Upgrading your TV setup with one of the best soundbars has become more and more popular, and for good reason: they solve the one weakness that modern TVs have, which is audio quality. Many of the TVs that offer the best image quality are about the thickness of a pencil, and that means physics isn't on their side when it comes to producing big, rich sound.
But the best soundbars make it easy to choose one of the best TVs without worrying about audio quality, because you can just add your own excellent audio array. You usually need just two cables – one for power, one to connect to the TV, making them a really easy upgrade as well as an effective one. That's why more people are choosing them now over an AV receiver and surround sound speakers – you don't have to worry about having a suitable living room setup, and/or the will to run cables everywhere and manage the whole situation.
The best soundbars of 2021 range from simple units with a pair of stereo speakers in side that offer with a bit more oomph than your TV can manage, right up to elaborate multi-driver systems that create virtual surround sound by bouncing audio around the room, matching the premium visuals of, say, the best OLED TVs equally elite sound. This means they're available in a range of budgets too, with options to pair with best TVs under £1000 or the best TVs under £500 nicely. And don't forget to check our list of the best cheap soundbar deals.
They also offer smarter features than ever – from support for Dolby Atmos 3D audio, to different processing modes designed for making things like speech more audible, to support for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth streaming – and there's a great range of sizes, so your audio output can match the size of your space, or the size of your TV. Most are designed with movies and TV as the focus, but more are being made with games in mind to pair with the best gaming TVs.
The best soundbar you can buy today
Our pick for the best soundbar overall is the Bang & Olufsen Beosound Stage. Its 11 drivers produce a simple stunning wall of sound, packed with precision, detail, finesse and then a meaty punch of bass just to surprise you. It's a single-box solution, so you just plug it in over HDMI and away you go…
The Beosound Stage is pricey, though, so our recommendation for the majority of people looking for a really cinematic TV upgrade is the Sony HT-G700. It uses clever processing to create directional sound that feels close to surround sound and Dolby Atmos height. It's a simple soundbar and subwoofer package that's small enough for almost any living room TV, yet offers a giant improvement to your TV audio.
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The best soundbars: ranked
• Read our full five-star B&O Beosound Stage review
The Danish audio masters have done it again with this soundbar, where 'it' is 'pack an astounding amount of sound into a small, stylish unit'. The Beosound Stage is actually B&O's first soundbar, and it's been worth the wait.
There are 11 drivers hidden behind is stylish Kvadrat cloth finish, producing a hugely impressive wall of sound – angled drivers give the audio height, while a range of tweeters and woofers add width and depth. It can get incredibly boomy without the need for a subwoofer, too.
The amount detail is just excellent, and its a deft touch with everything from dynamic action scenes that pan across the screen to subtle speech. It squeezes every drop of audio quality from soundtracks thanks to Dolby Atmos compatibility, and does feature a noticeable boost to the spatial positioning of audio compared to simpler soundbars, though don't expect it to offer a full surround experience like the Samsung Q90R below.
But that's okay – because this is a single-box solution that's basically plug-and-play, and sometimes that's just what you want. It doesn't even have its own remote – you'll just use your TV's remote, or the B&O app, to control it.
It's also probably the single best soundbar we've ever tested for music playback, bringing a rhythm and musicality that most can only dream of. And with that big, tall soundstage, it feels like sitting in front of an orchestra.
With Chromecast and Apple AirPlay 2 streaming built in, plus support for B&Os system, it's a multi-room music marvel too. And there's Bluetooth, for streaming from other devices (such as a wireless turntable).
It's expensive, yes, but you can ear every penny you spent.
• Read our full Sony HT-G700 review
This soundbar busts its way near the top of our list by offering an excellent package that makes it easy to recommend to most people for the price – it gives you significantly more spectacular directional audio than budget soundbars, and though expensive soundbars offer more dynamic audio, you have to spend almost double the price to really improve on what this gives you.
This soundbar and wireless subwoofer include Sony's fanciest processing, to make the three drivers in the soundbar seem like they're giving you sound coming from the sides and above. It can't really achieve its claims of being like a surround sound system, but that's okay, because what it does manage is really impressive.
Soundtracks have excellent width from this speaker, convincingly coming from the far left and right, but also being more subtly positioned in front of you, to match what's on screen. And yes, some height is added too, for extra immersion.
But it also does the boring stuff you want a soundbar to do immaculately: it makes voices much more audible in sound mixes, adds rich bass to underpin dramatic action, and generally lifts everything to sound more cinematic.
It's really easy to setup, too – plug and play, basically, with the wireless connection between the two boxes pre-synced – and includes an HDMI input as well as an HDMI output to your TV, so you don't lose the use of one port. Finally, it's small enough to fit well with TVs of 43 inches and up; other Dolby Atmos soundbars tend to be much bigger.
If you're looking for the best soundbar under £250, your journey has ended. The audio quality here is excellent for the price, adding so much more balance, clarity and depth than budget TV speaker could ever hope to produce. And despite this soundbar being not even as wide as your average 32-inch TV (meaning it's just as at home with monitors as TVs), the sound has really impressive width and stereo positioning. The dynamic range is great too, in everything from movies to games. It's even pretty good with music, and has Bluetooth for easy streaming.
It's really simple to set up, too – it has a single HDMI ARC port for easy TV connection (which enables control from your TV remote), or twin optical connectors, or even a good ol' 3.5mm jack. The remote is awkward, but there are also controls on the top, and a great app you can use to make mode adjustments. This thing is cheap, versatile, discreet and sounds great. We love it.
• Read our full Yamaha SR-C20A review
Is it a fantastic-sounding soundbar? Is it a multi-room music speaker? Is it a home voice assistant? No, it's super Beam, doing all these things at once. The Beam is a compact soundbar (just 26 inches across, small enough for even 32-inch TVs) that looks great in fetching white or black, and is designed for the modern living room.
It connects to your TV over HDMI for no-fuss control, and instantly adds clarity and depth to all audio. And with its Wi-Fi connection, you can use the Sonos app to play music from streaming services in a multi-room setup with other Sonos speakers, while Apple AirPlay 2 support means you can use it for multi-room streaming of any audio played from Apple devices.
And you can choose to have Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant voice control on it, so you can use it to control your smart home or ask for information, like any Echo or Google Home device.
The only potential downside is that it doesn't offer any kind of surround sound option out of the box – via virtualisation or other means. But Sonos does offer the ability to turn it into a 5.1 system by adding other speakers from its range and configuring them within the app. There will still be no Dolby Atmos option, though – for a Sonos speaker with Atmos, see the Sonos Arc further down this list, or read our Sonos Beam vs Sonos Arc guide.
If you're looking simply to upgrade the audio from your TV into something bigger, richer and clearer for elements such as dialogue, this is the soundbar we'd recommend for most people – it's easy to use and versatile, and is easily the best-sounding option for the price.
• Read our full Sonos Beam review
If you want the scale of the cinema at home, in the most convenient package possible, the Samsung HW-Q950T is it. This is a four-box system, meaning you've got the soundbar, a subwoofer, and two rear speakers. That's a bit more to set up and get positioned than most options here, but they're all wirelessly connected, so it's not a lot of hassle ultimately. And the results are pretty astounding – when it comes to the 3D effect of object-based audio (such as Dolby Atmos) adding surround sound and even height, no other soundbar option is more convincing.
That's thanks to it being a 9.1.4-channel system. Seven of the nine surround channels are in the front bar (using angled drivers to bounced the sound to the sides), as are two upward-firing drivers for Atmos height channels. That makes it a big, big bar – suitable for 55-inch TVs and up. Each rear speaker has one surround channel and another upward-firing driver.
It's not just about scale, though – the dexterity of the sound here is top-notch as well. From the smallest element of the soundtrack to the largest, it all gets picked out and presented clearly and precisely. It can deliver subtle scenes with a light touch, then instantly turn on the big noise for a shock moment, if that's what a movie asks.
It struggles to deliver quite as much nuance in the bass as it does elsewhere, and all of this technology comes at a steep price, but it's the best at what it does.
The Sonos Arc is a Dolby Atmos soundbar with eleven drivers at various angles, for projecting sound upwards as well as out to your left and right. As a single-box soundbar, it's not able to fake sound truly coming from all around you, but instead it creates a clear sense of the sound filling the space in front of you, which is just as good, in its own way.
Instead of the noise seeming like it's coming from a speaker, it's projecting from the entire wall, spanning the full width and height to the room. And it really makes use of that space: Atmos' height channels mean that something moving up and down really has a sense of that height in motion, and when a noise travels across the screen it's matched to what you're seeing on screen, adding immersion even if it doesn't surround you. If you want to go with the full surround experience, you can add two smaller Sonos units, such as Sonos One SLs, as wireless rear speakers.
The audio quality is just fantastic, no matter whether you're watching movies or listening to music (this is a full multi-room speaker, with streaming via the Sonos app or Apple AirPlay 2) – everything is finely balanced (including totally clear dialogue even without the Speech Enhancer option) and beautifully smooth.
However: it has only a single HDMI port, with no passthrough at all, so you'll lose an HDMI port from your TV when connecting it, and if your TV doesn't decode or passthrough Dolby Atmos itself, then you won't actually be able to make full use of what it can do anyway. This is incredibly frustrating, and cheap for a premium soundbar. It's a good thing the audio quality is so good that we still rate it as one of the best soundbar buys, provided it's a good fit with your TV.
• Read our full Sonos Arc review
The Yamaha SR-B20A strikes an impressive balance of price and capability. Six drivers is a lot for under £250, and gives it not only great dynamic range, but also a wide and tall soundstage with pretty precise position of audio, adding that extra dimension to what you're seeing on-screen – the '3D Surround' mode is especially effective.
This is a single-box soundbar, so there isn't a separate subwoofer. Two on-board low-end drivers deliver the bass, and this is admittedly its weakest point, lacking the expressiveness and poise that a separate subwoofer unit might have given you. But it still works well, and that's the only wobble when it comes to sound here – everything is immediately enhanced with extra depth and clarity compared to your average TV speakers. We also like that there's a specific gaming mode, which again is great for positioning sound effects.
It's a bit of a shame that there's no HDMI passthrough here, which means you'll lose one of your HDMI ports plugging this in, which may be annoying if you have a mid-range TV with fewer ports. But otherwise, construction is great, and it feels more premium than it costs.
• Read our full Yamaha SR-B20A review
• Read our full Panasonic SC-HTB01 Soundslayer review
All of these soundbars will elevate gaming, but they're not made with it specifically in mind. This one is, but also manages to be a really tempting small soundbar for everyone else at the same time. You just have to pretend it's not called the 'Soundslayer' if you're in the latter camp…
Packing in an impressive array of speakers (each stereo channel consists of a full-range driver plus tweeter combo, and bass is handled by a woofer plus bass radiator pair) for its size, plus 4K HDR HDMI passthrough and support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X sound, this beats the similarly-targeted Sonos Beam for audio features. It offers Bluetooth for streaming to it from a phone, but no Wi-Fi.
Sound is punchy, deep and powerful. Its small size makes perfect for large gaming monitors or small-to-mid TVs, but the level of attack it offers makes for a big experience. It's especially capable when it comes to the low end, packing impact into every hit or explosion. And though being a 2.1 speaker it can't make the most of Dolby Atmos, there's really good width and height to the sound overall.
For movies, it's not what we'd call refined – it wants to be full-on all the time. Which can be fine, depending on your movie preference – it certainly doesn't do a bad job. It's not especially well suited to music, particularly when compared to the Sonos Beam. But as an overall upgrade intended to add scale and richness to a monitor or small TV, this is a great buy for a low price.
The LG SN11RG gives you four speaker boxes (the main bar, the subwoofer and two rear speakers) that all connect wirelessly to create a real 'dome' of sound when provided with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. The soundbar handles centre, front left and front duties, and has two upfiring height drivers; each of the two rear speakers handles one surround channel and that have an upfiring driver each; and the subwoofer deals with bass, of course.
It's astoundingly good at enveloping you with audio, with convincing positioning of sounds around and above you. There's excellent dynamic range on offers, and it make a hell of a noise without anything getting overwhelmed. It's even excellent at upscaling regular surround or stereo soundtracks into really convincing Atmos-like audio.
With twin HDMI inputs (plus the eARC output to the TV) that passthrough 4K and Dolby Vision HDR, useful wireless streaming options and Google Assistant support, and a really easy setup process, it's a hugely impressive system… with emphasis on the huge. This is for 65-inch TVs and up, really, and it's very priced for the premium end of the market, which is why we don't recommend it for more people. But you can very much hear what you're paying for…
• Read our full LG SN11RG review
We're seeing this soundbar regularly discounted at the moment, which is making it a hell of a bargain. It's the closest direct competitor to the Sonos Beam here, but where the Sonos is concerned with simple rich audio plus a host of multi-room features, this aims to go more cinematic.
Despite being a simple stereo setup inside (with integrated subwoofer, which really does deliver impressive bass), Sony's digital processing claims to replicate a 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos surround system. Let's be clear that it doesn't achieve this (not even as closely as the HT-G700 further up does), nor would we ever expect it to – but it does add a ton more directionality to the sound to give movies and TV that extra bit of magic.
And while the lack of upfiring speakers mean it can't achieve the true overhead effect of Dolby Atmos, it does add height to the presentation, so it sounds like it's coming from the whole area in front of you, rather than pumping out of a small bar. And it's really nice compared to other such cheap soundbars – distinctly more cinematic than a TV's speakers, in an immediate and obvious way. And it will upmix stereo or regular 5.1 sources with extra height.
It's also the only soundbar this cheap to have an HDMI passthrough, meaning that you won't lose an HDMI port by plugging it in. For the current price, this is easily one of the best soundbar buys, but we'd recommend people step up to the Sony HT-G700 if they can.
How to buy the best soundbar for you
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 from a fixed unit; surround sound can be magical, or it can be a mess. Of course, it's excellent in all the soundbars we've chosen, but if you're look at others, keep that in mind.
Some have subwoofers built-in to the main unit, while others include separate woofers, often wireless (in that they connect to the bar wirelessly – they still need power).
Many now also boast Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi to stream music wirelessly from phones. Some will also include microphones with support for Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.
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, or even the bottom of the TV, depending on your TV's stand. Some soundbars are lower profile than others, so be sure to factor this is.
The alternative is 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 ideal 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 ARC is our preferred option, because it's the easiest way to plug and play, and it means you don't need a remote just for your soundbar, because the TV passes all controls over the cable.
However, some soundbars and bases don't include it, using optical digital instead. And some older TVs don't have HDMI ARC connections, or will only have one, which may already be in use by another box of yours. So make sure that you choose a soundbar with the connection types that suit your TV.
Most high-end soundbars will have an HDMI passthrough, which can solve the issue of your TV only having one port – this means you plug a console, set-top box or whatever into the soundbar, which passes the video onto the TV, while still receiving all audio from the TV.
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