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The best small soundbars for big audio

It works well with other Sonos gear and you can even use a pair of Sonos Ones ($299 each) as wireless rear speakers for a full five-channel setup. I did this and it sounds incredible, but you’re now at $1200 for the lot.

My biggest complaint about the Beam is that, unless your needs are very straightforward, it can be a bit too streamlined. There are no HDMI inputs here, meaning one less input on your TV for things like disc players or game consoles. My TV was already maxed out for ports so I connected the Beam with the included optical audio adapter, but then you lose the simplicity of HDMI ARC and could end up needing to use an app to control your volume (the Beam tries to learn your TV remote’s IR codes, but my Samsung TV didn’t play nice).

The Sony HT-X8500 will accept just about any sound format you throw at it, even those designed for 11-speaker setups.

The Sony HT-X8500 will accept just about any sound format you throw at it, even those designed for 11-speaker setups.

On the other hand if you just want the best cinematic performance you can get in a small form factor I’d recommend the Sony HT-X8500, which has great sound and is an incredible value for the $520 asking price. This is an 89cm, two-channel soundbar with gutsy built-in subwoofers, which also accepts cutting-edge object-based sound formats and does a decent job creating a big soundfield.

It’s certainly not a replacement for an actual surround setup with an army of physical speakers, but this little soundbar can create the impression of sound coming at you from the sides rather than straight on. When fed a Dolby Atmos or DTS:X signal it will also attempt to create virtual height channels that sound as though they’re coming from your roof. I couldn’t really detect that in my home, but watching movies on Ultra HD Blu-ray the Atmos mix was taller and more cinematic than the 5.1.


The HT-X8500 does have an HDMI input, so you can get the most out of it without losing an input from your TV, and it will even pass through 4K HDR or Dolby Vision. It supports eARC as well, so if you have a brand new TV you should be able to pass advanced sound formats from any input or your TV’s built-in apps to the soundbar.

As a mid-range bar the HT-X8500 is much less expensive than most Atmos-enabled systems, but it is missing some expected luxuries. For example there’s no display on the front and no app connectivity, so setting up the more advanced modes requires you to remember what various combinations of LEDs mean (or have the manual close by). And there’s no Wi-Fi option for listening to music, but there is good old Bluetooth.

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