass button, but I guess you can’t have everything.
For the price, I am very happy with JBL 5.0 Multibeam Soundbar. I did prefer the look of the Sony HT-X8500 but I couldn’t live with the complicated way of controlling the sound with the remote and the lack of up-firing speakers. The Sonos Beam 2 was too expensive for what it can do and add-ons were far too expensive too. Plus, the sound quality is not as good as the JBL 5.0 Multibeam Soundbar in my opinion.
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