As we're all getting used to spending a lot more time at home than usual, and without theaters and music venues to escape to, it makes sense that so many of us have been looking to upgrade our own at-home sound systems. Soundbars are an incredible 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 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 decide which one to go for. You'll also find more extensive, often more pricey, systems and, if you're tempted, then check out our guide to the best surround sound systems.
To help with your decision, we've identified some of the top offerings from leading brands at a range of price points in order to find which soundbars offer the most 'bang for your buck'. We take into consideration additional features such as internal speakers, smart connectivity, subwoofers and more.
Scroll down to see what we thought and for more buying advice below.
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 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.
This Sony soundbar is a two-piecer that includes a good-size sub and lots more besides. It’s 7.1.2 channel arrangement means that there are drivers dedicated to dialog in the center, among other things, which make sure that everything said on-screen comes out nice and clear.
There are also built-in music services through which 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 and, best of all, there are also speakers on the top-side for Dolby Atmos effects. It's certainly pricey but with so much to recommend it would be a fine investment.
If you're not quite ready to take the plunge into a full surround sound system, but you want more than a soundbar on its own, then the Samsung HW-Q950T could be for you. The bar comes with not just a subwoofer but also two small speakers designed to create a wider soundscape when placed behind you.
The HW-Q950T has plenty of fans, with our friends at TechRadar handing it their top rating due to its great performance as a 3D audio speaker and impressive number of channels.
With 16 speakers housed within the soundbar and Dolby Atmos and DTS:X surround sound at the ready, this offering from Samsung really does offer next-level sound. It also has Alexa built in, so you can control it using voice commands and connect it with other smart devices around the home.
A good upgrade from the Yamaha YAS-207 is the YAS-209, which adds built-in Alexa smart tech and a sleek redesign. The slim profile of the main unit is particularly good for fitting under most TVs and inside is 3D DTS Virtual:X for a surround sound effect for a much more affordable price.
The bottom-end beef comes from the dedicated subwoofer unit. It connects wirelessly with the main bar, which means you can squirrel it away somewhere unseen. All it needs is a nearby power outlet and you're set.
The controls are now on the top of the bar, rather than the base of the front like with the YAS-207, which makes it much easier to use as well as more attractive (in our humble opinion).
Perhaps the smartest option on our list, the Bose Smart 300 Soundbar includes not just built-in Alexa (more on that in a moment) but also Bose's own Voice4Video technology that allows you use your voice to control the soundbar, you connected TV and cable/satellite box.
The Alexa operates how you would expect, allowing you to connect other smart devices from around the home as well as control your sound with a simple voice command. You can even do things like call your mom without so much as unlocking your phone.
Outside of its smarts, the Bose Smart 300 also impresses with its commitment to a good sound experience, with five full-range drivers, QuietPort tech to limit distortion from bass levels and the ability to activate private listening for when you want to enjoy a movie while the kids are sleeping (though this only appears to work if you have Bose headphones).
Extremely stylish in comparison to other soundbars, the Dali Katch One cheats a little by also being larger than your average. Bigger speakers mean bigger sound, and soundbars generally have to compromise because of how they're placed. Dali said 'to hell with that' and made a bar that really needs to be wall-mounted or placed on a shelf to be out of the way of your screen.
All that aside, the Katch One is a terrific-sounding piece of home cinema kit. It's musical, movie-loving and provides all of the weight and power you would hope for at this price point.
It promises to deliver powerful bass even without a subwoofer, and Bluetooth connectivity means you can play pretty much anything from your mobile device, whether that's your favourite playlist or the latest episode of that true crime podcast you're addicted to.
- Read next: the best TV stands to make box set bingeing better
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 center channel as well. The 0.1 after most often refers to a bass channel.
- Read next: the best TVs to upgrade your lounge
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 favorite 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 the Sony HT-ST5000. Even though it's expensive, it offers great sound quality, Dolby Atmos and Chromecast support. It also looks fantastic, and comes with a subwoofer that will boost bass levels.