Dali Kubik One (£800) - winner over £350
What’s the story?
Soundbars are meant to be heard, not seen. Someone must’ve forgotten to tell Dali that, because the Kubik One is a stunner. It looks like a high-end lifestyle product, although to be fair that's the least you should expect given the £800 price tag.
The striking orange grille of our sample can be swapped for alternatives in white, black, purple, green, red and more. But there’s more to the Kubik One than a pretty exterior. The chassis is a single aluminium piece that staves off unwanted resonance; it’s got a microUSB port for connecting your Mac or PC; and it can handle high-res files up to 24-bit/96kHz. Now it’s just showing off.
Dali knows a thing or two about making great-looking, great-sounding loudspeakers, and that Danish heritage comes through in the Kubik One. It’s a riveting listen. The scale of sound is immense, with effects pinging around with punch and precision. There’s ample low-end heft, and plenty of nuance and texture to every ounce of detail.
The sound is impressively clear and controlled amidst the bold dynamics, and we couldn’t tear ourselves away from listening to it. It’s not the kind of performance we expect from soundbars – it’s wholly captivating.
Apart from making sure your TV is tall enough to not get cut off by the tall bar (the Dali stands 16cm high), the soundbar is a dream to use. If you’ve got the cash to splash, this is one talented system worth investing in.
A gorgeous, high-end performance for a high-end price
Total power output: 100W; HDMI: no; Bluetooth: yes; wireless subwoofer: no; dimensions (hwd): 16 x 98 x 10cm; weight: 9.6kg
Philips Fidelio B5 (£550)
What’s the story?
This Philips isn’t just a soundbar: it’s a shape-shifting 4.1 system with detachable ends that can double up as surround or multi-room speakers. It’s also got some ingenious tech inside that makes using it as fuss-free and wire-free as possible.
For instance, the Fidelio B5's ends automatically switch to wireless mode when detached from the main bar. Clever. You can then place them anywhere you want: as rear speakers for an impromptu surround sound set-up, or take them into other rooms for a continuous stream of sound around your home. Double clever.
Did we also mention this soundbar has aptX Bluetooth, NFC and HDMI connectivity? £550 is starting to look like great value at this point.
All this tech would be useless if the Fidelio B5 didn’t sound good. Thankfully, its sound is solid, spacious and dynamic, with no gaps between the speakers when in surround mode.
This is a subtle effect, but it does the job: you definitely feel more immersed in what you’re watching. Detail levels are sky high, while the rumbling bass – courtesy of the slim subwoofer – charges along with accuracy and power.
If you want an all-in-one product that sounds as exciting as it looks, this Philips is your best bet.
A clever and innovative shape-shifting soundbar that also sounds fantastic
Total power output: 210W; HDMI: yes; Bluetooth: yes; wireless subwoofer: yes; dimensions (hwd): 7 x 103.5 x 15.6cm; weight: 4.2kg
Sonos Playbar (£660)
What’s the story?
The Playbar packs all of Sonos' speaker know-how into a sizeable soundbar form.
This means that as well as boosting your TV's sound, it also has the ability to stream millions of tracks from the like of Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music and Deezer to name a few. Oh, and you can beam songs directly from your smartphone or tablet, too.
Disappointingly, there’s no HDMI; you’ll have to use your TV’s optical input to make the connection. On the plus side, the Playbar has a built-in IR repeater, so you can still control your telly even if the bar blocks the IR sensor.
There’s a great sense of atmosphere from the Playbar. The nine speakers inside (each with its own amplifier) fire sound upwards, so you get a decent spread of open and weighty sound. The only drawback is that you don’t get the full brunt of a movie’s impact – a more directional approach would make the performance that bit more engaging.
Part of Sonos’ success is a great app that works seamlessly from the very start. No other device makes it as easy to stream music from multiple sources (even from your NAS or laptop) and branch out into multiroom. Sonos is sticking to its guns and still won’t support high-res audio, but CD-quality is good enough when the system is so brilliantly easy to use, and sounds just as smooth.
It might be almost four years old, but the Playbar is still a solid buy in this pricier category.
Sonos users will love this TV-boosting performance
Total power output: NA; HDMI: no; Bluetooth: no; wireless subwoofer: no; dimensions (hwd): 8.5 x 90 x 14cm; weight: 5.4kg
Yamaha YSP-2700 (£800)
What’s the story?
For more than a decade now, Yamaha’s YSP soundbar range has been one of the best, most compact ways to get the surround-sound effect into your home.
The YSP-1600 does a good job at showing this off at a lower price, but the newer Yamaha YSP-2700 could be its best iteration yet. It packs 16 2.8cm array drivers, each calibrated to your room, bouncing sound off your walls to create a 7.1ch effect. This is backed up by its accompanying cube-shaped front-firing sub, which is flexible enough to be placed anywhere in your room.
As far as connectivity goes, you get three HDMI ins and one out, plus one each of optical, coaxial and analogue audio. Yamaha’s MusicCast is also on board for multi-room use, plus it supports Bluetooth (both for playing music and transmitting your TV sound to a pair of Bluetooth headphones) and AirPlay too.
If you’re looking for broad, expansive sound then look no further. The YSP-2700 offers a huge soundstage, creating a wide semi-circle of sound from our listening position.
We’re not convinced by its claims to push sound at us from behind, but it’s still a much more spacious and involved performance than we’re used to hearing from a soundbar.
The sub helps to ensure there’s plenty of weight to action scenes, but it’s well controlled, keeping things punchy rather than clunky.
Dialogue is clear and direct, but it’s missing a touch of expression due to a slightly clipped treble. The YSP-2700 has its reasons for this – it means a refined sound that’s never harsh, even when the volume is pushed.
And that’s where the beauty lies in this soundbar. Sure, a great handle on dynamics means it can be subtle when it needs to be, but this is a soundbar built for going large. Get your action movies at the ready.
One of the widest, most spacious performances you'll get from a soundbar
Total power output: 107w; HDMI: yes; Bluetooth: yes; wireless subwoofer: yes; dimensions (hwd): 5 x 94 x 15cm; weight: 4kg (soundbar), 9kg (sub)
Sonos Playbase (£700)
What’s the story?
You might think Sonos already has TV sound covered with its Playbar, but this year it's added to its home cinema line-up in the form of the Playbase.
If its name wasn’t a dead giveaway, the Playbase is all that’s great about the Playbar, built into a soundbase design. This means your TV stands on top of it, which can work better for people with less space to play with.
It looks pretty slick, as far as soundbases go. Sonos has kept the minimalist style that’s made its speakers so popular over the years, rounding off the edges to keep it from looking boxy, and making it as slim as possible.
Simplicity of use is important too, so the Playbase only has a single optical input and nothing more. That’ll be fine for most people (just plug all inputs into your TV then run a single optical cable to the Playbase), but most competitors at this price do offer HDMI as an option. With this setup, you’ll just need to dedicate more time to digging through menus if ensuring a Dolby Digital 5.1 signal is important to you.
The sheer size of sound that the Playbase produces is certainly impressive. It’s not as wide as that from the YSP-2700, but much bigger than what you’d expect – and just as weighty, without the need for a sub.
That bass isn’t overblown or artificial either, and is actually far more authentic than the bass from the Playbar, offering greater range, punch and better integration with the rest of the presentation.
There are issues at the other end of the frequency range though, with the treble proving to be quite a bit too zingy, sharp and sibilant for the big sound effects.
It’s a shame, because it detracts from what is an otherwise genuinely excellent full-bodied and dynamic sound system for TV and movies. It’s still worth consideration because of this, but between the two, we’d pick the better balanced, more refined sound of the Playbar.
A big, dynamic and full-bodied performance, but the otherwise excellent Playbase is slightly let down by its unrefined treble
Total power output: NA; HDMI: no; Bluetooth: no; wireless subwoofer: no; dimensions (hwd): 9 x 72 x 38cm; weight: 8.55kg