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It’s not a exaggeration to say that the best soundbars can revolutionise your viewing experience, whether that’s afternoons on the sofa watching sports, movie nights or just your next Netflix binge. If you can’t hear the action, then you’re in danger of missing out on key details.

Most modern smart TVs are designed to be as thin as possible, and so it’s pretty impossible to include good speakers within their minimised interiors. A soundbar, then, is a worthy investment that compensates for this with fantastic bass, clarity and more.

And soundbars also come in a variety of shapes and sizes, taking into account the fact that most people don’t have the space for a large, cumbersome speaker system.

Ordinarily a single speaker bar can sit snugly under the TV, and the subwoofer accompanying some models are usually wireless for easier placement. That makes these ‘2.1 systems’ easy to install and incorporate into your existing set-up.

We’ve taken a look at some of the best soundbars available right now, ranking them on their design, sound quality and more to make your choice a little easier. And if you’re in the market for a new TV to match your upgraded sound, check out our ranking of the best TVs.

The best soundbars in 2021

1. Panasonic SC-HTB900EBK

Best soundbar overall

Panasonic SC-HTB900EBK 3.1 Wireless Sound Bar

Credit: Panasonic

Connectivity: Bluetooth
Smart: Yes
Power: 505W
Dimensions: 12.8 x 105 x 7.8cm
Weight: 14.4kg

If you want Dolby Atmos with deep powerful bass, but don’t have the space or budget for a Sennheiser Ambeo, Panasonic’s SC-HTB900 is our preferred affordable alternative.

Compact and versatile, this 3.1 system can be expanded into a fully-fledged surround sound system with optional additional rear speakers, if the whim takes you. And its bass performance is profound.

The good news is it looks terrific too, with a smart curved grille and touch controls for power, volume and input selection. Panasonic sometimes forgets to add style to its substance, but that’s certainly not the case here.

Adding extra confidence is a ‘Tuned by Technics’ badge, which hints that this soundbar can satisfy audiophiles.

Connections include two HDMIs and optical digital audio. Naturally there’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth too.

The SC-HTB900 uses a front-facing left, centre, right driver array, with a pair of woofers and dome tweeter for the left/right stereo channels, plus matching twin woofers to handle centre channel. The wireless subwoofer sits on a moulded plastic base, so it’ll sound equally good on carpet as a wooden floor.

Measuring just over a metre wide, the SC-HTB900 bar is best partnered with TVs 55-inches and larger.

Unusually for a Dolby Atmos bar, there are no up-firing speakers built-in. Instead a 3D Surround effect creates an illusion of height. However, what really impressed us was the width of the Panasonic’s soundstage and the musicality of its presentation.

Total power output is rated at 505W, which breaks down to 3 x 85w across the front, and 250W driving the sub.

This Panasonic is exciting when it needs to be, but can hold a tune, too. And that wireless sub adds a huge amount of depth to the mix.

Ideal Home rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

2. Bose Smart Soundbar 300

Best smart soundbar (runner up)

Bose Smart Soundbar 300

Credit: Bose

Connectivity: Bluetooth, USB, HDMI, Opt
Smart: Yes
Dimensions: 5.6 x 67.5 x 10.2cm
Weight: 2.4kg

A great example of a smart home soundbar, the Bose Soundbar 300 is the more compact stablemate to the Bose SB700.

This home theatre all-in-one offers voice control courtesy of an eight-microphone array, optimised for both near-field and far-field voice pickup. It’s compatible with Amazon Alexa, Apple Airplay 2 and Google Assistant, so there’s plenty of smart home options.

As we’ve come to expect from Bose, design and cosmetic finish are high.

Standing just 5.6cm tall, and 67.5cm wide, this compact soundbar sports a subtle matte finish and has a smart aluminium grille that wraps around the sides.

Connections comprise a single HDMI and optical digital audio. There are touch sensitive buttons up top for power and microphone control.

Behind the grille you’ll find three forward facing drivers, supported by side firing cones to each side. Despite its relatively high price, this isn’t a Dolby Atmos compatible soundbar.

The Soundbar 300 ships with a tidy remote control, but can also be driven with a matching Bose app. If you want multi-room audio, you can easily link the soundbar with other Bose speakers around the home.

If you find the SB300 light on bass, it’s upgradable with the Bose Bass Module 500 wireless subwoofer. If you’re really feeling flush, you can even add dedicated Bose rear speakers, creating a fully cinematic 5.1 experience.

Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars

3. Vizio 36” 2.1 Sound Bar

Best soundbar for beginners

VIZIO 36” 2.1 Sound Bar

Credit: Vizio

Connectivity: Bluetooth, USB, Opt
Smart: No
Dimensions: 91.4 x 13.3 x 5.2cm
Weight: 3.4kg

Reasons to buy

  • Affordable price
  • DTS Virtual X surround sound
  • Bluetooth

Reasons to avoid

  • No HDMI connection

If you’re just now dipping your toe into the wonderful world of TV speakers, then the Vizio 36″ 2.1 Soundbar could be the one for you. A huge brand in the US, a few products have travelled over the ocean to the UK, and for a bargain price.

This low-cost offering from Vizio does a lot with a little, offering a good depth to bass, adjustable EQ, two built-in subwoofers and DTS Virtual X for a surround sound effect. You can switch between music and movie modes for the best experience with both, and the remote allows you to adjust bass and treble to your tastes.

Of course, the Vizio soundbar doesn’t exactly look high-end, but it does have a slightly unique shape, and the fabric covering the grille ensures it’s not an eyesore. You can lay it flat or upright to change both how it looks and where the sound emanates from, and brackets for wall mounting are included.

The biggest drawback of the soundbar is the lack of HDMI ports, which limits how you can connect it to your TV. Instead, you just have optical and 3.5mm aux connections, as well as USB for WAV and MP3 formats and Bluetooth.

4. Sony HT-ZF9 3.1 Wireless Cinematic Sound Bar

Best Dolby Atmos soundbar (runner up)

SONY HT-ZF9 3.1 Wireless Cinematic Sound Bar

Credit: Sony

Connectivity: Bluetooth, HDMI, USB, Wi-Fi
Smart: Yes
Dimensions: 9.9 x 100 x 6.4cm
Weight: 11.2kg

This ultra slim bar and partnering wireless subwoofer offers Dolby Atmos sound and High-Resolution audio, making it a fine choice for home cinema and Hi-Fi enthusiasts.

A metre wide, the HT-ZF9 suits 55- to 65-inch screens. Connections include three HDMIs, a 3.5 mm minijack and optical digital audio input.

In addition to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, there’s Google Chromecast built-in so it can connect your Google phone or smart-home device

This is another Dolby Atmos bar that doesn’t employ up-firing speakers, instead it boasts Sony’s Vertical Sound Engine to fool our ears into thinking sounds are coming from up high. It works a treat, engulfing the listener in various sound effects.

Auditioned with Dolby Atmos soundtracks from Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, we were thrilled by its cinematic performance.

Dolby Atmos movies play with exaggerated height and width, while the subwoofer has a welcome kick. If you want to go full surround, you can also upgrade with Sony’s optional rear speakers.

Its high-res drivers are crisp and smooth too, perfectly in tune with the latest generation of HD music streaming services from the likes of Amazon, Tidal and Deezer.

Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars

5. Sony HT-MT300 Soundbar

Best compact soundbar

Sony HT-MT300 2.1 Wireless Sound Bar

Credit: Sony

Connectivity: Bluetooth, Opt, NFC
Smart: No
Dimensions: 52 x 56.4 x 15.3cm
Weight: 1.4kg

Reasons to buy

  • Wireless sub can be placed under sofa
  • Bluetooth and NFC connectivity
  • S-Force Pro virtual surround sound

Reasons to avoid

  • Can’t be wall mounted
  • No HDMI connection

If you’re short on space then the Sony HT-MT300 soundbar is a compact and affordable option that comes with a wireless subwoofer and pairing for Bluetooth and Android via NFC.

With a matte black or white finish and diminutive stature, the HT-MT300 would be a great choice for a bedroom TV or guest room, sitting comfortably underneath even smaller TVs. Buttons for adjusting volume, inputs, power and connecting to Bluetooth sit on top, and you can switch EQs between music and movie settings.

S-Force Pro virtual surround sound has been enlisted to boost your room’s audio, but reports vary on whether this is worth it or not. You won’t be blown away, but it’s an added extra to consider.

The only big problem with this bar is the fact that it can’t be wall mounted, so bear this in mind when you’re making your choice. The lack of width also means that the in-built subwoofers are too close together for optimal sound quality, even if the overall effect is nice and balanced.

6. Sony HT-SF150

Best soundbar for audio modes

Sony HT-SF150 2.0 Sound Bar

Credit: Sony

Connectivity: Bluetooth, Opt, HDMI ARC, USB
Smart: No
Dimensions: 6.4 x 90 x 8.8cm
Weight: 2.4kg

Reasons to buy

  • Bluetooth connection
  • Dolby Digital
  • Auto mode and enhanced dialogue

Reasons to avoid

  • Wall mounting materials not included

From the standard, cinema and music modes you might expect to find on a soundbar, the Sony HT-SF150 soundbar also offers a convenient auto mode that differentiates between what you’re watching without manually switching, enhanced dialogue for when you want to concentrate on the words, and a night mode for reduced bass and dynamic range.

Connect the bar with the optical cable provided or bypass the need for a separate remote by hooking it up with a HDMI ARC cable. Despite being on the lower end of the price scale, the HT-SF150 looks quite lovely with a wrap around grille, and the audio is decent too with added Dolby Digital boosting your audio experience.

Be aware that the Sony soundbar can be wall mounted, but the fixings that you’ll need aren’t included so plan ahead if you don’t have space on your TV stand.

7. Majority K2 Soundbar

Best budget soundbar

Majority K2 2.1 Wireless Sound Bar

Credit: Majority

Connectivity: Bluetooth, HDMI, OPT, RCA, USB
Smart: No
Dimensions: 76.2 x 5.3 x 6.9cm
Weight: 3.36kg

Reasons to buy

  • Good looking affordable option
  • 3 x EQ settings
  • Tree planted for every purchase

Reasons to avoid

  • Subwoofer lacks power

A sleek-looking product with great sound output and an eco-conscious message behind it, the Majority K2 Soundbar comes in the form of a slim speaker and wireless subwoofer, significantly boosting your TV’s sound for a budget price.

While the bass from the subwoofer can’t quite measure up to that of some competitors, the convenience of a basic wireless surround sound-esque set-up and the affordable price tag will more than makes up for this lack for many. The soundbar also comes with a pleasing amount of features.

From Bluetooth and USB media playback to expanded bass, treble and EQ options, the offering from Majority lets you get the audio just how you like it.

Connect the soundbar to your television via HDMI ARC, Optical Audio or RCA if your set-up is on the older side, and you’ll immediately notice the enhanced sound quality. You can also mount the speaker to the wall if you don’t have a TV stand, but it looks great either way.

And along with the planet (and expenses) friendly power consumption, Majority plans to plant a tree for every customer, so that’s a nice little bonus!

Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Why do I need a soundbar?


Image Credit: Sony

Star Wars director George Lucas says ‘sound is 50 per cent of the movie-going experience’. He probably had his movies in mind when he said this, but we reckon the same applies to repeats of Love Actually…

Thanks to new display technologies like OLED and edge-lit LED, the average TV is now wafer thin. But while they look stylish and its image quality is often breathtakingly good, there’s a high price paid when it comes to audio performance.

With no room to accommodate even modestly-sized speakers, today’s TVs can sound thin and feeble. While some high-end TVs come with quite advanced sound systems, the vast majority of sets are lacking, and these are well worth upgrading with a soundbar.

Even the cheapest soundbar will give you better clarity and greater volume than a standard TV speaker system. And the best will transform your viewing completely.

Furthermore, most soundbars also offer Bluetooth, so you can get the best sound when streaming shows to your TV from your phone or tablet.

What size soundbar do I need?

It makes sense to buy a soundbar that pairs up nicely with the size of your TV. Parking a compact bar in front of a 65-inch giant telly doesn’t just look odd, it won’t generate the kind of sound required.

Ideally, the soundbar should be slightly smaller in width than the screen it’s going to be partnered with.

Can you use a soundbar on any TV?

Essentially, yes. There are two ways to connect a soundbar to a TV, through the HDMI slot and via digital optical audio.

All new TVs have HDMI inputs. This single connection sends the sound from the TV to the soundbar with ease.

If your set is an older model that lacks an HDMI slot, then the digital optical audio cable will do the same job.

The entire set up process shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes – and that includes brewing a cuppa and making a token attempt to read any instructions in the box.

What are the differences between each soundbar?

Typical soundbars will be either stereo or multichannel. If a bar is stereophonic and comes with a subwoofer then it’s called a 2.1 system – the .1 always refers to the subwoofer.

If it’s a home cinema-style soundbar, with multiple drivers used to emulate various channels of sound, it’ll be described as 3.1 or 5.1.

Of course, the beauty of a soundbar is that it’s more or less an all-in-one solution. So a multichannel capable soundbar will look much like a stereo one.

In practical terms, a stereo soundbar will fire audio towards the listener, while a multichannel bar magically creates the illusion that sounds are coming from all around the room.

How we test the best soundbars

Our featured soundbars have been tried and tested for both technical performance and how they compliment the sound and aesthetic of the TVs we watched them with.

We put our ears to the ground (metaphorically, not literally) and listened out for high sound-quality, echoes and reverb and for whether the soundbars can handle films, TV and music at loud volumes.

How the soundbar looks with your TV is important, too, so we found out whether certain soundbars blend well with ultra-wide, super thin TVs and whether they look good beside, above or underneath the telly.

Also, we rate the soundbars on ease of installation, compatibility and little added extras, like Bluetooth and connection to phones and smart-home devices, like the Amazon Alexa.

Additional words by Amy Cutmore; Caroline Preece

The post Best soundbar – boost your TV's sound for game days and film nights appeared first on Ideal Home.

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