Slim TVs 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? These contenders for the title of best soundbar 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.
So you don’t need a fleet of separates to sort your sub-par sound. 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.
The best soundbar for limited budgets
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.
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.
Squeezing multi-room smarts into a compact bar, the Ray is a tempting home cinema accessory for owners of other Sonos speakers. Bearing the usual hallmarks and styling cues of Sonos kit, the Ray’s premium build belies its relatively accessible price tag.
Networking is via Wi-Fi or Ethernet, but there’s no HDMI here: the Ray relies on optical for talking to your telly. This is simple enough, but can cause issues when trying to control the bar with your TV remote. Setup is through the Sonos app, which includes using your smartphone’s mic to automatically adjust acoustic output to suit your viewing room.
Four amps, two tweeters and two mid-woofers work together with a bass reflex system to fill most spaces with forward-firing sound. Quality is predictably superb, trumping some bigger bars and coping well with busy scenes. That said, there’s no Dolby Atmos, and you’ll want something beefier if your living room is larger than average.
Voice assistant support requires a separate smart speaker, while music streaming means making use of the Sonos app or AirPlay 2: annoyingly, there’s no Bluetooth option. Still, effective sound modes – including Speech Enhancement – and clever connectivity make this a smart choice for Sonos owners.
The best soundbars for mid-range money
Sonos Beam (Gen 2)
It’s not the biggest soundbar around, but the Beam is still a winner for most living rooms. Low enough to fit beneath the majority of TVs, the second-gen Sonos is set apart from its predecessor only by the polycarbonate grille which replaces the fabric finish of the first edition. Otherwise, it’s visually the same understated slab.
Despite its compact proportions, the Beam (Gen 2) benefits from plenty of sonic smarts. While just a single HDMI port resides in the rear input array, it’s an eARC number – which means it has the bandwidth for Dolby Atmos.
With the same acoustic architecture as the first version, the updated Beam doesn’t have upward-firing speakers for full Atmos immersion. But thanks to psychoacoustic techniques used across five speaker arrays, it does a deft job of replicating overhead effects. Paired with an impressively expansive soundstage, the Beam (Gen 2) is a small but effective solution for superior sound – and you can always add a Sub if you want more whump.
Denon Home 550
Link the Beam (Gen 2) above, Denon’s Home 550 is a usefully compact soundbar with some Dolby Atmos support. Just the right size to sit beneath a 40-55in TV, it’s both discreet and sophisticated. Its plastic shell is nothing special, but the unit is well-built and finished with neat acoustic cloth.
As well as DTS:X and Dolby Atmos, the Home 550 can handle full-fat high-res audio – handy if you’re subscribed to a premium streaming service, which you can integrate through the useful HEOS smartphone app.
Sonic services are provided by a pair of 19mm tweeters, four 55mm full-range drivers and three passive radiators. Like the Sonos Beam (Gen 2), none of these point upwards, so the Home 550 relies on algorithms to produce a 3D effect. This is impressive, up to a point: the bar delivers a big sound with noticeable height, showing good dynamic potency and plenty of detail across the frequency range. Bass is deep but controlled, too.
Turn it up and a lot of that quality is compromised, with the Denon losing its poise and composure at higher volumes. But as long as you listen at sensible levels, the Home 550 is a good-looking and likeable soundbar.
Harman Kardon Multibeam 700
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
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.
The best soundbars for premium prices
The Sonos Arc looks like a stretched Sonos speaker – which is mostly down to the matte-black or matte-white finishes, the perforated acoustic grille and the impeccable build quality. There’s nothing to surprise you, apart from the length – which, at 114cm, can make it look ungainly beneath TVs smaller than 55in.
Still, if you want to hear an Atmos-enabled ‘bar at its best, try the Arc. The soundstage is wide and spacious, with every element given plenty of breathing space. Detail levels are high, while it does an impressive job with the ‘height’ that’s such a crucial part of the Dolby Atmos effect.
Bass is simultaneously deep, substantial, nuanced and textured, while treble is bright, spilling into hardness only when you wind up the volume. Add voice assistants, clever controls and multi-room into the mix and the Arc shapes up as a true all-in-one soundbar for fans of the Sonos ecosystem.
Or try the whole set…
Go for the Surround Set (£1856) to add a couple of Sonos One SL speakers to act as satellites for the Arc, as well as a Sonos Sub. Setup is painless and the system itself is discreet in situ. Plus it plays nice with the wider Sonos ecosystem. It also sounds big and bold enough to do proper justice to a modern soundtrack. If you want to get fully immersed in movie audio without covering your room in wires, you really need to hear this setup.
Bowers & Wilkins Formation Bar
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.
The best high-end soundbars
At 118cm, Sony’s HT-ST5000 is almost as wide as the Ambeo below, but
with 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
Not many people are willing to drop more than £2000 on their TV, let alone a soundbar to go beneath it. But if you want the absolute best – and have space for something resembling a futuristic railway sleeper – Sennheiser’s Ambeo is the only choice.
At 126cm long and 18.5kg heavy, the Ambeo is massive. But it’s big for a reason: there are 13 independent drivers inside: powered by 500W of Class D amplification. Unsurprisingly, it sounds suitably huge. You won’t get better Atmos performance from a soundbar, with individual elements positioned in their own distinct pockets. Everything 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 silly 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, which calibrates things by listening to a set of test tones. 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.