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If the audio from your fabulously thin new flatscreen LED TV sucks and you don’t have the room or inclination for a full-blown home cinema system, then a soundbar or pedestal-style soundbase may solve your sonic dilemma. From stylish metal wands to audiophile-grade beauties, there’s no shortage of models to choose from. And with wireless subwoofers that automatically connect when they’re switched on, they’re a doddle to set up too. All you have to do is supply the popcorn…
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You’ll not easily park Arcam’s Solo ’bar under the TV (it’s huge!), but it’s a match for most bookshelf speakers so the girth is justifiable. Bass and mid-range drivers each get 20w from the onboard amp, with the tweeters getting 10w. The Solo sounds great and features a fully-integrated HDMI switcher, with four inputs all boasting 4K passthrough, plus two digital audio inputs, a 3.5mm minijack, and aptX Bluetooth. Offering sensational separation, beautiful sonic imaging and club-like volume, the Solo is a peerless, if pricey, performer.
Verdict: Proof that soundbars needn’t be a sonic compromise
£800 | Arcam
Boasting the enunciation of Bandersnatch Cummerbund, thanks to its nifty Voice Adjust feature, this brawny soundbar and subwoofer is perfect for high volume film watching. Not only can you make out murky downmixed dialogue, there’s enough sheer muscle (300w boasts Polk) on tap to make The Expendables envious. Wired connectivity is limited to optical digital audio and minijack, but you can Bluetooth aptX stream and there’s NFC hook-up. Build quality is on the plasticky side and a bit lightweight, but position them close and the soundstage is reassuring coherent.
Verdict: Polk’s MagniFi 2.1 system is all muscle
$400 | Polk
This nearly sounds as good as it looks. The ’bar employs a cunning low profile triangular design, which enables it to tuck neatly under a flatscreen TV, yet accommodate relatively large drive units. It’s partnered with a more conventional looking subwoofer. Connections include HDMI and digital optical audio, but there’s no 3.5mm minijack. Pairing to mobile devices via Bluetooth is easy thanks to built-in NFC. Power output is rated at an optimistic 250w. It plays loud, while a Clear mode creates the illusion of a centre speaker – good for live sports.
Verdict: Panasonic scores with this dapper 2.1 system
£250 | Panasonic
Yamaha’s latest YSP may look like any other soundbar and sub combo, but beneath the surface it’s all glorious science. Behind the grille are 16 2.8cm drivers able to deliver targeted sound beams under DSP control. The soundstage created by this reflected audio can be astonishing. Connections include three HDMI 2.0 inputs with 4K passthrough. A supplied Intellibeam auto calibration microphone gets the best from the system, optimising angles of sound beams from reflective surfaces. DSP processing options are outstanding, particularly faux 7.1.
Verdict: this futuristic sound reflector is brilliant
£800 | Yamaha
Sond Audio ETBT201Y
With curved edges and soft-touch buttons the diminutive ETBT201Y looks posh, but it offers only a single 32.5mm minijack input and supports basic Bluetooth, with NFC connectivity. A non-removable cloth grille obscures two forward firing speaker vents, and there’s a 75cm downward firing woofer to add oomph. For such a diddy offering, the 30w Sond makes a rather fulsome noise. But the woofer bottoms out early. Ultimately, consider this cheapie as a nifty audio boost for small TVs, monitors and maybe even tablets.
Verdict: Small, pretty, and cheap, though admittedly not a star performer. Come on, what do you expect for 70 quid?
£70 | Sond Audio
One way to avoid having to find room for a subwoofer is to opt for a soundbase rather than a soundbar. The extra cubic volume equals plenty of room for an onboard woofer. The pedestal LT-T10 incorporates a 12cm downward facing subwoofer, plus four forward facing drivers located behind the metallic grill, and two side firing drivers. Connections include coaxial and optical digital inputs, plus a stereo minijack. Dialogue can sound sharp, but overall output is prodigious. The LT-T10 also supports aptX Bluetooth.
Verdict Onkyo’s soundbase is compact yet bombastic
£350 | Onkyo
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
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.
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.
£599 | Sonos