Slim TV designs might look slick on your living room wall, but they don’t leave much space for speakers. And if there’s one way to ruin movie night, it’s with disappointing audio.
Don’t fancy filling your den with surround sound speakers? You don’t need a fleet of separates to sort your sub-par sound. The top soundbars in 2021 deliver beefy bass, room-filling volume and clarity that won’t leave you reading subtitles – all from a single bar that sits neatly beneath your TV.
Better yet, you don’t have to drop thousands to give your ears a cinematic upgrade – although there’s plenty of brilliant gear if your budget does stretch to several zeroes. So whether you’re shopping for sound to fill your studio flat or looking for a ‘bar to bring big-screen audio to your massive movie room, the list below features the very best soundbars for every pad and price tag.
Roku Streambar (£130)
Roku squeezes the functionality of its widely admired streaming sticks into a small soundbar and produces – ta-da! – a Streambar. No, it can’t compete with the premium rivals below, but its four speakers still offer a significant improvement on what any mainstream TV can produce, with way more punch, presence and detail.
Despite the affordable price tag, the Streambar also ships with some smarts, including the option to boost the volume of voices and automatically hush annoying ads. The Streambar also gives you easy access to an absolute stack of streaming and catch-up services, including support for 4K HDR content. There’s a tidy little remote, too.
Yamaha SR-C20A (£229)
If you want a single soundbar that can improve your TV sound and deliver excellent music quality – plus put a rocket up your gaming audio – Yamaha’s SR-C20A is the way to go. Compact enough to sit beneath most TVs, the anonymous design is no bad thing.
That fabric wrapper hides 100 Watts of amplification, with a 7.5cm sub and a pair of 4.6cm full-rage drivers doing more than enough to fill sizeable rooms – backed up by a pair of passive radiators for extra wallop. Whether you’re sending audio through the HDMI ARC socket, one of the two digital optical inputs, the 3.5mm analogue port or via Bluetooth, it all comes together beautifully.
Bass is detailed, controlled and filled with variation, while treble has proper bite and attack. In between, vocals fill the midrange with information. It’s dynamic, composed – as long as you don’t get carried away with the volume – and just as capable of handling tricky rhythms as it is delivering the shock and awe of a modern game soundtrack.
Harman Kardon Multibeam 700 (£450)
There’s only so much you can do to differentiate the design of a long home cinema slab. But Harman Kardon’s Citation MultiBeam 700 is about as sleek sophisticated as soundbar styling gets, with an acoustically transparent Kvadrat wool covering and neat, compact dimensions that don’t compromise the sound.
You’ll find a 25mm horn-loaded tweeter at each end, working together with five 50mm front-facing woofers to fire out audio at different angles, bouncing waves off the walls of your gaff to create some semblance of surround sound. It’s never going to compete with a proper Dolby Atmos setup, but it certainly spreads wider than the width of the unit itself.
Powered by 210W of Class D amplification, it wields enough power to fill all but the most cavernous living rooms, with plenty of dynamism and good separation. While bass is well controlled, there can be a little too much – but that’s a very minor complaint considering how well the Multibeam performs overall.
The modern design extends to the features, too. There’s Wi-Fi and AirPlay 2 on-board, plus support for Google Home – which means easy setup and built-in Chromecast. You also get access to Google Assistant and loads of music streaming services.
Dali Katch One (£649)
Not every soundbar has to look like, well, a soundbar. Case in point: Dali’s Katch One. Styled more like a wireless speaker than a standard audio sausage, it ships in three shades to suit the decor of your movie room.
Equipped with 10 drivers split between front and back, two do tweeter duty, four function as passive radiators and the final quartet are active woofers which deliver punchy bass. Despite the One’s slimline form, 200W of Class D amplification means power isn’t a problem for the natty noise-box.
Sure, you only get two sound modes – and the Katch can’t compete with Atmos units for sheer scale – but you’ll be hard pushed to find a better-looking soundbar that also delivers the goods. And it’s arguably worth it just for the matching minimalist wall mounts, which hold the One like Art Deco coat hooks beneath your TV.
Bowers & Wilkins Formation Bar (£999)
Yes, a thousand pounds sounds like a lot for a ‘just’ a soundbar. But B&W’s Formation Bar does plenty to justify its sizeable price tag – as long as you’ve got space: its wavy shell might seem slim, but at 124cm long it needs plenty of elbow room.
Once you’ve cleared a space, prepare to be gobsmacked by just how capable the Formation Bar is. Nine drivers – including three dedicated to the centre channel – are powered by a total of 240W, generating an extraordinarily wide yet precisely defined and utterly convincing soundstage.
Sure, it’s far from cheap, but the Formation Bar sounds like the jackpot. It packs a fairly meagre selection of inputs, but wireless connectivity is excellent, with integrated Spotify support, as well as Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay 2. It can also handle 24-bit/96kHz tracks via the Bowers & Wilkins Music app. And if you’ve got pennies to spare, it’s easy to pair with additional B&W separates – like the Bass and Flex – for true room-filling audio to accompany your TV.
Sony HT-ST5000 (£1500)
At 118cm, Sony’s HT-ST5000 is almost as wide as the Ambeo below, butwith a separate subwoofer to deal with the whum-whum, it’s not such an absolute unit – although it retains the boxy, brushed metal look so synonymous with Sony’s audio equipment.
Three of the seven 65mm drivers across the front feature have tweeters mounted in the middle. These ‘coaxial’ combos ensure precise alignment of frequencies for an even sweeter sound, while two top-mounted drivers fire upwards to give you the sense of height that sets Dolby Atmos and DTS:X apart.
It performs magnificently, with S-Force Pro deftly using the front speakers to simulate surround sound without placing any additional units in your living room. Google Home support and wide-ranging connectivity make it easy to set up, while hi-res audio support is just the icing on a very wide cake.
Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar (£2199)
Not many people are willing to drop more than £2000 on their TV, let alone a soundbar to stick beneath it. But if you want the absolute best – and have space for something that resembles a futuristic railway sleeper – Sennheiser’s Ambeo is the only choice.
Over 126cm long and weighing 18.5kg, the Ambeo is massive. But it’s big for a reason. There are 13 independent drivers inside: six 4in long-throw sandwich-cone woofers, five 1in aluminium-dome tweeters and a pair of top-firing 3.5in full-range drivers. That astounding array is powered by 500W of Class D amplification. Unsurprisingly, it sounds suitable huge.
The stage is high and wide, with individual elements positioned in their own distinct pockets. You won’t get better Dolby Atmos performance from a soundbar. Everything in its wide frequency range is balanced and integrated nicely: the top end is sharp but not harsh, voices in the middle have real texture, while the meaty bass is delivered with so much punch that you’d be crazy to bother with a separate sub.
Positioning is important for the Ambeo to perform at its full capacity. A mic is included to assist with setup: it listens to a set of test tones to calibrate things. There’s no voice control once you’re up and running – but the Ambeo goes so loud it would probably drown out your instructions, anyway.