We’re all spending a lot more time at home that we used to and, without theatres 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 are a brilliant way to achieve this, offering convenience and quality that can instantly make watching a movie on the sofa 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 ranked some of the top offerings from leading brands at a range of price points to find out which of them offer the most ‘bass 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 TVs.
The best soundbars 2021
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 the same effect is for your TV to outsource to an external soundbar – a boxed speaker array which sits underneath or near your TV and pumps out the audio.
Despite offering big sound, soundbars often still have to compromise when it comes to size. The Dali Katch One has cheated and said 'to hell with that', meaning it will need to be wall mounted if you don't want it to interfere with your screen.
How it performs
If you can accommodate it, the Katch One is 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.
There are no smart features, but you can connect it to your TV via the HDMI ARC and control it using your normal remote. The physical controls sit on top of the bar, and you can play music or podcasts through it via Bluetooth.
How it looks
As stated, the Dali Katch One is no wallflower and has been designed with wall-mounting in mind. As such, those who want their soundbar to sit neatly under a TV will be disappointed. Outside of this, however, this is a gorgeous looking soundbar with a unique design that will suit those who want their tech to include aesthetics in its design.
A fantastic choice for those looking for maximum sound for an affordable price, the Sony HT-X8500 offers Dolby Atmos compatibility and a compact design.
How it performs
The Sony HT-X8500 uses 'Vertical Surround Engine' technology to mimic the impact of true surround sound, adding to the audio boost from Dolby Atmos and S-Force PRO Front Surround. In short, the sound quality completely masks the fact that you're using just a single speaker.
How it looks
A godsend for anyone who doesn't necessarily have space they want to give up to an external subwoofer, the HT-X8500's sub comes built-in. But that doesn't mean the speaker itself is bigger as a result, and it will fit nicely under most TV sets. The matte finish also eliminates the risk of distracting reflection.
Real Homes rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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.
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.
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.
Sound wise, 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.
Real Homes rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
- Read next: the best surround sound systems to amplify your home set-up
How to choose the best soundbar for you
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.
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.