Soundbars have evolved from surrogate TV-audio systems to new-age hi-fi components. We try out some of the best…
The first generation of soundbars were essentially utilitarian solutions to the rotten sound offered by get-thin-quick televisions. But technology and design innovation have seen these single enclosures evolve into good-looking hi-fi components, as suitable for music listening as they are for enhancing a movie blockbuster.
Whether you want a high-performance soundbar that offers immersive Dolby Atmos 3D cinema sound, an audiophile- grade sound system to rival those traditional stereo speakers that have served you well for years, or a Bluetooth wireless speaker that punches well above its weight, we’ve got something for you here. All of our six chosen soundbars warrant ear-ious consideration. The trick is buying the right box for the job…
1. Canton DM100 - £529
With its beautiful piano-gloss finish, it seems almost an impertinence to plonk a TV on top of the Canton DM100. But at a metre wide, this soundbase can take a big set and delivers a spacious, full-bodied sound, thanks to premium drivers and a quartet of woofers. A virtual-surround mode adds subtle width to the soundstage, but it’s in straight stereo that the DM100 sounds truly focused. Connections include digital and analogue audio. There’s no HDMI, which is a shame, but you can Bluetooth-stream. This soundbase sounds every bit as good as it looks.
2. DALI Kubik One - £799
With a design that’s more meaningful than fanciful, DALI’s Kubik One is a hefty bar fronted by a 980mm cloth grille (available in a wide range of colours). There’s no HDMI input, but you do get Bass Boost and Enhance modes, making it a strong contender for larger rooms. This speaker can shift some air! Terrific mid-range articulation emphasises vocal clarity on both music and films. There’s no faux virtual surround, just straight-down-the-line stereo. Bluetooth support is standard. The speaker ships with a remote whose rubberised buttons are infuriatingly unresponsive.
3. Bose Solo 5 - £189
At half the width of most of its rivals in this test, the Bose Solo 5 is best suited to screens that are 40 inches and smaller. Despite its diddy dimensions, there’s a fair amount of volume on offer, but the sound is rather monophonic and there’s no significant bass to speak of. Connectivity is digital audio and analogue mini-jack only, bolstered by Bluetooth. There’s no display as such. Bose compensates with the remote, which is a bit of a bruiser with a surfeit of buttons that (probably wrongly) assumes you’ll want it to learn your entire AV system.
4. Yamaha YSP-5600 - £1,600
The world’s first Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbar sets out to emulate a high-end home-cinema system, and pretty much achieves it. A wide 1.1m, it features a 46-speaker beam array, 12 of which are angled upwards, to bounce audio off the ceiling to create a height channel. Two integrated subwoofers add bass slam. The result is a huge soundstage that sounds sensational with movies. The YSP-5600 can also create faux-3D audio with non-Atmos content. It offers four HDMI inputs, and is multi-room MusicCast, AirPlay and Bluetooth-enabled. Pricey but worth it.
5. Arcam Solo PLUS - £650
This updated iteration of Arcam’s big Solo bar features an improved movie mode and other sonic tweaks. It plays loud yet sounds effortlessly refined. The aluminium enclosure is beautifully built and features a full complement of bass, mid-range and high-frequency drivers. The tweeters are angled slightly outwards, enabling the soundbar to image sonically like a pair of standalone bookshelf speakers. With four HDMI and assorted audio inputs, you can route plenty of kit in, while high-quality Bluetooth makes streamed music sound unfeasibly good.
6. Q Acoustics Media 4 - £330
If you want massive sound on a modest budget, you’ll be hard-pressed to beat the Q Acoustics Media 4. This angular soundbar uses BMR (balanced mode radiator) drivers for a pronounced stereo spread (perfect if you want your sound to cover a large seating area), while the integrated subwoofer adds a reassuring thump to Marvel blockbusters. The Media 4 can be hooked up with analogue and optical digital inputs, and supports Bluetooth streaming, but there are no HDMI ports. It’s not that pretty and it’s not that smart, but it sounds brilliant for the dosh.
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