How to choose the best soundbar for Black Friday 2021

How to choose a soundbar Black Friday image
(Image credit: Sonos)

You may have never bought a soundbar before, but you've probably heard about the exceptional, room-filling sound they can provide to a TV or home theater setup. You might even have been eyeing up the early Black Friday soundbar deals. If so, we're here to help you make the best decision.

The best soundbars you can buy can supplement a truly immersive viewing experience, elevating your favorite movies, shows and games to a stunning quality of sound. They can even help you pick up on more subtle audio details you hadn't heard before.

Plus, when paired with spatial audio tech like Dolby Atmos, soundbars can provide a level of room-filling sound quality that you'll never get from your TV's built-in speaker, even with the best TVs out there right now.

The very best soundbars almost universally pack a premium price. But if you're on a budget, you should know that you don't actually have to break the bank to get a superb soundbar, and Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the best times of the year to pick up a soundbar that's right for you at a discounted price.

That all sounds good - but if you're a first time soundbar purchaser, lists of confusing specs, audio codecs, and connection options can be really confusing. That's where we come in. Read on to find out how to shop for the best soundbar to meet your preferences this Black Friday.

Black Friday soundbars: design and size

sonos arc

Most soundbars feature long designs like this, and can span the length of a 4K smart TV. (Image credit: Sonos)

There is no 'one-size-fits-all' soundbar. Instead, soundbars come in many different sizes, some longer and shorter than others. Some soundbars even come with additional speakers or subwoofers, which should be taken into consideration based on the home setup you're aiming to create.

Most soundbars feature a long, rectangular design, while also (for the most part) remaining compact enough to be placed under your TV on a stand, or mounted on a wall.

Soundbars usually contain multiple drivers or speakers hidden behind plastic or fabric grilles. This allows the soundbar to "fire" sound in certain directions, depending on how the speakers are oriented, allowing some to fill entire rooms with immersive audio. More on that in our 'Features' section.

But which size is right for you? Smaller soundbars, such as the Sonos Beam (Gen 2), are ideal if you don't have a lot of space. However, keep in mind that small soundbars typically feature less speakers, and thus may not be able to provide the level of immersive sound that larger bars can provide.

More typical are the longer soundbars, and these are able to pack in an increased amount of drivers for a more robust sound profile. These can range from anywhere between 40 - 60 inches on average, making them as wide as many 4K smart TVs

This is important to keep in mind when shopping for a soundbar, as you won't want to have one delivered to you, only to find that it's too big to fit in your living room. If you're unsure, aim to buy a soundbar that's roughly the same length as your TV. 

It'll look nice and neat as part of your setup, and ensures you'll be able to place the soundbar without issue. And if you're unsure about size, don't fret. Most online product listings should have a specifications section that shows the soundbar's dimensions.

Black Friday soundbars: price

sennheiser ambeo 3d soundbar

(Image credit: TechRadar)

There's no way around the fact that soundbars are, typically, expensive pieces of tech. Even the best cheap soundbars can cost around $200 / £200, so no matter your budget, be prepared to spend a decent amount of cash. Thankfully, though, the Black Friday deals should bring prices down considerably for many of the best soundbars.

As is the way with most tech, you tend to get what you pay for, and most of the best soundbars find themselves in a premium price range. The Sonos Arc, for example, is a best-in-class soundbar we'd recommend to anyone who can afford it. But at $899 / £899 / AU$1,499, it's quite the investment - even if we are hoping for some excellent Sonos Black Friday deals this year.

Thankfully, cheaper options do exist, and many of these soundbars don't skimp all that much on quality. Take the Sony HT-X8500 soundbar, which will cost you a much more agreeable $299 / £349 / AU$599. While it misses some of the quality features found in more expensive soundbars, it offers fantastic value thanks to its great sound and integrated subwoofer.

Of course, options also exist for serious audiophiles who want to splash their cash. That includes products like the Sennheiser Ambeo 3D soundbar, which we consider to be among the absolute best for AV enthusiasts. Its superb sound quality, however, comes with an eye-watering $2,500 / £2,200 / AU$3,999 price tag.

Black Friday soundbars: features

The chief reason to buy a soundbar is for the room-filling audio they provide. However, soundbars unfortunately don't all fit into one category, and many of them can offer differing sound profiles. Some focus on clean, rich sound, that's ideal for music or casual viewing. Others can be more on the bassy side which would make them especially well-suited for movies.

A soundbar's in-built speakers are also made to "fire" sound in a certain direction. Up-firing speakers, for example, project sound into the space above, and allow for height-based sound formats like Dolby Atmos. These are ideal for rooms with flat, smooth ceilings which will allow the sound to bounce off of them accurately.

We've mentioned Dolby Atmos a few times, but what exactly is it? Put simply, Dolby Atmos is a surround sound audio format that, through numerous channels, adds height and depth to the sound coming from your speaker. It creates an immersive bubble of sound by bouncing beams of audio off your ceiling and then to your ears, making it feel as though the sound is coming at you from every angle - which is extremely appealing if you're watching movies. 

the sonos beam gen 2 soundbar on a tv cabinet

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Soundbars rely on two main ways to connect to your TV: optical and HDMI. If you're in the market for a soundbar, you likely already have a HDMI capable TV, but in the event that you don't, do make sure that your chosen soundbar at least offers optical connectivity.

We would recommend HDMI connectivity, though. There's no real gain in using an optical connection, and HDMI will typically offer much higher quality sound. Through HDMI, formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X become available. Even better if your setup supports HDMI eARC connectivity, which provides greater bandwidth to allow for even higher quality sound.

Most modern soundbars also support Bluetooth connectivity, which is a boon if you'd like to quickly connect a portable device like your phone or tablet to the soundbar (a fantastic feature for avid Spotify or Apple Music listeners). 

As mentioned, many soundbars also come with external subwoofers and/or rear speakers. These can help to complement your soundbar with an additional level of immersion and detail. Subwoofers, for instance, do a great job of adding a crunchy, deep bass profile, akin to what you'd experience at the cinema. 

Black Friday soundbars: cheap vs expensive

the sony ht-a7000 soundbar below a TV in a stylish living room

(Image credit: Sony)

Cheap soundbars, naturally, don't offer the most premium experience possible when compared to their more expensive counterparts. However, they could still be worth looking into especially if you're on a budget, as some surprise high-end features can have a tendency to sneak through.

Take the Sony HT-X8500. As we've mentioned, it's on the lower end of the price spectrum for soundbars. It still packs in support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X spatial audio formats and features a built-in subwoofer. Its relatively slim form factor also makes the HT-X8500 one of the most friendly soundbars in terms of how much real estate it takes up in your room.

It's a great value soundbar, but its relatively low price does have some caveats. The biggest being that the HT-X8500 doesn't have up-firing drivers. This means that the Dolby Atmos sound it produces may not be as effective as it otherwise would be on a more premium soundbar, relying on digital signal processing to give that immersive effect. That said, the HT-X8500 is probably the best soundbar for its price and proof that cheap soundbars don't have to sound sub-par.

Then we have the higher end of the price spectrum. This is where only the keenest of audiophiles will want to shop, and they'll be looking out for soundbars like the colossally powerful Sennheiser Ambeo 3D, which features exceptional audio quality, and a HDMI eARC port to make that quality even better. It's dizzyingly expensive, though, and is a soundbar we could only recommend to serious enthusiasts who have the cash to spend, despite how much we love it.

Black Friday soundbars: FAQ

Sony HT-X8500

(Image credit: Sony)

Does my soundbar need Dolby Atmos or other spatial audio?

If you want objectively more immersive audio quality when watching films and shows, or when playing your favorite games, Dolby Atmos and similar spatial audio formats like DTS:X are a must.

Ask yourself if you want to replicate a cinematic viewing experience as closely as possible. If that's one of your goals when buying a soundbar, then you'll want to shop for a Dolby Atmos-compatible soundbar like the Sonos Arc or Samsung HW-Q950T.

You'll also need a TV or games console that supports Dolby Atmos, like the Xbox Series X.

Ultimately, you soundbar doesn't necessarily need Dolby Atmos, but it certainly helps to bring out the best of your movie and game soundtracks.

Which soundbar brands should I look out for over Black Friday?

Some of the brands we've already mentioned such as Sonos, Samsung and Sony offer some of the best soundbars on the market at a range of price points. Over Black Friday, these are also the brands most likely to feature heavier discounts on their tech, particularly as models get older.

Other brands to consider include LG and Vizio, both of which offer stellar soundbars like the LG SK8, and the Vizio SB362An-F6. Both of these find themselves on the lower end of the price spectrum, and thus could be subject to good deals over Black Friday.

The LG SP11RA, on the other hand, has a more premium setup, including a subwoofer and two rear speakers in addition to the soundbar itself. It's much more expensive, though, so we'd only recommend the SP11RA if there's an exceptionally good deal.

Overall, the top soundbars we'd recommend looking out for this Black Friday are the Sonos Arc and Sony HT-X8500 - as well as the Samsung HW-Q950A if you want an additional subwoofer and speakers. There's also the Sonos Beam, a relatively petite soundbar for smaller spaces.

Rhys Wood
Hardware Editor

Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.