Audio specialist Focal has finally entered the ever growing and increasingly popular soundbar market, with the Dimension – a customisable speaker that looks to give you better sound quality and a cheaper price than the other high-end alternatives. Instead of just being confined to a soundbar, the Dimension can also be easily turned into a soundbase, giving your 50-inch or above TV a place to sit, while improving the sound at the same time.
A Bluetooth dongle adds in wireless audio streaming from a smartphone or tablet, while a wireless subwoofer is also available if you’d prefer not to go down the soundbase route.
We’ve been big fans of Focal products for a while now (its Spirit headphones are very impressive) and from our initial time with the Dimension is sounds awesome – with sharp and well balanced audio whether you’re watching explosion filled action blockbusters or listening to music.
It’s well designed too, sleek and black, and we especially like the motion sensing buttons that glow when you wave your hand over them and disappear when you move away.
Dimension Soundbar inc Bluetooth Receiver £889, Dimension Soundbar inc Sound Base and Bluetooth Receiver £1199, Dimension Soundbase £329 | Focal
This metallic silver soundbar and glossy grey, wireless subwoofer look fl ashy compared to the more staid black boxes on test, but it’s performance is serious. the sub is particularly well integrated, offering rich unobtrusive bass that complements rather than overwhelms the mids and treble. Samsung quotes a total power output of 310W. We’d take that with a pinch of salt, but while this is no sofa-shaker, there is enough punch on tap. Connectivity is also good, with an HDMI loop-through in addition to an optical digital input and a rear-mounted USB. it also play tunes via Bluetooth but not aptX.
With an ARC-compliant HDMI for easier communication between TV and soundbar, plus two standard HDMIs, aptX Bluetooth and twin digital audio inputs, this soundbar is a versatile fella. With tapered edges and a smart look it’s also a good-looking one. The powerplant is meaty too, with a 100W wireless subwoofer and stereo 30W speakers. Audio quality is reassuringly robust, with a soundstage that’s well balanced and fulsome. The only thing missing is a Dolby Digital decoder but if you lace it to your TV with that ARC HDMI, that shouldn’t be an issue. The price makes this a genuine bargain.
Roth Audio Bar3
Plasticky this lengthy soundbar may be, but what it lacks in design finesse the Bar3 makes up for in volume. Inside the main bar lurk two 40W speakers, whilst the lightweight, wireless subwoofer has a 60W bark that goes painfully loud. The sub actually does most of the sonic legwork, which probably explains why everything sounds a bit thumpy. It’s directional, so position it close to the soundbar. What else is provided? There’s a digital audio connection but no Dolby Digital. You can stream tracks from mobile devices over Bluetooth, but no aptX means average streamed sound. A decent effort, even so.
Bose Solo TV sound system
Not so much a sound bar, but more of a sound box, this device sits under your TV, connects to it via one simple connection and provides good quality noise. Audio is clear, plus there’s a good balance and it can cope really well with loud volumes.
Developed in partnership with Sony Pictures’ Soundworks, this flagship sound bar features 7.1 channels driven by a discrete S-Master Digital Amplifier, while Magnetic Fluid Speakers ensure vocal clarity is crisp. Sony claim that you’ll have a far wider sound sweet spot for the best sound than the competition, so the whole room should filled with quality audio. Bluetooth support means you can easily share audio from your smartphone, while the added bonus of NFC means device pairing should be simple.
Harman Kardon Sabre SB 26
While quite a bit cheaper than its brother, the SB 35, the 26 still manages to sport dual drivers, a 1-inch dome tweeter and two 3-inch mid-range drivers. There are two HDMI ports, one less than the 35 and a wireless, 100-watt subwoofer to give that extra bit of oomph.
The smaller sibling of Sony’s new sound bar range, the ST3 features a 4.1 channel discrete S-Master Digital Amplifier, paired with 11 speakers to fully immerse your room in sound. Bluetooth is also supported, so you can easily play your favourite tunes from your smartphone.
Harman Kardon SB 35
This top of the line soundbar comes packing 1.75-inch drivers, 1-inch tweeters along with support for Dolby Digital True HD decoding. Other features include three HDMI ports, Bluetooth technology and a rather sleek and super slim design. A companion iOS and Android app is also available, allowing you to stream your music collection straight to the sound bar.
Sonos builds fantastic sounding, multi-room audio streamers, so it’s no surprise their entry into the soundbar market is also pretty impressive. Inside the good-looking shell are six mid-range drivers, backed up by three tweeters. Sound quality is impressive, sharp and room filling, great for both movies and music alike. On the back there are two Ethernet ports and an optical input – for connecting it to your TV. As with the other Sonos devices, iOS and Android apps are available – streamlining your set-up even further.
Sony has gone thoroughly top-end for this soundbar, pricing it higher than many of the rivals, yet packing it with features. First off there’s NFC enabled Bluetooth pairing – for super fast set-up, then there are nine drivers powered by seven amplifiers and a wireless subwoofer with dual bass drivers, ensuring audio is powerful. Sound optimising tech levels loudness, while round the back are seven inputs for HDMI and digital and anolog connections as well.
Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 2
With a swooping, curvaceous design, this is just as much of a fashion statement as it is a soundbar. Ensuring it’s not style over substance though are the Panorama 2's drive units, which encase the room in immersive sound and an improved acoustic performance. Connectivity is simple, using the rear HDMI ports, while the front display can be used with just a wave of your hand.
JBL Cinema SB400
JBL has paired a soundbar with a rather sizable subwoofer to create a super-sounding combo that will improve your movie and TV watching experience no-end. There are three HDMI inputs, Bluetooth connectivity for wireless streaming, while the soundbar itself is black and sleek and pretty minimal. Music is bassy and dynamic, while movies sound powerful – thanks to the 120w of power from the bar and a 100w amplifier in the subwoofer.
LG’s entry into the soundbar market is one good-looking piece of kit, with a slim-design and a sleek look, this will sit pride of place underneath your TV. 310w 3D surround sound, stemming from LG’s unique calibration tech fills your room with joyful audio, while a 3.5mm port even lets you plug in your iPod or smartphone.
Orbit Sound M9
Constructed of wood, this soundbar and subwoofer combo packs a load of features into a small, compact product. Orbitsound’s Spatial Sound Technology utilises side-firing speakers to ensure the audio fills the room, while the wireless subwoofer uses an ultra-low latency connection to make sure it stays in-sync. Bluetooth streaming is also supported, allowing you to play content from your phone through the speakers.
Philips HTL 9100
What sets this soundbar out from the crowd are its detachable wireless surround speakers, allowing you to get crisp 5.1 surround sound throughout your room. There’s also a wireless subwoofer, so you can have a great sounding system, but still say goodbye to wires. Around the back are two HDMI inputs, while Bluetooth is fully supported for a spot of music streaming. The design is stylish, while the sound is thoroughly engrossing and crisp.
Ditching the usual black design of sound bars, Samsung has gone all silver with their entry – packing it with 310 watts of power, Dolby and DTS support while the Valve Amp filters out any unnecessary sounds to give you clean, crisp audio. There’s a myriad of connectivity options including USB, Bluetooth and HDMI, plus its quick installation makes setting it up a breeze.