CES is always a great time to see the latest innovations in home cinema technology, and while the tech expo has been forced to move online this year, there’s been no shortage in the soundbar department.
CES 2021 has proven that soundbar manufacturers still have plenty of surprises up their sleeves, especially when it comes to designing TV speakers that can be customized to fit into any home, with modular builds and compact forms stealing the show.
Not too long ago, soundbars were restricted to the traditional form factor; long and thin, they looked great if you had the space for a big TV cabinet or could mount them to your wall, but were rather cumbersome if this wasn’t an option.
Things are changing though, and the latest soundbars range from enormous multi-channel speakers with Dolby Atmos capabilities, to mini models that can be optimized to suit your home perfectly.
While some of these high-spec bars are on the pricier side, some are easy on the wallet, too – and that’s without skimping on the features you want from a soundbar in 2021.
It’s still early in the year, and you can be certain that more inventive soundbars will be released over the course of 2021 – but for now, CES has given us a sneak peak at the latest and greatest in home cinema audio. So, without further ado, here are the best soundbars to come out of the virtual tech extravaganza.
If you’re looking for a soundbar that comes with all the bells and whistles, the Samsung HW-Q950A could be a fantastic buy when it launches later this year (though an exact release date is still to be announced).
A whopping 11.1.4-channel speaker array means this soundbar should be seriously powerful, while Dolby Atmos support ensures immersive audio when you’re watching your favorite films and TV shows.
Most impressive, however, are the wireless rear speakers that come with the Q950A. Unlike most soundbar setups, they each come with a side-firing channel, blasting your music or TV audio at you from every angle in conjunction with the bar's upfiring tweeters.
Add in a wireless subwoofer that comes with a built-in microphone so it can calibrate its output to your surroundings, and you’ve got yourself a very comprehensive cinema setup.
One downside? You can expect this soundbar to be pretty expensive. The 9.1.4-channel HW-Q950T cost $1,399 / £1,499 / AU$1949 when it launched last year, and you can expect the latest model to be at least as costly.
Still, with those impressive specs, the Samsung HW-Q950A could be a serious contender for the title of best soundbar of 2021, potentially knocking the Sonos Arc out of the top spot. We just can’t wait to try it out for ourselves.
LG QP5 Éclair
At the other end of the spectrum is the LG QP5 Éclair, which (as you might have guessed) is shaped like a little pastry, coming in at just 11.7 inches by 2.3 inches (W x H).
It’s small stature makes it ideal for smaller homes, unlike most soundbars on the market today, while its unusual shape is a breath of fresh air for anyone who’s sick of featureless black bars.
Small doesn’t mean feeble, though. Inside the soundbar are five drivers, consisting of a center driver, left and right drivers (positioned at a 45-degree angle to widen the soundstage), and those also all-important upfiring drivers to enable Dolby Atmos or DTS:X content.
The LG QP5 Éclair comes with a wireless subwoofer to boost the bass frequencies, and it's been optimized for smaller spaces, with bi-directional drivers reducing the amount of vibration. In other words, it shouldn't make it feel as though your entire home is rattling whenever you settle in for a movie.
Again, there’s no word on cost yet, but if LG can price its mini soundbar competitively, it could really democratize premium technologies like object-based surround sound, making it accessible for those in smaller homes.
Now here’s a cheap soundbar that can really do it all. The Cowin Soundbar is a wireless 25W bar that you can either place below your TV or mount on the wall to boost your TV's built-in speakers. So far, so simple.
However, if you want to spread the audio around your room, you can simply split the soundbar in two and – voila – you now have two separate speakers that can be placed on either side of your TV or even mounted on opposite walls.
It's not clear whether the soundbar can deliver true stereo sound when split in two, but it could certainly add a sense of flexibility to your home audio setup, with support for Bluetooth 4.2, as well as AUX, optical, and HDMI ports.
While you’re not getting features like Atmos, the ability to switch between floorstanding speakers and a traditional soundbar is very appealing – especially when you consider the $79.99 (about £60 / AU$100) price tag.
JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam
You don’t have to eschew Dolby Atmos if you’re on a budget, though. The JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam uses digital signal processing to create the sensation of 3D overhead sound – and comes complete with JBL’s trademark MultiBeam beamforming technology.
Virtual spatial audio may not be as immersive as the real thing (for which you need upfiring tweeters, or even better, speakers mounted to your ceiling), but it can be a great compromise if you want to save some money.
The JBL Bar 5.0 also comes with lots of connectivity options, including Alexa Multi-Room Music (MRM), Apple Airplay 2, Chromecast built-in and, of course, Bluetooth, so you can easily connect all iOS and Android devices to the soundbar (which, if we’re being honest, is a necessity these days).
But perhaps the biggest selling point of the Bar 5.0 will be its price. The JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam will be available sometime between March and May 2021 for £349.99 (around $480 / AU$600, though global pricing is still to be confirmed), making it a whole £450 (roughly $600 / AU$800) less than our favorite Atmos soundbar, the Sonos Arc.
Denon Home Sound Bar 550
Last, but not least, we have the Denon Home Sound Bar 550. This Dolby Atmos-packing bar is yet another potential rival for the Sonos Arc, with the ability to form part of a wireless setup with the Denon Home 150, 250, and 350, which can be used as rear-channel surrounds.
There's also the option of adding in the Denon DSW-1H wireless subwoofer to create a complete wireless 5.1 system and really boost those bass frequencies.
Support for the HEOS ecosystem, which includes the Denon Home range as well as other Denon and Marantz devices, means you can add the soundbar to a wireless multiroom audio system without the need for annoying cables cluttering your home.
Add in Hi-Res Audio, built-in Alexa voice assistance, and a control panel that lights up as you approach, and you have yourself a rather attractive soundbar – and at $599 / £599 (about AU$770), it’s cheaper than the Sonos Arc.
- Check out all of TechRadar's CES 2021 coverage. We're remotely covering the online-only show to bring you all the breaking tech news and launches, plus a smattering of hands-on reviews.
Sign up to receive daily breaking news, reviews, opinion, analysis, deals and more from the world of tech.
Olivia was previously TechRadar's Senior Editor - Home Entertainment, covering everything from headphones to TVs. Based in London, she's a popular music graduate who worked in the music industry before finding her calling in journalism. She's previously been interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live on the subject of multi-room audio, chaired panel discussions on diversity in music festival lineups, and her bylines include T3, Stereoboard, What to Watch, Top Ten Reviews, Creative Bloq, and Croco Magazine. Olivia now has a career in PR.