Most people are unhappy with the audio produced by their TVs, but don’t like the idea of running cabling around the room to install a surround sound system. The alternative for most 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 2020, along with the key features to consider when on the hunt for a soundbar.
Best soundbar 2020
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.
Considering it’s available for much less than its RRP at Currys in the UK, it 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 expensive, admittedly, but it’s worth pointing out that you get a similar offering without a subwoofer from the competing Sonos Playbase, featured below. 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. 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.
Plus, despite being the entry-level Sonos soundbar, it has features like Amazon Alexa and HDMI ARC support not offered by its bigger brothers, so there’s a lot to like about the Sonos Beam.
Read our full Sonos Beam review
4. Sonos Playbase - Most feature-packed
The Sonos Playbase is the most expensive standalone soundbar in our chart, but like most other Sonos products, you get what you pay for: the Playbase offers superior sound quality, design and all the little extras - like AirPlay 2, Multi-room audio and Spotify Connect - that make Sonos speakers stand out.
Unlike all the other soundbars in our chart, the Playbase is designed to sit beneath your TV. No, literally, you put your TV on top of the wide base of the Playbase. That also means the Playbase is much wider than the other soundbars in our chart, so it’ll come down to whether you want your TV to sit on top of your soundbar and whether your TV stand can accommodate the large dimensions.
Read our full Sonos Playbase review
5. 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
6. 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 2020, 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 app, and thus, the need for mains power. That’s possible when using a wire to connect the sub to the soundbar as it’ll be powered by 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!