The JBL Bar 1300X is the company’s flagship Dolby Atmos soundbar system in 2023, and it’s one that delivers a serious wow factor. A big part of this is JBL’s innovative design, which uses truly wireless rechargeable surround speakers that dock into the sides of the main soundbar where they can enhance its sound output while recharging, before you put them back behind you. Beyond that, it’s a 16-channel system powered by 1,170 total watts, and it comes with a 12-inch wireless subwoofer that’s unusually beefy for one packaged with a soundbar.
At $1,699 / £1,299 / around AU$2,570, the JBL 1300X is one of the pricier soundbar systems on the market, though its cost is comparable to other offerings that deliver an equally rich sense of immersion, such as the Samsung HW-Q990B. It’s also feature-packed, offering both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X processing along with Atmos upmixing of stereo sources. Up-firing Atmos speakers on both the soundbar and surround speakers ensure full distribution of height effects in soundtracks throughout the room, and there’s also Wi-Fi, AirPlay 2, Chromecast built-in, and Bluetooth wireless streaming support.
Build quality of the system, which is best suited for 65-inch or larger TVs, is excellent. There are four HDMI ports (one with eARC), which is enough to handle disc player, streaming box, and game console sources, though 4K 120Hz passthrough isn’t supported.
System setup is exceedingly simple and uses JBL’s control app for sound calibration. The app lets you sign-in to the best music streaming apps including Amazon Music Unlimited, Tidal, Qobuz, and Spotify, and it provides a convenient place to stream from multiple services. A remote control is also included.
The sound quality of JBL’s flagship system is very impressive – right up there with the best soundbars. Dolby Atmos soundtracks have a substantial immersive effect and bass is both deep-reaching and powerful. Having up-firing Atmos speakers in both the front and rear of the room makes a notable difference, and is one of the ways this system distinguishes itself from the soundbar pack. Both music and dialogue come across as clear and natural-sounding, and with Dolby upmixing for stereo sources onboard, all manner of content becomes sonically room-filling.
While $1,699 is a lot to pay for a soundbar, the JBL 1300X is nonetheless very good value considering its innovative design and solid performance. You’d really need to step up to a separate AV receiver and speakers-based rig to best it, but then you’d be making your system – and life – more complicated. The JBL’s price is also comparable to flagship systems from other makers, including the Samsung mentioned above, or the LG S95QR – something that should put its cost into perspective when doing comparative shopping.
JBL Bar 1300X soundbar review: Price & release date
Released in February 2023
$1,699 / £1,299 / around AU$2,570
The JBL Bar 1300X was released in February 2023 and sells for $1,699 / £1,299 / around AU$2,570. That’s a hefty price for a soundbar, though it's in the same ballpark as other systems from Samsung and LG that offer high channel counts for maximum sound immersion.
For the cost, you’re getting a system loaded with appealing and useful features, and the design and build quality are excellent. JBL offers similar 7.1.4 and 5.1.2 soundbar systems, also with detachable and rechargeable surround speakers, at lower cost, though the immersive effect may not be as complete as with the Bar 1300X.
JBL Bar 1300X soundbar review: Specs
JBL Bar 1300X soundbar review: Features
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X processing
16 sound channels
Wi-Fi, AirPlay 2, Chromecast built-in, and Bluetooth wireless streaming
JBL’s top soundbar system is feature-packed. You get both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support along with the company’s MultiBeam processing, which uses digital processing and beamforming to widen the soundfield and create a more immersive surround effect. This is a 16-channel system powered by 1,170 total watts, with 650 of those dedicated to the 12-inch wireless subwoofer. Four up-firing speakers are located on the soundbar, while the surround speakers each also provide one up-firing speaker. Six upfiring drivers is the most I've seen in a soundbar so far.
The most unusual feature of the Bar 1300X is its rechargeable surround speakers, which are a truly wireless solution since they don’t need to be plugged in and will run for up to 10 hours. (JBL does provide the option to power the surround speakers via USB-C connection if you prefer not to have to recharge them on a regular basis.) These can also be used as wireless Bluetooth speakers when not in active duty in the home theater, and you can even pair them wirelessly for stereo playback.
Both AirPlay 2 and Chromecast built-in can be used for wireless streaming to the Bar 1300X, which also supports Bluetooth. Subscriber information for services including Amazon Music Unlimited, Tidal, Qobuz, and Spotify can also be entered in the JBL One app, providing a central location to access music and other streaming audio. The Bar 1300X also works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri for voice control.
Features score: 5/5
JBL Bar 1300X soundbar review: Sound quality
Powerful immersion with Dolby Atmos soundtracks
Full, yet clean bass
Clear, natural presentation of dialogue and music
The JBL Bar 1300X did not disappoint in the slightest when it came to performance. With 16 channels at the ready, Dolby Atmos soundtracks on TV shows and movies showcased its spatial audio abilities most dramatically, but basically everything I watched and listened to sounded great on the system, which uses Dolby’s upmixer to render stereo and regular surround soundtracks in Atmos.
One good Dolby Atmos example is a scene from 1917 where the two British soldiers are exploring an underground German bunker and a trip-wire triggers an explosion that causes the structure to come tumbling down. The explosion in this scene sounded incredibly vivid on the Bar 1300X system, its potent subwoofer creating a low, thunderous rumble. As debris falls down on the soldiers in the aftermath, the system’s up-firing drivers created a strong sense of being within the space, while the main soundbar’s clear delivery of dialogue let me easily hear their shouts amidst the chaos.
Turning next to Top Gun: Maverick, the Bar 1300X system was well up to the task of rendering the motions of the Tomahawk cruise missiles and Super Hornet fighter jets during the climactic mission. The sound of the jets travelled from the front of my room to the back with pinpoint precision, and there was also a good sense of height when the jets swooped upward from the canyon into the sky.
I was eager to listen to some Spatial Audio tracks from Apple Music on the JBL system, and here again I was impressed. Streaming Beck’s Thinking About You via an Apple TV 4K (2022), the vocals came across as if they were floating in 3D space and there was no sibilance or edginess to the sound – something I’ve encountered on many other soundbars when listening to music. The bass guitar sounded very full, yet clean and well-defined, while the acoustic guitar and mandolin had a finely layered presence. A harmonica solo that closes out the track floated in space in a similar manner to the vocals, yet the mix positioned it equally in the rear channels, creating a strong sense of envelopment.
Streaming Max Richter’s Tranquility II and III from SLEEP: Tranquility Base, the pipe organ and keyboards had a smooth and natural presentation that was easy on the ears, and the system’s subwoofer did an excellent job of reproducing the lowest organ notes. The vocals soared above all of this in an impressive way, with the JBL soundbar creating an almost cathedral-like sense of space.
Sound quality score: 5/5
JBL Bar 1300X soundbar review: Design
Rechargeable, truly wireless surround speakers
Excellent build quality
Comes with brackets for surround speakers
Given the Bar 1300X’s elevated price tag, you’re paying not just for sound quality but also design, and here JBL does not disappoint. The rear speakers can be “docked” at either side of the main soundbar for recharging, and when in that position they contribute to the bar’s output by widening the soundstage and supporting height effects. Once charged up, you simply remove them and replace the included end caps on the soundbar.
The main soundbar is 39.4 x 2.4 x 5.5 inches (W x H x D), making it a good match for 65-inch and larger TVs. It uses six 1.8 x 3.5-inch racetrack drivers and five 0.75-inch tweeters for the left, center, and right-channel output, and has four 2.75-inch full-range up-firing drivers. With a 12-inch driver, the system’s wireless subwoofer is fairly large and features a rear port to enhance output.
At 8 x 2.4 x 5.5 inches (W x H x D), JBL’s surround speakers are compact and can easily be placed on speaker stands. Another option is to wall-mount them using the included brackets for a more permanent installation, in which case you would use the speaker’s USB-C port for a power connection. Each surround speaker uses a 1.8 x 3.5-inch racetrack driver and 0.75-inch tweeter, along with a 2.75-inch full-range up-firing driver and two passive radiators.
Design score: 5/5
JBL Bar 1300X soundbar review: Usability and setup
Four HDMI ports
App-based setup and sound calibration
No 4K 120Hz passthrough
With four HDMI inputs, including one with eARC for connecting to a TV, the Bar 1300X is well-suited to take on complicated setups. For my purposes, I connected a 4K Blu-ray player and an Apple TV 4K box, and there was still a port left over for a game console, though the Bar 1300X’s HDMI 2.0b connections don’t support 4K 120Hz passthrough. Beyond HDMI, there’s also an optical digital audio input, a USB type-A port that can be used to play music files (US version-only), and an Ethernet jack for a hardwired network connection.
Setting up the system was almost disarmingly simple. The soundbar automatically made a wireless connection with the subwoofer and surround speakers, and the only other thing left to do was hit the calibration button in the JBL app. This triggered a series of noise bursts from each speaker that the system measured and used to automatically adjust for levels and timing delays on the surround and subwoofer channels.
JBL’s long, slim remote control has large and well-labeled buttons that are easy to see in dim lighting. You can use it to switch inputs on the soundbar and adjust volume, bass level, surround level, and the output of the system’s up-firing drivers. When switching inputs or making adjustments, an alphanumeric LED display provides feedback on the soundbar’s front, which is a feature I’d expect to see in a soundbar at this price. The display also alerts you when the battery power in the surround speakers is running down – a very useful thing.
The JBL One app that’s used for setup and initial calibration has controls for adjusting EQ and lip-sync, and it offers Moment presets that can store custom settings. It’s also used for signing in to streaming services you subscribe to, with the app offering a central place to access music.
Usability and setup score: 4.5/5
JBL Bar 1300X soundbar review: Value
Pricey, but very good overall value
Wireless rear speakers can be used as portable Bluetooth speakers
Compares well to other high-end soundbar systems
At $1,699 / £1,299 / around AU$2,570, the JBL Bar 1300X is one of the more expensive soundbar systems you can buy. But it’s also one of the most capable and full-featured, which is something that needs to be taken into consideration when assessing its overall value. Competitors in its price range include flagship soundbar systems from Samsung and LG, both of which match, or nearly match, the JBL’s 11.1.4 speaker configuration.
Adding to the Bar 1300X’s value is the ability to use its wireless rear speakers as portable Bluetooth speakers, and high-quality ones at that. This lets you get good sound wherever you’re at, whether that’s watching Netflix shows on an iPad in your bedroom, or playing music while cooking in the kitchen.
The one thing that would detract from the Bar 1300X’s value is the fact that, at this price level, buying one of the best AV receivers and pairing it with an Atmos-ready speaker system becomes another option to consider, and one that could result in even better and more dynamic sound. But then again, the JBL Bar 1300X’s wireless subwoofer and surround speakers provide a more elegant and easy to set up option than a receiver and speakers, and for many users its sound quality will be more than good enough.
Value score: 4.5/5
Should I buy the JBL Bar 1300X soundbar?
Buy it if...
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JBL Bar 1300X soundbar review: Also consider
How I tested the JBL Bar 1300X soundbar
Evaluated using both 4K Blu-ray discs and streamed sources
Extensive break-in time allowed before critical listening
Tested using reference movie scenes and music tracks
I tested the JBL Bar 1300X soundbar in a 12 x 16 x 9-foot room using a 4K Blu-ray player, Apple TV 4K, and music streamed from Apple Music and Tidal as sources.
After positioning the speakers and running the system through its auto-calibration process, I allowed it to break in by watching movies and TV shows for a number of weeks before settling in for more critical listening using reference movie clips and music tracks.
The key things I listened for with movies were dialogue clarity, bass definition, continuity between the front and surround speakers, and the viscerality of overhead effects in Atmos soundtracks. For music, I paid attention to the naturalness of the sound with acoustic instruments and voices, as well as the dynamics in louder tracks.
Having reviewed many speaker systems in the same room over the years, I have a reference standard that the JBL Bar 1300X was compared to.
Xiaomi had a lot to shout about at its February 26 launch event in Barcelona. Most notably, the Xiaomi 13 and Xiaomi 13 Pro made their international debut after having previously launched exclusively in China, late last year. There was, however, one additional surprise entrant in tow that, prior to this, we'd heard very little about – the Xiaomi 13 Lite.
At a glance, the Lite is a bit of an oddball, an outlier in the Xiaomi 13 series. For one, it doesn't get any special Leica treatment like its series siblings – with regards to its triple rear sensor setup. It also looks very different compared to both the Xiaomi 13 and 13 Pro, with their sizeable squared rear camera bump.
In truth, the phone clearly takes its design cues from the previous Xiaomi 12 series more so than the company's current flagship line and there's a particular device, already within Xiaomi's portfolio, that bears more than a passing resemblance to the new 13 Lite.
It would seem that the Xiaomi 13 Lite looks to be a repackaged Xiaomi Civi 2, which debuted in China in the latter half of 2022. The Xiaomi 13 Lite sports the same slim and lightweight design, runs on the same Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 chipset, and boasts the same specialist features; like dual front-facing LED flashes to offer what the company calls 'Xiaomi Selfie Glow'.
In fact, despite running on Android 12 – while the Xiaomi 13 and 13 Pro arrive with Android 13 – the Xiaomi 13 Lite does join them on the company's latest MIUI 14 user experience.
While there's no Leica involvement in the camera system, the main 50MP sensor still looks to be an impressive offering at first blush (it's the same Sony IMX766 found in the likes of the Xiaomi 12), while the secondary 8MP ultrawide and 2MP macro look a little more pedestrian and expected, considering the phone's mid-range standing.
In a decidedly iPhone 14 Pro-style move, the front 32MP camera is accompanied by a secondary 8MP depth sensor that together sit within a pill-shaped cutout in the top center of the display in a way that screams 'Dynamic Island'. However, don't expect iOS-like functionality here.
In truth, the design may be Lite's biggest selling point. Despite sitting in the middle of the Xiaomi 13 series in terms of screen size, at 6.55-inches (in between the Xiaomi 13's 6.36-inch display and the 13 Pro's 6.73-inch display), the 13 Lite is both notably thinner at 7.2mm (versus 8mm or 8.4mm) and lighter, at 171 grams (versus 185 grams and 210 grams, respectively).
Even with that snatched waistline, the 13 Lite still manages to sequester the same 4,500mAh capacity battery as the standard Xiaomi 13, along with the same 67W fast wired charging. What you do lose out on is any form of wireless charging tech. However, with a full charge promised in 40 minutes, that seems like a minor hardship.
Provided you don't need flagship performance or camera prowess, the 13 Lite looks to be a capable-enough mid-ranger, with some unique touches in an attractive, lightweight design. You'll have to check back for a full assessment though.
Hands-on Xiaomi 13 Lite review: Price and availability
The Xiaomi Civi 2 made its debut in China back in late September 2022, while the Xiaomi 13 and 13 Pro arrived later to the region, on December 11.
Fast-forward to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain on February 26 2023, where the Xiaomi 13 series' international launch then took place; with the 13 and 13 Pro making their way to market internationally on March 14. The Xiaomi 13 Lite, meanwhile, was confirmed to be on sale on the same date of its reveal: February 26.
With Xiaomi's mobile endeavors absent from the US and Australia, you'll only be able to get a Xiaomi 13 Lite as an import or via a grey market retailer in those regions. However, the phone is readily available direct from Xiaomi across the UK and Europe, priced at £449 / €499 (approximately $535 / AU$810) for the single storage and memory configuration it's being made available in, internationally.
Hands-on Xiaomi 13 Lite review: Specs
If you're already familiar with the Civi 2, you'll notice that for the phone's adaptation into the Xiaomi 13 Lite for international release, the company has stripped back both the colorways and storage and memory configurations available.
While the Civi 2 could be had with 8GB or 12GB of RAM and 128GB or 256GB of non-expandable storage, the 13 Lite comes with a fixed 8GB RAM and 128GB storage – UFS 2.2 storage at that, far slower than the UFS 4.0 storage found on its more premium launch siblings.
You'll also find a choice of three colors internationally: black, Lite Blue, and Lite Pink, whereas the Civi 2 was made available to Chinese customers in those same three colors, alongside a "Little White Dress" version with a different surface finish, in white and a Hello Kitty special edition, with photochromic elements on its back that change from white to red.
Hands-on Xiaomi 13 Lite review: Design
Gorilla Glass 5 front, glass back, plastic frame
Impressively thin and lightweight
Three colorways on international model
The defining element of the Xiaomi 13 and 13 Pro has to be their sizeable squircle camera bumps, which sit proudly on each phone's back and stand out in contrast with a plain of flat glass, colored black.
By comparison, the Xiaomi 13 Lite's camera design is wholly different and far closer to the look of the Xiaomi 12 line; with color-matched surround around each sensor, and small dividing lines carving up the various sections of the module.
While the 13 and 13 Pro stand in contrast to one another with the former's flat-sided design to the latter's rounded edges, the 13 Lite's form also more closely echoes the Pro in this regard, with a thin frame, tapered Gorilla Glass 5 on the front, and a rounded glass back.
One of the Lite's big selling points is its thin and pocket-friendly 7.23mm profile, but the rounding at the point where the glass meets the frame gives the impression that the device is even thinner, especially in the hand. The Lite is also pleasingly... light for its size, at 171 grams, no doubt made possible by the material choices.
Unlike the original Civi, the Civi 2 and, in turn, the Xiaomi 13 Lite, rely on a shiny plastic frame instead of a metal one. During my first encounter with the phone, it looked fine, although the quality of the finish and the material's reflectivity give away the game a little bit, in terms of a lesser fit and finish compared to the phone's launch siblings.
However, the real concern is how the plastic will weather and wear after prolonged use. For a design-led phone like the Xiaomi 13 Lite, you'd hope that general use doesn't cause disproportionate wear and tear on the frame that would have been far less noticeable had Xiaomi stuck with metal, but only time will tell in that regard.
While the frame plays host to hardware controls along the right side and USB-C connectivity on the bottom, as you'd expect, an IR blaster set into the top of the frame was an unexpected surprise that even amongst phones from Chinese manufacturers, appears to be a less and less common inclusion.
As for finish options, as touched on earlier, while 13 Lite owners won't get as much choice as Civi 2 owners in China did – in terms of colorways – the trio of finishes that most markets will receive remains tasteful; the Lite Pink shown in these pictures gets a special commendation for its alluring iridescence.
Hands-on Xiaomi 13 Lite review: Display
6.55-inch Full HD+ AMOLED display
120Hz refresh rate. 240Hz touch sampling rate
Dual hole-punch cutout front cameras
Despite being the 'baby' of the bunch, the Xiaomi 13 Lite's 6.55-inch display actually places it between the standard and Pro models – in terms of screen size – while the tech specs of the panel aren't too dissimilar from the pricier Xiaomi 13.
On initial inspection, the Full HD+ AMOLED display offers pleasing colors and viewing angles, and competent-enough brightness, although its promised peak 1,000nits is almost half that of both the 13 and 13 Pro (both of which are cited as boasting a 1,900nit ceiling), meaning visibility in bright surroundings leaves plenty of room for improvement.
Gamers will appreciate the smooth 120Hz refresh rate and 240Hz touch response rate, while media lovers aren't likely to balk at the 10-bit panel's support for Dolby Vision and HDR10+ standards, as well as the full DCI-P3 color gamut.
The use of OLED tech over LCD – which occasionally still crops up in the mid-range market – makes for better contrast, more vivid visuals, and improved power efficiency, while Xiaomi's use of 1,920PWM dimming and assistive viewing tools, like a dedicated reading mode, should make it easier on the eye, in terms of viewer comfort.
There's an optical under-display fingerprint sensor for security and up top, a decidedly Dynamic Island-like pill-shaped cutout that plays host to two front-facing camera sensors. The user experience doesn't give the cutout any iPhone 14 Pro-like additional functionality, though (leave that to Realme's C55).
Hands-on Xiaomi 13 Lite review: Software
Runs Android 12 on top of Xiaomi MIUI 14 out the box
2 years security updates minimum
While the shift from the Civi 2 to the Xiaomi 13 Lite may seem slight, one notable change comes with the phone's software. To keep the 13 Lite feeling fresh, Xiaomi has graced the phone with the latest and greatest iteration of its own-brand user experience, MIUI 14.
Although the 13 Lite comes running Android 12 out the box – while the Xiaomi 13 and 13 Pro arrive with Android 13 – all three phones sport MIUI 14 from the get-go, which maintains the company's signature take on Android from an interaction perspective, but includes a few new additions too.
There's a new card-like interface to make select on-screen information more digestible and glanceable, while behind the scenes MIUI 14 reportedly takes up less space and fewer resources than MIUI 13 did, all while adding improvements to privacy and performance optimization that promise to improve the 13 Lite's quality of life.
Unlike its launch siblings, Xiaomi hasn't yet confirmed just how long the Xiaomi 13 Lite will benefit from software support, leading us to assume that it simply receives the company's bare minimum of two years of security updates. However, we've reached out to Xiaomi to confirm, and the hope is that Lite's software roadmap is much closer to the Xiaomi 13 and 13 Pro, which each come with three years of OS updates and five years of security updates. We'll update this section should we hear anything new.
Hands-on Xiaomi 13 Lite review: Cameras
Dual front-facing cameras with dual LED 'Xiaomi Selfie Glow' flashes
50MP f/1.8 main camera (Sony IMX766)
8MP f/2.2, 119° FoV ultrawide camera
2MP f/2.4 (4cm fixed-focus) macro camera
Unfortunately, the promise of cameraphone supremacy that Xiaomi says it's achieved with the Leica partnership found on the Xiaomi 13 and 13 Pro doesn't carry across to the Lite, which features a more pedestrian sensor setup.
It leads with the same 50MP Sony IMX766 sensor used by the Xiaomi 12, whose camera experience we only described as "okay" during review, backed up by an 8MP ultrawide and a 2MP fixed-focus macro that undoubtedly add variety to the phone's photographic experience, but not necessarily quality.
It's really the front camera system that perhaps has had the most attention paid to it. There's a 32MP main selfie-snapper accompanied by an 8MP depth sensor, that undoubtedly comes into play when taking portrait selfies; hoping to achieve a luxurious creamy bokeh around your face.
There are two neat tricks twinned with the phone's front-facing photographic experience: one hardware and one software. Xiaomi Selfie Glow is the branding used for the dual LED flash array, mounted on either side of the front camera; meant to offer superior illumination when taking selfies in dimly-lit environments. The flashes' offset position should help reduce the hard point-light effect that some front-facing selfies taken with the flash on fall prey to.
Second is Dynamic Framing, which can push from 1x to 0.8x to 0.6x zoom automatically, when shooting with the front camera, depending on how many subjects the phone detects in-frame, partly. It's made possible by the selfie snapper's wide 100° field of view.
Hands-on Xiaomi 13 Lite review: Performance and audio
Qualcomm Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 chipset
8GB RAM and 128GB storage (UFS 2.2)
Qualcomm's Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 chipset is a relatively unknown quantity in the wider phone space, as it's only really used by the Xiaomi Civi 2 / Xiaomi 13 Lite and the Chinese version of the Oppo Reno 8 Pro. It comes from pedigree, however, and should prove more than capable for most users' needs, including playing high-fidelity games (even if maximum graphical settings are likely out of reach).
In bringing the 13 Lite to global audiences, not unlike colorways, Xiaomi has seen fit to strip back the memory and storage options to just one, compared to two of each on the Civi 2 in China.
As such, the Xiaomi 13 Lite comes with 8GB RAM and 128GB of non-expandable UFS 2.2 storage. While fine for general use, it's notably older and slower storage tech, compared to the cutting-edge UFS 4.0-compliant storage found on the flagship-class Xiaomi 13 and 13 Pro.
The audio experience doesn't make mention of stereo speakers, and at the event where we went hands-on with the phone, we were unable to properly test the phone's sound quality against the din of the crowds but Xiaomi does, at least, promise Dolby Atmos support, which provides a baseline that suggests audio quality isn't a total afterthought on the 13 Lite.
Hands-on Xiaomi 13 Lite review: Battery life
67W wired fast charging
No wireless charging support
Despite touting such a thin and lightweight design, the Xiaomi 13 Lite manages to integrate the same 4,500Mah capacity battery as the far-thicker Xiaomi 13 and, better yet, matches its promisingly-speedy 67W wired charging speeds.
One notable trade-off for such a thin profile is that wireless charging is out of the question here, but with a full charge promised in under 40 minutes, having wired charging as your only option doesn't seem so bad.
With the Sierra Plus, affordable audio brand Majority has (mostly) decided to go big. Big on specification, big on sound, big on the size of the soundbar that’s accompanied by a wireless subwoofer. In fact, one of the few ways the MAjority Sierra Plus isn’t big is in regards to the asking price. Here’s a 2.1.2-channel Dolby Atmos soundbar and subwoofer system for comfortably under £250 / $280, challenging the best cheap soundbars around for specs.
Setup is straightforward. The Majority Sierra Plus' control options are few but well-implemented. Wireless connectivity between soundbar and subwoofer is solid and stable. Once you’ve established where the two elements of the system are going to be positioned (and, in the case of the soundbar, made sure it doesn’t block a portion of your TV screen), it’s simple in the extreme to get up and running.
And where outright scale of sound is concerned, the Majority is a high achiever. There’s width and a suggestion of height to its sound, robust and well-controlled contributions from the soundbar, and a level of midrange communication and fidelity that’s almost as unexpected as it is welcome.
Treble reproduction is a concern, though - it sounds as if it belongs to another system entirely. And while the subwoofer doesn’t drone, it doesn’t add a whole lot of detail to your listening experience. And these negative traits are given greater emphasis if you decide to switch from listening to movies to listening to music.
If you want a hint of Dolby Atmos at this sort of money, it’s difficult to suggest too many viable alternatives among the best soundbars. But we'd encourage people to look to the Sony HT-G700 and Samsung HW-Q700B (when they're on deals) for better overall Dolby Atmos sound without spending tons more.
Majority Sierra Plus review: Price & release date
$269 / £229 (around AU$410)
Released in the middle of 2022
The Majority Sierra Plus Dolby Atmos soundbar/wireless subwoofer system is on sale now, and will cost your around $269 / £229, depending on current offers. That makes it about AU$410 in Australia, though its availability there seems limited at best.
This, it hardly needs stating, is a very aggressive price for a Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbar that’s accompanied by a wireless subwoofer. Certainly it’s possible to spend more than this without even getting a sniff of spatial audio. So is the Majority Sierra Plus that most unusual of things: an authentic bargain?
Majority Sierra Plus review: Specs
Majority Sierra Plus review: Features
2x HDMI passthrough ports are great for the price
HDMI ARC doesn't support lossless Dolby Atmos
No center channel, no DTS support
It’s important to keep your expectations realistic when considering the features and specification of the Sierra Plus. Don’t forget how much (or, more accurately, how little) Majority is asking for this system and you shouldn’t go far wrong.
The soundbar is where all the physical inputs and wireless connectivity live – the subwoofer just has a power lead (and not a long one, it’s worth noting) and a button to initiate pairing with the soundbar in the unlikely event that the process doesn’t happen automatically.
There’s an HDMI ARC socket, a pair of HDMI 2.0 4K HDR pass-throughs, a digital optical input, USB slot and a 3.5mm analogue input, all in a little recess at the rear of the soundbar’s cabinet. Wireless stuff, meanwhile, is restricted to Bluetooth 4.2 with SBC and AAC codec compatibility.
At this sort of money, the HDMI pass-throughs are a fairly unusual and very welcome provision – certainly they’ll keep the number of connections to your TV down to a minimum. HDMI ARC, meanwhile, is good for dealing with the lossy form of Dolby Atmos that’s used by the likes of Disney Plus and Netflix – but owners of the best 4K Blu-ray players won’t be able to access the lossless version their machines deal in. That requires an HDMI eARC input. There's also no DTS support.
No matter how you get your audio on board, though, it’s delivered to you by a complement of six drivers in the soundbar plus another in the subwoofer. Facing out from the front of the soundbar in a ‘left/right’ arrangement there are four 57mm (fairly) full-range drivers, two at either end – each pair is reinforced by what Majority calls an ‘airport’ but what looks to me very much like a bass reflex port.
On the top of the soundbar are a couple more of these drivers, angled up and out in an effort to create some of that sonic height that’s the reason we all got excited by Dolby Atmos in the first place. The subwoofer’s side-firing driver is bolstered by a forward-facing reflex port.
Majority suggests there’s a total of 400 watts of Class D power doing the amplification business – there’s no indication of how that total is divided, though.
Features score: 4/5
Majority Sierra Plus review: Sound quality
Impressively wide sound, with some height
Big, with well-integrated bass
Weak treble, and not very dynamic
There’s two ways of looking (or, more correctly, listening) to the Majority Sierra Plus. The first is to admire the scale and forceful nature of its sound, look again at the amount you spent on it, and think ‘job done’. The second, naturally, is to go beyond the simple shock and awe of the system’s presentation and consider every element of its performance.
In addition to the horizontal projection of its sound, the Majority also manages to extract a mild, but definite, sensation of height from an appropriate soundtrack too (and given that this is a 2.1.2 -channel system with ‘only’ an HDMI ARC input, a stream of Black Widow via Disney+ will do just fine). The vertical effect is curtailed, sure, and nothing like as pronounced as the width that’s on offer here – but it’s there, for sure. Which already puts the Sierra Plus ahead of any number of price-comparable alternatives.
There’s reasonable consistency to the tonal balance of the system from the midrange on down – quite often in products of this type, at this sort of money, the subwoofer can be heard doing its own thing, but the subwoofer here has a decent relationship with the soundbar.
The handover between the two is achieved without alarms, and while the sub doesn’t have the variation or detail levels of the soundbar, it’s not quite as blunt an instrument as some alternatives. The bass stuff may not be the most varied, but it hits with determination and it’s controlled pretty well. Certainly the Majority doesn’t default to the droning some rival designs indulge in.
The midrange projects well, and carries enough detail to make dialogue sound characterful – there’s enough space around a speaker’s voice to allow them to communicate fully, even if they’re whispering. There’s good balance and poise to midrange information, a very pleasant kind of naturalness that makes voices both convincing and easy to follow.
It’s a different story at the top of the frequency range. The soundbar has no dedicated tweeters, remember, and treble contrives to sound edgy and insubstantial. This is a trait that is only compounded by increases in volume – so not only do top-end sounds seem unnatural, they don’t relate to what’s going on beneath them in the slightest.
Despite its ability to sound big and bold, though, there’s not a huge amount of dynamic subtlety to the Sierra Plus. Rather than go from ‘quiet’ to ‘loud’ it tends to prefer going from ‘loud’ to ‘louder still’ – and the result is a distinct lack of light and shade. Everything occurs at a very similar level of intensity, and consequently the overall presentation lacks drama.
As far as music is concerned, the Majority is somewhat out of its (already quite constricted) comfort zone. The subwoofer’s lack of insight is thrown into sharp relief by a listen to Chic’s Le Freak, and it relates to the soundbar with a fair bit less positivity than before. Rhythmic expression is no better than average, and the strange remoteness of the treble seems more pronounced too.
Sound quality score: 3/5
Majority Sierra Plus review: Design
Suitable for TVs of 48 inches and up
Quite tall – be careful with low-slung TVs
Well-made and finished
If the quantity of raw materials your money buys you is important, you’ll be delighted by the Majority Sierra Plus – because your money buys you plenty. Be warned that the soundbar is tall enough to get in the way of the bottom of your TV screen if it has a low stand, and its width means it's suitable for TVs of 48 inches and up. Majority provides some basic wall-mounting equipment in the packaging.
The subwoofer is a little more manageable, but bear in mind its power cable is hard-wired, so even though it connects wirelessly to the soundbar, its 1m-long power cable will dictate where in your room it ends up.
Despite the ‘quantity-of-stuff-to-price’ ratio, though, there are no obvious compromises to the way the Sierra Plus is built or finished. The plastics and metal grilles of the soundbar look and feel fine, and are fitted together perfectly well. The subwoofer is the usual ‘vinyl wrap over MDF’, naturally – but, again, it’s constructed with obvious care and seems ready to last for ages.
Design score: 4/5
Majority Sierra Plus review: Usability and setup
Remote to change modes
Wireless subwoofer connected was seamless
There’s a quite assertive display behind the front grille of the soundbar letting you know what’s going on in terms of volume – and it’s on whether you like it or not. It will also give you some indication of input selection and the type of audio information it’s dealing with, but only swiftly, before it’s back to volume-level information.
As far as affecting volume level, selecting input and all the rest of it, there are some rubbery buttons on the top of the soundbar that deal with the basics, and a remote control handset that covers everything.
Unlike a lot of products of this type and at this sort of money, the Majority’s remote control is quite robust and tactile, and it’s of a decent size, too. It lets you examine the four EQ presets, finesse bass and treble response, mute the system and so on.
We found that the soundbar and sub connected immediately, without any hassle.
Usability and setup score: 4/5
Majority Sierra Plus review: Value
Upfiring speakers and HDMI passthrough for a low price
Sound fidelity can be beaten at this kind of price
As we’ve said all along, it depends how you look at it. There’s plenty of stuff here for your money, and in some ways there’s plenty of performance here too – certainly you’re unlikely to confuse the sound of the Sierra Plus to that of your unassisted television.
There are shortcomings where the sound quality is concerned, though – and while Majority’s determination to offer a taste of Dolby Atmos at this price is to be commended, it’s safe to say you can get a more convincing (although admittedly smaller) sound for the same money elsewhere.
So if you want Atmos for a low price and some HDMI passthrough ports as a great bonus, it's incredible value. If you want a focus on sound quality, you can do better. On balance, we'll call it good value.
The Sonos Era 300 is the company's first Dolby Atmos-enabled speaker, and I got to try it with both Dolby Atmos streaming music and movies in a home theater configuration. Sonos has made soundbars with Dolby Atmos before, of course, but this is its first separate speaker unit to be designed around positional audio – and I've got to say, it blew me away.
We'll obviously reserve final judgment for a full Sonos Era 300 review, but even after a demo I can say that it's one of the most impressive speakers I've heard for its $449 / £449 / AU$749 price, and that it's a genuinely transformative upgrade for the Sonos Arc soundbar, finally bringing the true 'dome' of Dolby Atmos sound to a Sonos home theater setup.
And like the smaller Sonos Era 100, it's easier to get audio to it than almost any other Sonos speaker, thanks to featuring Bluetooth audio support as well as optional 3.5mm line-in via an adapter, and I think that even you don't put Dolby Atmos sound through it, it could still line up as one of the best wireless speakers around today based on my early impressions. So let's get into all the details.
Hands-on Sonos Era 300 review: Price & release date
Released on March 28th, 2023
Priced at $449 / £449 / AU$749
Cheaper than the Sonos Five
The Sonos Era 300's $449 / £449 / AU$749 price is far from cheap – it's beyond even the Apple HomePod 2, which is similarly designed for Dolby Atmos thrills. But it's actually cheaper than the Sonos Five (which is sticking around in Sonos' line-up as the more hi-fi-focused option), and is much less expensive than the likes of the Naim Mu-so Qb 2nd Gen.
And I gotta tell you, compared to what I described in my hands-on Sonos Era 100 review, the Era 300 is really on a whole new level in terms of dispersing the sound, clarity and positioning of instruments, and rich bass.
Hands-on Sonos Era 300 review: Features
Upfiring and side-firing drivers for Dolby Atmos
Bluetooth and 3.5mm line-in support
Creates 7.1.4 system with Sonos Arc
Let's start with the speakers in the Sonos Era 300. Interestingly, Sonos has gone for compression drivers for the most part, which are much harder to integrate well into small home-friendly speakers than standard dynamic drivers (because they require an extra structure to shape and amplify their sound) – but they can be more efficient, easier to steer for directional sound, and lower-distortion when done right.
Here, there's a forward-firing compression driver, then one upfiring driver at roughly a 10-degree angle, and two side-firing drivers (one left, one right) also at around 10 degrees.
And then there are two side-firing woofers, facing left and right, in a force-opposing configuration. This means they play the same audio, and can be driven hard for rich bass without vibrating such a small speaker right off the shelf – the vibrations of the two drivers cancel each other out.
A processing platform with 4GB of RAM powers the thing, helping to get the Dolby Atmos positional effects from the drivers.
You've also got Bluetooth 5.0 and a USB-C port, and you can connect an adapter to the latter than enables 3.5mm line-in or Ethernet. Wi-Fi 6E is here too.
Sonos says that an upgrade to Bluetooth 5.2 will come in the future.
Hands-on Sonos Era 300 review: Sound quality
I truly cannot wait to get my hands on the Era 300 for more testing, because I loved what I heard in my time with it.
First: music. It's absolutely crammed with detail, yet seems to also be able to punch deep for bass notes without overriding the finer points elsewhere in the mix. Treble floats sweetly, and voices in the mid-range came through the soundstage clearly and naturally.
But more importantly, this is all happening in what may be the most well-dispersed soundstage I've heard from a single speaker. Stuff that should be central comes from the speaker unit, yes, but everything else has space to swarm around, including nearly feeling like they're coming from your sides at times.
Even when it doesn't get that far, the sound is so wide and so tall – I can't think of another speaker this size that's filled the whole space in front of me quite as well.
Sound positioning isn't just limited to steering things far left and right, to be clear. Instruments can be placed just around the Era 300 speaker too – I heard a song where different parts of a drum kit sounded like they're coming from around the speaker as it faced me.
This was music playing from Amazon Music via the Sonos app – sadly, right now that's the only way to get Dolby Atmos music to play on it. Sonos says that support for Dolby Atmos in Apple Music is coming, but couldn't say when.
For all my gushing above, I was even more impressed when trying it in a home theater setup with the Sonos Arc and Sonos Sub. Sonos describes that as a 7.1.4 system, whereas every previous Sonos surround system has been 5.1.2 at most.
But I think that undersells it. I use a Sonos Arc with Sonos One rear speakers at home, and the transformation here compared to that is just astounding.
The biggest issue with the Sonos Arc compared to the very best Dolby Atmos soundbars is that its height effect isn't that impressive, but when you add the two extra upfiring speakers from the Era 300, that changes. During my demo, the height effect was clear and dynamic, shifting forward and back, or side to side as the film needed.
And the movement of sounds around the rear channels is a dramatic change too. Individual parts of the audio steer so much more neatly and precisely between the two rear speakers, but the rears also hand sounds back and forth with the Arc soundbar more seamlessly, creating something much closer to the feeling of being surrounded by speakers on all sides, rather than having one in front and two behind.
Hands-on Sonos Era 300 review: Early conclusion
My opinion walking out of my Sonos Era 300 demo is that I needed to get a pair of these in my house ASAP. I was most excited by their home theater performance, no question, but I'm desperate to see how one does on its own with a broader selection of music too, especially non Dolby Atmos tracks.
Assuming that the Era 300 still disperses stereo tracks as convincingly left and right as it does with Dolby Atmos, I could see this being one of the best-value speakers for music lovers with little space to spare – you could put one of these on a single set of shelves with one of the best turntables connected over its line-in adapter, and I think you'd have a hell of a setup that fits in a corner of a room.
The angular design, while clearly necessary, may put some people off – it comes across as more 'techy' than the simple cylinder of the Sonos Era 100 – but it doesn't matter to me. After that demo, the Sonos Era 300 is my most anticipated launch of the year.
The Denon DHT-S517 wants to maximize the sound your money can get you. This is a Dolby Atmos-ready, soundbar-plus-wireless-subwoofer system, configured to serve up a 3.1.2-channel interpretation of movie soundtracks. From its tidy dimensions, to its adequate build and finish, the DHT-S517 is an unremarkable object with deadly serious aspirations.
Setting up the Denon DHT-S715 is simple. Input options are adequate. The subwoofer and the soundbar form a wireless connection almost as quickly as they’re plugged into power. If ‘ease of use’ is important to you, this Denon will be just the ticket – it’s genuinely hard to suggest ways in which it could be less taxing to operate. It's one of the best cheap soundbars for those who don't want any fuss.
The way the Denon DHT-S715 delivers movie soundtracks is equally gratifying. It serves up a big, expansive sound that’s immersive and easy to follow, even if it doesn’t maximize the full potential of Dolby Atmos soundtracks in the way that the best Dolby Atmos soundbars do. The subwoofer is just a little estranged from the rest of the action, though, and its relative lack of detail puts it at odds with its partnering soundbar, which is nice and clear. The whole system could do with a little more positivity when it comes to reproducing music, too.
There’s plenty to admire here, though, and the Denon DHT-S517 is well worth consideration if you're looking for a very affordable and more compact option (ideal for TVs 50 inches and up). The Sony HT-G700 remains marginally our favorite in this kind of price range, though – and if you want something without the subwoofer, look to the Bose Smart Soundbar 600 or Sonos Beam 2nd Gen.
Denon DHT-S517 review: Price & release date
Released in mid-2022
Officially priced at $449 / £379 / AU$699
The Denon DHT-S517 launched in 2022, and in the UK it’s priced at £379 – although you don’t have to look long or hard to find it dipping closer to the £300 mark. In the US it retails for $449 tops, and in Australia it costs AU$699 or thereabouts.
This is a keen price for a Dolby Atmos soundbar/wireless subwoofer combo from one of the most credible brands around, but it’s by no means without competition. Everyone from Sonos to Sony to Samsung has an option competing to get in our list of the best soundbars at around this price, though most don't have the real upfiring Dolby Drivers of the Denon.
Denon DHT-S517 review: Features
Great physical connectivity
Seven drivers in the soundbar
Setup is a breeze
The speakers in the Denon DHT-S517's soundbar portion are arranged to deliver the '3' and '2' element of the DHT-S517’s ‘3.1.2’ spatial audio configuration, while the subwoofer handles the bass. The soundbar is equipped with an oval 120 x 40mm ‘racetrack’ midrange driver at each end of the front, each accompanied by a 25mm tweeter, forming the left and right channels. A 25mm full-range driver sits in the center, as the center channel, unsurprisingly.
Behind each grille on the top of the soundbar there’s a 66mm full-range driver, carefully angled to give it the best chance of reflecting sound from your ceiling for that overhead Dolby Atmos effect.
Denon is coy about revealing the amount of amplification power that’s on tap here. But – as the 'audio performance’ section will make obvious – the power that’s available is plainly more than adequate for all but the largest listening spaces.
Setup couldn’t really be any simpler. Both units require plugging into the power, and then the soundbar is attached to your TV – ideally via eARC, so its Dolby Atmos potential can be exploited. However, you've also got digital optical and a 3.5mm analogue input available. Happily, there are a couple of HDMI sockets – one with eARC to connect to the TV, while the other can take a video input and pass it through to the TV, so you don't lose the use of one of your precious HDMI ports.
The subwoofer and the soundbar wirelessly pair in an instant. If they don’t, they can be forced to, but in our experience they locate each other and form a connection immediately. And that’s your job done. There’s no room calibration, no fiddling with cross-over frequencies. As far as the Denon DHT-S517 is concerned, one size fits all.
Control options are brief, and to the point. Aside from the physical controls on the soundbar itself, the DHT-S517 ships with a small, clicky remote control handset. As well as the obvious stuff – on/off, volume and input selection – it features an independent control for bass output, a 'dialogue enhancer' (which is basically the same thing, but for the midrange – choose between low, med and high), and a 'pure' control. This last simply switches off all audio processing, letting you enjoy music in simple old-fashioned stereo.
The audio format LED indicator on the DHT-S517 soundbar lights up in cyan to indicate a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, green for non-Atmos Dolby formats. But on occasion the green light comes on even though you know your incoming signal is in Dolby Atmos – and the soundbar’s HDMI connection needs to be un- and then re-plugged before the Denon understands.
Features score: 4/5
Denon DHT-S517 review: Audio performance
Big, assertive and (mostly) confident sound
Subwoofer could be better integrated
Dynamism and detail in similar measure
With Dolby Atmos audio, there’s a lot to like about the way the DHT-S517 sounds. The mid-range, for example, is really impressively realized. The center channel is the hardest-working element of pretty much any movie soundtrack, of course, if for no other reason than that’s where all the dialogue sits. The Denon does a good job in creating enough space for voices to project, and has plenty of insight into character, texture and tonality of spoken words. Even when voices are shouting to be heard above a busy, action-packed background, the DHT-S517 gives them enough space to express themselves.
The spaciousness of the overall soundstage is not to be sneezed at, either. The ‘height’ aspect of the Dolby Atmos soundtrack to The Man From Toronto isn’t especially pronounced, it’s true. But the Denon’s presentation is nevertheless expansive and immersive. It steers effects on the ‘left/right’ axis with real positivity and locks sounds in position with similar authority.
At the top of the frequency range, there’s absolutely as much bite and crunch as is acceptable. The DHT-S517 never threatens to misbehave, though, not unless you’re reckless with volume levels – treble sounds can become ill-defined and a little shouty in these circumstances. Keep things at a realistic level, though, and there’s decent balance to the top end and plenty of detail regarding texture and substance to enjoy.
The bottom of the frequency range is a little more problematic. There’s no doubt the subwoofer digs deep and hits hard, and the all-important control of attack and decay is pretty good too. But it’s a little short of detail and insight in comparison to the soundbar, and seems happy enough to just thump along to whatever’s happening on-screen.
But more significant is the slight-but-definite sonic gap at the point where the soundbar hands over to the subwoofer. It’s not a huge distance by any means, but the imperfect way the crossover between the two is judged is audible. It’s got enthusiasm, though, the subwoofer. It absolutely relishes the big dynamic variations present in so many movie soundtracks, and even at considerable volume it controls its output well.
Switching to some purely audio content takes the DHT-S517 a little way out of its comfort zone. A file of Sugar’s If I Can’t Change Your Mind streamed via Bluetooth sounds every bit as robust and assertive as a movie soundtrack, but the Denon’s inability to properly unify its frequency response is thrown into greater relief. The result is a sound that’s a little lumpy, and rather too obviously the product of numerous components instead of a single entity.
Sound quality score: 4/5
Denon DHT-S517 review: Design
Simple design with classy fabric
Suitable for TVs of 48 inches and up
Remote control, or controls on top
The soundbar portion of the Denon DHT-S517 is a usefully compact 1050 x 60 x 95mm / 41.3 x 2.4 x 3.7 in (WxHxD), which is no wider than the best 48- to 50-inch TVs, and unlikely to block the bottom of all but the lowest-slung screens. The cabinet is of unremarkable plastic, though the dark gray acoustic cloth that covers its front half looks and feels upmarket in an understated sort of way.
The front of the soundbar features a small amount of branding and an equally little row of four LEDs. The number that are illuminated, and the color they display, will give you details of source, audio format and volume level. The top is where you’ll find five control buttons, covering power on/off, Bluetooth pairing, input selection and volume up/down. The rear of the soundbar, meanwhile, is where the physical inputs live. There are also a couple of keyhole cutouts in case you’d like to wall-mount the soundbar – at 2.5kg it’s not much of a threat even to partition walls.
The subwoofer, meanwhile, is built from the same plastic as the soundbar, and its front portion is covered in the same acoustic cloth, which hides a 150mm bass driver. At the back of the subwoofer cabinet is a fairly big bass reflex port, a socket for power and a button to wirelessly pair the sub to the soundbar. There’s also a little tell-tale light to confirm wireless pairing has occurred.
Design score: 3.5/5
Denon DHT-S517 review: Value
The speaker setup here is pretty much unrivalled for the price, and it's great fun to watch your favorite movies with this soundbar blasting out the audio, so it's a real shame that the link between the sound of the subwoofer and the soundbar isn't smoother.
When it comes to features, it's good, but not far beyond other affordable options – some will give you Wi-Fi, but some may not include a second HDMI port. It's a great-value buy, no question, but it's not far out of line with other options once you balance everything out.
The HomePod 2 is a surprising relaunch for Apple's smart speaker, because at first glance, it doesn't appear to offer much that’s different to the original model. And after taking a much deeper glance (and listen), I can report that it does not, in fact, offer much that’s different to the original.
The HomePod 2 is a fairly compact speaker (smaller than most of thebest wireless speakers, though obviously larger than the dinkyHomePod mini) with a lot of speaker power built in – and you can hear it. It's energetic, bursting with detail, dynamic, and underlined with natural and resonant bass. For its price, no single speaker sounds quite as good – and combining two in a stereo system makes for even bigger and bolder sound.
But access to this power is frustratingly limited. The only ways to play audio are through the Siri voice assistant, or Apple AirPlay 2 system via Wi-Fi. There's no Bluetooth, no Chromecast, no Spotify Connect, and no aux-in. The only way to send audio to the speaker is from Apple devices, so if anyone in your house doesn't have one, you'll have to decide if you’re okay with excluding them from being able to use the speaker in the same way that others can.
Siri can work with multiple music services now, and can connect to your Apple account to do things like add calendar entries; but it's not as smart as Alexa or Google Assistant for generally interpreting your questions well, so if you're looking for one of thebest smart speakers, it may not be top of your list.
However, if you sit in the sweet-spot demographic for the HomePod – an all-Apple house, with Apple Music to take advantage of its upgraded Dolby Atmos skills – the HomePod 2 is perhaps the best-value speaker out there. It’s cheaper than what you get from the hardcore hi-fi brands (such as theNaim Mu-so Qb 2), and with a more full sound than theSonos One can deliver.
And its new smart-home skills are welcome too, though we'd flag them as 'nice bonuses' rather than 'reasons to buy in the first place'.
Apple HomePod 2 review: Price & release date
The HomePod 2 is released on Friday February 3, 2022.
It costs $299 / £299 / AU$479, which is pretty much what the previous model cost by the time it was discontinued. It's the same price in the US, while it's slightly more expensive in the UK, but that's no surprise given recent currency exchange rates; it's AU$10 more expensive in Australia.
So the HomePod is in the middle of the market overall – it's just definitely beyond the high end of what most people will pay for something like this. But then, the HomePod mini covers the more affordable end.
Apple HomePod 2 review: Specs
Apple HomePod 2 review: Features
Use Siri and AirPlay 2 to provide music
Dolby Atmos support, including from Apple TV 4K
Matter smart home support, with temperature and humidity sensors built in
The features of the new HomePod are very close to the original. It's a Wi-Fi-connected smart speaker based on Apple's Siri assistant, with the ability to also send music to it over Apple's AirPlay 2.
That means it's geared towards music in the Apple ecosystem very heavily. You can use Siri to request songs from Apple Music, though Siri now works with some other music services too. And while you can send music (or any other audio) to it over AirPlay 2 from Apple devices, though there's no Bluetooth, or aux-in, or other way to get audio into it – that means Android devices are left in the cold with the HomePod, as is your turntable.
If you're in an all-Apple house and have no plans to change this in the future, then that's okay. But if one of your two kids uses Android when everyone else uses iPhones, it makes the HomePod 2 a poor investment. There are lots of other speakers that support AirPlay and have options for Android – from the likes of Sonos, Audio Pro, Bowers & Wilkins, and Naim – see our guide to the best AirPlay speakers. If you're in a mixed-device house, you should think very hard whether HomePods are the best option for you, especially at this price.
The HomePod 2 works as part of AirPlay multi-room systems, naturally, and you can use one HomePod on its own, or two in a pair.
The new HomePod is geared up for Dolby Atmos music support from Apple Music, including Spatial Audio – it will bounce sounds off your walls to try to create the feeling of the music being separated into different angles, elements and layers.
And these Dolby Atmos skills will come in useful if you own an Apple TV, because you can use two new HomePods as an alternative to one of the best soundbars – the Apple TV can send all of its sound to the HomePod, including Dolby Atmos 3D audio.
The HomePod 2 also supports lossless audio from Apple Music, for higher-quality audio overall, if you're signed up that service. This is the only way it support Hi-Res music, though – Apple AirPlay 2 tech doesn't currently transmit it, so it's no good for playing stored FLAC files or anything.
The HomePod 2 has an ultra-wideband chip in, which means it can detect when an iPhone 11 or later is close to it, making it easy to beam music from your phone to the HomePod (or vice versa) by just bringing it close.
This also makes setup very easy – turn on the HomePod 2, and bring your iPhone nearby. A pop-up will appear, asking you to bring the top of the HomePod into view of your phone's camera. Then the HomePod will play a sound to identify itself to the iPhone, and that'll be it. It'll be connected to your iCloud account, gaining access to your Apple Music subscriptions.
For smart home lovers, the HomePod 2 is even better now. It supports Thread and Matter, which are the next-gen protocols that work with more accessories than ever – as well as Apple HomeKit – and it can trigger automations in your smart home when you're not there.
It also has built-in temperature and humidity sensors, which are useful for climate-control smart home gear, or just for checking on your home's status. Open Apple's Home app and you can see this info in the 'Climate' option at the top, though during our time with the HomePod, the temperature always showed as being within a range (for example, 17-19°C) which is a bit odd. Sometimes the range is as low as 1.5°C, sometimes it was 3°C. It's not a huge deal, but it's unusual to see imprecision in temperature reporting. The humidity also tends to be in a range, but it was of just two percent in my experience (ie, 63-64%), which is close enough to not bother me.
It's easy to build these into an automation – you could trigger one of the best smart plugs connected to a dehumidifier to turn on if the humidity passes a certain point, for example – from the Automation tab in the Home app.
As for Siri – it works well technically here, being very quick and accurate to pick up commands, and answers from the internet come rapidly. But it still gives some strange responses to even pretty basic music queries, and that's supposed to be its raison d'être here. I asked it to "play Blue Monday". "Playing Blue Monday," Siri responded instantly. I was expecting New Order, but figured I'd maybe get a cover. Instead, I got a song called Here By the Grace of God by Greg Hester, from an album called American Story. This segued into a Bob Dylan song. I'm guessing it found me a playlist called 'Blue Monday'? But there's no way of knowing that for sure – I can see on my iPhone what is playing, but not why.
I asked Siri what the weather will be tomorrow, and it said that Location Services hadn't been activated yet (they had, but only a few minutes earlier, so we'll forgive that to a syncing issue), so it asked me where I wanted to hear the weather for. I told it my home city's name. It read me some facts about my home city and then asked me if I wanted to hear more. Yes! The weather!
Siri is good at taking very clear commands within certain structures. It can take requests to send messages you can ask it to add basic calendar entries (and it can differentiate voices, if you choose to set that feature up), and you can ask it for basic factual information. But it's alarming just how often it stumbles. It simply hasn't made the same progress that other smart assistants have, and should be thought of as a simple voice remote control for your speaker rather than a smart voice interface. And I'm fine with that personally, because audio quality is the draw here for me – if it's the smart part of smart speakers that interests you, look elsewhere.
Features score: 3/5
Apple HomePod 2 review: Sound quality
Better suited to acoustic/classical than the original thanks to greater upper-mid clarity
Very full and well-balanced sound overall (but slightly slimmer bass than original)
Dolby Atmos is much more pronounced and effective, especially in a pair
Let's get something out of the way for people who used the original HomePod: the new version is not as loud as the original. I tested it directly against the original model, and the HomePod 2 at about 50% of maximum volume was equivalent to the original being at roughly 33%. Now, that's not really a problem, because it's still capable of going far beyond filling the average room in a house even with just one HomePod, let alone a pair – but still.
I've already mentioned several times that the audio quality is fantastic for the price. The high-end pops and hits with great clarity, the mid-range is fulsome and expressive, and bass is weighty yet controlled.
So to dig deeper into it, I'm going to compare it to the original HomePod directly. The first thing I noticed was that the top-end feels brighter, which is driven most by more pronounced upper-mids than the original. This is especially clear in higher-pitched vocals in song's like Foxes Gentleman and Haim's Don't Save Me, and in trumpets in Holst's The Planets. The vocals are lifted clearer of the rest of the mix, and it's also easier for denser collections of instruments at the top end to show you every detail.
At the other end, the bass is a little more resonant, but slightly less punchy. In M83's Midnight City, each synth bass beat rolls off slightly slower and feels more dispersed, which is great, but it also doesn't feel like it's hitting as hard – just a little less deep and guttural. Of note, though, is that when I tried it on one of my shelves, the new HomePods produced fewer vibrations into other objects on the shelf.
In South's Paint the Silence, which starts with strummed guitars and a bass line, the guitar pops out more and feels more natural in the new HomePod; but the bass line drops deeper and has more definition from the old HomePod. I would say the elevation of the guitar is more prominent, but I definitely noticed the difference in the bass.
In the mid-range, individual instruments get a little more room to breathe during especially dense moments. Not every song benefits from this, but it was fairly clear when one did – there's definitely more to chew on from the new model.
The sound is a little more forward and aggressive than from the original, which is energising, but also makes it feel more like it's coming from a small point. The original disperses stereo sound a little more, so it feels like it's coming from a corner of the room; the new one feels more like it's being delivered to you from a single unit. I found this clear listening to Dancing in the Dark – the original gave me a whole gritty wall of Bruce's voice hanging out at the back of the room, and the new one felt like the singing was directed right towards me.
This all comes together in The Prodigy's Firestarter in interesting ways. The piercing sounds at the start explode from the new HomePod 2 to grab your attention by the… ears far more than they do from the original HomePod. But then the new version's bass is relatively tame, and it's the original that can bang its head that little bit harder. And the heavily twisted and distorted guitars spread out more in a way that's interesting and enveloping from the original – again, it sounds more dispersed. They lash out excitingly from the new model, but I'm more into the what the original does with them.
I go back and forth on which I prefer when it's one single speaker against the other, basically on a song-by-song basis, and sometimes within the same song. Which is obviously not a problem in itself, but I had hoped for an AirPods Pro 2-style leap forward in audio quality.
However, that's all with stereo music (in Lossless or Hi-Res Lossless, from Apple Music). Switching to Dolby Atmos music allows the new HomePod 2 to reveal its real sound dispersal skills… depending on your positioning.
A single original HomePod doesn't do a ton with Atmos – but the new one is clearly positioning sounds in the mix. In Sweet Child O' Mine, the iconic guitar riff comes from the center, but when Axel Rose's voice is layered over itself, it's clearly coming from more than one angle. Lady Gaga's Chromatica album is a Dolby Atmos playground, and it's the same thing here – the HomePod 2 is able to steer sounds around in the mix in a way that's totally different to what you get from a stereo setup, and more than the original can.
However, Dolby Atmos music doesn't sound as natural as regular music from the HomePod 2. Ironically, adding more spreadable sound makes the sound feel boxier – a little more clipped, a little harder.
Stepping up to a pair of HomePod 2 units combined into a stereo set gives the system an extra boost with all kinds of music. The forward-ness of the sound doesn't matter, because things are spread between the two anyway. And it feels like the bass gets to go a bit harder – I can't tell if that's just my perception or a freeing up of the system because one unit isn't trying to handle everything at once. Either way, I'm loving them as a pair even more than I liked using the originals in a pair.
And in Dolby Atmos, it's a totally different thing with two HomePod 2s. With them positioned in stereo in front of you, and in a room that's conducive towards sound being bounced around (ie, with walls not too far to the side of you), they can do some pretty incredible things with audio positioning. Instruments come from the side or even slightly behind you, which is a feat that even some of the best Dolby Atmos soundbars can't manage convincingly without actual rear speakers. It's a little spooky, and quite convincing. The joy of Dolby Atmos music is that it makes your favorite tracks a surprise again, and you can really get that with a pair of HomePod 2 speakers.
This largely follows through to using a pair with an Apple TV 4K as Dolby Atmos speakers for movies – an alternative to a soundbar. The HomePods are great at adding height in terms of positioning sounds to match the action on the screen (even a 65-inch screen), though can't quite manage the exact 'above you' Dolby Atmos height that the best soundbars can produce. There's not a lot of precision to it – just sort of generically high. It's the same with a lot of side or rear effects – they don't sound very precise from movies. Yes, it's clear there's width and that you're being roughly 'surrounded', but without the precision that would make it totally convincing.
Where it can't get behind you, though, it often does a great job with layering the sound instead. In BlacKkKlansman, responses to Brother Kwame's speech echo around, clearly coming from a different source to his words – without real rear speakers, this is as good as you can do, and it works well.
The problem is that the HomePods are so damn tall. Unless you have space to place them past each end of your TV (which I don't, personally), or on a bench under a wall-mounted TV, they will absolutely block part of the screen.
I tried a direct comparison with a Sonos Beam 2nd Gen, which costs around 75% of the price of two HomePod 2s. I would say that the HomePods were marginally superior – the width of their sound expanded further past the edges of the screen, they had more pronounced height, and they're a little more dynamic – but when it came to the core positioning of sounds to the screen, vocal clarity and general sound balance, I think the Sonos delivered 90% of the HomePod 2s' performance… for movies. For music, the HomePods were the winner, especially with Dolby Atmos music.
Going back to looking at the HomePod as just a single standalone unit, and speaking of Sonos… compared to the Sonos One – our other favorite small wireless speaker that goes in an easy multi-room setup – the HomePod 2 remains a clear step up in vibrancy, dynamic range, richness around the mid, and especially in bass. But then, you can get two Sonos One SL units for a little more than one HomePod 2, and (as with the Beam) as an individual speaker you're definitely getting more than half the performance.
And compared to the HomePod mini, it's obviously a big step-up here, too, in every conceivable way. More volume, more clarity, more range… the HomePod Mini is really good for a smaller room, but for anything larger, the HomePod 2 really comes into its own.
Sound quality score: 4.5/5
Apple HomePod 2 review: Design
Lovely fabric exterior in Midnight (black) or white
Swirling lights on top are fun
Short cable (five feet), but you can swap it
The new HomePod 2 looks almost the same as the original HomePod, with its round shape and fabric-covered exterior. I like this design a lot – it looks nice when you focus on it, but it's also great at just blending into the background when you're not, because it feels very neutral. The fabric looks nicer than plastic or a similar finish, and doesn't reflect light. The black (sorry, 'Midnight') and white finishes are lovely and neutral, though I would've liked to see some funky colors like the HomePod mini has.
On top, there's a swirling colored 'screen' (it doesn't show info, it just shows when Siri or music is active). On the original HomePod, this was just a small dot in the center, but now it's the whole top, just like on the HomePod mini. The top is also sunken slightly 'into' the fabric.
The new model is the same diameter as the original at 5.6 inches / 142mm, and is nearly the same height – it's imperceptibly shorter at 6.6 inches / 168mm rather than 6.8 inches / 173mm.
One useful change is that the power cable isn't permanently attached any more – you can just pull it out the back, which can help with installing it on a set of shelves or something. Even more usefully, it means you could swap the annoying short included five-foot cable out for a longer one, because it's a standard figure-eight connector (though you'd need to made sure that one you buy will fit in Apple's hole).
The inside of the HomePod 2 is very different, even though a lot of the principles are the same. For example, there's still a big four-inch high-excursion woofer at the top to handle mid-range and bass. Being 'high-excursion' means the driver moves especially far forward and back (20mm, in this case), so it can displace more air and produce a bigger, deeper sound.
And there's still a ring of higher-frequency tweeters underneath the woofer, but now there are five tweeters instead of the seven in the original HomePod, and they're placed at the bottom of the unit and angle upwards, to help avoid audio reflections from the surface the HomePod is placed on.
Design score: 4/5
Apple HomePod 2 review: Value
Sound quality for the price is excellent
Limited inputs harm overall value
It'll depend partly on how Apple-mad you are
I am the perfect target for the HomePod 2. I use Apple Music as my main music source. I use Apple TV 4K for movies. Everyone in my household has an iPhone. I don't need a single set of speakers to be able to connect to a turntable or other more traditional music source. And I don't have a lot of spare space – for me, their mix of big sound from a small package is ideal. I think they're great value in my situation, even if I think Siri is practically a bit vestigial at this point (I do use it to request music, but that's pretty much it, and I've been using HomePods since 2018).
However, despite offering me a huge amount of options and nice features, the HomePod 2's inflexibility outside of that can't be ignored. I think of the Apple TV 4K (2022), which is really popular with people who have no other Apple products, because it's simply the best streaming device on the planet, and doesn't require other Apple devices to function. With Bluetooth and/or an aux-in, the HomePod 2 could be the same for music – the best-sounding speaker for those who want more than they can get from the best Bluetooth speakers, but without spending serious hi-fi money.
As it is, its value is a bit all-or-nothing. It's either a great buy for all-in Apple users, or a poor buy for everyone else. So the score below for the people who actually should consider buying it – it's great value, but it'd be even better with some extra options.
Value score: 4/5
Should you buy the HomePod 2?
Buy it if…
Don't buy it if…
Apple HomePod 2 review: Also consider
How I tested the HomePod 2
I listened to the HomePod 2 for about 12 hours overall
I listened mainly to music from Apple Music, and movies from Apple TV 4K
I tested and reviewed it as a single unit mainly, but also tested it in a stereo pair
I tested the HomePod 2 at home, where I've used other wireless speakers including the original HomePod, HomePod mini and Sonos One. To prepare my HomePod 2 units for testing and allow them to run in, I allowed them to play music for about 12 hours before I listened with any judgment.
While testing, I switched between multiple genres of music, and primary listened through Apple Music, because it provides lossless audio as well as Dolby Atmos support (and, y'know, it's what the HomePod 2 is built to work with).
I compared it directly with the original HomePod for some forensic level analysis, placing both speakers next to each other, and playing the same track on both, switching between them. For most of my listening time, the HomePods were placed on a wood-fibre shelving unit, to avoid vibrations.
For testing their movie skills, I used them with an Apple TV 4K (2021), playing movies from Apple's own store that included Dolby Atmos soundtracks. To compare with the Sonos Beam, I connected the Sonos Beam to my TV over HDMI eARC, and played the exact same movies via the Apple TV.
Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre: One-minute review
Bang & Olufsen clearly set out to make a statement with the Beosound Theatre Dolby Atmos soundbar. It’s gloriously over-engineered, with a level of design finesse the category hasn’t seen before. It’s also a formidable performer. The driver array includes a sublime coaxial center, two oversized woofers, and side and height drivers that build an immense wall of sound.
We think the Beosound Theatre sets a new audio benchmark for the soundbar category, pushing past what any of the best soundbars we've heard so far can do from a single unit. It’s related to B&O's Beosound Stage soundbar, but when it comes to power and profundity, this is a much bigger brother.
However, it’s quite the commitment. Both in terms of price – it'll set you back an eye-watering $6,890 / £5,590 / AU$11,860 – and weight, at a huge 18kg. The design is unmistakably B&O. The iconic Scandinavian design, which on our review sample includes a dramatic slatted wooden grille (there’s also a less expensive fabric grille option available), and slick glass touch panel, which illuminates when you approach.
With 12 power amplifiers onboard, it has quite the sonic arsenal at its disposal. As a standalone music speaker, it’s surprisingly effective, and when it comes to movie blockbusters it delivers action hard and fast. But it can't deliver rear sound without adding extra separate speakers (and extra expense).
If you want the biggest, clearest sound from a single-unit soundbar, nothing else does it quite this well, as you'd hope for the price. But if you need a one-box soundbar with Dolby Atmos for a more affordable price, consider the Sonos Arc, Sony HT-A7000 or Devialet Dione (in ascending price order), all of which still deliver big sound. Just not quite as big.
Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre review: Price and release date
Costs from $6,890 / £5,590 / AU$11,860
Released October 2022
The price you’ll pay for the Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre varies according to the finish you opt for. In its most inexpensive guise, with a fabric grille, you can expect to pay $6,890 / £5,590 / AU$11,860. However, upgrade the finish to Silver Oak or Gold Tone, and the price escalates to $7,990 / £6,390 / AU$13,650.
We don't need to tell you that's incredibly expensive, even by the standards of other premium soundbars. For example, the Samsung HW-Q990B, one of our top, high-end soundbar picks cost $1,899 / £1,599 / AU$2,199 at launch. Sure the Beosound Theatre may outperform it in some ways, but it's still an incredible ask for boosting the sound on your TV.
Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre review: Features
Dolby Atmos sand HDMI 2.1 support
There’s no dedicated remote control supplied in the box with the Beosound Theatre. Instead, you’re directed to the accompanying app. Some people are bound to love the fact you don't need to mess about with a remote, others might feel shortchanged for the price – this is the same deal as you get with Sonos soundbars, and we have no issue with it.
The app has a variety of sound presets to choose from, including TV, Music, Movie, Game and (dynamically compressed) Night. It also facilitates Spotify Connect, Chromecast and Apple AirPlay 2 support.
One key feature of the Beosound Theatre is its modular design. Longevity was a key requirement in its design, and virtually any part of the soundbar can be swapped out for a replacement or upgrade. This includes the processor and the HDMI interface board, so any changes to broadcast specs or standards can theoretically be accommodated.
It’s compatible with Dolby Atmos, TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus 7.1, and 7.1 PCM sources, but not DTS:X. It seems a little ridiculous to miss the latter off at this price, but here we are.
Connectivity on the rear comprises four HDMI ports – one of which is the eARC port that connects to the TV. Frustratingly, this is also the only one that supports 4K 120Hz, meaning that you can't actually pass-through 4K 120Hz from the other three HDMI ports. But you do get regular 4K HDR passthrough, at least.
There’s also the provision to connect the Theatre to other Beosound speakers. Indeed, as many as 16 can be connected: eight using Wireless Powerlink, and eight Powerlink.
There are four Ethernet sockets towards this purpose, although one is specifically for connecting to LG TVs and controlling the whole setup using the B&O app.
The soundbar comes with a calibration microphone to help tune the sound for your room – and it's not limited to just one 'sweet spot', usefully. You can tune for a whole seating area, which is not something you tend to get from soundbars.
Features score: 4/5
Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre review: Sound quality
Wide spatial soundstage
A high performer with both movies and music
The Beosound Theatre provides a hugely entertaining listen. High frequencies are detail rich, there’s a smooth, fulsome mid-range and underpinning both is a bass attack capable of flattening your recliner. The speaker array is classified as 7.1.4, but take that with a pinch of salt.
Despite the price tag, this is not a replacement for a high-end AV receiver system. It’s something altogether different. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Theatre is its bass handling. This all-in-one slams like a battalion of subwoofers. It can drop seriously deep, and is capable of quite startling dynamics. Those two forward facing 6.5-inch woofers know how to pressure load a room.
But the bar is also capable of remarkable mid-range clarity. That center-mounted coaxial driver is beautifully articulate, not just with movie dialogue, which is always easy to follow no matter how busy the soundstage, but also music.
Stereo music sources can be upmixed to make full use of the expansive driver array, which is worth doing. With all cones at play, the soundstage is preternaturally wide and spacious. Significantly there’s no overt sweet spot – you won’t have to commandeer the prime spot on the sofa every time you want to listen to Tidal streams. Volume is prodigious too. There’s more than enough power on tap to pump the volume in a large listening space.
Of course, movies are the Beosound Theatre’s raison d'etre, and it doesn’t disappoint when the lights dim. The bar has a ball with Bond’s pirouetting Aston Martin from No Time to Die. The machine-gun headlights sound fast and fierce.
But blockbusters in particular reveal an Achilles' heel. The Beosound Theatre doesn’t offer a full 360 degree soundstage from Dolby Atmos sources. Even with those angled side speakers, there’s no sense of Dolby Atmos in the round. For that, you’ll really need to add additional rear speakers.
This isn’t a criticism particular to this B&O as all soundbars need to use additional speakers to convincingly deliver a full surround experience, and we're not knocking the B&O for not being able to break the laws of physics. We're judging it here as a one-box soundbar, not a surround system. But it still means that if you want this, you'd need to add more B&O speakers to your package.
What you're presented with from the bar alone, though, is a masterful sonic canvas that looms before you for games and music.
However, we found a curious issue with the accuracy of sound placement in games – they don't match what's on-screen as well as in movies. This will only really be an issue for serious shooter fans, and odds are those people will use a headset (or different screen) anyway, so we don't think it holds the Theatre back for 99% of its buyers.
Sound Quality score: 5/5
Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre review: Design
Iconic Scandi-style design
Multiple stand options
It seems entirely appropriate that a flagship soundbar should take its design cues from a ship. B&O describes the soundbar’s shiny exterior as a hull, which rather cleverly disguises some of the bulk. Another cute design trick is the central TV mounting plate. This allows virtually any TV to be secured to the bar, effectively obscuring the rear 50 per cent of the build.
The Theatre can be partnered with any screen brand or size, most typically 55, 65 or 77 inches. Bang & Olufsen works closely with LG, and stylistically, that would be the TV of choice – perhaps the new lighterweight LG C3. The aluminium wings – which fix left and right, and can be changed to accommodate different screen sizes – are an inspired element.
The top of the bar is wrapped in acoustic fabric. The cheapest (!) finish extends this to the front grille. The Beosound Theatre soundbar I tested features a slatted oak wood grille.
Behind the grille are 12 speaker drivers: two 6.5-inch woofers and that coaxial centre, which comprises a 1-inch tweeter mounted in front of a 5.25-inch midranger. There’s also two 3-inch mid-range drivers, four 2.5-inch drivers and two 1-inch tweeters. The total power output for this array is 800W; 100 watts power the two bass drivers, with 60W going to each of the remaining 10 drivers.
One unintended consequence of the touch glass control up top is that it’s highly reflective, and always reflects what’s on the screen above. Depending on your angle, this could be a small frustration.
Design score: 4.5/5
Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre review: Value
Impeccable build quality
Lacking some (niche) features
There’s no dodging that huge price tag, particularly if you go for the full Scandi finish. That said, the Beosound Theatre is a remarkable piece of kit that sounds fantastic.
Does it deliver a performance commensurate with its price? That’s more difficult to say. What you’re buying here is so much more than the noise it makes.
Industrial design is outstanding. There’s not a millimeter of spare space beneath the hood (which goes some way to explaining its weight), yet an insistence on modular construction means it can always be repaired or upgraded. This isn’t so much a soundbar as an heirloom, if B&O lives up to the promise there.
It also uniquely dovetails with the larger B&O ecosystem. Which means if you’ve already bought into the brand, there’s more aspects of control and integration that can be unlocked.
But it's disappointing that it lacks DTS:X, and that none of the three input ports for passthrough to the TV are HDMI 2.1 compliant – for this price, we don't expect to want for any established soundbar features.
Value score: 3.5/5
Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre review: Should I buy it?
Buy it if...
Don't buy it if...
Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre review: Also consider
When the Xbox Series X launched, it felt like a lot of features were missing and became a tough sell to Microsoft gamers. But it's become a long way since 2020, and the additional improvements it's received have drastically changed the entire experience for the better. It's always been an impressive piece of hardware, but it's undeniably worth every penny now.
The lack of exclusive games made it feel like you would struggle to get the most out of Microsoft’s newest system, especially with the competition with the PS5 and a number of Sony-exclusive titles being thrown into the ring. In addition, this wasn’t helped by the Xbox Series X’s use of the Xbox One interface.
So, when you first boot up the Xbox Series X, it’s easy to feel a little underwhelmed. But the further you dive into the console, the vast improvements begin to shine through. The improved library of games that showcase what Microsoft’s new hardware can do is a great starting point. Games like Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5, and Microsoft Flight Simulator are prime examples of what the X is capable of, and that’s hardly scratching the surface.
We've always been impressed with the Xbox Series X from a hardware perspective. It's lightning fast, practically silent, and delivers comparably exceptional performance to that of higher-end gaming PCs. This ensures that games – both old and new – look and perform better than they ever have before, providing a solid foundation for Microsoft to build upon as the generation progresses.
Xbox Series X one year on
We've updated our Xbox Series X review to reflect our impressions after using the console for over two years. Microsoft has rolled out a few welcome improvements to the Series X, and now finally has the exclusive titles that take full advantage of the hardware's power like Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5.
But unlike the best gaming PCs, which can cost thousands of dollars, Microsoft has packed a considerable amount of power under the Xbox Series X's monolith-esque frame for just $499 / £449 / AU$749. The end result is a competitively priced and technically advanced console providing drastically reduced load times and significantly improved visual fidelity.
The deal is sweetened further thanks to numerous quality-of-life features enhancing your gameplay experience, like Quick Resume and FPS Boost, which we'll discuss in further detail below. However, even though the Xbox Series X’s raw hardware power cannot be understated – and its new time-saving features are most certainly welcome – it's lacking in some critical areas.
The Xbox Series X still doesn't have the same library of ‘must-have’ exclusives that PS5 or even Nintendo Switch can offer, but it does have Xbox Game Pass. It's a subscription service that lets you access hundreds of games for a monthly fee – and if you're someone who loves to play new titles each and every month spanning multiple genres, it's the best deal in gaming right now.
Even though Xbox Game Pass is mostly populated by older titles, many are optimized to take advantage of Xbox Series X's hardware, such as Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4, and Sea of Thieves. So, it's a great place to experience new-gen games for less. What's more, all first-party titles hit the service on day one, and thanks to Microsoft's acquisition of ZeniMax Media, Xbox Game Pass is now home to a bunch of Bethesda titles - with future titles like Starfield and The Elder Scrolls 6 landing on the service on day one. Microsoft also plans to acquire Activision Blizzard, which means series like Call of Duty will hit this service in the future.
As such, the Xbox Series X represents the ideal time to jump into the Xbox ecosystem for the first time. It's also above and beyond the quality long-time Xbox fans have come to expect. And with console availability better now than ever, it's an ideal time to pick up Microsoft's powerhouse flagship.
Xbox Series X review: price and release date
Xbox Series X release date: Out now (released November 10, 2020)
Xbox Series X price: $499 / £449 / AU$749
The Xbox Series X launched globally on November 10, 2020, giving Microsoft a two-day head start against Sony's PS5, which was released on November 12 (in select countries and November 19 for the rest of the world). Check out our PS5 review if you're interested in Sony's console.
The Xbox Series X is priced at $499 / £449 / AU$749. A lower-specced, digital-only version of the console, the Xbox Series S, launched on the same day, priced at $299.99 / £249.99 / AU$499. If that price point sounds more appealing, read our full Xbox Series S review.
While this isn’t exactly pocket money, it’s a decent price for the new Xbox. It’s the same price as the (now discontinued) Xbox One was at launch, also matching the MSRP of the also discontinued Xbox One X. Both are nowhere near as powerful as the Xbox Series X. Considering that the Series X has specs similar to a gaming PC, the $500 mark is pretty great – you’d be hard-pressed to find a good PC at that price.
However, as mentioned, if you want to get the most out of your Xbox Series X we recommend picking up an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, which costs $15 / £10.99 / AU$15.95 a month (annual subscriptions are also available, which cuts a little off the yearly cost). While this is an additional outlay, that grants you extra access to hundreds of Xbox Game Pass games (including Bethesda and EA titles), Xbox Live Gold, Xbox Cloud Gaming, and monthly free games, which should save you money in the long term compared with buying games separately.
If you’re not fussed about the bells and whistles of Game Pass Ultimate, then it may be worth picking up a regular Game Pass subscription instead, which costs ($9.99 / £7.99 / AU$10.95). That only grants access to the service on console (rather than both PC and console) and does away with cloud gaming on mobile devices.
It’s worth pointing out that the Xbox Series X is also available on Microsoft's Xbox All Access subscription service in select regions, including the US, UK, and Australia. Xbox All Access bundles together the console with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate on a 24-month plan (giving you access to the latter for the duration) at a price of $34.99 /£28.99 / AU$46 a month, with no upfront costs – which feels like a very good deal.
We won’t delve too much into that here, though, but it currently makes the Xbox Series X the cheaper powerhouse option.
Xbox Series X review: design
Modern, sleek design
Emits same amount of heat as Xbox One X
Minimal UI and dashboard updates
The Xbox Series X design is a major departure from its predecessors – the upright tower design is more reminiscent of a desktop gaming PC, though you can position the console horizontally, too. Measuring 15.1 x 15 x 30.1cm and weighing 4.45kg, the cuboid-shaped console is matte black all over, apart from a green hue inside the indented cooling vents on the top – it’s clever and elevates the console’s design.
The design of the face of the console is pretty straightforward, with the signature Xbox power button at the top-left, a disc drive (and eject button) at the bottom-left, and a pairing button and USB 3.2 port at the bottom-right (the pairing button also acts as an IR receiver). The back of the console has some cooling vents as well as an HDMI 2.1 output port, two USB 3.2 ports, one networking port, a storage expansion slot, and a power input port.
An interesting accessibility feature on the back of the console is that all the ports have tactile indicators (little, raised dots) which indicate which port you are touching. For example, the USB 3.2 ports have three raised ports, while the power input port has just one. This aims to aid reach-around cabling and to make the console more accessible to the visually impaired.
The sides of the console (when it’s upright) are blank, save for a discreet Xbox logo in the corner of the left side and four rubber pads on the right, which allow for the console to sit horizontally. On the bottom of the console is a slightly elevated disc-shaped stand, along with some more vents for cooling – as mentioned, the top of the console is designed to help with ventilation, as this is where the Xbox Series X exhausts any heat it generates.
The console itself looks minimalistic, sleek… monolithic even. Despite its weight and fairly large size, it looks considerably smaller than its measurements would suggest. We found it slotted with ease into an Ikea Kallax shelving unit (39cm x 39cm), when oriented either horizontally or vertically, and comfortably blended in with its surroundings.
The Xbox Series X design is something you’ll either love or hate – we found it a welcome change from the previous low-profile Xbox consoles. It's sleek, modern, and looks like something a grown-up would actually want to own, and it's a nice evolution from the flat-but-compact Xbox One S and Xbox One X models.
Still, the matte black design does mean the console is easily scuffed and scratched, though it doesn't get dirty. While we've seen Logitech show off a white Xbox Series X console in a recent advert, Microsoft has confirmed there's no plans to release the base console in additional colors at this time.
Quiet as a whisper – but pretty toasty
A major upside of the Xbox Series X is how unexpectedly quiet it is. We've almost become accustomed to consoles revving up like they're about to take off when running games that really put them through their paces; but the Xbox Series X is the quietest Xbox we've had the pleasure of playing on.
When you're on the home screen, the console puts out around 30dB of sound – that's about the audio level of a whisper – and this changes very little when you actually load up and play games. When playing Sea of Thieves, No Man's Sky, and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, we found the decibels never exceeded 33dB.
That said, when installing a larger update we recorded levels up to 45dB, which is roughly as noisy as a printer in action. Even then, that's not too loud, and it barely registers over the sound of actually playing a game. This was also the case when sampling various new-gen titles.
It's welcome news for those who don't want their gameplay interrupted by the whirring of a struggling machine – but with this quietness comes some heat. The Xbox Series X is on a par with the Xbox One X for heat emission, with heat dispersed through the cooling vents at the top, which we advise leaving ample space for. The console itself does get toasty, too, but we didn't find that this impacted performance when running more intensive new-gen titles.
Xbox Series X: UI and dashboard
While the external design of the Xbox Series X is a considerable departure from its predecessors, the console's UI and dashboard contain more subtle changes. The Xbox Series X dashboard is the same as the Xbox One’s. The main reason for this is because Microsoft rolled out a meaty update to the Xbox One back in August 2020 to make its UI more streamlined, and to converge it with that of the Xbox Series X.
That means the Xbox Series X UI still has a tiled layout with customizable pins. So, you can choose which games and apps you want to see first on your home screen, and offers easy access to games, apps, party chat, and other features via the Xbox button on your controller. It's a pretty streamlined interface that allows for plenty of customization options and easy navigation.
Customization seems to be at the heart of the Xbox Series X UI. In addition to moving around your pinned games and apps, Microsoft is also letting players express themselves a bit more with the inclusion of new profile themes, acting as a background for your profile page. Players can also now finally use dynamic backgrounds, which offers a more personalized home screen option for those who are bored of the Xbox One's static offering.
The Xbox Series X dashboard is quicker to navigate than previously, too, but we did find that there were some pop-in issues when content was being pulled in from the internet. We also found ourselves a bit underwhelmed generally by the UI and dashboard, as it’s lacking any real next-gen flair. We would have liked to see an overhaul that really distinguished the Xbox Series X from its predecessor and made it look new, with easier ways to navigate to media outside of having to add your streaming apps to a pin group.
We can expect further changes to come for the UI. If you're an Xbox Insider, Microsoft recently rolled new Xbox Series X homepage layouts but fans aren't happy. While this introduces some quality of life changes, some players weren't so keen on the "tile clutter" this introduced, while others aren't fond of ads still taking up homepage space. As a feature currently in beta testing, this could change, so we'll keep this updated as we learn more.
Xbox Series X review: performance
Significantly faster loading times and more stability
Easily expandable storage
4K/60fps gameplay (up to 120fps support)
The Xbox Series X is an absolute powerhouse, rocking an eight-core AMD Zen 2 processor running at 3.8GHz, a custom RDNA 2 AMD GPU that puts out 12 TFLOPs of processing power, 16GB of GDDR6 memory, and a 1TB Custom NVMe SSD.
Xbox Series X specs
CPU: 8x Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.6 GHz w/ SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPU
So what does that mean in terms of real-world performance?
Shorter loading times
Well, for a start, the Xbox Series X is super-fast thanks to its NVMe SSD. We've seen the Xbox Series X shave tens of seconds off the load times in games, compared with how they run on the Xbox One S. The Xbox Series X always loaded quicker – in some cases by a few seconds, and in others almost halving the load time.
To give you an idea of how much faster these load times are, we timed how long it took to load into a game from clicking the 'Continue' button on the menu screen, for the same games on the Xbox One S and Xbox Series X.
While some titles benefit more than others from faster load speeds, even a few seconds saved is welcome. While games such as Ori and the Blind Forest load fairly quickly anyway, meaning the difference is less noticeable, it's with titles like Sea of Thieves where the power of the SSD really shines – we saw the loading time for Sea of Thieves cut down from 100 seconds to just 35.
When it comes to next-gen titles, we found the few loading screens we were presented with lasted mere seconds. The speed advantage was really shown off by Yakuza: Like a Dragon's fast travel, which comes in the form of a taxi ride. It took around 4.7 seconds to fast-travel to a different district from the moment we accepted the ride, a big improvement over our experience on Xbox One.
4K at 60fps (up to 120fps)
The Xbox Series X’s RDNA 2 GPU allows the console to target 4K at 60fps, however, it also means there’s support for up to 120fps.
Reaching 4K at 120fps
To make sure we could experience Series X gameplay the way it was intended, we hooked the console up to a 55-inch Samsung Q80T QLED 4K HDR Smart TV. We made sure the TV's game mode was enabled, and configured the Xbox's TV settings to allow for 4K UHD and 120fps, which is only achievable on an HDMI 2.1-compliant display like Samsung's here, and which is recommended for enabling the best visual experience possible.
Unless you’re fussy about your frame rates, we would say that getting an HDMI 2.1-compliant display isn’t necessarily essential. The Xbox Series X’s native 4K at 60fps means you get the best of both worlds, minimal frame rate drops (resulting in a smoother experience), and pretty stunning visuals. However, it’s worth noting that for this you do require a 4K-ready TV for 4K resolutions.
While 120fps feels buttery-smooth in games such as The Falconeer, these games do sacrifice resolution as a result. So, for example, the Falconeer can be played in 4K at 60fps. But if you choose the 120fps option, you’ll notice fewer frame drops and better response times, at the expense of sharpness as resolution drops to 1080p. It’s all about compromise and personal preference.
That being said, the likes of Gears 5’s multiplayer allows for 4K at 120fps (thanks to Xbox Series X optimization) and, as a result, offers a smooth and visually impressive upgrade over its Xbox One predecessor. If you enjoy fast-paced competitive multiplayer, then you’ll notice a huge difference from the Xbox One family.
To enable 120fps, you can pop into your console’s audio and visual settings, where you can choose from various frame rate and resolution options. It’s pretty straightforward, and we're pleased to see just how many Xbox Series X games with 120fps support there is, including The Falconeer and Gears 5’s multiplayer, Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War, Halo Infinite multiplayer, and more.
Auto HDR on Xbox Series X
Like the Xbox One, the Xbox Series X allows for calibration of HDR for games. We'd advise setting this before playing any games, as it ensures the balance of contrast is spot-on, giving you the best visuals possible.
For our initial review, we primarily had access to a selection of backwards-compatible titles which are the best indicator of the boost in performance the Xbox Series X delivers over its last-gen counterparts. With the above settings enabled, we found that the games immediately looked better on the Xbox Series X – which isn't particularly surprising, given that Microsoft has implemented native HDR for these titles.
We go into detail as to how this performance boost improves Xbox Series X Optimized titles further down, but in short, when playing backwards-compatible titles on the Xbox One S and Xbox Series X versions side-by-side we could clearly see the visual upgrade.
FPS Boost on Xbox Series X
Microsoft has added a new feature to Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S post-launch called FPS Boost, which has the potential to quadruple the framerates of older titles. It means that games that were previously locked to 30 frames per second can now hit 60fps - some games can even hit 120fps.
At present, FPS Boost only applies to a specific selection of Xbox One games. The list is extensive but unfortunately, Microsoft's not adding any further games to this. Still, FPS Boost is a fantastic upgrade, particularly for those with an Xbox Game Pass subscription, as it allows Xbox One games to utilize the power of the Xbox Series X. So, for compatible games, it feels less of a technological step back when you decide to revisit some of your favorite Xbox One games.
If, for some reason, you don't want to play these games at a higher framerate, you can also turn it off on a per-game basis. However, we'd recommend leaving it on as it makes games look visually smoother and feel far more responsive.
The Xbox Series X's 1TB Custom NVMe SSD translates to 802GB of usable storage, with 198GB reserved for system files and the Xbox operating system. We were able to download 18 games of varying sizes before having to utilize the console's expandable storage.
That's a fair chunk to play through, then, but we'd advise picking up the Seagate Storage Expansion Card if you really want to take advantage of features such as Quick Resume and the plethora of titles available through Xbox Game Pass. It’s important to note that true new-gen titles will likely take up more storage space once their optimizations have been rolled out.
Along with our console, we were able to test Seagate's 1TB expansion storage card for the Xbox Series X, which also comes in 512GB and 2TB options. The 1TB card doesn't come cheap at $219.99 / £219.99 / AU$359, but we found it extremely easy to use – when we were running out of storage, we simply slotted the card into the back of the Xbox and accessed the extra terabyte. When the console detects that it's approaching its storage capacity, it asks if you want to install on the card instead, while also offering a straightforward option for freeing up space by deleting games.
If the expansion storage card runs a bit expensive for your taste, you can always attach an external drive HDD or SSD via the console's USB 3.1 port. However, these can only play Xbox One and backward-compatible games (with the SSD allowing for faster loading times). You can store your Xbox Series X games on the external HDD or SSD, but only an NVMe SSD can play Xbox Series X Optimized titles.
The process of adding an external hard drive works in the same way as it did on Xbox One: you simply plug the storage into one of the system’s USB ports, and the Xbox will detect it. If the drive needs to be formatted, you’ll see a prompt asking you to do this. It’s a plug-and-play solution that works just as you’d hope.
What's good about the Xbox Series X's storage is that, when you’re installing (or uninstalling) games, you can select particular parts of games to install rather than the full thing. For example, you can download Doom Eternal's multiplayer but not the campaign, or vice versa. We're curious to see how many games will support this kind of installation functionality in the future, because it's a welcome feature and should help with storage management.
On the surface, the Xbox Series X controller doesn’t look like a particularly drastic departure from its predecessor. It sports a similar shape and keeps the traditional button and trigger layout. On closer inspection, though, you begin to notice the subtle differences Microsoft has implemented.
The gamepad’s exterior now sports a matte finish that closely matches the console’s design. While this certainly looks sleek, there's a few drawbacks – the black controller that comes with the console easily picks up noticeable scuffs and scrapes, and considering the amount of hands-on time controllers are subjected, you may find it hard to keep yours looking in tip-top condition for years to come. Other color variants are available though (you'll need to buy these separately), including Electric Volt, DayStrike Camo, and Pulse Red, and some may be less prone to scuffs.
That's a minor quibble, though, and overall we found that the Xbox Series X controller resembles a more premium controller, both in look and feel. The revised pad now has a tactile texture on the triggers, grips, and bumpers, which we found made the controller feel more secure in our hands.
In addition, while the controller is the same size as its predecessor, the bumpers and triggers have been rounded and reduced in size by a few millimetres, which makes the gamepad feel less bulky. If you're someone with small hands, past Xbox One controllers have felt quite bulky, but this simple change improves comfort levels in a subtle but noticeable way.
Perhaps the most notable changes to the controller are the addition of the ‘Share’ button and the hybrid D-pad. The Share button essentially acts as a capture button, allowing you to easily snap screenshots of your game – a single click takes a snapshot while holding the button down for longer records a 15-second video by default (you can adjust the video duration in the Capture settings).
This is much easier than on the Xbox One, where you had to press the home button and then X or Y. Still, we did find it a bit fiddly to quickly take a screenshot – your experience may vary depending on how big your hands are.
The hybrid D-pad, on the other hand, aims to provide a middle ground between the Xbox One controller’s classic D-pad and the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2’s changeable disc-shaped, faceted D-pad. What results is a kind of traditional D-pad, laid over a disc. Again, this is a small but welcome change and is intended to give more control and leverage over the D-pad – while generally feeling more comfortable.
But there’s a lot about the controller’s design that hasn’t changed. It keeps the 3.5mm audio jack and expansion port at the bottom, its USB charge port and pairing button at the top, and its View, Menu, and Xbox buttons on the face.
In addition to the cosmetic changes, the Xbox Series X controller brings improvements in functionality too. We found the controller to be more responsive, which is likely down to the lower latency Microsoft has boasted about (paired with more frame rate stability), while connecting the gamepad wirelessly via Bluetooth to a range of devices – including the Xbox One, an iPhone 11, and a Mac – was straightforward.
The Series X controller again runs on AA batteries (regular or rechargeable), but if you want to avoid the hassle of changing or charging batteries constantly then you can invest in a Play and Charge Kit (a rechargeable battery back that you can use to charge the controller while you’re playing or between sessions), or connect your controller to the console via USB-C (although this will, of course, limit your freedom of movement).
Xbox Series X review: features
Quick Resume is pretty seamless
Great backward compatibility with games and accessories
Perhaps the most welcome of the Xbox Series X’s features is Quick Resume. The purpose of Quick Resume is to allow you to continue a game from a suspended state pretty much instantly. So, within seconds, you can jump back into the game where you left off, as if you never stopped playing, without having to sit through loading screens again. Not only that, but you can jump between multiple games that have been left in this suspended state in no time at all.
We could seamlessly jump between gameplay in seconds, as long as the games you're hopping between have already been booted up at some point beforehand. We were able to jump from being in a timberyard as Alan Wake to being Alyson Ronan in Dontnod's Tell Me Why within 11.4 seconds, by pressing the Xbox button on the controller and selecting the game from the sidebar. That's from gameplay to gameplay – no loading screens. If we wanted to access Tell Me Why from the Xbox dashboard home screen, selected as the current game we were playing, the time from the dashboard to gameplay was 2.7 seconds.
Online multiplayer games work a bit differently from other titles. Naturally, it wouldn't be feasible to allow players to suspend mid-play during online gameplay, or we'd just have a bunch of AFK players on the servers. For example, if you're mid-game in Sea of Thieves, and then decide to jump into another game, you’ll be removed from the game – but you can Quick Resume from the title screen.
Since its launch, Quick Resume has received an update that makes the feature more reliable, makes it easier to see which games you have stored in a suspended state. That also identifies which games actually support the feature, with the ability to simply select each game from the My Games and Apps menu. It's a very welcome quality-of-life feature that simply makes using Quick Resume a little bit easier.
Backward compatibility on Xbox Series X
Another of the Xbox Series X's best features is the breadth of its backward compatibility. There are well over 1,000 backward-compatible titles available, meaning you’ll be hard-pressed to find an older game you have that isn’t supported on the Series X.
As mentioned previously, we found these titles loaded faster and simply played better; improved stability means fewer frame rate drops, which makes older games feel nicer to play, even if they're otherwise a little outdated by the standards of modern blockbusters. Sadly, Microsoft has confirmed it's unlikely that we'll see more added in the future.
This backward compatibility also extends to Xbox accessories. We found that we could easily connect the original Xbox Wireless Controller and the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 to the Xbox Series X with no issues, and we were also able to connect our headsets.
Any officially licensed Xbox One accessory that connects either wirelessly or via a wired USB connection should work on the Xbox Series X, such as the Xbox Wireless Headset; however, it’s worth noting that optical port connections aren’t supported, although some of these products may work with a firmware update.
Xbox Smart Delivery aims to allow players to always have access to the best possible version of an Xbox game, whichever console they’re playing on. Essentially, it’s a bit like forward compatibility and backward compatibility combined, making the most of cross-generation gaming.
We found that we could access the games we had access to on Xbox Series X on the Xbox One S without issue, and without having to purchase two versions of the same title. So, for example, we could play The Falconeer on Xbox Series X – with its optimizations – then jump onto the Xbox One S and continue playing the game there, just without the Series X optimizations.
Save data is carried between consoles, so we could easily jump between playing on both. Likewise, our Xbox One games were easily accessible on the Xbox Series X, with upgrades becoming immediately available for those that currently have Series X optimizations, such as Gears Tactics and Gears 5.
Multimedia on Xbox Series X
The Series X also offers a range of multimedia features. For one, the console boasts a built-in 4K Blu-ray player that’s simple to use.
You also have access to a range of streaming services: there’s Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, and others that are available on existing Xbox One consoles, plus some that are new to the platform, including Apple TV Plus and region-specific apps such as Hulu in the US and Sky Go in the UK. All of these can take advantage of the console's 4K UHD capabilities, although some require a decent internet connection.
While all the most popular entertainment apps are available, we did find that there are still some (more regional apps) that we wish we had access to, such as ITV Hub and BBC iPlayer in the UK.
Dolby Vision support
Microsoft is also the only new-gen console maker to support Dolby Vision, a more exacting HDR format that allows for superior contrast and color accuracy. In terms of content, you can watch shows and movies in Dolby Vision with Netflix (if you shell out for the premium subscription tier).
The advantage Dolby Vision has over standard HDR10 is that it supports 12-bit color, enabling the console to display more than 68.7 billion colors, far more than the 10-bit HDR format could show. Of course, how good those colors will look ultimately depends on your TV – which also needs to support Dolby Vision, although that’s par for the course. You can now enjoy Dolby Vision gaming too.
It's worth noting that the 4K Blu-ray player in the Xbox Series X doesn't yet support Dolby Vision, though we could see this changing in the near future with a firmware update.
DTS and Dolby Atmos support
While the default headphones setting for Xbox Series X is Windows Sonic, as on the Xbox One before it, the Xbox Series X also supports Dolby Atmos and DTS headphone: X sound – though you need to purchase a separate license for each.
Windows Sonic is fine for those who aren’t too fussed about their audio, but Dolby Atmos and DTS provide a fuller spatial sound experience. This means, for example, that you can tell from an enemy’s footsteps exactly where they are in relation to you. If you’re someone who plays a lot of online multiplayer then it could be worth picking one of these up, especially as you don’t need a specific headset for either to work – though to use Dolby Atmos you require a compatible soundbar.
It’s also worth noting that these only work with games that support Dolby Atmos or DTS sound, which include the likes of Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4, and Rise of the Tomb Raider.
The new Xbox App for iOS and Android is an upgraded version of the companion app that gives you more control than before.
It allows you to specifically manage storage across your Xbox consoles, voice-chat with friends on either Xbox or PC, and easily share clips and screenshots from games and granting easy access to remote play.
You can even use the app as a remote control for your console, which is very handy for multimedia services. Overall, we found the companion app made it easier than ever to access and manage our Xboxes on the go.
Xbox Series X review: library
Launch title lineup is a bit disappointing
Combined with Xbox Game Pass, offers plenty to play
Plenty of backward-compatible games to play
The Xbox Series X game library is perhaps what lets the new console down the most. For a start, there were only a handful of new big-name games that landed on the console at launch – Assassin's Creed Valhalla, Watch Dogs: Legion, Dirt 5, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon, none of which were Xbox exclusives.
In fact, every Xbox Series X launch game was already available (or would be available) on Xbox One – and many were released on PS5 too. The launch titles that were Xbox exclusives, such as Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4, and Ori and the Will of the Wisps, were all optimized versions of Xbox One titles.
The Xbox exclusive situation has thankfully improved, with Halo Infinite, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and Forza Horizon 5 bolstering Microsoft's lineup. However, there's still a distinct lack of games that can only be played on Xbox Series X|S, like Bloober Team’s psychological thriller The Medium. It’ll be a while yet before we get our hands on big hitters like Everwild, Redfall, and Fable.
While the next few months for Xbox games still look a bit uncertain, Microsoft has a major ace in the hole: its acquisition of ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Bethesda, and Activision Blizzard. This is a huge move by Microsoft that could seriously bolster that lackluster exclusive offering, meaning that future Bethesda titles like The Elder Scrolls 6 and Starfield will come exclusively to Xbox and PC.
Now that’s a prospect that makes Xbox Series X very interesting and could give it a serious advantage over the PS5.
Xbox Game Pass
The saving grace, in terms of the games available, is that Xbox Series X players have access to thousands of backward-compatible games, so you'll have plenty of older games to play.
If you’re picking up an Xbox Series X, we would strongly advise picking up an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription to bolster your library. As previously mentioned, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate means you get access to hundreds of Xbox One games off the bat, including first-party Xbox games on day one. So, in terms of money-saving, pairing your Game Pass subscription with your new console means you won’t have to shell out for brand-new games – unless they’re not included on Game Pass.
In the past six months, we’ve seen even more titles added to Game Pass, including a large number of Bethesda titles, with Microsoft confirming we will see future first-party Xbox games hit the service on launch day - that includes Bethesda games. Activision Blizzard games will also come to the service if the aforementioned acquisition is approved.
If you're hoping to get Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for an even cheaper price, we've got good news. While this is currently being trialled in just the Republic of Ireland and Colombia, Microsoft is looking to launch an Xbox Game Pass family plan, allowing you and four players to jump in for a monthly cost of €21.99 – which comes to around $21.99 / £19.99 / AU$32.99
Xbox Series X optimized
A handful of the best Xbox One games have been optimized for the Xbox Series X. These titles have been upgraded or built with the Xbox Series X in mind, in order to make the most of the console’s power – and boy, do they show it.
We tested a few Optimized titles including Gears 5, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, The Falconeer, and Dirt 5, and found that these games boasted minimal loading times, improved stability, and considerably enhanced visuals.For example, Gears 5 on Xbox Series X boasts ray tracing and 4K at 60fps, making the campaign mode look better than ever before, and load faster.
It’s immediately more immersive, thanks to more stable frame rates and a lack of loading screen walls. The difference is even more noticeable in Gears 5’s multiplayer, which allows for 4K at 120fps, resulting in buttery smooth performance that feels much more responsive – which is critical in online multiplayer. With Dolby Atmos support too, it's a brilliant showcase for the Xbox Series X’s unbridled power.