Soundbars give your TV audio quality that matches the picture. These long units are designed to sit below, in front or above your TV, whether it's mounted on the wall or on a stand. They contain two or more speakers, and may have a separate subwoofer that produces the lower frequency sounds. Others use clever ways to produce bass all in the one cabinet.
If you're upgrading your TV as well, check out our guide to this year's best TVs.
Your buying guide to the best soundbars in 2017
Many people are unhappy with the sound quality delivered by their flatscreen TV, but fears of a difficult setup routine and a mess of unsightly wires mean they are unwilling to install a surround-sound system. Perhaps they simply don’t have a big enough room.
Not all soundbars replicate surround, by they do offer a convenient, relatively compact solution for getting better quality audio in your living room.
What features should I look for?
Consider how the soundbar will connect to your TV. The most common method is to use an optical cable, also known as Toslink. Most modern TVs support this, but be sure to check before choosing your soundbar.
Some soundbars have HDMI inputs, which can be convenient, but do the same job as Toslink.
You should also check that this output will route all incoming audio from connected devices such as Blu-ray players and games consoles, as well as the internal TV tuner. This way, to hear audio from all your devices you need to have only one cable going to your soundbar.
Most soundbars have other inputs, including a 3.5mm minijack and/or stereo phono jacks. These take analogue feeds and allow you to play audio from just about any device, including phones and tablets.
However, if you’d prefer the convenience of wirelessly playing music from a mobile device, look for built-in Bluetooth. By this method though, be aware that unless your mobile device and soundbar both support aptX, the default codec within the A2DP standard, sound quality won’t be as good.
Should I get a separate subwoofer?
A standalone soundbar will be unable to offer full-range sound, so many come with a separate subwoofer. This produces the deep bass required by movie special effects such as explosions. You can get aay without a subwoofer if you’ll mostly be watching dialogue heavy programmes.
Subwoofers are either active or passively powered. Passive models don’t have a built-in amp, so do not require mains power. These rely on an extra amp in the soundbar.
Active subwoofers have their own amp, so require an external power source. They can wirelessly receive audio though, so you can place them away from the soundbar without trailing wires. Watch out for soundbars such as the Samsung HWE551, which puts all the inputs on the sub. This is an advantage if your TV and soundbar are to be wall-mounted and the cables would otherwise have to run to the soundbar.
Which specifications are important?
Don’t pay much attention to manufacturers’ amplifier power figures. Even when they’re accurately described, watts don’t directly translate to volume, since the speaker sensitivity also affects things. Some brands rightly avoid printing power figures.
The number of speakers isn’t that important either. If you’re after a convincing surround-sound effect, be sure to read reviews rather than rely on makers’ claims. Also, don’t confuse terms such as ‘3D sound’ or ‘spatial sound’ with surround sound. Some soundbars use Dolby Virtual Speaker technology, while others have their own names for pseudo-surround.
Can I wall mount a soundbar?
Most soundbars are limited in where they can be mounted If you plan to wall-mount, check this is an option. Some soundbars can be positioned at different angles; others will even convert into separate stereo speakers, should you want to chop and change..
Bose Solo 5
- RRP: £199.95, US$249
You know you’re getting quality with Bose, and this reasonably priced soundbar keeps up that reputation. The single bar immediately improves your TV’s audio capabilities with one simple connection.
There’s a Bluetooth mode for wireless streaming, dialogue mode to improve the detail in dialogue-heavy films and programmes all in a compact, easy to install unit that’s under 2kg.
Small enough to place just in front of a slightly raised TV but powerful enough to produce room-filling audio, the Bose Solo 5 is a popular choice.
Orbitsound ONE P70
- RRP: £299.99
This is Orbitsound's latest speaker. As well as being a soundbar, you can place it upright on its back edge and use it on a shelf as a Bluetooth speaker if you prefer.
Well, you can feed it audio via Bluetooth however you mount it - Orbitsound even includes everything you need to wall mount the P70 in the box.
It's a little deeper than most soundbars, but this allows room for a small subwoofer, and this makes it neater without compromising too much on sound quality. Overall, this is a great soundbar for a sensible price.
Read our full One P70 review.
Q Acoustics M3 Soundbar
- RRP: £299, US$349
Q Acoustics' latest soundbar may look slightly space age (or is that just us?) but the real appeal is how simple it is to use.
Between 3.5mm, optical, HDMI, and Bluetooth, the M3 boasts just about every type of connection you might want, and it's pretty much plug-and-play, with minimal settings or controls to content with. An LED around the power button lets you know which input is active, and that's about it.
The size leaves enough space for a pretty hefty subwoofer inside, while the BMR drivers ensure an even spread of sound around the room, making the M3 a great option for either TV and film or just playing music from your phone over Bluetooth.
Read our full Q M3 review.
- RRP: £199
This Yamaha unit is a beast. With dual front speakers and dual built-in subwoofers, it’s a great, affordable option for those who want one product that solves all their TV audio problems.
Its slim, one-body design is really low profile so will sit in front of a slightly raised TV with no problem. The pairing of speakers and subwoofers allows for the best virtual surround sound possible from a single bar unit.
It comes with a remote control that allows for precise fine-tuning of the set up, handy if you use the system for music playback as well as TV.
- RRP: £599
Sonos has stormed onto the world audio scene at an impressive rate of knots. This, the PLAYBAR is one of its most popular and versatile products and is one of the best soundbars in the world – if not the cheapest.
Sonos’ attraction is its quality and its simplicity. You can use it as a home HiFi system as well as your TV’s speaker. Wireless setup is a breeze with the companion app, which also connects to major streaming services such as Spotify or Apple Music with ease.
If you love the PLAYBAR you can then easily expand your speaker setup around the home with the rest of the Sonos line; speakers can be added, moved and customised with ease and all controlled from your phone or tablet. It’s expensive, but with good reason – it’s one of the best soundbars out there.
See also: Best Sonos speakers 2016
- RRP: £149
This Sony soundbar comes with a subwoofer and is excellent value at just over £100 at the time of writing. The system packs in virtual surround sound processing and an easy way to connect wireless devices with NFC.
The 2.1 channel system’s two drivers give balanced audio reproduction for your main TV, creating a cinematic experience wherever you decide to place it. This is helped by Sony’s ClearAudio+ technology that automatically optimises depending on the audio format.
If you want room filling, knock-you-off-your-chair sound, then there are better (and more expensive) options but as a midrange soundbar it will perform very well.