8 best soundbars for cinematic audio in your home

Enhance your listening experience with these quality devices

David Phelan@davidphelan2009
Monday 26 April 2021 17:09
<p>Compliment your living room setup and find the perfect sound system</p>

Compliment your living room setup and find the perfect sound system

Chances are your TV, if it’s a flatscreen, won’t have audio that matches the sound from your hi-fi. Which is where a soundbar comes in. A flatscreen looks great because it’s so thin, but that’s also exactly what prevents it from sounding as meaty and powerful as a regular speaker.

So, a wide speaker like a soundbar can spread the audio wider, and make it sound strong because of multiple woofers and tweeters inside, angled to the best effect.

Some soundbars are even designed with features such as Dolby Atmos which bounce some of the audio off the ceiling, giving a more powerful surround-sound effect (though you’ll probably still get the best sound from rear speakers in the mix as well). The main purpose of something like this is to be able to place effects in a three-dimensional space.

This may mean you have to place a Dolby Atmos soundbar so there’s nothing above it – the effect would be lessened if it were buried in the middle of the TV stand, for instance.

That’s not a concern when it comes to bass which is non-directional. If you choose a soundbar with a sub-woofer, or add one later, you can place it anywhere, especially if it’s connected to the main unit wirelessly.

Read more:

Some soundbars are really great at improving TV sound but not so good at general music playback. The best ones sound so good you can do without a separate hi-fi.

We tested, above all, for audio quality, though ease of set up, responsiveness and added features were also important. For instance, some soundbars can boost the voice track so the dialogue is always clear, or lower the volume of whizzbang special effects in a night mode to avoid disturbing the neighbours.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

The best soundbars for 2021

  • Best for Bluetooth: Sony HT-G700: £385, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best for Dolby Atmos: Sonos arc: £799, Sonos.com
  • Best for Amazon: Polk signa S3: £269.03, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best for small spaces: Sonos beam: £399, Sonos.com
  • Best for audio quality: Panasonic SC-HTB900: £599, Johnlewis.com
  • Best for streaming services: Bang & Olufsen beosound stage: £1,250, Johnlewis.com
  • Best for TV: Sky soundbox: £209, Sky.com
  • Best for under £500: Denon DHT-S516H: £469, Currys.co.uk

Sonos arc

Best for: Dolby Atmos

Sub-woofer? Sold separately

Dimensions: W 114cm x H 34cm x D 11.5cm

Connections: Optical, ethernet, wifi, HDMI ARC

The latest soundbar from Sonos is fantastic. First of all, it complies with all the rules associated with Sonos: easy to set up, intuitive to use and with outstanding sound. It also has a neat feature called trueplay which tunes the audio for your individual room.

The difference between before and after can be remarkable. The only drawback is you need an iPhone or iPad to do the Trueplay tuning. You only need to do it once, so maybe you can borrow one if you’re an Android fan, say. This Sonos uses the company’s brand-new Series 2 app which has more features than the previous one, such as regular groups, where the system can remember that you like to play music in your living room and kitchen together, for instance.

Not only does the audio sound good across the board, with spectacularly well-judged audio – everything sounds right, with a faithful adherence to the original and crisp precision – but it’s TV soundtracks that really shine, with plenty of punch and effectiveness. The surround effects from Dolby Atmos are stunning. It’s a pretty big speaker, about the same width as a 55in TV.

Panasonic SC-HTB900

Best for: Audio quality

Sub-woofer? Wireless, included

Dimensions: W 105cm x H 12.9cm x D 7.8 cm

Connections: Optical, ethernet, wifi

Panasonic’s premium soundbar is solidly built and beautifully designed. And it sounds awesome, with a wide soundstage that is clear and detailed. It feels like the dialogue track is locked to the screen and sound modes add to the effect: “news” is great for dialogue, while “stadium” is good for sports.

The wireless subwoofer ensures there’s plenty of bass. It uses something called psychoacoustic processing. Don’t be frightened, it just means it tricks the brain into thinking sounds are coming from places where there’s no physical speaker. It works really well, though real speakers will always have the edge.

Sony HT-G700

Best for: Bluetooth

Sub-woofer? Wireless, included

Dimensions: W 98cm x H 6.4cm x D 10.8 cm

Connections: HDMI ARC

Sony’s latest soundbar is capable of Dolby Atmos for impressive audio that seems to come from every direction. As well as Atmos, it’s widely compatible with other audio formats such as DTS and Dolby Digital.

There are various settings designed to give a proper surround-sound effect. Although, as ever, an actual speaker behind you will do an even better job, the effect here is compelling. You can turn these settings off when you’re listening to music. The music button on the remote quells the centre speaker for better stereo separation. Overall, this is a class act.

Bang & Olufsen beosound stage

Best for: Streaming services

Sub-woofer? Sold separately

Dimensions: W 110cm x H 17cm x D 7.7cm

Connections: HDMI ARC, ethernet, wifi

As you’d expect for this brand and price, the beosound stage is a real head-turner and comes in a variety of dazzling colours. Like the Sonos arc, it’s a Dolby Atmos speaker for immersive sound, and the 11 speaker drivers help with the impressive audio.

This is the first soundbar from B&O and it’s a highly accomplished debut. The sound is big, managing to spread wide while maintaining detail and accuracy. There’s a decent amount of bass, even though it doesn’t come with a separate sub-woofer. If there’s a downside it’s that there’s no remote control, meaning you need to use the free smartphone app, or your TV remote if the stage is connected by HDMI ARC.

Sonos beam

Best for: Small spaces

Sub-woofer? Sold separately

Dimensions: W 65.1cm x H 6.85cm x D 10cm

Connections: Optical, ethernet, HDMI ARC, wifi

If you want a soundbar for a smaller room, then the Sonos beam is ideal, though it still sounds good in bigger rooms – the audio is much bigger than the product’s looks suggest. Like the Sonos arc, the sound is good enough to serve as a fully-fledged hi-fi for music playback.

The tone is bright without distorting the source and the voice track is clear. Because it lacks Dolby Atmos, it can’t quite compete with the arc, but, on the other hand, it’s quite a bit cheaper. It’s a smart soundbar, so you can control it by talking to it, using your choice of voice-activated personal assistant.

Sky soundbox

Best for: TV

Sub-woofer? No

Dimensions: W 37.5cm x H 9.5cm x D 21 cm

Connections: Optical, HDMI, Bluetooth

Sky's dedicated speaker is designed to work perfectly with the Sky Q set-top box, though it works with any TV. It sounds tremendous, and it’s especially affordable if you're a Sky subscriber. The soundbox is made by Sky and Devialet, which makes its own speakers costing way more than this one. The output has plenty of bass without destroying detail or clarity.

Crucially, voices are clear with any input and get even better when connected to a Sky Q box where there's a speech-enhanced mode. Other special Sky Q modes include late-night, which dials down the lower frequencies. And a Q Sound mode for Sky Q box users takes over the details automatically, with dedicated improvements for sports, for example. It's taller than most other boxes here, so careful placement is required. The general price is £499, but for Sky subscribers it’s £249, or £209 to some Sky customers.

Denon DHT-S516H

Best for: Under £500

Sub-woofer? Wireless, included

Dimensions: W 102cm x H 7.3cm x D 10.4 cm

Connections: HDMI ARC, optical, ethernet, wifi

The Denon is strikingly designed with angular features and a unique style, while still being understated – it needn’t dominate your living room. There’s no central speaker here, unlike many, but it doesn’t seem to dilute the effectiveness of the dialogue which comes right from the centre. Denon’s history as an audio brand means it’s no surprise that music playback is strong here, too.

There’s no remote, so the smartphone app is the way to control this soundbar unless you’ve connected your TV via HDMI ARC, in which case the TV remote will do the trick. It’s compatible with several other Denon speakers, so it also works as part of a multi-room setup.

Polk signa S3

Best for: Amazon

Sub-woofer? Wireless, included

Dimensions: W 90cm x H 5.6cm x D 8.3cm

Connections: HDMI ARC, optical, wifi

Polk’s audio products are sensational value and excellent quality. The Signa S3 includes a wireless subwoofer to go with the sleek, stylish soundbar – it’s only a little over two inches tall so it won’t block the TV remote from working. Polk has its own voice technology to make sure the dialogue track is super clear.

There are also sound settings for movies, music and night mode for quieter, nocturnal viewing. It is compatible with Google chromecast, making it easy to use chromecast apps like Spotify and Amazon Music HD to stream music to the soundbar.

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 them horizontally, to ensure the sound is spread wider, and make it sound strong because of multiple woofers and tweeters inside. Mounting it vertically can be harder to install and can 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: Soundbars

The Sonos arc is the real standout here, but the Sony HT-G700 is another worthy Dolby Atmos soundbar. Panasonic’s SC-HTB900 is the standout among the soundbars that lack Dolby Atmos.

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