Other than the extortionate ticket prices, there are two things you notice when you watch a movie in a cinema rather than from your sofa at home.
First is naturally the size and quality of the screen, and the second is the sheer power of the cinema’s sound system.
It’s no surprise that ‘home cinema’ equipment has come to mean the expensive and bulky speakers and amplifier that can give you a full cinema experience in the comfort of your own home.
But not everyone has the space or budget for a full set of speakers, and in this case a soundbar is an excellent way of getting the same boost to your sound in a fraction of the space.
By placing or mounting this dedicated speaker beneath your TV you can achieve a much richer and fuller sound, and certain soundbars will also offer a pretty excellent surround sound experience.
They’re also thankfully relatively easy to install. Simply position it next to your TV, plug it in, and within moments you’ll be wondering how you ever put up with the flat sound offered by your TV’s built in speakers.
There’s just one problem, and that’s the sheer amount of choice you have.
So without further ado, welcome to our guide to the best soundbars available in 2016. We’ve got something to match every budget, and our price tracker will make sure that if you do decide to buy one from our list then you’ll be getting the absolutely best price possible.
What’s the best soundbar?
Soundbars come in many shapes and sizes, and range in price from under £100/$100 to over £1,000/$1,500. Cheaper models have basic connections (including a digital optical socket, which is essential), more expensive ones add superior HDMI inputs, wireless audio streaming (e.g. Bluetooth and AirPlay), better power, more refined speaker drivers, and decoding of Blu-ray sound formats.
Design is also important, with some models able to sit in front of your TV on a stand while others may need a separate shelf, or to be wall mounted. However, whatever your budget, there are some cracking good acoustic upgrades to be had that can give your TV the sound it deserves.
The Philips Fidelio B5 is an impressive bit of kit, and it’s almost the perfect soundbar for someone who appreciates good cinema sound but has no interest in tearing up their living room to install a 5.1 surround sound system to use only every now and then. The B5 enables you to pick and choose your movie moments, and do it on a whim. And it creates a pretty decent surround sound experience too, using both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Digital Surround decoding.
The combination of convenience and good audio – the raison d’etre of the soundbar – with its transformative surround sound capabilities makes the Fidelio B5 a great option for the movie fan who can’t face all the aggravation of a proper 5.1 installation.
Read the full review: Philips Fidelio B5
Focal, most known for its excellent sounding speakers (and the recently released Focal Listen headphones), is late to the soundbar space, but its Focal Dimension was worth the wait. The Dimension soundbar is simply gorgeous, with its piano black accents and aluminum unibody construction.
At $1,399 (£799, AU$1,699) it’s not exactly cheap, but you’re paying for excellent build quality, sound and design.
Read the full review: Focal Dimension
The LG SH7B is a soundbar system that can do it all. Its feature set and solid sound quality make it a good choice for those with limited space. While music playback and surround sound aren’t mind-blowing, they’re good enough for the sticker price.
It’s a breeze to set up since its subwoofer is wireless, though Android users may be frustrated by LG’s buggy app. Sound quality is decent for the price, but in the end loses out to traditional bookshelf speakers in terms of clarity on the high-end. However, if you want a soundbar that can take on every type of media you can throw at it, the LG SH7B is a great option.
Read the full review: LG SH7B
The Sonos Playbar is a non-HDMI device that uses optical to hook up to a TV. Used simply on its own it delivers a massive sonic boost to your TV listening, but operating it does require using a smartphone or tablet app. The benefit is that it can seamlessly segue in to a Sonos wireless system, and can even act as the front three speakers in a 5.1 setup with two Play:1s acting as rears.
Read the full review: Sonos Playbar
Proudly atop Sony’s 2016 soundbar line-up, this £599, $700US, AU$999 2.1 sound system includes 4K HDMI-ready inputs, a wireless, slimline subwoofer and even a Hi-Res Audio badge. The latter means compatibility with 24-bit sound sources as well as Spotify Connect, Google Cast, Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth, which even covers both AAC and the higher-resolution LDAC codec.
The sub’s three-way speaker design really shines, but it’s the presence of Sony S Master digital amp module for every driver that wins the day. Audiophile-grade sound is assured across the board, with stereo width best appreciated when it’s wall-mounted. This is an accomplished 2.1 package, though at 108cm long it’s going to be physically hard to house for some.
Read the full review: Sony HT-NT5
Do you need Dolby Atmos? This more immersive ‘3D bubble of surround sound’ tech is here, created not only by a standard soundbar design, but with a couple of satellite speakers and a subwoofer added. Is that verging on a messy home cinema cinema of old? Perhaps in theory, but this is one of the sleekest implementations of Dolby Atmos yet. Using rear speakers with upward-firing speakers, it actually creates a virtual 5.1.4 system.
OK, so the £1,299 / $1,499 / AU$1,499 HW-K950 is not perfect. It only plays DTS in stereo (unless you have a Blu-ray player that can convert it to Dolby Digital), but this simple-to-set-up package is an amazing performer that should be near the top of any audiophile’s soundbar audition list.
Read the full review: Samsung HW-K950
Challenging Samsung in the Dolby Atmos stakes is Yamaha, the creator of the soundbar genre over a decade ago. It doesn’t quite match the HW-K950 on pure surround specs, creating a 5.1.2 sound stage in place of Samsung’s 5.1.4 array, but there’s plenty more to love about this £1,429 / $1,599 / AU$2,499 hunk of tech.
The chief attraction is its unique support for both Dolby Atmos and rival codec DTS:X, but it’s the YSP-5600SW’s 44 individual speakers and dual subwoofers – all within a single unit – that make this all-in-one so attractive. Measuring 1,100 x 212 x 93mm and with Hi-Res Audio playback (including 24-bit ALAC, FLAC and AIFF), the YSP-5600SW even adds WiFi, Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay for day-to-day convenience.
Advanced features aren’t for everyone, and sometimes all you want is a simple upgrade. That’s exactly what Edifier offers with this metre-long design that incorporates four speaker units and two tweeters, plus a separate wireless subwoofer.
Selling for £249.99 / $199.99 / AU$420, this soundbar eschews HDMI switching and connects to a TV only via analogue audio inputs, but the CineSound B7 does have some smart features. As well as Bluetooth 4.0 for wireless streaming from a smartphone, there’s a handy sleep function; after 10 minutes of inactivity, the CineSound B7 switches itself off.
With four HDMI inputs and 4K passthrough, myriad other connections and Bluetooth streaming, it’s tempting to call the £299.99 / $879 / AU$1,495 Arcam Solo Bar as much of a home cinema hub as a soundbar. It also adds Bluetooth aptX for good measure, rendering your streamed tunes listenable at last.
Well connected it may be, but this 1,000 x 130 x 110mm unit offers more than one-cable nirvana, with its two speakers offering a lot more meat than the average flat TV. Want more welly? So add Arcam’s wireless Solo Sub.
For $199 (£159, AU$279), the Razer Leviathan is a great sound bar, and is easily recommended for gamers who just aren’t ready to dive into a full 5.1 system yet. It’s a bit bass-heavy, thanks to the standalone subwoofer – but even so, movies and games come through clear.
The bar is relatively versatile, too. It’s plenty powerful for a PC, but it works out of the box with any console or TV through optical audio out. Not to mention that built-in Bluetooth lets you connect your mobile device when you aren’t directly in front of your entertainment setup. A few tweaks, like a more stable subwoofer connector and a remote would’ve been nice. But, in spite of its diminutive size, the Leviathan far outgrew my expectations.
Read the full review: Razer Leviathan