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.
Your buying guide to the best soundbars in 2019
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 away 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 that put 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.
What soundbar 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.
Best soundbars 2019
1. Sonos Playbar
The Playbar has been around for a while but it's still our favourite soundbar on the market.
It costs a lot of money but sometimes you get what you pay for. It looks great, is extremely well-built and has fantastic sound quality - plus has all the advantages you get with the Sonos experience.
We actually prefer it to the newer Playbase, namely on design but both are excellent products.
Read our full Sonos Playbar review
2. Orbitsound ONE P70
The ONE P70W is a great speaker, whether you use it as a traditional TV soundbar or stick it on a shelf and use it to play music via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
It's a shame that Wi-Fi adds £100 to the price compared to the ONE P70, but even at £399 it rivals the quality of speakers costing even more.
Read our full Orbitsound ONE P70 review
3. Q Acoustics M3 Soundbar
The Q M3 is a great soundbar, whether you opt to use it for films and TV or as an all-in-one Bluetooth music speaker. There's a wealth of connection options, impressive sound quality, and a slick design, all at a reasonable price - and it couldn't be simpler to use.
Read our full Q Acoustics M3 Soundbar review
4. Samsung HW-M450
There are better soundbars on the market, but they will cost you a lot more money so if you're budget doesn't stretch to the likes of Sonos then this is a great value option.
Samsung's M450 is a classic soundbar design with a wireless subwoofer providing bass. It's compact, wall-mountable and we like the hidden display and modern remote.
Overall, you get decent if not mindblowing sound that will improve upon almost any standard TV speakers. You also get plenty of connectivity including Bluetooth.
Read our full Samsung HW-M450 review
5. Sky Soundbox
The Sky Soundbox is a odd device to review because the price varies so much depending on whether you’re a Sky customer. If you are, the Soundbox is a steal at £299 or £249 for multi-screen subscribers.
It provides excellent audio and has some clever features, but the design makes it quite awkward to place and we’d rather it could do things like automatically change source.
But since several features are exclusive to Sky Q users, you’re best off with a Sonos Playbar, saving you £100 - unless you join Sky.
Read our full Sky Soundbox review
6. Sonos Playbase
The Playbase is expensive and you can certainly get a soundbar for a lot less if this is a problem.
Like with most Sonos products, you get you what pay for so the Playbase offers superior sound quality, design and all the additional features that Sonos has. This really comes down to design and whether you want to sit your TV on top of the speaker.
We still prefer the older Playbar, hence the lower chart position here.
Read our full Sonos Playbase review