Most people are underwhelmed with the sound quality on offer from their TVs, and many are put off by the idea of hooking up a multi-speaker surround sound system. The best alternative is a soundbar, offering much-improved audio quality in a relatively compact package that sits in front of your TV.
Depending on your budget, your soundbar can do much more than simply play TV audio - some high-end options offer compatibility with AirPlay and Chromecast, while others offer Spotify Connect integration for wireless music playback. There are even some that offer compatibility with virtual assistants like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, allowing you to control your soundbar with your voice.
With so many options available, which is the best for your needs? Here’s our selection of the best soundbars available in 2021, along with the key features to consider when on the hunt for a soundbar.
Best soundbar 2021
1. JBL Bar 5.1 Surround - Best overall
The JBL Bar 5.1 Surround is our favourite soundbar right now. The soundbar looks sleek and although it may lack standard connectivity options like aux-in, it more than makes up for it with the inclusion of both AirPlay 2 and Chromecast alongside Optical In, HDMI and Bluetooth connectivity.
Using JBL’s own cinema-level MultiBeam technology within the system, the Bar 5.1 Surround sounds incredible, with the ability to easily project audio around the room with impressive detail, creating an immersive viewing experience. That’s backed up by the 10in wireless subwoofer that delivers thunderous bass, adjustable via the bundled remote.
Overall, the JBL Bar 5.1 offers both great value and impeccable performance.
Read our full JBL Bar 5.1 Surround review
2. Denon DHT-S516H - Best for booming bass
The Denon DHT-S516H soundbar system ticks a lot of boxes for tech-savvy consumers: it sounds marvellous, with crisp highs and booming bass that you can really feel in your chest, the wide soundscape is immersive and the variety of connectivity options from AirPlay 2 to Spotify Connect means you’ll probably be using the system as your go-to speaker for anything music-related, not just when watching TV.
It is high-end, admittedly, but it’s worth pointing out that you get a similar offering without a subwoofer from the competing Sonos Arc. The only real downside is the lack of a remote - the soundbar controls revolve around an app available for iOS and Android, and that’s not the most convenient way to control a soundbar.
Read our full Denon DHT-S516H review
3. Polk MagniFi 2 - Affordable 3D sound
Polk's affordable MagniFi 2 soundbar and wireless subwoofer combination offers a rich, immersive experience with decent 3D sound capabilities and thumping bass, but without the high-end price tag.
It offers great audio output customisation, making it easy to tweak the output depending on your own taste, and there are five presets to choose from if you're not too confident.
You've also got access to built-in Google Chromecast, allowing for wireless playback from the likes of Spotify and YouTube, and three HDMI 2.0 ports provide a handy extension for TVs devoid of HDMI ports. It's a capable bit of kit for the price.
The only downside? It's a fairly hefty setup, which isn't ideal for smaller TVs - we'd recommend 43in at a minimum.
Read our full Polk MagniFi 2 review
4. Sonos Beam - Best compact soundbar
If you want a Sonos soundbar specifically, the Beam will be the best choice for most consumers, offering a blend of great audio quality and an attractive price.
The main draw over the Beam compared to the Playbase and other Sonos speakers is its size: it’s much more compact than any other soundbar in our chart, making it perfect for smaller rooms. But despite the small dimensions, there’s no sacrifice in the audio department.
There’s excellent sound quality on offer, although it has to be noted that the Beam, like most other Sonos speakers, doesn’t come with a subwoofer.
Read our full Sonos Beam review
5. Sonos Arc - Most feature-packed
It took a while but Sonos has replaced its original soundbar with the fantastic Arc.
Beyond all the usual features you get from Sonos devices like multi-room, the Arc is all about spacial sound, thanks to drivers pointing in all directions and support for Dolby Atmos.
It's easily one of the best sounding soundbars we've ever tested, and it looks rather nice too.
It also benefits from eARC HDMI, although the problem here - apart from the Arc being expensive - is making sure your TV is compatible to get the most out of the soundbar. There's also no HDMI pass-though which makes it tricky for those with limited ports.
Read our full Sonos Arc review
6. Samsung S60T - Premium build at a mid-range price
The Samsung S60T is certainly one of the more stylish soundbars in our chart, offering the company's signature design language at a mid-range price. It's much more compact than the likes of the JBL Bar 5.1 too, although you'll only get a 4-channel setup here.
Connectivity is a mixed bag - you'll find ports for HDMI ARC and Optical in, meaning it's not ideal for older TVs, and while there's Bluetooth, there isn't AirPlay or Chromecast support. The soundbar does redeem itself somewhat with built-in Amazon Alexa support, allowing you to stream via Spotify, but I'd prefer being able to stream high-quality audio directly from my phone - especially at the price point of the S60T.
Audio quality is unsurprisingly excellent, utilising Samsung's Acoustic Beam technology to project sound around the room to provide an immersive viewing experience, but without a dedicated sub, some may find the bass a little underwhelming.
It's a bit on the expensive side for what's on offer, but if you're looking for something stylish, sometimes you have to pay a premium.
Read our full Samsung S60T review
7. Roku Streambar - The all-in-one entertainment package
Roku boasts one of the most feature-packed and intuitive smart TV experiences around, with a complete roster of UK streaming services and standout features like AirPlay 2 that aren't on offer from many alternatives in our chart - especially at such a cheap price point. Whether you've used Roku before or you're looking to upgrade your smart TV experience alongside TV audio, the Streambar is a great option.
Audio quality is generally great, producing room-filling audio suited to both TV shows and big Hollywood blockbusters, complete with the ability to boost the bass when required. That said, the lack of separate subwoofer means it isn't quite as bass-heavy as some of the alternatives in our chart.
Overall, it's a feature-packed soundbar that's also easy on the bank balance.
Read our full Roku Streambar review
8. Edifier S50DB - A great-looking standalone soundbar
The Edifier S50DB may not boast the smarts of other soundbars in our chart, but it certainly makes up for it in the design and audio departments.
It sports a gorgeous dark wood design that stands alone in a sea of metallic soundbars, and the audio is crisp and clear. Admittedly, the lack of a sub means it doesn’t offer the same room-shaking bass as others in our chart, but it's certainly noticeable.
It also boasts the most physical connectivity options of all the contenders in our chart, offering compatibility with just about every TV available right now, but in terms of wireless connectivity, you’ve only got Bluetooth connectivity available.
It might be expensive for those looking for something entry-level, but it’s actually great value when looking at the wider soundbar market.
Read our full Edifier S50DB review
9. Anker Nebula - A soundbar with Alexa integration
The Anker Nebula is a great two-in-one if you're looking to upgrade your TV audio and introduce smarts in the form of Amazon’s Fire TV stick, and it comes with a budget-friendly price tag too.
The audio quality is great at mid- to high-volume, providing booming bass and a wide soundscape, but distortion - particularly with vocals - at low volumes mean it's not the perfect audio experience.
Still, it offers an improvement compared to the majority of built-in TV speakers, and considering there’s an integrated Fire TV stick complete with Amazon Alexa, it offers bang for your buck.
Read our full Anker Nebula Soundbar - Fire TV Edition review
What should I consider when buying a soundbar?
The most important factor to consider when buying a soundbar is how you’ll connect it to your TV. The most common way to connect a soundbar is to use an optical cable, and most modern TVs support it, but it’s probably worth checking your TV has it before buying a soundbar. You’ll also find soundbars that feature HDMI connectivity with any ARC-supported TV - again, it’s worth checking that your TV has Audio Return Channel support before splashing the cash.
Most soundbars feature more than just Optical and HDMI - many feature auxiliary and stereo phono jack ports - and while they offer lower quality, analogue feeds, the upside is that either will work with pretty much any TV (and other 3.5mm-enabled devices).
But, in 2021, it’s all about wireless connectivity, so if you’ll be wanting to play music from your smartphone or tablet, we’d recommend investing in a soundbar with Bluetooth connectivity. It’s a fairly standard feature, admittedly, and all the soundbars we feature here offer Bluetooth support, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
Some soundbars take it a step further, offering wireless connectivity via AirPlay 2 and Chromecast, but these soundbars are generally at the higher end of the market.
What about power figures?
Some manufacturers attempt to wow consumers with huge amplifier power figures, but it’s not worth paying too much attention to. Even if the power figures are accurate, wattage isn’t a true representation of volume, as speaker sensitivity also has a part to play when it comes to overall volume.
Do I need a subwoofer?
Though there are exceptions to the rule, most standalone soundbars simply can’t produce full-range sound, so many offload the bass tones to a separate subwoofer. The dedicated subwoofer produces much deeper, richer bass than any standalone soundbar, making explosions, gunfire and the soundtracks in Hollywood blockbusters and the latest AAA games sound incredible.
There are two types of subwoofer - active and passive - with the latter ditching the built-in amp, and thus, the need for mains power. That’s made possible by using a wire to connect the sub to the soundbar and using the amp within the soundbar, but if you’re looking for a wireless subwoofer, you’ll need a second plug nearby to power the sub separately.
Can I wall mount a soundbar?
It’s becoming more popular, but the ability to wall mount a soundbar isn’t a feature that’s universally supported. It is possible, depending on the design of the soundbar, and any wall mount-able soundbar will come with all the brackets and parts you’ll need to attach it - apart from the drill, of course!