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Entertainment Best soundbars 2021: the best TV speakers you can buy

00:15  02 april  2021
00:15  02 april  2021 Source:   whathifi.com

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Best soundbars Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best soundbars you can buy in 2021.

Best soundbars 2021 © Provided by What Hi-Fi? Best soundbars 2021

Does your flatscreen TV sound, er, a little flat? Then why not add a soundbar to boost its sound. The best soundbars pack impressive audio into a package small enough to sit in front of, or below, your TV. There are no separate surround speakers to crowd out the room, and no snaking cables to act as trip hazards.

Before you buy, there are some things to bear in mind. Consider the dimensions of your TV to work out just how big your new soundbar needs to be. You don't want it to be dwarfed by the screen, but then again, it could look strange partnering a huge bar with a small TV – like a tiny head perched atop overly broad shoulders. Look up the dimensions and compare the bar's width with that of your TV. Also, check the height – if you need to place the soundbar in front of your TV, you don't want it obscuring half the picture.

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Next, features and connectivity. Many modern soundbars boast wireless subwoofers, Bluetooth connectivity, 4K-friendly HDMI inputs for a games console or 4K Blu-ray player, ARC and eARC-enabled HDMI outputs and even support Dolby Atmos audio with upfiring speakers. Have a think about the content you'll be viewing and the sources you'll be plugging in. If you'll just be watching Freeview, a lot of these technologies will be redundant. But if you're streaming the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in 4K HDR, you'll want to squeeze out the best possible audio quality to make sure your content sounds as good as it looks.

For a complete overview, check out our guide on how to choose and set up a soundbar.

Below, we've rounded up the best soundbars for a range of different budgets. All of them will up your audio game with a fuss-free setup. Enjoy.

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Judging on a sound-per-pound basis, the five-star Sonos Beam is currently the best soundbar you can buy. It comes with a few additions to its spec sheet, compared to the Sonos Playbar and Playbase, including an HDMI connection and voice control assistance from Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant with Apple Siri to follow.

This is an affordable soundbar that could transform your listening experience. It's small, light and will fit in front of most TVs. There are sleek touch controls on the top, as well as HDMI and Ethernet ports to the rear. You can wall-mount the Beam, although the optional bracket is pricey.

Sound quality is superb. Inside, four full-range drivers, one tweeter, three passive radiators and five class-D amplifiers help to drive sound around your room for a more immersive, cinematic experience.

The width, depth and three-dimensionality of the sound smashes expectations. Do you need to spend another £300 for the Playbar? Probably not. This should meet most people's needs perfectly.

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Read the full Sonos Beam review

Soundbars aren't new territory for Sonos, but the Arc is the first soundbar from the brand to be fully compatible with Dolby Atmos. It replaces the Playbar and Playbase and sits above the Beam (positioned above) in terms of pricing. A good partner for 55in TVs and above, the Arc can be placed straight on your furniture or wall-mounted with the optional £79/$79/AU$99 mount.

There are touch-sensitive play/pause and volume controls on the bar with LEDs that indicate status and when you're talking to the built-in Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. Connectivity includes AirPlay 2, ethernet and eARC for Dolby Atmos from compatible TVs.

The Sonos Arc uses 11 drivers to create your soundfield, a number of which are upfiring and angled into your room to bounce sound off your walls and ceiling. It all adds up to one of the most convincing Atmos performances you can get from a soundbar.

You're transported to the heart of the action. Surround effects are expertly placed and there's great dynamism and good weight to the sound too. Tonally, it's nicely balanced if you just want to listen to music, although it could sound a tiny bit more direct. But, there's no doubt this is a hugely impressive soundbar for the money.

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Read the full Sonos Arc review

We originally tested This JBL soundbar at £150, but you can now pick one up for just £99, proof that there are some fine soundbars to be had for little money. Sound is solid and punchy; connectivity includes a single ARC-enable HDMI output, an optical digital input and Bluetooth.

Build quality is good, too – it's clear that JBL has crafted this model to its usual high standards of aesthetic modernity. Given its petite size (it's 60cm long and 6cm tall), the scale of the JBL's sound is a little restricted, but it still delivers a confident sound with plenty of detail, clear dialogue and punchy, rich bass at the bottom end.

You also get JBL Surround Sound, an in-house technology designed to replicate the wrap-around sound of a 5.1 system – further proof this soundbar is aiming to overcome the limitations imposed on it by its size.

It might not be a market leader, but for the money, this is a superb buy for an impressive all-rounder. If you're after a full-bodied upgrade to your telly’s anaemic speakers, you can’t go wrong here.

Read the full JBL Bar Studio review

The Ambeo Soundbar is Sennheiser's first consumer speaker, and it's quite the proposition – a premium soundbar crammed full of features including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support, 4K HDR pass-through (all of which are useful if Netflix and/or Amazon are your main movie and TV show source). You also get auto-calibration and four HDMI inputs, plus Bluetooth and support for Chromecast.

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Measuring 127cm wide and 14cm tall, it’s certainly a beast. The result is that the Sennheiser delivers a sound big enough not to need its own subwoofer, with clear, direct dialogue and detail and subtlety in spades. The way it stretches the sound around you creates a great atmosphere and really draws you into the action.

To get the full Dolby Atmos effect, you'll need to wall mount or position the soundbar on the top shelf of your rack, so the upward-firing speakers aren't obstructed. It's well worth the effort, though.

For those who want convincing 3D sound without the speakers, this the best soundbar with a premium price tag that we've ever tested.

Read the full Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar review

With a multitude of soundbars competing in the budget-to-midrange market, the fact the Yamaha YAS-207 manages to excel in some areas of sonic performance that others don't makes it pretty special.

The YAS-207 is a natural entertainer and features YSP (Yamaha Sound Projection) technology, which is designed to emulate a surround-sound experience from a single soundbar. You also get immersive ‘virtual’ sound, only this time by using DTS’s latest codec: DTS Virtual:X, which simulates a 11.1-channel set-up.  As far as ‘virtual’ surround-sound experiences from a single enclosure go, it's hugely effective.

The bar also comes with a wireless external subwoofer, and plenty of features, including Bluetooth, an app to cycle between surround sound modes and an HDMI socket that enables 4K HDR passthrough.

Once positioned, performance defies the bar’s physical proportions. It produces a crisp, exciting sound and proves as adept at playing music and as it does movie soundtracks. Another chapter in Yamaha’s soundbar success story – and a worthy Best Buy.

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With five different audio inputs, three ways to mount it and ten drivers all working together to deliver an immersive sound experience, there's plenty to talk about with the Dali Katch One. It is quite tall, so you really have to mount it on a wall, but that will only aid bass performance from the rear-firing drivers.

The Katch One is also a good looking bar and comes in three different finishes: Iron Black, Ivory White and Mountain White. There's an ARC-enabled HDMI socket for getting the audio from your TV, plus a pair of optical inputs and Bluetooth.

The  Danish company has crammed in four mid/bass drivers, four passive radiators and two tweeters inside the soundbar and it serves a great dynamic performance with a broad, clear soundstage that works well for movies. It also boasts the ability to sound fun with music, too.

Provided you have the space to wall mount it, this bar will be a delightful addition to any TV set-up.

Read the full Dali Katch One review

Missing the cinema? We certainly are. But JBL's soundbar is the closest you can get to the big-screen sound experience without crowding your lounge with separates.

The 5.0 MultiBeam is affordable without feeling cheap, which is quite an achievement. It's small enough to fit under almost any TV, yet feels solid and well built. And it packs a lot into its modest dimensions: there are five 48 x 80mm racetrack drivers complemented by four 75mm passive radiators, and a grille that runs from ear to ear with two more drivers on the hood to deliver height effects.

It uses Dolby Virtual Atmos, rather than the full-fledged real deal, but still manages to fill a room with sound. Sound quality is very good indeed, with no rough edges at all, even when you turn it right the way up. We could ask for a little more clarity and detail, especially in the considerable bass frequencies, and a more open treble response, but this is a full-bodied presentation that’s unlikely to fatigue you, even when listening at high volume.

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If you have a large room to fill, but only enough space for a soundbar instead of separates, this could be the ideal solution.

Read the full JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam review

Accomplished Dolby Atmos soundbars are few and far between but the Sony HT-ST5000 happens to be one of them. It makes film soundtracks so immersive you'll think you're in the movie. The HT-ST5000 is fantastic – pairing a real sense of height (thanks to its upfiring drivers) with sophisticated sound quality.

The feature count on this Sony soundbar is impressive too, with three HDMI inputs, USB, Bluetooth and high-res audio support. You can also stream music to it wirelessly, via wi-fi or the Bluetooth 4.1 connection. Spotify Connect is also built in, as is Google Chromecast for Tidal or Google Play Music users. It even has a dedicated ‘Music Service’ button on the remote, which can automatically resume Spotify playback if you've been out and about, listening on your smartphone.

The design of the remote is a bit fussy, but that's really our only gripe. If you’ve been looking for a hassle-free way to get Dolby Atmos into your home, and your budget won't stretch to the Sennheiser Ambeo, this is a fantastic option.

Read the full Sony HT-ST5000 review

The sound from this excellent soundbar is hugely engaging, and it looks very dapper to boot. The bar delivers a wide, spacious soundstage, and pings effects around the room with ease, giving them ample room to manoeuvre. Even the more hectic scenes don’t sound crowded. Add some hefty low-end heft to thicken the sound and you have punchy soundbar that wipes the floor with many of its rivals.

Not sure about a red soundbar? Don't worry, the grilles are removable. Red, white and black come as standard but you can splash out on six other snazzy colours, including purple and lime green.

As you'd expect for the money, this is a solid bit of kit with a well-designed chassis and decent connectivity. For high-quality music streaming, there's aptX Bluetooth, plus two optical inputs, microUSB (so you can hardwire it to a Mac or PC and access high-res tracks) and a sub socket, should you feel the need to hook up a subwoofer.

There are no HDMI inputs and at 16cm high, the Dali might well justify its own shelf, but this bar presents itself extremely well – and, in our opinion, is worth every penny.

Read the full Dali Kubik One review

Think of the Roku Streambar as an upgrade on your TV, rather than an entry into proper home cinema, and it ticks pretty much every box. While it doesn’t quite ascend to five-star status, it easily nails the aspects for which it is most commonly going to be used: projection and clarity. The Streambar will work with any television with an HDMI input, outputting 4K HDR at up to 60fps for those with compatible sets. Everyone else will get 1080p Full HD, with lower resolution signals upscaled.

The bundled remote is splendid, and for an out-of-the-box boost to TV audio and older sets’ smart features, the Roku Streambar is extremely low risk for this price. In that sense, it’s something we can wholeheartedly recommend.

Read the full Roku Streambar review

If you already own smart speakers from Harman Kardon's Citation range, this soundbar will slip in effortlessly. And even if you don't, the Citation MultiBeam 700 is still a fine soundbar in its own right.

It uses front- and side-firing speakers to try and achieve a 5.1 effect, or you can turn some of them off to listen in stereo. It's streaming credentials include Bluetooth, Chromecast and Apple AirPlay over Wi-Fi. It's not awash with physical connections but there's enough here to get by on, including an HDMI ARC socket.

It's an attractive, clean, neutral design and the Citation MultiBeam 700's looks are mirrored in the sound quality on offer. It's very easy on the ear but this soundbar is also entertaining with it. There are no rough edges and the Harman Kardon delivers a satisfying amount of bass. You even get a decent sense of immersion when watching movies.

If your budget can't stretch to the class-leaders such as the Sonos Arc, then the Harman Kardon is a solid alternative.

Read the full Harman Kardon Citation MultiBeam 700 review

If you're on a tight budget, the Sony HT-G700 could be the soundbar for you. It's not the smallest, but it's big on sound, value and comes with a wireless subwoofer, HDMI input and support for both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

Sony’s Vertical Surround Engine and S-Force Pro Front Surround technologies combine to produce convincing Dolby Atmos soundscape while a chunky subwoofer adds plenty of heft to big explosions. Sonos's Arc delivers an even more convincing Atoms experience, but it is more expensive.

The only things in the against column are a slight lack of clarity and crispness and the absence of any real music streaming features.

So, if you're after a dedicated bit of home cinema kit on a budget, the powerful-sounding HT-700 serves up a seriously-cinematic performance at a nice price.

Read the full review: Sony HT-G700

The Sonos Beam (at the top of this list) is the best pound-for-pound soundbar we've tested, and it arrived on the scene as a replacement for the Playbar. This is why you won't find much stock of this model around, so when you do see one for sale, be quick!

It offers many of the same Sonos smarts as the Beam, but in a much larger package. Connectivity is limited to an optical input, so it doesn't offer quite the same flexibility as the HDMI-toting Beam, but you still get access to Sonos' excellent user experience and multi-room smarts.

It's nicely made and can be wall-mounted using the optional £35 mount or laid flat in front of your TV. The most impressive aspect of the Playbar is the wide, expansive soundstage which does a great job of filling your room. There's a surprising amount of bass weight too.

This Playbar will play everything (except hi-res audio tracks) that you’ve got stored on your computer or NAS device; you can send audio directly from an Android or iOS phone or tablet; and it connects to internet radio via Spotify, Tidal, Deezer and more.

The smaller, cheaper Beam features voice controls, but if you're after a simple, powerful device that will significantly improve the sound of your TV, the Playbar is an excellent option. Still undecided? Take a gander at our Sonos Beam vs Playbar comparison.

Read the full Sonos Playbar review

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