Best Soundbar Buying Guide: Welcome to TechRadar's round-up of the best soundbars (also spelled sound bars) you can buy in 2018.
While the way a TV looks should - quite rightly - be the most important thing to consider when buying a new set, the way it sounds is a very close second.
Unfortunately, as panel technology has improved over the years, less and less space has been made available for a set's audio, leading to audio that often sounds weak and tinny. This can make it hard to hear actors and actresses while they're giving away key plot points during dialog, and makes cinematic moments like explosions and car crashes less impactful than they ought to be.
The easiest way of rectifying this problem is with a soundbar. These speakers sit nice and neatly below your TV, and often offer tremendous sound without taking up much more space in your living room.
Buy intelligently and you won't just end up with better sound, but also more advanced features like virtual surround sound and Dolby Atmos support.
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.
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.
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.
1. 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
2. Sony HT-ST5000 soundbar
An unashamedly upmarket soundbar that justifies its price tag
Dimensions: 1180 x 80 x 145 mm (W x H x D) | Speaker configuration: 7.1.2 | Claimed audio power: N/A | Connections: 3 x HDMI inputs, 1 HDMI Out (ARC), analogue audio in/out, Ethernet, optical audio in, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
The Sony HT-ST5000 is the most expensive soundbar on this list, but for the money you're getting an exceptional piece of equipment that offers support for Dolby's spatial Atmos technology as well as dealing exceptionally well with more conventional surround sound.
The build quality and design of the soundbar is exceptional, and its general audio performance impresses with its clarity and spatial presentation.
With that said, its high price means it won't be for everyone, and most people will get everything they need from the Samsung HW-MS650 above. But if you want to have the best high-end soundbar around, the HT-ST5000 is the one to go for.
Read the full review: Sony HT-ST5000
3. 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
4. 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
5. 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
6. 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
7. Q Acoustics M2 Soundbase
Technically a soundbase, the M2 is a satisfying sonic upgrade to your TV’s sound
Power: 80W | Speakers: 2 | Dimensions: 550 x 93 x 338mm (W x H x D) | Weight: 5.6kg | Inputs: 1 x Digital Optical-In, 1 x HDMI-in, 1 x 3.5mm | Wireless: Bluetooth | Subwoofer included?: Yes | Special features: aptX HD
So far we've only covered soundbars, but soundbases are a little different.
Rather than being designed to be mounted underneath - or sat in front of - your TV, soundbases have a much deeper form-factor that means they’re better suited to acting as a stand for your TV. The Q Acoustics M2 also has the added benefit of a toggle switch that alters its sound to let it work better in case you’d rather stash it away inside a cabinet instead.
Due to a few minor issues with soundstage and HDMI passthrough, the Q Acoustics M2 isn’t the kind of product that’s going to revolutionise your living room - but, that being said, it will offer a significant boost to your TV’s sound at an affordable price of $350 (£299/AU$549).
Read the full review: Q Acoustics M2 Soundbase
8. 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
9. 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
10. 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
BONUS: Creative X-Fi Sonic Carrier
This 11.2.4-channel Dolby Atmos soundbar is out of our league
Power: 2,000 watts | Speakers: 17 | Dimensions: 521 x 151 x 96mm (59.9 x 5.9 x 3.8 inches, L x W x H) | Weight: 35.3 lbs | Inputs: 2 x digital optical, 3 x HDMI (ARC), 1 x Ethernet port, 1x 3.5 mm jack, two ¼” microphone connectors, two USB 2.0 type A connector for USB flash drives and HDDs, one SD card slot and three MicroSD card slots alongside | Outputs: 1 x HDMI output with Audio Return Channel (ARC) | Wireless: Bluetooth | Subwoofer included?: Yes | Special features: SuperWide X-Fi
You know, it just didn't feel fair comparing the Creative X-Fi Sonic Carrier to other soundbars on this list. It'd be like comparing jet-skis to yachts.
That being said, if you have the deep pockets to afford it, the Creative X-Fi Sonic Carrier is in a different league of soundbars. It features 17 speakers set in an 11.2.4-channel or 15.2-channel configuration that can put out well over 110 dB of sound and supports Dolby Atmos right out of the box.
Is $4,000 too much to spend on a soundbar - even one as genuinely awesome as the Creative X-Fi Sonic Carrier? Probably. But is a few grand worth spending to turn your basement or garage into a club / near-cinema-quality home theater? Yeah. It is.
- We've come up with a list of the best Sci-Fi movies to really put your soundbar to the test.