We’re all spending a lot more time at home that we used to and, without theaters and music venues to escape to, it makes sense that so many of us are looking to upgrade our own at-home sound systems. Soundbars can be a brilliant way to do this, offering convenience and quality that can instantly make watching a movie on the couch into much more of an experience.
But if you’ve already done some shopping around then you’ll know that prices for the best soundbars can vary wildly, and it’s difficult to determine which one to go for.
To help with that decision, we’ve tested some of the top offerings from leading brands at a range of price points to find out which offer the most ‘base for your buck’, taking into consideration additional features such as internal speakers, smart connectivity, subwoofers and more. Scroll down to see what we thought.
And if you don't want to stop at your sound system and are also in the market for better visuals, then you should also take a look at our guide to the best TV.
The best soundbar 2021
Sonos does do other speakers for your TV sound but the Beam is the one to go for. It’s the best balance of price, performance and that superb Sonos feature set. You can voice control it, use it as part of your Sonos multi-room set-up and it’s just the right size for most homes.
Soundwise, it’s surprisingly wide and full bodied. Sonos has ensured it produces a weight and depth that you’ll feel from the sofa. It leaves you without a doubt that a soundbar was a worthy investment.
The JBL Bar Studio is the go-to soundbar for those on a budget. You’ll struggle to find better at even twice the price. It’s as fully-featured as one could expect – HDMI and Bluetooth inputs – but doesn’t scrimp on the audio either despite its fairly slight build.
There’s no dedicated internal subwoofer but the two full range speakers inside do a very good job. There’s still lots of bass. Dialogue comes out nice and clear, and music and effects have plenty of punch. Can’t go wrong with this one.
Very stylish as soundbars go but the Dali Katch One is a bit of a cheat. Big speakers mean big sound but soundbars generally have to compromise there because they can’t be too big. Dali has decided ‘to hell with that’ and made a bar that really needs to be wall-mounted or put on a shelf or it will get in the way of your screen.
If you can accommodate it, though, you’ll have just made home for a terrific-sounding piece of home cinema kit. It’s musical, movie-loving and provides all the sense of weight and power you could hope for at this price and beyond.
Slightly further up the food chain than the JBL is the this two-piece soundbar from Yamaha. The slim profile of the main unit is particularly good for fitting under most TVs. Inside are six speakers which create a good crisp audio and, using some clever software, make a passable attempt at simulating a 7.1.4 system.
The bottom-end beef comes from the dedicated subwoofer unit. It connects wireless with the man bar which means you can squirrel it away somewhere unseen. All it needs is a nearby power outlet.
Where to buy the best soundbar
This Sony is another two-piecer only with a far bigger sub and lots more besides. It’s a 7.1.2 channel arrangement of speakers, meaning that there are drivers dedicated to dialogue in the centre, among others, which make sure that everything said on-screen comes out nice and clear.
There are built-in music services so that you can access Spotify more easily plus Bluetooth and USB connectivity for playing your own tracks from your mobile or other device. You can stream direct through Google Chromecast from Android kit too. Best of all, there are also speakers on the top-side for Dolby Atmos effects. Pricey but a fine purchase.
How to choose the best soundbar
You’ll need to consider how you’re planning on connecting your soundbar to your TV and one of the easiest ways to do that is with an HDMI cable. Look out for TVs and soundbars which support HDMI ARC or eARC. It will often have this written next to one of the HDMI sockets on your TV. Plug your soundbar into this port and you’ll be able to use your TV remote to control your audio too.
One interesting differentiator with soundbars is that some are smart – i.e. Wi-Fi-connectable – and come with their own selection of apps for your TV. Usually music or video based, these could well fill some important gaps that your TV doesn’t already manage on its own. No access to Google Play Movies & TV or Spotify? It’s worth looking out for a soundbar with some smarts, then.
The specs of some soundbars will describe how many channels it has, e.g. 2.0, 2.1, 3.1, etc. These numbers refer to the divisions of speakers inside it. A 2.0 soundbar has two channels – one for the left side and one for right. A 3.0 set-up will be left and right plus a centre channel as well. The 0.1 after most often refers to a bass channel.
Are soundbars worth the investment?
Sound needs space and the trouble with modern, flat panel TVs is that space is exactly what they don't have. There’s no room for nice, big speaker cabinets to create room-shaking audio. Instead, the best way to get that is for your TV to outsource to an external box and the easiest and most convenient is the soundbar – a boxed speaker array which sits underneath or near your TV and pumps out the audio.
There is another channel which is popular at the moment and it represents height. So, if you want your soundbar to produce effects of objects flying overhead, then be on the lookout for one which supports Dolby Atmos. These will often have speakers on their top surface as well as their front or rear, and you may see them described in the specs as having 2.1.2 channels, for example, where the final '2' represents two Atmos speakers.
Arguably the most important piece of research to do is sizing. Take a look at the dimensions of a soundbar and check it’s going to fit where you want to put it. The classic position is at the feet of your TV but some TV stands don’t offer much clearance and there are plenty of soundbars which are taller than they should be. You don’t want to end up with the soundbar blocking your view. If this looks like it’s going to be a problem, it’s worth considering wall-mounting either your TV or your soundbar, or possibly both.
A soundbar offers more than just audio potential for your viewing. It can act as a music speaker for your lounge listening even when your telly is off. For that reason, you might decide that you want one that fits into your home’s multi-room audio system so that you can stream all of your favourite tunes just as you would elsewhere in the house. The best for functionality on this front is, of course, Sonos. Fortunately, Sonos do a rather good line in soundbars.
What is the best soundbar?
If you're looking for the best soundbar then (in our opinion) we wouldn't hesitate to recommend you buy the Sonos Beam. If offers great sound for the money and it can link up with other Sonos speakers so you can build your very own multiroom music system, which will surround your home with audio – from your television OR Spotify playlist.
Looking for more expert home tech advice?
- Enhance the viewing experience, and make a practical addition to the living room with a TV stand