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 inside that offer 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.
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.
What is the best soundbar for 2021?
Our pick for the best soundbar overall is the Bang & Olufsen Beosound Stage. Its 11 drivers produce a simply stunning wall of Dolby Atmos sound, packed with precision, detail, finesse and punchy bass. It's also a single-box solution, so you just connect it via HDMI, and you’re good to 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.
The best soundbars: ranked
The Danish audio masters have done it again with this soundbar, which packs "an astounding amount of sound into a small, stylish unit," according to our review. The Beosound Stage is actually B&O's first soundbar, and it's definitely worth the wait.
There are 11 drivers hidden behind its 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, as well.
The amount of detail is just excellent, as is everything else, 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 features a noticeable boost to the spatial positioning of audio compared to simpler soundbars. Just don't expect it to offer a true surround experience, like the Samsung Q90R or VIZIO SB36512-F6 below.
But that's okay, because this is a single-box solution that's basically plug-and-play, and for a lot of people that's just what you want. It doesn't even have its own remote: you just use your TV's remote, or the B&O app, to control it.
Probably the single best soundbar we've ever tested for music playback, it brings rhythm and musicality that most can only dream of. With that big and tall soundstage, it also feels like sitting in front of an orchestra.
With Chromecast and Apple AirPlay 2 streaming built-in, plus support for B&O’s system, it's a multi-room music marvel too. And, there's Bluetooth for streaming from other devices such as a wireless turntable. The Bang & Olufsen Beosound Stage is expensive, yes, but you can hear every dollar spent.
Want to know more? Read our full B&O Beosound Stage 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.
For more, read our full Sony HT-G700 review
Is it a fantastic-sounding value 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 stunning in black or white, 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. 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.
You can even 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, as with 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. However, Sonos does have the ability to expand 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.
If you're looking simply to upgrade the audio from your TV into something bigger, richer and clearer for elements such as dialogue, and cover a small to medium-sized room, 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.
Want to know more? Read our full Sonos Beam review
For those who want a real surround sound experience at a more affordable price, the Vizio SB36512-F6 is a slam-dunk. It's a modest 36-inch soundbar delivering the front channels and with two up-firing drivers for Dolby Atmos, a wirelessly connected subwoofer for bass oomph, and two rear speakers.
The rear speakers need to connect to the subwoofer via a cable each, which means this isn't quite as flexible as other offerings with fully wireless sub connectivity. However, if you can position the subwoofer behind you or under your sofa, then it's not a deal-breaker.
Most importantly, the 3D effect in movies is still excellent. There's a real sense of height, and soundtracks have lots of drama and detail from all angles. The speakers are also no slouch for music.
There are some other corners cut here – you only get a single HDMI input as well as the HDMI connection to the TV, and the build is not as premium. But the sound quality is there, and that's why it gets a strong recommendation from us.
• Read our full Vizio 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos Soundbar review
The Sonos Arc is a Dolby Atmos soundbar with 11 drivers at various angles, for projecting sound upwards as well as to your left and right. As a single-box soundbar, it's not able to fake sound coming from all around you; 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 audio sounding like it's coming from a speaker, it's projecting from the entire wall, spanning the full width and height to the room. 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. When sound 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 always add two smaller Sonos units like the Sonos One SLs for wireless rear speakers – though it will cost you more to expand.
The audio quality is just fantastic, 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.
The downside is that 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. Plus, if your TV doesn't decode or passthrough Dolby Atmos itself, you won't actually be able to make full use of what it can do. This is incredibly frustrating, and cheap for a premium soundbar. But the audio quality is so good that we still rate it as one of the best soundbars, provided it's a good fit for your TV.
For more info, 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 $200, 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.
Want to know more? Read our full Yamaha SR-B20A review
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 the center, front left and front right duties, and has two up-firing height drivers. Each of the two rear speakers, on the other hand, handles one surround channel and has an up-firing driver while 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. Its dynamic range is excellent as well, and it makes a heck 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, nifty wireless streaming options, Google Assistant support, and a really easy setup, it's a hugely impressive system… with emphasis on the huge. This is for 65-inch TVs and up, and priced for the premium end of the market, which is why it isn’t ideal for everyone.
However, if you’re trying to cover a larger space and you’ve got the funds, you can very much hear what you're paying for. For more info, read our full LG SN11RG review
Bose is practically a staple in many households, and is among the most popular brands out there in the audio market. That's for good reason – Bose speakers are known for their great sound quality and powerful bass.
The Bose Soundtouch 300 delivers the brand’s signature sound, with plenty of volume to fill medium to large rooms, as well as decent clarity in the mids. Even though there’s no true surround sound, it is able to handle complex soundscapes, offering a wide soundstage so you feel more enveloped by its audio while watching movies and big production shows.
While there’s no sub here for the really low rumble, it has decent low-mids to cover the low-end frequency adequately. And, because it is highly expandable and compatible with the wireless Acoustimass 300 sub, you can easily get that booming bass you want – albeit for more money – without having to deal with pesky cables. You might even expand further with the Virtually Invisible 300 rear speakers for surround sound.
As for the features, it comes with DTS support, 4K passthrough for 4K viewing experience without extra cables, Alexa and Apple AirPlay 2 compatibility, and direct music streaming via the SoundTouch app.
The Bose Soundtouch 300 is more expensive than the previous offerings on this list. However, if you’re a Bose fan and looking for an audio solution with the convenient option to expand to a home entertainment system at a later date, this one’s worth every dollar.
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…
It packs in an impressive array of speakers for its size. Each stereo channel consists of a full-range driver plus tweeter combo and bass is handled by a woofer plus bass radiator pair). There's 4K HDR HDMI passthrough and support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X sound, which beats the similarly-targeted Sonos Beam for audio features. It also offers Bluetooth for streaming to it from a phone, but no Wi-Fi.
The sound is punchy, deep and powerful. Its small size makes it 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 despite being a 2.1 speaker, and not able to 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. This can be fine, depending on your movie preference – it certainly doesn't do a bad job. But it's not especially well suited to music, particularly when compared to the Sonos Beam. As an overall upgrade intended to add scale and richness to a monitor or small TV, though, this is a great buy for a low price.
Read our full Panasonic SC-HTB01 Soundslayer review
As the cheapest soundbar we have on the list, the SONY HT-X8500 is a heck of a bargain. It's the closest direct competitor to the Sonos Beam here, only with simple rich audio and a host of multi-room features for a more cinematic listening experience.
Despite being a simple stereo setup inside (with an integrated subwoofer, which really does deliver impressive bass), Sony's digital processing claims to replicate a 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos surround system. To be clear, it doesn't achieve this, 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.
While the lack of up-firing speakers also means that it can't achieve the true overhead effect of Dolby Atmos, it does add height to the presentation, sounding like it's coming from the whole area in front of you, rather than pumping out of a small bar. It's definitely better sounding than other such cheap soundbars – distinctly more cinematic than TVs speakers, in an immediate and obvious way. And, it will upmix stereo or regular 5.1 sources with extra height.
It even has HDMI passthrough, despite its low price. For this budget, this is easily one of the best soundbars you can buy today.
Although Nakamichi isn’t one of the most well-known brands in audio right now, this underdog is gathering steam – not to mention, a solid fan base – thanks to its home theater systems that deliver impeccable sound quality for much less than its big-name competitors.
Take the Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos Soundbar, for example. Complete with rear speakers with up-firing drivers and a powerful subwoofer, this soundbar has two up-firing drivers as well as one left-firing and one right-firing driver. And, the whole thing will improve your TV and movie watching experience by really bringing you into each scene – so much so you'll feel like you’re part of it.
Beyond that staggering soundstage, the sound quality is impeccable. The mid-range is very clear, great for hearing dialogue, and the low-end is massive, which means that you’re getting that rumble deep enough to shake the walls. This is definitely best for larger rooms, especially because the setup needs a bit of planning.
Not only do you need a decent amount of space on either side of the soundbar, but you’re also required to position the sub on the other side of the room. Plus, the satellite speakers are not truly wireless, being connected to the subwoofer.
If you’ve got a city apartment with a small living room, you might want to consider the other soundbars on this list. Otherwise, this one is a great pick, especially if you’re looking to get more value for your hard-earned cash.
Like the LG SN11RG above, this setup gives you not just a large soundbar at the front, but also a subwoofer and two wireless rear speaker units. As a result, you have a full surround system without all the messy cables between them. But it's not done impressing yet – the soundbar and both rear speakers also have up-firing drivers for Dolby Atmos height channels, again like the LG.
Samsung describes it as having a 7.1.4-equivalent configuration, and it’s stunningly close to the effect of having seven speakers around you, minus all the hassle and expense. Having four up-firing drivers really creates a ceiling of sound for movies with Atmos or DTS:X soundtracks, and it's utterly engrossing. Next to that immersive sound, the fact that it has two HDMI inputs to passthrough 4K HDR video feels like icing on the cake.
Sadly, it’s also the most expensive soundbar on this list, especially with the Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1.4 offering the same experience for half the price.
If you’re not quite as comfortable investing in a lesser-known brand, and you just happen to have some extra cash lying around, this one’s the best soundbar for you. Discover more in our full Samsung HW-Q90R review.
If having meaty bass for your movies is a big deal, this no-frills soundbar from Yamaha is an excellent choice. Not only is it cheaper than the Sonos Beam – albeit not by much – it also has its own standalone subwoofer. Amazingly enough for its size, it’s powerful enough to shake the walls when watching the biggest blockbusters or playing games.
Not to be outdone, the soundbar itself produces high-quality sound, with a decent soundstage and well-projected mids. And, while there’s no true surround sound here, it still gives you a more immersive listening experience thanks to its DTS Virtual:X support.
It’s great for watching movies in which the dialogue often gets overwhelmed by background audio, like the score, delivering excellent dialogue clarity thanks to its Clear Voice feature for enhanced dialogue.
It isn’t exactly devoid of any extra features either. Besides the Clear Voice mode, it has Alexa built-in for voice control and other smart home control capabilities, as well as Bluetooth connectivity for music and podcast listening. Though keep in mind that it does sound a little flat when you’re listening to music.
Best for small to medium rooms, the Yamaha YAS-209 is great for consumers who don’t care too much about extra features, as long as they’re getting great sound quality and a booming bass while also saving a few bucks.
How to buy the best soundbar in 2021
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.
The 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 looking 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.
- The best 32-inch TVs – perfect for bedrooms and offices
- The best 43-inch TVs – great entry-level 4K sets
- The best 48- to 50-inch TVs – beautiful mid-size 4K TV sets
- The best 55-inch TVs – premium TVs that still fit most living rooms
- The best 65-inch TVs – beautiful big-screen TVs
- The best 75-inch TVs – giant 4K and 8K TVs packed with features