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Best soundbars: one-box speakers to enhance your TV viewing

living room with bike, plant and a Sennheiser soundbar on top of a sideboard
(Image credit: Sennheiser)

You don’t need a crowded speaker set up to get awesome home cinema sound. Soundbars can do much the same job, providing much more clarity, bass and volume than your TV’s speakers. And unlike a room-filling surround sound system —with snaking cables doubling as tripwires — they do so by sitting discreetly under your TV.

They’re not too expensive either. While you can pay thousands for one, models start at around £100, and there are some very good ones around the budget end of the market.

One thing to note: they don’t immerse you quite like a true surround sound system, which involves placing speakers behind you. But most models offer virtual surround sound which does a very good estimation of the same thing. And if you’re anything like us, the space saved will be more than worth it.

Here are the best soundbars around.

Best soundbars: JBL Bar Studio

(Image credit: JBL)

1. JBL Bar Studio

The best soundbar for most of us

Specifications
Streaming: Bluetooth
Max power: 30W
Connectivity: HDMI, Optical
Dimensions: 15.49 x 85.34 x 19.81 cm
Weight: 1.4kg
Reasons to buy
+Feature-rich+Meaty sound+Great value
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks musicality-Struggles when loud

This isn’t the cheapest soundbar available, but it’s far from the most expensive. It’s situated very much at the lower end of the price scale, and it delivers a surprising amount for such little outlay: connections are modern, as is the design, and the sound is full and round with plenty of bass. Ideal if you’re watching action movies or live sport.

The JBL Bar Studio is pretty small, measuring just 60cm long and 6cm tall, which means it will fit under most lounge TVs. Thanks to some clever processing, it does a good job of mimicking ‘true’ surround sound too, recreating the atmosphere of a cinema. You’ll just have to bring your own popcorn.

Best soundbars: Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

2. Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar

The ultimate soundbar, with the price tag to prove it

Specifications
Streaming: Bluetooth, Google Chromecast, wi-fi
Max power: 250W
Connectivity: HDMI
Dimensions: 14 x 127 x 17cm
Weight: 18.5kg
Reasons to buy
+Incredible sound+Immersive surround effect +A centrepiece
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive -Huge

If you can afford it, this is probably the ultimate soundbar. It has pretty much every bell and whistle going, including Dolby Atmos sound processing, auto-calibration, and four HDMI ports, so you can hook up all your AV gear at once. But it’s not for everyone – if the price doesn’t turn you off, its humongous size might. You’ll also need to position it correctly to really get the most out of it – it has upwards-firing speakers, so shouldn’t have anything placed on top of it.

But if you can, it’ll give you the best virtual surround sound from any soundbar going. Worth the effort, not to mention the considerable cost.

Best soundbars: Roku Streambar

(Image credit: Roku)

3. Roku Streambar

On a budget? This is the best soundbar for you

Specifications
Streaming: Bluetooth, wi-fi
Max power: 32W
Connectivity: HDMI, USB, Optical
Dimensions: 6 x 35.5 x 10.7cm
Weight: 1.1kg
Reasons to buy
+Direct sound +Feature-rich +Loud
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks impact -Video streaming could be superfluous

The Streambar is actually two devices in one – as well as being a soundbar, it’s a Roku video streamer. That means it will turn almost any TV into a smart one, with all the usual apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and BBC iPlayer. All you need is an HDMI port on your TV and a wi-fi connection.

But it’s also a pretty decent soundbar, especially considering the wallet-friendly price. It’s not as cinematic as a bigger, pricier model, but we wouldn’t expect it to be. The audio is direct, clear, and has plenty of detail. It also goes surprisingly loud for such a small device.

Anyone with a smart TV will find the video streaming skills superfluous. But at this price, we’re not complaining. 

Best soundbars: Sonos Beam Gen 2

(Image credit: Sonos)

4. Sonos Beam Gen 2

Not just a great soundbar, a great multi-room speaker too

Specifications
Streaming: Wi-fi, Apple AirPlay 2
Max power: Unknown
Connectivity: HDMI, Optical
Dimensions: 7 x 65 x 10cm
Weight: 2.8kg
Reasons to buy
+Great Dolby Atmos +Welcoming sound +Multi-room smarts
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks some features-Could use more HDMI ports

Priced as a mid-market product, the Sonos Beam Gen 2 offers some top-drawer features, like Dolby Atmos, which is essentially virtual surround sound. And it does a great job of delivering truly immersive audio, whatever you’re watching.

Sonos is known for its home multi-room systems, and the Beam Gen 2 slots right into that ecosystem. So when you’re not using it for watching TV, it can act as a music speaker, streaming from a host of online music services or your home network. It can play the same as in other rooms, or you can control it independently.

Even if you don’t use that feature, this compact and impactful device is one of the best soundbars money can buy.

Best soundbars: Sony HT-A7000

(Image credit: Sony)

5. Sony HT-A7000

One of the most versatile soundbars around

Specifications
Streaming: Wi-fi, Chromecast, Bluetooth, Apple Airplay 2
Max power: 500W
Connectivity: HDMI, Optical, USB, Ethernet
Dimensions: 8 x 130 x 14 cm
Weight: 8.7kg
Reasons to buy
+Solid bass+Superb Atmos+Lots of features
Reasons to avoid
-No equaliser controls-Not cheap

Sony makes phones, laptops, TVs, cameras and more, but it’s anything but a jack of all trades, master of none. Its soundbars are very good indeed, as this model proves.

Its many built-in speakers provide a broad soundstage that sounds brilliant from every seat in the room. And the built-in subwoofer adds plenty of low-end kick.

It supports pretty much every format going too, including Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, LPCM, hi-res wireless audio and Sony 360 Reality Audio. Don’t worry if that means nothing to you – basically it will make almost anything sound good. And its wireless smarts are unparalleled, supporting Apple AirPlay 2, Google Chromecast and Spotify Connect. If your budget can stretch to it, you won’t be disappointed.

Joe Svetlik

Joe has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Stuff, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Men's Health, GQ, The Mirror, Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include all things mobile, headphones and speakers that he can't justifying spending money on.