One unfortunate side effect of TVs now being about the thickness of a pencil is that they can often feel a bit short of volume, with dialogue being hard to pick out, and music tinny and, as musicologists would put it, 'shite'.
You could, of course, get an AV receiver and surround sound speakers, but will your other half really like that? Is your front room even suitable? The answers to those questions may well be, 'no way, Jose'.
Enter the soundbar and, more recently and expensively, the sound base.
What is the best soundbar or soundbase?
We have selected seven bars 'n' bases that all sound great, but cover different listeners for different needs.
To that end, there are 'best for' bars for everything from surround sound to style to music.
Best bar pound for pound, bar none, is the Q Acoustics M3, which is the successor to the M4, logically enough. It is a great performer with both movies and music, allows for Bluetooth streaming from your phone, and looks suitably chic, all for a reasonable, sub-£300 price.
- The best soundbar needs the best 4K TV
- Best wi-fi multiroom speakers
- Best high-end Bluetooth speakers
How to buy a soundbar
As televisions get slimmer they may look more attractive, but the audio quality is thin, too. A soundbar puts back some power and bass without the intrusive cables and clutter of a home cinema system.
First thing to bear in mind is they don't all supply surround sound – just as many soundbars deal only in stereo, so choose accordingly. Stereo is more reliable, surround sound can be magical. Or it can be a mess.
Some have subwoofers built-in to the main unit, while others include separate woofers, often 'wireless' (although of course, they aren't, as they must be plugged into mains).
Many now also boast Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi to stream music wirelessly from phones.
The main thing to bear in mind with soundbars is where to position them. If your TV is on a media unit, and you're planning to just plonk the soundbar in front of it, you may find it blocks your remote control.
For that reason, you might want to consider a sound base as they sit right under the TV, acting as a mini stand. This means they can't block the remote's IR connection but it also makes them less suitable if you've got your TV wall mounted, or sat on a standard TV stand.
Another key thing to look out for is the number and type of wired connections on offer. HDMI isn't perfect but it is the easiest way to plug and play, yet some bars and bases don't include it, using optical digital instead.
Also handy: if you plug your bar or base into your TV's ARC HDMI, you can then handle key controls from your TV's remote, which means you can afford to lose the soundbar's remote control. Which you probably will.
The Magnificent 7 best soundbars and soundbases to buy today
1. Q Acoustics M3
Best all-round mid-price soundbar
There are bigger-sounding soundbars, sexier ones and fuller-featured ones but the M3 offers absolute simplicity and great sound with both music and movies.
Just plug in via HDMI (there's also Apt-X Bluetooth, a 3.5mm and optical connection for additional sources) and, well, that's it.
For all their supposed simplicity, all the other bars and bases here offered at least a certain amount of pain in the ass, but this one really was straightforward.
As with any bar, you can place this in front of your TV, under it in a media unit or wall mounted below it. Unlike most soundbars, the M3 even has a switch to optimise audio for each position although, if I'm being honest, it's hard to say it made much difference.
The really great thing about the M3 is that it nails all three of the things you want a soundbar to do. It provides a volume and clarity boost to TV, gives an exciting and powerful leg-up to movies, with effects and music widescreened, without losing dialogue, and it also delivers exceptional clout with musical sources.
Subtle it perhaps isn't, but Led Zeppelin's live DVD really does feel like an army of berzerkers coming at you with the M3 whacked up.
Interestingly, the older M4 is still available for about the same price and is highly rated by audiophiles, but it's a lot uglier, lacks HDMI and audiophiles largely dislike it because it is 'too bassy', which is an oxymoron.
2. Sonos Playbase
Best soundbase and the most stylish option
This by far the most beautiful item on this page. Yes it's more than twice the price of the Q Acoustics but, you get what you pay for.
This soundbase sits under your telly looking handsome but it can also put out anything from a subtle and nuanced performance to a veritable tsunami of sound through its umpteen drivers. It also does a decent job of making Poldark's 'actors' audible.
Being a Sonos gizmo the Playbase is compatible with its other, multi-room speakers, and can also use them as rear surround and centre, dialogue speakers. It's excellent as a music speaker.
Setup is a bit of a pain as you have to roam the room waving your phone around to 'tune' it, and even after you've done all that, the sound stage is not as wide as you'd expect. Sonos' app remains constantly teetering on the brink of being annoying, too.
That is quibbling though, really. The Playbase is an excellent audio/lifestyle product.
3. Samsung HW-K950
Best soundbar for Dolby Atmos
An even more serious proposition, this loses points for really being a 3.1 system rather than a true one-box soundbar.
However, it then regains those points and more by providing an astounding Dolby Atmos experience from one (large, cardboard) box (with four speakers in it).
The largest portion of the package, the soundbar sits in front of or under your telly as usual, while two small speakers fire forwards and upwards to deliver Atmos effects, and a subwoofer provides the bottom end.
Admittedly there's not a lot of Atmos ready for home listening, but Samsung's setup will also have a stab at 'upscaling' standard surround audio to 5.1.4, if you wish.
Add Bluetooth, Wi-fi streaming and multi-room, with compatible Samsung speakers, and you have a system that, while a lot more space-demanding than its rivals, undeniably gives a lot in return.
4. Bose Soundtouch 300
Best soundbar with a surround option
The Soundtouch 300 is a good-looking machine that's easy to setup via HDMI ARC although, I have heard it said, much less so over optical audio.
It's also fully featured, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth audio streaming, and the sonic performance is seldom less than impressive.
We'd take the bars and bases above it if that was where the Soundtouch 300's charms ended but add a Bose subwoofer and a pair of its tiny satellite speakers and you have very easy, true 5.1 surround, and that really sparkles.
Unfortunately, you will need to shell out a further 850 quid for that privilege (£250 for the rear surround satellites, £600 for the woofer).
The only other thing I didn't like is that setup involves strapping a microphone to your head and then moving around the room. I'd really rather keep some dignity while setting up a soundbar.
5. Orbitsound ONE P70
A super one-box soundbar
The main idea of the One P70 is that it's not just a soundbar, but an affordable living room audio one-stop-shop. Indeed, you can use it in three different ways - as a tabletop speaker, a TV soundbar or a wall-mounted box. Alongside Bluetooth connectivity, the One P70 also features optical as you'd expect as well as a 3.5mm auxillary input in a cut-out area on the bottom. No HDMI here, so everything needs to be connected to your TV. Unfortunately the One P70 doesn't have Wi-Fi capability. We always understand manufacturers not putting AirPlay into their devices, but Spotify Connect is fast becoming a must-have.
5. Sonos Playbar
The other Sonos option
If you're in love with Sonos multiroom, the Playbar is your other chance to bring it to your home entertainment system.
As with the Playbase, if you already have a couple of Sonos Play:1's hanging around your house, you can even bring them in to act as rear speakers to the Playbar's front, left and right speaker array.
Also as with the Playbase, Playbar does't have HDMI, so connection to your TV is via digital optical audio only. I flag this up because, in the case of my Panasonic, it was a bit of a nightmare.
In terms of sonics, it's also very similar to the Soundbase, but less meaty and aggressive. The multi-room streaming element is also present and correct, and the app is still kind of annoying but not enough to be a deal breaker.
6. Philips Fidelio B1 Nano
Best small soundbar
The charmingly bijou B1 Nano is an affordable and very easy to fit soundbar. Yes, there is a subwoofer too, but as ever with subs, you can hide it in some nook or cranny.
The bar itself is only about 40cm long, yet gives a great sound stage for the B1 Nano's size and cost. It's more of a pure movies and TV booster - music playback is less impressive, although perfectly acceptable in small doses.
7. Raumfeld Sounddeck
Best soundbase for loud music
Okay, this one is a bit self-indulgent of me, but if you only have room in your lounge for one speaker, to serve both music and TV, and you mainly favour the former, this German behemoth could be worth a look.
With three EQ presets, the Sounddeck gives a big volume boost to TV and movies but it's a very 'stereo' sound that loses some soundtrack subtleties.
On the other hand, put some hard rock, techno, hip-hop or reggae through it and turn up the volume and your neighbours will be at your door asking why the walls are shaking. This is an absolute beast with heavy music.
The Sounddeck is part of Raumfeld's multi-room streaming family of speakers, which involves an app that at times is so annoying, it makes Sonos look like a model of elegantly-coded efficiency.
However, on the other hand, Raumfeld's speakers absolutely kill if you like hard rock, techno and Wagner (ie: the music that all German people listen to all the time). I love them.