Why Your Atmos Soundbar Sounds Like Crap

So you just shelled out a pile of money for a “top-of-the-line” Atmos soundbar. You get it home, set it up, and prepare to enjoy sounds coming from all around you from a single speaker. Isn’t technology grand? Except…something is wrong. Sounds sort of sound like they are coming from around you but you still can’t understand the dialogue! What the heck? Did you set something up wrong or get a dud? Well, we’ve got some bad news for you. And it is all to do with marketing. You may be disappointed in your Atmos soundbar, but you are not alone.

Soundbars Suck

There are the people that make the technology, and those that sell the technology. These two people? They are not the same. One will develop something and tell you exactly how it works and what you can realistically expect it to do. The other? They exaggerate, lie, and fabricate details so that you’ll buy that tech.

One is a scientist or an engineer, and the other works in marketing.

If you are disappointed with your Atmos soundbar, it is because of the marketing. They promise the world but can’t deliver. It isn’t that soundbars are inherently bad. We often recommend them to people with rooms where a traditional speaker system is impossible. But we are honest about what you will hear. You won’t get great surround sound. You won’t get convincing Atmos. You’ll get sound from the front of your room that will be louder than the internal speakers of your TV. For most people, that’s what they wanted. But they were promised so much more. Therefore, they find their (universally overpriced) Atmos soundbars disappointing.

Your Atmos is Lossy

Pretend there is a world where your Atmos soundbar wasn’t a disappointment and could actually produce somewhat convincing surround sound. Most people have a soundbar because they want to use the internal apps in their smart TVs. That Atmos? It isn’t the high-quality Atmos you find on Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. The base layer of Atmos from streaming apps is a lossy version of Dolby. If you had a full surround sound system, would you experience Atmos? Yes. But it wouldn’t sound as good as the soundtrack on the disc.

Dolby Digital

You Don’t Have a Sub

Your Atmos soundbar isn’t just a disappointment in the surround sound department. It also doesn’t have much bass. It might have come marketed with a “built-in” subwoofer or even a standalone wireless box that was labeled “subwoofer.” Believe us, those aren’t subwoofers. At best, they are helping your soundbar dip its little toe into the lower frequencies we call bass. They are in no way getting low enough to be considered an actual subwoofer.

Don’t get us wrong, these “subwoofers” are important. Without them, your Atmos soundbar would be lacking many of the lower frequencies. But they will never produce the “kick you in the chest” bass that might be implied on the box. They don’t move enough air, have enough output, or recreate the correct frequencies to provide that experience. For that, you’d need an actual subwoofer. Or, more likely, two.

Pictured: Not subwoofers

The “Atmos” Speakers Are In the Wrong Place

Placing Atmos speakers isn’t as easy as throwing some speakers in your room. We’ve addressed some of the complications before. Atmos soundbars often come with graphics showing speakers aiming up toward the ceiling. The idea is that the sound will bounce back down to you and appear to be coming from overhead.

If you are wondering how the soundbar knows the height of your room or how far away you are sitting…we are wondering that too.

The fact is that you’d have to be exceptionally lucky to have a room where the Atmos speakers in your soundbar could have a chance at working. The vast majority of the time, they simply won’t create a convincing Atmos experience.

You Refuse to Deal With Room Acoustics

The real problem with your disappointing Atmos soundbar, isn’t the soundbar at all! Sure, soundbars are nearly always a compromise but they can sound okay. But, for most people, their problem isn’t the source of the sound. It is their room.

People start looking for soundbars and other audio solutions not because they want better sound, but because they can’t understand what people are saying on TV. They read online (or are told by a salesperson) that they need a soundbar or perhaps to add a center speaker. But they do that, and they still end up enabling subtitles so that they can understand what people are saying.

This is because of their room acoustics. Adding more, or bigger, speakers won’t help if your room is messing up your sound.

Final Thoughts

In a perfect room, with just the right ceiling height and seating distance, some room treatments, and an added subwoofer, an Atmos soundbar won’t be a disappointment. Well, it probably will be, but not as much. We will continue to recommend soundbars. But, don’t overpay for features like Atmos in your soundbars…you’ll just be disappointed. Just get a simple soundbar and spend the rest of that money addressing your room issues and adding a real subwoofer. You’ll be much happier and have much better sound.

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