Looking to improve the quality of sound from your TV set? After a number of complaints about poor TV audio from the likes of SS-GB, Happy Valley and Taboo, a soundbar may be the most convenient solution, particularly if space is limited.
For general advice on TV speakers check out our article Which speakers are best to improve your TV sound?
What are soundbars?
Designed to accompany modern flatscreen TVs, soundbars are elongated, slim speaker units with several speakers built in. They can replace your TV’s integrated speakers – which are often underpowered and deliver a somewhat flat and lifeless sound – with something much more dynamic and powerful, and to do so in a simple way that doesn’t require yards of cabling or multiple separate speakers to be positioned around your room.
How do soundbars work?
Not all soundbars work in the same way. Some work much like conventional speakers, pumping out sound directly from under your TV, while others use directional speakers or “virtual surround sound” technology to place situational effects in different parts of your living room.
Some are also paired with separate rear speakers and/or a subwoofer to work more like traditional multi-speaker home cinema sound systems – which obviously means saying goodbye to that largely cable-free setup.
In terms of connectivity, different soundbars hook up to your audio source in different ways: standard analogue cables, HDMI cables, optical digital cables. Many also feature Bluetooth, allowing them to act as wireless speakers with your phone, tablet or laptop.
Are they as good as ‘real’ speakers?
When it comes to creating clearly separated surround sound effects in various parts of your living room, nothing is going to beat a classic multi-channel, multi-speaker setup. If that’s what you need, you probably shouldn’t be looking at soundbars.
However, if you want your movies, shows and video games to get a bigger, better audio accompaniment than your TV’s built-in speakers can muster, without the hassle of placing wired speakers all over your room, a soundbar is the perfect solution.
Where to place soundbars
If your TV is positioned on a stand or cabinet, the soundbar should be placed underneath it – either on the same level or on the shelf below. For wall-mounted TVs, you can place the soundbar on a shelf under the screen, or in the case of models that offer a bracket, you can wall mount it below or above the TV.
Soundbars under £100
You’ll struggle to find a better soundbar at this price – and there’s even a subwoofer thrown in for good measure. Philips has put together a package that not only boasts power but refinement – and it looks lovely too.
Soundbars under £200
JBL Boost TV
Is space at a premium? This compact soundbar will fit comfortably into the snuggest of living rooms, but don’t let its diminutive form fool you: living up to its name, it’ll boost your TV’s audio to a level you’d never get from built-in speakers.
Acoustic Energy Aego Sound3ar
This nicely compact soundbar-and-subwoofer combo delivers killer sound for the cost, and feels nicely built for its price too. A great budget option.
Soundbars under £300
£259, John Lewis
With a generous 360W of audio muscle, this soundbar and subwoofer setup provides ample power to fill medium-to-large rooms. And it’s easy to add LG wireless speakers to the mix later, expanding it into a ‘proper’ surround sound system.
Q Acoustics M3
Sleek and stylish, the M3 nevertheless delivers a strong and powerful all-round performance with a wide dispersion of sound, which it pairs with a strong range of connectivity: HDMI, optical digital and two analogue inputs, plus Bluetooth aptX for high-quality music streaming.
The Playbar isn’t just a soundbar that boosts your TV experience (although it does so, very well) – it also integrates into Sonos’ multi-room wireless audio ecosystem, working as an excellent wireless speaker for music and radio. It can also be teamed with a dedicated Sonos subwoofer for extra bass oomph.
B&W Panorama 2
A premium soundbar from Brit audio stalwarts Bowers & Wilkins, the Panorama 2 benefits from a solid, heavyweight cabinet with nine speaker drivers, helping it to create a direct, authoritative sound with clear dialogue. Also features three HDMI inputs, giving you plenty of room for hooking up sources.
£1,699, Richer Sounds
If money’s no object and you have plenty of space, few soundbars can match the audio chops of the YSP-5600, which features 46 individual speakers. Some of these are directed upwards to bounce sound around your room and create an enveloping – and convincing – Dolby Atmos surround sound effect. BT Sport was the first UK broadcaster to offer the technology for live sports broadcast. Find out more