The Best Soundbars For Upgrading Your Home Entertainment

This content originally appeared on Mashable for a US audience and has been adapted for the UK audience.

It’s official: No home cinema setup is complete without a soundbar. Even the best, most expensive TVs will lose something in the sound. The audio can leave a lot to be desired. That’s often because speakers are built into the back or bottom of the TV, which isn’t always ideal for quality audio. Even with TVs thinking up new ways to sex-up their sound — such as audio that seems to be coming from the exact point of action on the screen — high-quality TVs are made to be paired with a good soundbar.

A soundbar will be the foundation of a great sounding home cinema, with the option to add a subwoofer (sometimes included) or additional speakers. In this kind of setup, the TV itself becomes just one component in a whole system of cinematic-quality speakers.

But how to choose a soundbar? There are lots available and it’s hard to wade through all the tech and specifications — especially if you’re a soundbar novice. But listen up, because we’ve done some important research to help you decide.

What is a soundbar?Instead of needing a series of speakers dotted around the room, or a hefty amplifier, a soundbar sits underneath your TV. You can also mount them on the wall, if that’s how you prefer to watch TV. As a dedicated speaker, with a wide design for better acoustics, they’re far better equipped for quality audio than your TV speakers. That means crisper nuance and detail, thunderous bass, and clearer dialogue.

Do soundbars provide surround sound?Soundbars can absolutely be integrated into a surround sound setup. Surround sound puts you in the centre of the action by having speakers literally surrounding you, or dotted around the room, so the sound comes from all directions. Soundbars can be linked (often wirelessly) and you’ll find that some brands make it especially easy to connect with other speakers within their range. However, as you’ll read below, you may not need to connect your soundbar with other speakers for surround sound.

What is Dolby Atmos?This is a fantastic innovation in surround sound technology, derived from cinemas. Any TV, speaker, or soundbar that’s equipped with Dolby Atmos is essentially a premium bit of kit. Dolby Atmos bounces sound off the walls to create a 3D soundstage and truly immersive experience. Atmos equipped soundbars have speakers that fire upwards and bounce sound off the ceiling. Dolby Atmos soundbars essentially create an immersive cinema experience without the need for multiple speakers.

Do soundbars have a voice assistant?Many soundbars have Alexa and Google Assistant, so you can ask them to adjust the sound or even change the channel. Some soundbars will also connect to music streaming apps.

How much does a soundbar cost?You can spend around £200 for basic soundbars, or go into the thousands. It all depends on the kind of tech and quality of sound you want. This roundup includes options for most budgets.

What is the best soundbar?You need to ask yourself several questions before making a decision — questions about audio quality, smart features, connectivity, and price. Whatever features suit you and your watching habits best, there’s a good option listed below.

These are the best soundbars in 2023.

The Samsung Q600C is the latest iteration of Samsung’s always-reliable mid-range offering. There’s no doubt that it will suit anyone who already has a Samsung TV, as it’s equipped with Samsung’s Q-Symphony technology, which syncs the TV and speaker for an immersive surround sound experience. You’ll need to connect the speaker to the TV with an HDMI cable to use Q-Symphony, though you can also connect this via Bluetooth, allowing to you to flit between watching TV and connecting to the tunes on your phone.

It also supports HDMI eArc, which boosts bandwidth and speed for a superior sound. If you have a Samsung TV and connect to the wrong HDMI port, it even reminds you to switch the cable into the right connection.

This soundbar comes with a wireless subwoofer to crank up the bass output. You can place the subwoofer anywhere in the room and throw on an action-packed blockbuster — the floor will literally shake with bass power.

There are various modes, including standard, bass, and gaming. Adaptive sound switches modes depending on what you’re watching, like changing to a different acoustic when watching football. Sometimes, however, standard mode sounds best. You might find yourself switching it back. Also, 3D sound and acoustic beam technology projects the sound around the room, and makes it seem as if sounds are coming from where the action is happening onscreen.

Samsung does offer higher-ticket soundbars too, such as the Q990C, which listens to the acoustics in your room and adjusts the sound accordingly.

The Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar is an upgrade on the already pretty great Bose Smart Soundbar 900, this time adding AI-assisted features into its compact, lightweight body. It has a total of nine speakers, with ADAPTiQ technology, which fine-tunes the sound specifically for the shape and size of your room

Bose technology works with Dolby Atmos and creates its distinct sound by separating all the elements — instruments, dialogue, sound effects, explosions — and scattering them around the room, so it sounds like the action is happening around you. In the absence of Dolby Atmos, Bose TrueSpace kicks in and adds “height”, so the sound comes from above. The new AI dialogue feature beings speech to the foreground — great for those annoying movies and shows that sound mumbly, no matter how much you crank the volume.

The idea is that the sound is totally immersive whatever you watch — even content from platforms that don’t support Dolby Atmos. TrueSpace is always working away in the background to create the best possible sound.

And it’s called “Smart” for a reason, with Alexa built-in for all your smart device needs. Bose Voice4Video tech boosts your Alexa voice capabilities even more, allowing you to jump to your favourite TV channel or switch between inputs with simple voice commands. It’s also compatible with Google Assistant.

The Sonos Arc is hailed by many reviewers as the soundbar to beat. And we can’t deny that it’s in the conversation for the best of the best. All that’s holding us back from saying you must absolutely buy the Sonos Arc is the price, which is among the more expensive options on the market. But there’s little doubt that the Sonos Arc lives up to the price tag.

The audio is absolutely stunning — bolstered by Dolby Atmos — with crisp dialogue, immersive layers, and plenty of thumping bass. The Sonos Arc is relatively discrete, though it’s made to pair with big TVs and fill even bigger rooms with the best Dolby Atmos-powered surround sound available.

Indeed, if you’re part of the 50-inch TV gang, the Sonos Arc absolutely made for you. That means it’s ideal for big movies or series too — anything that demands a sound that’s both immersive and detailed. Trueplay Tuning analyses the room and intelligently tweaks the sound.

Rather than a remote control, you can use the Sonos app. It sounds like smart home-friendly progress, though it’s a negative for a lot of users. Luckily, your regular TV remote will control the volume if you set up the soundbar via the HDMI ARC. There are voice control options too, thanks to Alexa.

If there’s anything to niggle about, it’s the lack of other input options. The Sonos Arc has just the one HDMI ARC input, meaning there’s no HDMI passthrough option. You can connect via Bluetooth, however.

We always like JBL because they excel at making mid-range headphones — not exactly premium but very good for the price. That’s also true of the JBL Bar 300, an entry-level model that delivers reliable performance at a very agreeable price. Indeed, the RRP — which you’ll often find discounted even further — is as eye-catching as the sound quality is ear-pleasing.

It supports both Dolby Atmos and MultiBeam technology to create a 3D surround sound, reaching every corner of the room. That’s true whether you’re listening to music or immersing yourself in a movie or game. And like JBL’s always-trusty headphones, the JBL Bar 300 has no shortage of bass, even without adding a subwoofer, which makes this a complete option if you’re trying to keep the budget low but the bass booming.

There’s decent tech packed in this soundbar too, with HDMI eArc support, both WiFi and Bluetooth, plus AirPlay, Alexa Multi-Room Music, and Chromecast all built-in and ready to go. Another nice feature is PureVoice Dialogue Enhancement Technology, which works to make otherwise muffled dialogue clear. It’s not the only soundbar to feature this kind of technology, but it’s usually the mark of a more expensive model.

And with 260 watts of power, it’s good for big rooms and spaces, which is once again impressive considering where it sits on the soundbar spectrum. You can refine the EQ levels and settings through the JBL One app.

Just because you don’t have the space for larger soundbars doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality. Most compact options are as good as their oversized brethren. That’s certainly true of the Sonos Beam, which gives you that incredible Sonos performance in a smaller package. Don’t forget, the Sonos Arc is often rated as the best soundbar around. And that’s pretty much what you get with the Sonos Beam, just smaller.

Regardless of the size, the Beam packs in five digital amplifiers, a centre tweeter, and four elliptical midwoofers. The best rooms for the Beam are smaller or mid-size rooms, though it has Trueplay, which measures the acoustics of the room then fine-tunes the soundbar to suit the space. 

On its own, most audio will come through clearly. Dialogue is where it shines, thanks to fine-tuning from Oscar-winning sound engineers. A Speech Enhancement feature in the Sonos app boosts it further. It’s not just about dialogue and movies, though. Sonos boasts that the Beam is made for music, with support for the hi-res formats that include Dolby Atmos Music.

Like most Sonos devices, it can easily be integrated to a whole home audio network, too. You can connect and zone it with the rest of the Sonos speakers you have throughout the house. 

OK, so when is a soundbar not just a soundbar? When it’s loaded up with a wireless subwoofer and two rear speakers. Say hello to the LG S95QR — a seriously premium option for immersive audio. It’s more of a bundle than a soundbar, but listen up: the soundbar is very much the centrepiece.

It’s driven by innovative tech. Particularly an up-firing centre speaker that makes dialogue sound like it’s coming from the mouths of the people on screen. Beyond that, the soundstage is all-encompassing, like you’re slap bang in the middle of the action. It’s a true home cinema set-up.

Dolby Atmos and DTS:X surround sound are boosted by IMAX Enhanced and input from hi-res sound specialists, Meridian. The AI Sound Pro algorithm adjusts and optimises sound scene-by-scene. You can also control the soundbar via Alexa or Google Assistant, and stream via Chromecast, AirPlay, or Spotify.

Yes, it’s expensive. That’s the good and bad of the LG S95QR. You know you’re getting a premium kit. But that doesn’t make forking out £1,700 any less painful.

You’ll get even more from the sound and features if you’re already part of the brand’s ecosystem. That is, if you’ve already got a fancy LG television, this is one for you.

POLK is known for delivering good quality speakers at very reasonable prices. The POLK Audio Signa S4 is no different — a soundbar plus subwoofer combo for just a touch over £300.  

Thanks to the additional wireless subwoofer, you’ll find a good amount of rumbling bass, plus Dolby Atmos-powered 360-degree surround sound. That comes via upward firing speakers, creating a broad soundstage and supporting the kind of expansive audio effect needed for big scale movies.

There are various listening modes, too, including a Night Mode for late night watching (great for when others in the house are fast asleep) and Polk’s patented VoiceAdjust, which helps crank up dialogue during especially quiet scenes. That’s a great sounding feature (literally) and one we’d like to see employed on more expensive soundbars and speakers.

Obviously it can’t compare to the more premium-level options out there, but if you’re working with a lower budget this is a fantastic option.

Matt Ford is a freelance contributor to Mashable.

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