Welcome to the Audio category of T3 Awards 2021, where we're revealing the winners of our Best Soundbar, Best Wireless Speaker, Best Portable Speaker and Best DAC awards.
These products are the standouts when it comes to home audio available in the last year – between them, they give you a way to upgrade your TV setup to include more cinematic sound, to hear your music anywhere with added richness and detail, or to turn a more traditional hi-fi into a super-smart and modern digital music maestro.
If you're looking for our headphones awards winners, don't worry – they've got their own category coming later today, stuffed with the best personal audio buys.
There are few greater ways to treat yourself than an upgrade to the music you love, so let's dive in and meet the T3 Awards 2021 winners!
Best Soundbar: Samsung HW-Q800A
Soundbars are only getting more and more popular now that 4K TVs have been around for several years, and many people have a set they're happy with visually… but few TVs are able offer sound to match the quality of the pixels, due to their fashionably slim frames.
That's where soundbars come in – they offer the depth needed for meaty sound, but barely take up any more space than your TV does already. They're simple, easy and flexible – exactly what you want from an upgrade.
The Samsung HW-Q800A exemplifies this, and edged out the competition for this award by really nailing that feeling of offering a cinematic audio update for very little effort, and at a great price.
It currently sits at the top of our guide to the best soundbars, thanks to this mix. Most important of all is the speaker quality, and the seven speaker drivers plus subwoofer combine into a truly remarkable soundstage that fills every inch of the space in front of you, but is never overwhelming. There's great movement and height to the audio too, giving the extra 3D dimension that you want when watching movies in Dolby Atmos.
And it packs that big sound into a frame that's suitable for TVs of 48 inches and up, which is no minor thing – so many of the top soundbars require huge TVs, but this is at home with a much more manageable set size.
Throw in lots of extra useful features (including HDMI passthrough and Apple AirPlay 2 support) and you can see why it earned full marks in our Samsung HW-Q800A review, and why it's won the T3 Awards 2021 title of best soundbar.
The best soundbars shortlist
Bang & Olufsen Beosound Stage
Philips Fidelio B97
Best Wireless Speaker: Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation
In the rapidly evolving world of technology, it's rare for a product to hold on to a T3 Award for more than a year, but despite some incredibly tough competition, we have a repeat winner here.
The Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation is an energetic, precise powerhouse, and looks damn good while doing it, meaning it's held its spot as the best multi-room speaker at the T3 Awards 2021. Not that it's been resting on its laurels – an update this year brought native Qobuz support, for those who go that route for their hi-res music, and there are fetching new finishes available to buy now.
But it's the sound quality that maintained its grip on the award. Naim's Wi-Fi masterpiece is just so versatile – whatever you like to listen to, the Mu-So 2 loves to play it. As our Naim Mu-so 2nd Gen review attests: "Play something stripped back to human voice or piano, or minimalist electronic music and it sends shivers down the spine. Whack on something like early ’80s dub reggae and it sounds HUGE."
We love the look as well, which has barely changed since the first version from several years ago, and with good reason. It looks like a piece of classic hi-fi, yet also totally modern. That combination is the key to its success, really – Naim is top-tier when it comes to audio companies, and the Mu-so embraces its heritage in a speaker made for the wireless world. And then adds a giant, satisfying volume knob. What could be better?
We're also awarding a Highly Commended in this category, with Bang & Olufsen's Beosound Level also impressing us hugely this year. Its audio is clear and natural in classic B&O style, and you can position it however you want: stand it up, lay it down, or wall mount it. And we're so impressed with the design in and out – we love the slatted oak finish in particular, but also with the fact that its modular design means many of its internal components can be swapped out in the future, to keep it up-to-date with new technology.
The best wireless speaker shortlist
Highly Commended: Bang & Olufsen Beosound Level
Apple HomePod Mini
Audio Pro Addon C10 MKII
KEF LS50 Wireless II
Marshall Stanmore II
Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation
Best Portable Speaker: Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 v2
This was another award with super-hot competition this year, which is no surprise when we're all desperate to be outdoors enjoying time together. Portable speakers are going to be a regular at a lot of get-togethers this year, and while there are lots of worthy options, only one can be crowned the winner.
The Bang & Olufsen A1 v2 earns our Best Portable Speaker T3 Award 2021, thanks to offering truly impressive sound for its size, along with great battery life and a sharp design in a range of gorgeous colours.
It's our pick as the best portable Bluetooth speaker overall, and the expansiveness of its sound is key to that. It doesn't feel compressed in the way that small speakers often do – your music doesn't feel crammed into the space. It feels like it's bursting out, and it can go loud enough to make itself heard well outside, but maintains clarity and an even balance no matter how far you push the volume.
B&O's app makes it easy to tailor the sound to your preferences too, meaning you can add extra bass and energy, or ask it to stay toned back and neutral.
Throw in the rock-solid, premium build quality, the 18 hours of battery and the ability to survive light water accidents, and you've got our winner for 2021.
The best portable speaker shortlist
Bang & Olufsen A1 v2
JBL Charge 5
JBL Xtreme 3
Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM 2
Best DAC: Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M
A great digital-to-audio converter (DAC) is a bridge from the traditional to the new, enabling you to pipe your digital music into analogue hi-fi components. So something to value here is flexibility – the more connectivity options and file support a DAC has, the more useful and future-proofed it is.
The Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M is a T3 Awards 2021 winner because it's as flexible as they come – this thing should be an Olympic gymnast. At the heart are twin ESS Sabre DACs, deployed so that one handles the left side of the audio and one handles the right, which helps to keep audio supremely clear.
But these also provide the capability for, frankly, ridiculous file support over USB – up to 32-bit/768kHz files, and DSD512. This is far beyond what even the pickiest audiophiles are using right now, but it also means you know that this machine is future-proofed if formats get this detailed in the future. Most usefully, right now, it means that you know it handles all current Hi-Res music (including MQA) without pushing itself to its limits. It also offers aptX Bluetooth, and has 3x pre-set digital filters you can switch between.
It has non-USB digital inputs too, in the form of 2x optical and 2x coaxial. There are both balanced and unbalanced outputs for connecting to your hi-fi system. And it includes a headphone amp, and offers a 6.3mm headphone output, so it's fantastic even if you won't connect it to a whole hi-fi system anyway. Between its pristine audio and all these features, we rate it as the best DAC – as long as you don't need Wi-Fi streaming features.
For even more winners be sure to check out the T3 Awards 2021 hub page, which is stuffed full of this year's top tech, gadgets and products.
The best DAC shortlist
Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M
Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition
- See all the T3 Awards 2021 winners