Short of kitting out your living room with a full set of surround sound speakers, a soundbar is the single best upgrade you can make to your TV's surround sound setup.
But why would you want to? Well, with TVs having become as slim as they are these days, they don't have much space to contain a decent set of speaker drivers.
By dedicating just a little more room to your sound you'll achieve a massive step up in audio performance.
Investing in a good soundbar could also save you money on your next television since you can save money by opting for a set that might be lacking in the sound department.
A full surround setup is the premium solution to bad sounding televisions, but if you're a little shorter on space (not to mention budget) then a soundbar offers a very decent compromise. Plus, these days higher-end soundbars will also include the latest and greatest audio technologies like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.
So whether you're looking to buy a budget or high-end model, soundbars right across the price spectrum will have something to offer.
Of course not all soundbars are made equal. In their quest to improve upon the bass-free output of a TV's inbuilt speakers, some soundbars go too far in the opposite direction, and give you a bass overload. Others forgo bass to focus on mids and highs and can therefore never provide true cinematic experiences. The best soundbars, as you might imagine, have no problem doing both.
Because good sound is hard to find, we've tested tons of 'bars in the hopes of finding the best of the best. In our quest we've got something to match every budget, and our price tracker will make sure that should you do decide to buy one from our list then you'll be getting the absolutely best price possible.
What's the best soundbar?
Soundbars come in many shapes and sizes, and range in price from under £100/$100 to over £1,000/$1,500. Cheaper models have basic connections, more expensive ones add superior HDMI inputs (including 4K/HDR passthrough), wireless audio streaming (e.g. Bluetooth and AirPlay), better power, more refined speaker drivers, and decoding of Blu-ray sound formats.
Design is also important, with some models able to sit in front of your TV on a stand while others may need a separate shelf, or to be wall mounted. However, whatever your budget, there are some cracking good acoustic upgrades to be had that can give your TV the sound it deserves.
Here are the 10 best soundbars, ordered by their price-to-performance ratio:
1. Philips Fidelio B5
Surround sound or portable Bluetooth – the choice is yours
Power: 120W | Speakers: 4 | Dimensions: 1,035 x 70 x 156 mm | Weight: 16kg | Inputs: Digital coaxial in, Digital optical in, HDMI 1.4 output (ARC), HDMI IN 1, HDMI IN 2, Audio in 3.5 mm jack | Wireless: Bluetooth APT-X and AAC | Subwoofer included?: Yes | Special features: N/A
The Philips Fidelio B5 is an impressive bit of kit, and it's the perfect soundbar for someone who appreciates good cinema sound but has no interest in tearing up their living room to install a 5.1 surround sound system to use only every now and then. The B5 enables you to pick and choose your movie moments, and do it on a whim. And it creates a pretty decent surround sound experience too, using both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Digital Surround decoding.
The combination of convenience and good audio – the raison d'etre of the soundbar – with its transformative surround sound capabilities makes the Fidelio B5 a great option for the movie fan who can't face all the aggravation of a proper 5.1 installation.
Read the full review: Philips Fidelio B5
2. Q Acoustics M4 Sound Bar
'If there’s a better sounding soundbar on the market for less than £400/$400, we haven’t heard it'
Power: 100W | Speakers: 2 | Dimensions: 1,000 x 90 x 142mm | Weight: 4.9kg | Inputs: 1 x HDMI, 1 x digital optical, 1 x 3.5mm | Outputs: N/A | Wireless: Bluetooth aptX | Subwoofer included?: Yes | Special features: N/A
The Q Acoustics M4 soundbar doesn’t immediately set pulses racing with its slightly prosaic looks, ‘mere’ 2.1-channel sound and lack of any HDMI support. However, you only have to hear what the M4 can do with both music and movies for your doubts about it to evaporate almost instantly. In fact, it sounds so good that it starts to make the idea of trying to deliver more channels from an affordable sound bar look a bit silly.
In fact, though, it sounds so much better than pretty much any rival soundbar in the same price bracket that it’s actually ridiculously good value - especially if you care about music as much as you care about movies.
Read the full review: Q Acoustics M4 Sound Bar
3. Samsung HW-MS650 Soundbar
Be afraid, traditional Hi-Fi speakers. Be very afraid.
Dimensions: 1060 x 78 x 130mm (W x H x D) | Speaker configuration: 3.0 | Claimed audio power: 9 x 20W | Connections: Single 4K/HDR HDMI loopthrough, one optical audio input, 3.5mm audio port, 2-way Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
Not content with dominating the TV world, Samsung now seems to have its sights set on becoming the number one brand for home entertainment audio, too. All this effort has already delivered outstanding results in the shape of both the HW-K850 and, especially, HW-K950 Dolby Atmos soundbars, as well as a range of ground-breaking multi-room wireless speakers.
But, above everything stands the South Korean manufacturer's HW-MS650. No other one-body soundbar has combined so much raw power with so much clarity, scale and, especially, bass, or excelled so consistently with both films and music. It’s the sort of performance that only genuine audio innovation can deliver - and with that in mind, it’s well worth its $450/£599 price tag.
Read the full review: Samsung HW-MS650 Soundbar
4. Focal Dimension
An impressive-sounding soundbar with a few setup faux-pas
Power: 450W | Speakers: 5 | Dimensions: 1,155 x 115 x 115mm | Weight: 5.5kg | Inputs: 1 x HDMI, 1 x digital optical, 1 x 3.5mm | Outputs: N/A | Wireless: Bluetooth aptX (via dongle) | Subwoofer included?: No | Special features: designed for big rooms
Focal, most known for its excellent sounding speakers (and the recently released Focal Listen headphones), is late to the soundbar space, but its Focal Dimension was worth the wait. The Dimension soundbar is simply gorgeous, with its piano black accents and aluminum unibody construction.
At $1,399 (£799, AU$1,699) it's not exactly cheap, but you're paying for excellent build quality, sound and design.
Read the full review: Focal Dimension
5. Sony HT-MT300 Soundbar
An affordable, compact entry-level soundbar that sounds great
Power: N/A | Speakers: 2 | Dimensions: 50 x 5.4 x 10.3cm (W x H x D) | Weight: 3.2kg | Inputs: 1 x digital optical, 1 x auxiliary | Wireless: Bluetooth | Special features: Wireless subwoofer
There’s a lot to like about the Sony HT-MT300. Its compact form factor means it’ll fit just about anywhere and its wireless sub lets you put it under the couch for added bass effect.
The soundbar sounds great with both movies and music, but be warned that it does fall on its face when it comes to offering surround sound.
For the price, you get a great sounding, entry-level soundbar that fits just about anywhere and is easy to use and setup. If you're on a budget and looking for a soundbar to fit into a small setup then the HT-MT300 is a great choice, but if you're less restricted then you might want to opt for another soundbar on this list.
Read the full review: Sony HT-MT300 Soundbar
6. LG SH7B
LG's entry-level soundbar offers impressive sound for the price
Power: 360W | Speakers: 4 | Dimensions: 41.73 x 2.09 x 3.35 inches | Weight: 5.9lbs | Inputs: 1 x HDMI In, 1 x HDMI Out, 1 x 3.5mm | Wireless: Bluetooth and Wi-Fi | Subwoofer included?: Yes | Special features: Google Cast, Spotify Connect, Multi-Room Mode, Music Flow OS Support
The LG SH7B is a soundbar system that can do it all. Its feature set and solid sound quality make it a good choice for those with limited space. While music playback and surround sound aren't mind-blowing, they're more than respectable at this price.
It's a breeze to set up since its subwoofer is wireless, though Android users may be frustrated by LG's buggy app. Sound quality is decent for the price, but in the end loses out to traditional bookshelf speakers in terms of clarity on the high-end. However, if you want a soundbar that can take on every type of media you can throw at it, the LG SH7B is a great option.
Read the full review: LG SH7B
7. Sonos Playbar
Turns your multi-room audio system into wireless surround sound
Power: Not quoted | Speakers: 9 | Dimensions: 900 x 85 x 140mm | Weight: 5.4kg | Inputs: 1 x digital optical, 2 x Ethernet LAN | Outputs: N/A | Wireless: WiFi | Special features: Sonos Play:1 speakers can be connected as wireless rear speakers
The Sonos Playbar is a non-HDMI device that uses optical to hook up to a TV. Used simply on its own it delivers a massive sonic boost to your TV listening, but operating it does require using a smartphone or tablet app.
The benefit is that it can seamlessly segue in to a Sonos wireless system, and can even act as the front three speakers in a 5.1 setup with two Play:1s acting as rears.
Unfortunately although it's optical-only setup will be great for most, it does exclude owners of TVs that lack this connector, which has pushed it a little further down this list.
Read the full review: Sonos Playbar
8. Samsung HW-K950
This combo of soundbar, two wireless sats & Dolby Atmos is game-changing
Power: 500W | Speakers: 9 | Dimensions: 47.6 x 3.2 x 5.1 inches | Weight: 14.7lbs | Inputs: 1 x digital optical, 1 x HDMI | Outputs: 1 x HDMI | Wireless: Bluetooth and WiFi | Subwoofer included?: Yes | Special features: Dolby Atmos
Do you need Dolby Atmos? This more immersive '3D bubble of surround sound' tech is here, created not only by a standard soundbar design, but with a couple of satellite speakers and a subwoofer added. Is that verging on a messy home cinema cinema of old? Perhaps in theory, but this is one of the sleekest implementations of Dolby Atmos yet. Using rear speakers with upward-firing speakers, it actually creates a virtual 5.1.4 system.
OK, so the £1,299 / $1,499 / AU$1,499 HW-K950 is not perfect. It only plays DTS in stereo (unless you have a Blu-ray player that can convert it to Dolby Digital), but this simple-to-set-up package is an amazing performer that should be near the top of any audiophile's soundbar audition list.
Read the full review: Samsung HW-K950
9. Bose SoundTouch 300
A beautifully made, precise sounding soundbar
Power: N/A | Speakers: 1 | Dimensions: 42 x 6.2 x 5 inches | Weight: 15.2lbs | Inputs: 1 x digital optical, 1 x HDMI, 1 x Ethernet port, 1x 3.5 mm jack for ADAPTiQ system setup, 1 x 3.5mm jack to hardwire the bass module, 1 x micro-USB connection | Outputs: 1 x HDMI output with Audio Return Channel (ARC) | Wireless: Bluetooth | Subwoofer included?: No | Special features: Multiroom
Boasting high-end design, Bose's slim soundbar looks superb, and sounds above average. At 97.9cm wide, it’s best partnered with larger screen sizes (50-inch+) and priced at £599/$700/AU$999, it offers great sound. There are caveats regarding usability and price, but overall it warrants a cautious two thumbs up.
It's also worth mentioning that, as this isn’t a 2.1 package, there’s no subwoofer supplied – although Bose will sell you a wireless Acoustimas sub and the ST300 can be partnered with the brand’s Virtually Invisible (i.e. small at 10cm) 300 surround speakers. The system is also compatible with the Bose SoundTouch wireless multiroom system which includes smaller Bluetooth speakers.
Read the full review: Bose SoundTouch 300
10. Creative SoundBlasterX Katana
The soundbar comes to PC with the Katana
Power: 75w | Speakers: 4 | Dimensions: 2.4 x 23.6 x 3.1 inches | Weight: 12.1 lbs | Inputs: 1 x digital optical, 1 x Aux-in, 1 x USB | Outputs: Headset | Wireless: Bluetooth | Subwoofer included?: Yes | Special features: RGB lighting
The SoundblasterX Katana is a bit of an anomoly on this list. Whereas most soundbars are produced with TVs in mind, Creative's debut stays true to the company's PC audio heritage, bringing the soundbar form-factor to the desktop.
Creative has made a number of decisions with the design of the Katana to facilitate this: Its USB and Optical inputs are very PC-centric, and the soundbar doesn't even bother with the HDMI standard favored by most TV models.
In a 'love it or hate it' move the soundbar is also equipped with RGB lighting to take advantage of the current trend in PC peripherals, so you can have the Northern Lights erupting underneath your monitor if you so desire.
Read the full review: Creative SoundblasterX Katana
Any suggestions for our list? Let us know in the comments below!