Best soundbar: never settle for sub-standard sound again

The best soundbars for adding a cinematic feel to your next binge-watch, from Sony, Sonos, Yamaha and more

best soundbar: Sony HTX8500 2.1ch Dolby Atmos/DTS:X
(Image credit: Sony)

Tired of not being able to hear what’s going on in a film or TV show without constantly rewinding and putting closed captions on? A soundbar could be the answer to your prayers, boosting audio quality and giving you more power over the way your television sounds.

Ranging from single speakers to complete sound systems, soundbars are designed to fit nicely on your unit (or mounted to the wall) and compensate for the smaller speakers in modern flat-screen TVs.

Without built-in speakers, the sound quality of an average television has dropped, making soundbars more popular as a result. Many come with built-in subwoofers, while others provide external subs that connect wirelessly.

We have taken a look at some of the best and most popular soundbars available right now, rating them on everything from smart features and connectivity to size and design.

Scroll down to see what we thought or, if you’re looking for something that goes a little further, take a look at our roundup of the best surround sound systems

The best soundbars in 2021

Sony HTX8500 2.1ch Dolby Atmos/DTS:X SoundbarLivingetc badge – tried, loved

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony HTX8500 2.1ch Dolby Atmos/DTS:X Soundbar

Best soundbar overall

Specifications
Configuration: 2.1
Dolby Atmos: Yes
Connections: Opt, 2 x HDMI, Bluetooth
Dimensions: 3.7 x 35 x 2.5in
Weight: 6.8lbs
Reasons to buy
+In-built subwoofer+Self-contained sound system+Good value for money
Reasons to avoid
-Bass is good but not great without external subwoofer

If you’re looking for simplicity, then you won’t have to look much further than the Sony HT-X8500, which offers more than decent sound quality with far less fuss than some competitors. As such, if you’re not flush with space in your living area - or you don’t want multiple speakers cluttering up the room - then this is a compact option that shouldn’t leave you disappointed with its sound offering.

Stream from anywhere

While it’s probable that you will want to use the soundbar to enhance your television’s sound, the Sony HT-X8500 also has Bluetooth connectivity that allows you to connect to it from your mobile and stream everything from music to podcasts. A great bonus if you’re usually relying on your smartphone speakers.

Switch modes

Sony’s soundbar has various modes that you can switch between depending on what you’re doing in the moment. If you’re watching a movie or playing a game, for example, Cinema and Game Modes will mimic the surround sound of a theater while, in News Mode, the soundbar will prioritize voice audio above background music.

Livingetc rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Sonos Beam Soundbar

(Image credit: Sonos)

2. Sonos Beam Soundbar

Best compact soundbar

Specifications
Dolby Atmos: No
Connections: 1 x HDMI
Dimensions: 25.6 x 3.9 x 2.7in
Weight: 6.3lbs
Reasons to buy
+Small and lightweight+Alexa and Google Assistant built-in+Can be used with other Sonos speakers for surround sound setup
Reasons to avoid
-Only one HDMI connection-No Dolby Atmos

A cheaper, smaller alternative to the Sonos Arc, the Sonos Beam has a ton to offer. Use it as a smart speaker with Alexa and Google Atmos built-in, hook it up with other Sonos speakers around the home, or use it as a minimalist (yet powerful) soundbar for the TV.

DIY surround sound

All Sonos speakers are simple to network together, whether to create a multi-room audio experience with the same tunes playing in the kitchen, bedroom, and lounge or to build your own true surround sound system for the TV. As a central unit, the Sonos Beam is a fantastic jumping-off point, allowing you to build out any system at your leisure.

Tailor your sound

Even without additional speakers or Dolby Atmos (you'll need to splurge on the Arc for this) on board, the Beam comes equipped with Trueplay - a system that maps your living space to create the optimum sound profile based on where your furniture sits in the environment. There's also night mode and speech enhancement, which allow you to get the audio spot-on for whatever (and whenever) you're watching.

Livingetc rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Majority K2 Sound Bar

(Image credit: Majority)

3. Majority K2 Sound Bar

Best value soundbar

Specifications
Connectivity: Bluetooth, HDMI ARC, OPT, RCA, USB
Dolby Atmos: No
Power: 150W
Dimensions: 30 x 2 x 2.7in
Weight: 7.4lbs
Reasons to buy
+Affordable+Good connectivity+Wireless subwoofer
Reasons to avoid
-Bass levels aren't the best-No Dolby Atmos

The lowest-cost option on our list, the Majority K2 Soundbar holds its own due to its sound quality, boosted by a wireless subwoofer and wide connectivity options. As well as significantly upgrading the sound from your TV, you can also play music or podcasts from your phone via Bluetooth or from an external device through the USB port on the side of the bar.

Save the planet (one tree at a time)

As a bonus, Majority plans to plant a tree for every purchase of the K2 soundbar so that you can feel extra good about shopping. It's an odd extra, but we won't complain about any company making it a priority to help the environment.

Livingetc rating: 4 out of 5 stars | read our full review of the Majority K2 Soundbar

Sennheiser 5.1.4-Channel AMBEO Soundbar

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

4. Sennheiser 5.1.4-Channel AMBEO Soundbar

Best soundbar with Dolby Atmos (runner up)

Specifications
Configuration: 5.1.4
Dolby Atmos: Yes
Connections: 4 x HDMI, Ethernet, USB, Opt, Analogue, Bluetooth, Chromecast
Dimensions: 49.7 x 6.6 x 5.2in
Weight: 40.7lbs
Reasons to buy
+Self-contained with 13 drivers+Lots of inputs+Chromecast built-in
Reasons to avoid
-The most expensive on our list-Only those will Google Home can use Wi-Fi streaming-Might be too heavy and bulky for some people

If you’re happy to trade convenience for sound quality, then the Sennheiser Ambeo really does deliver in the latter department. With Dolby Atmos, DTS:X surround sound, and a virtual 3D sound system, the only drawback is the size and heft of the speaker itself. Not one recommended for those short on space in their living room, instructions advise that a minimum gap of 1m be left on each side of the bar.

Customization

Ease of set-up aside, the Sennheiser Ambeo is a pretty awe-inspiring bit of kit. Once installed, the soundbar will calibrate your room to settle on the best audio using Fraunhofer technology. In addition, the built-in equalizer and various modes allow you to really define the nitty-gritty details so that you’re getting the best sound for your ears instead of something generic. 

Yamaha YAS-209BL 2.1-Channel Soundbar

(Image credit: Yamaha)

5. Yamaha YAS-209BL 2.1-Channel Soundbar

Best smart soundbar (runner up)

Specifications
Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, HDMI
Dolby Atmos: No
Power: 20W
Dimensions: 4.2 x 36.6 x 2.4in
Weight: 30.9lbs
Reasons to buy
+Built-in Amazon Alexa+Attractive, compact design+Wireless subwoofer
Reasons to avoid
-Heavier than some-No Dolby Atmos

Yamaha has been a leader in sound for decades, and the Yamaha YAS-209 is a great, affordable soundbar that offers good sound quality despite the lack of Dolby Atmos (it sports DTS Virtual: X to create a surround sound effect).

The matte design looks great and does away with problems such as reflection from the TV screen. Depending on your existing set-up, it can be placed on a TV stand or mounted to the wall.

Voice control

The Yamaha YAS-209 soundbar has Amazon Alexa built-in, meaning you can control the speaker using just your voice. It also means it's possible to connect the soundbar with other smart devices around your home, including streaming sticks and smart TVs, for an easier experience all around.

How to choose the best soundbar for your home

best soundbar: Sonos Beam

(Image credit: Sonos)

Where is the best place to put a soundbar?

Soundbars are designed specifically to be placed underneath your TV without blocking any action, but you should make sure that there is enough space before committing to a soundbar that doesn’t fit. Alternatively, many people choose to mount their soundbars to the wall - especially good if you already have your television mounted.

What is a subwoofer?

You’ll hear about subwoofers a lot when you’re shopping around for a soundbar, and that’s because they’re an important element. Basically, a subwoofer is a speaker that emits low frequencies to extend your sound and make it more dimensional.

This is what makes them ideal for adding more bass to your output. In addition, some soundbars have a subwoofer built-in, while others come with an accompanying sub that can be connected.

Are soundbars worth it?

The answer to this depends on whether you’re satisfied with your television’s current audio output and what kinds of things you tend to watch regularly. If you’re a music fan, for example, then a soundbar is a must to get the most out of live concerts, YouTube, or even music cast from your phone, but those who are just happy watching the news and cooking shows might not get as much out of one.

That said, even the occasional movie night makes a good soundbar a worthy investment and, once you watch an action movie this way, there’s no going back.

What is the best soundbar?

In our opinion, the best soundbar right now is the Sony HT-X8500, which offers everything you need for a superior audio experience in one well-designed bar. While bass fanatics will miss the standalone subwoofer, anyone else would be well served by Sony’s speaker.

Caroline Preece
Caroline Preece

Caroline has been a part of the Livingetc team since 2021, offering expert advice on the best smart tech for your home. Passionate about interiors and how technology can be integrated into daily living without sacrificing aesthetics, in her spare time she can be found shopping for the latest accent pieces for her own space.