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8 best soundbars for cinematic audio in your home

Take your living room speakers to new heights with these quality devices

Alex Lee
Tuesday 18 January 2022 09:04
<p>We tested a range, from high-end premium models to more budget-friendly options</p>

We tested a range, from high-end premium models to more budget-friendly options

Epic 65in 4K TVs are taking up residency in homes across the UK. The thick bezels of yesteryear have faded out of existence, beckoning in an era of gloriously detailed high dynamic range (HDR) tellies, making it easier than ever to get that silver screen experience right from the comfort of your own settee.

But while the picture quality on our TVs is continuously improving, something has to give – and audio is often the first to take a hit. Those thin screens leave little room for booming speakers, so voices don’t always sound crisp and clear, and there’s often not much depth. That’s where soundbars come in.

With a soundbar, you get explosive sound that matches the intense shots seen on screen. The best part? All that acoustic magic comes in an all-in-one audio box, available in a range of sizes – there are compact examples or beefier ones that stretch across the length of your wide screen, and everything in between.

You can get soundbars that connect via both ARC (Audio Return Channel) and eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel), as well as examples that come with external subwoofers. The latest technology is also making blockbuster audio more immersive than ever before, thanks to the integration of three-dimensional sound technology, courtesy of Dolby Atmos.

Below, you’ll find a range of soundbars, perfect for any budget, but if you’re looking for a specifically wallet-friendly model, check out our round-up of the best budget soundbars.

Read more:

How we tested

We looked at a range of different soundbars – from high-end premium models to more budget-friendly options, testing them out extensively on our 65in LG nano86 television set, which has an eARC port.

To get a full sense of the soundbar’s audio quality, we watched a range of Dolby Atmos and non-Atmos TV shows and films on Netflix and regular TV, such as the Premier League, Altered Carbon, Six Underground and high-fidelity music streaming services. 

We also looked at each model’s design, features and specs, looking at the quality of any extras – such as subwoofers and companion apps, as well as assessing each soundbar’s overall performance when it came to filling rooms with sound.   

The best soundbars for 2022 are:

  • Best overall – Sonos arc: £899, Sonos.com
  • Best soundbar for films – Bang & Olufsen beosound stage: £1,499, Bang-olufsen.com
  • Best compact soundbar – Sonos beam, gen 2: £449, Sonos.com
  • Best premium soundbar – Sennheiser ambeo: £2,199, Sennheiser.com
  • Best for gamers – Panasonic SC-HTB01 soundslayer: £249.99, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best soundbar with Alexa integration – Denon home sound bar 550: £469, Denon.com
  • Best soundbar for streaming – Roku streambar: £129.99, Roku.com
  • Best budget soundbar – Polk Audio react: £227.77, Amazon.co.uk

Sonos arc

Best: Overall

Rating: 9/10

  • Dimensions: 114cm x 34cm x 11.5cm
  • Weight: 6.3kg
  • Speaker configuration: 5.0.2 
  • Connections: Optical, ethernet, wifi, HDMI ARC and eARC, AirPlay 2
  • Sound formats: Dolby Atmos, Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital+, Dolby Digital
  • Voice assistant? Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant
  • Separate subwoofer included? Not included, sold separately

The Sonos arc is a beast of a soundbar, in both size and sound. Stretching over 1m in length, this sleek, cylindrical speaker suits bigger living rooms best, but if you’ve got a tinier flat and can fit this big boy in, you will appreciate the spectacular audio quality. It features 11 digital amplifiers – eight separate woofers and three silk-dome tweeters, which fire out in all directions for a completely immersive Dolby Atmos experience.

Sonos doesn’t bundle in a wireless subwoofer, so the bass might not roar, but if you crank the volume up loud enough, those woofers will still manage to get your heart pumping. In the Sonos app, you also have the ability to run the nifty True Play tuning feature. It blasts a few bleeps as you wave your phone in the air to perfectly augment the sound to the shape of your room.

We also can’t understate how good the Dolby Atmos integration is, if your TV supports it. The sound really puts you in the middle of a film as the action spins around you, helped along by those upfiring speakers, which give the sound some lovely height. Plus the integration of both Alexa and Google Assistant is extremely welcome. We were, however, disappointed at the lack of HDMI ARC passthrough, so if you don’t have a TV that supports eARC, you won’t be able to hear Atmos on your Xbox or PS5.

Read the full Sonos arc review

Bang & Olufsen beosound stage

Best: For movies

Rating: 9/10

  • Dimensions: 110cm x 17cm x 7.7cm
  • Weight: 8kg
  • Speaker configuration: 3.0
  • Connections: Ethernet, 3.5mm mini-jack, wifi, HDMI 2.0 input, HDMI eARC, AirPlay 2, Chromecast, 3.5mm Bluetooth
  • Sound formats: Dolby Atmos, Dolby True HD
  • Voice assistant? No
  • Separate subwoofer included? No support 

This premium soundbar from Bang & Olufsen is a real wonder. The beosound stage is an expensive brushed aluminium beauty with some real oomph in the sound department. Inside, you’ll find 11 speaker drivers, each with its own amplifier, working in harmony to produce a pretty fantastic three-channel sound system.

Everything is controlled through the Bang & Olufsen app. With it, you’re able to optimise the audio based on its position in a room, so you’ll have the same listening experience even if the beosound stage is mounted on the wall or placed on a table. The app includes all the usual sound profiles for movies, music, TV and night listening. These can all be adjusted to your liking. There’s also nifty controls for height channel virtualisation, turning the bass channel off or on and much more – it’s a very customisable machine.  

The sound is impeccable, with both dialogue and music coming across clear and loud, and you can easily hear car chases speeding across the room. There’s no subwoofer included – the beosound stage literally doesn’t support one, with B&O promising that the beosound stage doesn’t need one in order to deliver booming bass. And we found that claim to be surprisingly accurate, with some definite thump. Although this is a pretty expensive soundbar, it’s easily one of the best we’ve tested.

Sonos beam, gen 2

Best: Compact soundbar

Rating: 8/10

  • Dimensions: 65.1cm x 6.85cm x 10cm
  • Weight: 2.8kg
  • Speaker configuration: 5.0
  • Connections: Optical, HDMI ARC/eARC, ethernet, wifi, AirPlay 2
  • Sound formats: Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos, Dolby True HD, DTS
  • Voice assistant? Alexa and Google Assistant
  • Separate subwoofer included? Not included, sold separately

The second-generation version of the Sonos beam is a lot like the first model. The compact mid-range speaker still sounds great, but it now has a more stylish plastic grill design that brings it in-line with the larger, more premium Sonos arc, as well as bringing onboard Dolby Atmos virtualisation and HDMI eARC support.

The beam soundbar is as sonically impressive as it’s always been. It’s powered by four front-facing elliptical mid-woofers, an improved tweeter in the centre and three passive radiators for the lower, deeper frequencies, all backed up by five amplifiers. What you get is an extraordinarily wide soundstage that feels noticeably expansive.

Although there aren’t any up-firing speakers to give significant height to the Atmos mix, the virtualisation still adds a tangible three-dimensional element to films and music. There’s more depth in the second-gen beam, so while it can’t compete with the arc, it’s still a brilliant little soundbar. Add in the fact that it’s a Sonos product with trueplay; it has compatibility with all the major music streaming platforms, including high-fidelity tiers; and that it features Alexa and Google Assistant support, we can’t really complain.

Read the full Sonos beam gen 2 review

Sennheiser ambeo

Best: Premium soundbar

Rating: 10/10

  • Dimensions: 126.5cm x 13.5cm x 17.1cm
  • Weight: 18.5kg
  • Speaker configuration: 5.1.4
  • Connections: Optical, ethernet, wifi, 3x HDMI 2.0 input, HDMI eARC, AUX in, USB, mic 2.5mm jack, subwoofer pre-out, Chromecast, Bluetooth, media UPnP
  • Sound formats: Dolby Atmos, Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS, DTS:X
  • Voice assistant? No
  • Separate subwoofer included? No

Three years after its release, the Sennheiser ambeo soundbar still reins supreme as one of the beefiest, best-sounding all-in-one soundbars around, and still takes the top spot as the most expensive soundbar we’ve ever tested.

Famous for its headphones, the ambeo still remains the only speaker that Sennheiser has made, and it delivers an exceptional home audio system experience from one (very hefty) box. It’s big, but there’s a reason why. Unlike more compact soundbars, which pack in smaller drivers, the ambeo accommodates six 10cm woofers, five 25mm tweeters and two 9cm upward-firing full-range drivers – those are big, and without them you wouldn’t be getting such unrivalled, room-filling sound.

There is scale, depth and height when watching a Dolby Atmos film, with dialogue coming across clearly while being precisely centralised. As cars zoom across the screen and the blades of a helicopter swirl towards the ceiling, you’re brought along on the journey. It’s all recreated beautifully by the up-firing speakers. The sound doesn’t just beam outward to the side and upwards, but flits seamlessly across the room. It’s an incredibly cinematic experience for a one-box package.

Everything can be controlled from the remote, and there are an abundance of features – from nifty sound profiles like movie mode and night mode, to endless series of connections and Chromecast support. The downside? You’ll need some deep pockets for this soundbar, but if you have them, it’s totally worth it.

Panasonic SC-HTB01 soundslayer

Best: For gaming

Rating: 7/10

  • Dimensions: 43.1cm x 5.2cm x 13.2cm
  • Weight: 1.8kg
  • Speaker configuration: 2.1 
  • Connections: Optical, HDMI input, HDMI ARC, 4K HDMI passthrough, Bluetooth, USB (for firmware updates)
  • Sound formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, DTS Virtual:X
  • Voice assistant? No 
  • Separate subwoofer included? No support

This tiny soundbar from Panasonic doesn’t look like much with its cloth-covered exterior and miniature size, but it’s a surround sound powerhouse when it comes to desktop gaming, slotting neatly underneath any monitor.

Inside, you’ll find two full-range drivers and two tweeters. It’s a nifty 2.1 soundbar that does well at filling a room during intense gaming sessions, with orchestral game soundtracks and rippling bullets sounding epic and full.

The soundslayer has been designed in collaboration with Final Fantasy 14’s sound engineers, who lent a helping hand with the three gaming sound profiles – RPGs, shooters and enhanced dialogue. If you’re not using one of the gaming presets, there are also the cinema, music and standard sound profiles for when you’re listening to your favourite tunes or watching a spot of Netflix.

While there isn’t any Alexa or Google Assistant integration, you can still connect your phone to the soundbar using Bluetooth if you want to play your music through it.

Denon home soundbar 550

Best: For Alexa integration

Rating: 8/10

  • Dimensions: 65cm x 7.5cm x 12cm
  • Weight: 3.5kg
  • Speaker configuration: 4.0 
  • Connections: Optical, ethernet, wifi, HDMI ARC and eARC, HEOS, USB, Bluetooth, AirPlay 2
  • Sound formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
  • Voice assistant? Alexa
  • Separate subwoofer included? Not included, sold separately 

This soundbar from Denon might look cute and small, but it sure sounds mighty, and it is also packed with features. There’s built-in Alexa integration, so you can ask it the weather, set reminders and turn up the volume just with the power of your voice, as well as support for HEOS – Denon’s own proprietary music-streaming system.

If you’re already firmly integrated into the Denon HEOS ecosystem, and have other Denon speakers dotted around your house, you will be able to connect them all up together and play audio in multiple rooms. While the 550 does come with an IR remote, you can control it from the touchscreen on the bar itself if you lose it behind the couch, and you will need to connect to HEOS via the rear of the soundbar on set up. The HEOS app also lets you switch between differing Dolby Atmos modes.   

Inside are two tweeters, four full-range speakers and three passive radiators. It’s not the loudest of soundbars, but the audio is rich and clear, with no distortion or muzzling of those low frequencies. Plus the high and mid-frequencies sound full, making it ideal for films and prestige television. You get a range of different presets, including movies, music and pure, with buttons for increasing and decreasing bass and treble.

While the sound won’t get very deep – you won’t feel yourself shaking in your seat, for example – we still appreciate how balanced and neutral it is. You can also buy the Denon DSw1H subwoofer (£599, Richersounds.com) if you want to feel yourself bounce alongside car explosions, though.

Roku streambar

Best: For streaming

Rating: 7/10

  • Dimensions: 35.56cm x 6.09cm x 10.66cm
  • Weight: 1.09kg
  • Speaker configuration: 2.0
  • Connections: Optical, ethernet, HDMI ARC, USB, Bluetooth, AirPlay 2,    
  • Sound formats: Dolby Audio
  • Voice assistant? Alexa or Google Assistant
  • Separate subwoofer included? Not included, sold separately

This diminutive soundbar from Roku is not so much a compact soundbar as it is a curved soundbrick, which is actually more of a streaming stick, that also happens to enhance your TV audio, too.

The streambar essentially turns your smart TV into an even smarter TV, thanks to Roku OS, giving you access to thousands of apps like Netflix and Prime Video, as well as Apple TV and Spotify, which might not come as standard on your current smart telly. You can also access games, news and more. All of this can be opened and controlled with the Roku voice remote. The streambar supports 4K playback at 60fps and HDR 10.

Don’t let the streaming features fool you though – the sound is good too. For the low price of £129.99, you’re not only getting Roku support, but a fairly loud and broad audio experience too, courtesy of two 1.9in forward-facing speaker drivers and two 1.9in side-facing drivers. Although there’s no Dolby Atmos, we didn’t mind too much. Dialogue came across crisp and clear in the stereo mix, and there was some (albeit small) tangible kick to the bass, despite there not being an integrated subwoofer.

Polk Audio react

Best: Budget soundbar

Rating: 7/10

  • Dimensions: 86.4cm x 5.7cm x 12.1cm  
  • Weight: 2.9kg
  • Speaker configuration: 2.0
  • Connections: Optical, HDMI ARC, Bluetooth, USB, wifi
  • Sound formats: Dolby Digital, DTS
  • Voice assistant? Built-in Alexa
  • Separate subwoofer included? No, sold separately 

If you thought you needed to pay out the wazoo for a half-decent soundbar, think again. Polk has designed the perfect entry-level model for those who don’t have a grand lying around to spend on the Sennheiser or B&O options.

It looks surprisingly sleek for its small price tag, completely covered in fabric and with an Echo speaker plonked in the middle. It literally works like an Alexa smart speaker, meaning you can connect it with your other Amazon Echo speakers for a true multi-room experience. It was also pretty good at picking up the sound of our voice from a fair distance away, thanks to its four far-field microphones.

Although there’s (understandably) no Dolby Atmos support, audio on the react is still of a commendable performance for those simply wanting to upgrade their TV’s speaker setup. It doesn’t really go beyond the boundaries of its miniature dimensions, but the sound you do get is clear, precise and sharp, with no real distortion when there are significantly low or high frequencies blaring out. The audio presets on the remote can help on occasion, and dialogue can be boosted by the voice-adjust function if needed.

Soundbar FAQs

Are soundbars better than speakers?

Soundbars can offer higher-quality audio than speakers while being more compact and neat as there are fewer, if any, wires and cables, especially with those designed to connect to your TV or mobile devices via Bluetooth. They can also often be cheaper than a home cinema speaker system.

Can you mount a soundbar vertically?

To get the best sound quality from your soundbar, it’s recommended to only mount it horizontally, to ensure the sound is spread wider, and to make the multiple woofers and tweeters inside sound strong. Also, installing it vertically can be more difficult and make it less stable.

Are soundbars good for karaoke?

You can use your soundbar for karaoke, however, most don’t have a mic-in option, so you may need a Bluetooth microphone in order to have the full sing-along experience.

The verdict: Best soundbars

The Sonos arc is the real standout here, delivering an epic sonic Dolby Atmos experience in one single package. It looks sleek, has several clever integrations and works brilliantly with both music and films. Looking for the best of the best? You can’t really go wrong with the Sennheiser ambeo, although there will be gaping hole in your trouser pocket.

And if you’re after a more compact affair, then the second-generation Sonos beam and the Denon home 550 are stellar choices. Whatever you go for, investing in a soundbar will elevate your home audio experience to new heights. And we mean that literally, if you opt for a Dolby Atmos-friendly one.

Voucher codes

For offers on soundbars and other speakers for the home, try our discount code pages:

Want a solid soundbar that won’t break the bank? Have a read of our round-up of the best budget soundbars

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