Best soundbar: never settle for sub-standard sound again

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

best soundbar: Sony HT-X8500
(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.

We have taken a look at some of the best and most popular sound bars 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 a little smarter, take a look at our roundup of the best smart speakers

The best soundbars 2021

SONY HT-X8500 2.1 All-in-One Soundbar

(Image credit: Sony)

1. SONY HT-X8500 2.1 All-in-One Sound Bar

Best soundbar overall

Specifications
Configuration: 7.1.2
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 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 just 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 sound bar 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, voice audio will be prioritised above background music.

Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

2. Sennheiser Ambeo

Best soundbar for large homes

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 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 seriously impressive bit of kit. Once installed, the soundbar will calibrate your room to settle on the best audio using Fraunhofer technology, and the built-in equaliser 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. 

Samsung HW-Q950T Soundbar

(Image credit: Samsung)

3. Samsung HW-Q950T Soundbar

Best soundbar for connectivity

Specifications
Configuration: 9.1.4
Connections: 2 x HDMI, Opt, Bluetooth
Dimensions: 24.4 x 51.2 x 10.9in
Weight: 15.6lbs
Reasons to buy
+Slimmer than previous Samsung models+Good Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-You will need to find space for the wireless speakers and subwoofer 

With a pair of side speakers, standalone subwoofer and soundbar, the Samsung HW-Q950T is a surround sound system in and of itself. Offering almost unmatched sound quality that genuinely fills the room, Samsung TV and mobile users will get the most of it with the ability to connect to some phones just by tapping it against the soundbar.

Adaptive Sound

One unique selling point of the HW-Q950T is its ability to adapt to the sound it's connected to without your help. That means if you’re watching an action movie, the soundbar will give you the best experience and, when you switch to a tennis match, it will change the settings to match. If you have a Samsung TV, you can also take advantage of the Q-Symphony feature, which combines the two sound outputs for ‘fuller’ audio.

Majority K2 Soundbar in living room

(Image credit: Majority)

4. Majority K2 Soundbar

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 plan to plant a tree for every purchase of the K2 soundbar, so 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

Yamaha YAS-209 Soundbar

(Image credit: Yamaha)

5. Yamaha YAS-209

Best smart soundbar

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. It can be placed on a TV stand or mounted to the wall, depending on your existing set-up.

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 you home, including streaming sticks and smart TVs for an easier experience all around.

best soundbar: SONY HT-X8500 2.1 All-in-One Sound Bar

(Image credit: Sony)

Where is the best place to put a soundbar?

Soundbars are designed specifically to be placed underneath your TV without blocking any of the action, but you should make sure that there is enough space before committing to a soundbar that doesn’t fit.

Alternatively, a lot of 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 type of 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. Some soundbars have a subwoofer built-in, while others come with an accompanying sub that can be connected.

Are soundbars worth it?

This depends on whether you’re satisfied with your television’s current audio output, and what kinds of things you tend to watch on a regular basis. 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.