Five tips for better TV sound – Dolby Atmos for beginners (AV soundbar guide)

Five tips for better TV sound demystifies the sales hype telling you to get a Dolby Atmos soundbar. Why? Because a soundbar can’t magically add Dolby Atmos 3D spatial sound unless you have a Dolby Atmos TV and other stars align.

Five tips for better TV sound helps you understand the current sound types and what you need.

99% of TV sound is not Dolby Atmos 3D spatial

Most over-the-air TV content is mono 1.0 or stereo 2.0. Most streaming services (Netflix at al.) can stream sound up to 5.1. You get a DA sound stream if you pay extra for 4K Dolby Vision (DV) content or play a 4K DV Blu-ray. A Sub-woofer adds .1 as the centre number, e.g., 2.1

Sound types2.
Mono (1.0) – most older TV content       
Stereo Left front
Stereo Right front
Clear Dialogue Centre front  
Left front surround   
Right front surround   
Left rear surround   
Right rear surround   
Left front wide surround     
Right front wide surround     
Left rear wide surround      
Right rear wide surround      

Dolby Atmos adds 3D spatial height (up-firing or overhead) speakers, e.g., 5.1.2 or 7.1.4 or 11.1.4

Left front up-firing   0.0.2
Right front up-firing   0.0.2
Left rear up-firing   0.0.4
Right rear up-firing   0.0.4

Dolby Atmos (DA) – is a much-used and abused term

DA means adding extra up-firing or overhead speakers (usually 2 front and/or 2 rear) to add 3D height to your otherwise flat horizontal sound stage.

If you don’t have a DV/DA TV, you won’t get 3D spatial sound. You need DA-encoded content (metadata), and your TV needs a licensed DA decoder to process the sound and direct it to the available speakers. Or it can pass it through to a DA soundbar for decoding there.

My TV has Dolby Vision and Atmos, but I can’t see/hear any difference

Remember that DA is about speaker numbers and placement around the room and overhead.

A TV generally has 2.0 speakers (left and right stereo) and may have a centre dialogue speaker (3.0). Some have a sub-woofer (2.1), but low-bass is physically impossible with micro-TV speakers. It may have a bass radiator that bounces sound off the wall behind it.

It decodes DA to your available speakers. At best, it can phase sound between the left and right speakers to give a faux sense of direction, but TV speakers are generally woefully underpowered (5-15W).

Adding an external soundbar, preferably a DA 5.1.2 or 4 or higher, will not only give you more volume but will have a far better amplifier system than the TV for better, clearer sound.

As for Dolby Vision, it is a much-abused term too. All that means is that it can decode DV content and play it to the screen’s capability. DV on a typical edge or backlit 4K LED/LCD looks quite inferior when placed beside a 4K OLED TV.

Oh, and you need HDMI 2.1 eARC ports (4K@120Hz) on the TV and soundbar and HDMI 2.1 48Gbps Ultra High-Speed cables for true DA.

Be aware of psychoacoustic trickery

Single soundbars (all-in-one) above 3.0 use psychoacoustic trickery to fool your ears into thinking that sound is coming from around, behind, or above you. To do this, they bounce sound off the ceiling and walls. That is fine if you have lower ceilings and close walls to bounce off – otherwise, you lessen or eliminate the effect.

There is no substitute for dedicated rear or overhead speakers – forward-firing (surround sound) and up-firing (DA).

What type of soundbar do you need?

A soundbar primarily provides better quality sound and more volume than the TV can – that is not hard! In fact, 99% of TV sound only requires a 2.0 soundbar, and a sub-woofer (2.1) that is nice but not necessary.

Hearing impaired should look for onmes with a clear dialogue channel (3.0 or above), which may help. So, any reputable brand, all-in-one 3.0 or 3.1, is all you need. Here are a few options that I like. Prices are from JB Hi-Fi May 2023 but shop around. Most are 2023 models but there may be some bargain run-outs on 2022 models.


Any of these will improve TV sound. The JBL  Bar 2.1 has an excellent sub-woofer.

  • $249 Hisense HS218 2.1
  • $349 LG SN4 2.1 (2023)
  • $349 Samsung C450 2.1 (2023)
  • $379 JBL Bar 2.1
  • $419 Bose TV Speaker

Further reading

JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass – ramp up the thump

3.0/3.1 with clear dialogue centre channel

  • $399 Hisense AX3100G 3.1
  • $549 (currently $449 at JB) Sonos Ray 3.0

Entry-level virtual Dolby Atmos

These use psychoacoustics for virtual Dolby Atmos. If you have the right room, they will deliver a front-centric DA experience.

  • $449 Hisense AX5100 5.1 with rear speakers (no height channels)
  • $499 (currently $399 at JB) TCL TS8132 3.1.2 (left/right front height channels)
  • $599 (currently $395 at JB) JBL Bar 5.0 multi-beam (no height channels)
  • $529 JBL Bar 200 5.0 (no height channels)
  • $799 (currently $545 at JB) JBL Bar 5.1 (no height channels)
  • $749 JBL Bar 500 5.1 (no height channels)
  • $799 Bose Soundbar 600 5.0 (no height channels) but can add Bose Rear speakers and a Sub
  • $799 Sonos Beam 2 5.0 (no height channels) but can add Sonos Rear speakers – Era 100 or Era 300 and a Mini-Sub
  • $799 LG S75Q 3.1.2
  • $799 Samsung Q600C 3.1.2
  • $899 Samsung Q700C 3.1.2
  • $1099 LG S80QY 3.1.3

Further reading

Dolby Atmos with height channels.

(Note: we consider DA to be at least 5.1.2) – all-in-one means no dedicated rear speakers

  • $999 JBL Bar 800 5.1.2
  • $1099 Samsung Q800C 5.1.2 all-in-one
  • $1399 Bose 5.0, but you can add rears and a sub
  • $1399 LG S95QR 9.1.5 with three front up-firing and two rear up-firing speakers *
  • $1499 JBL Bar1000 7.1.4 *
  • $1599 Samsung Q930C 9.1.4 *
  • $1999 JBL Bar 1300 11.1.4 *
  • $2099 Samsung Q990C 11.1.4 *

* For the best Dolby Atmos experience under $2000

Further reading

Premium Dolby Atmos Soundbars

Both of these are the foundation of a premium and expensive system. You can add dedicated rear speakers and a sub to them.

  • $1399 Bose Soundbar 900 5.0.2
  • $1399 Sonos Arc 7.0.2

Further reading

Cybershack speaker reviews