CES has been the jumping-off point for a host of amazing AV products over the years, and 2021 is no exception; all and sundry have brought their A-game to the show. Just look at LG's new C1 OLED TV and cheaper A1 OLED TV, or Samsung's Neo QLEd Mini-LED TVs.
And while many CES presentations have been tooth-grindingly focused on simpering about the fact that we're still in the midst of a global pandemic – we are aware, thanks – it's the reason many the best soundbars of CES 2021 even exist at all. We're stuck at home. Everyone's spending a lot more time with their loved ones and their AV setup, and not necessarily in that order.
So here are the five soundbars that have stood out the most to us at this year's CES, whether for reasons of their potential sound quality, their quirky design, or because they're just plain bananas. Will any of them make it into our guide to the best soundbars? Will any be the perfect partner for one of the best TVs? Can you wait until they're released or will you throw your money at one of our best cheap soundbar deals right now? The answer to all of those questions remains to be seen, but read on to find out what soundbars we're excited to hear following CES 2021.
1. Samsung HW-Q950A
Probably this year's most extra mass-market soundbar, Samsung really has gone the whole hog with the Dolby Atmos-supporting HW-Q950A, upgrading the Samsung HW-Q950T's already-impressive 9.1.4 channel setup to an outrageous 11.1.4 channels.
The big headline here is the addition of a side-firing channel to its wireless rear speakers in order to complement the all-around sound of the front unit. There's also a calibration microphone built into its wireless subwoofer, which will simplify the process of getting it set up for your room, and if you're running a higher-end Samsung TV from 2020, the Q Symphony feature will give you an even larger soundscape by utilising your TV's speakers in tandem with the HW-Q950A.
Don't expect it to be cheap (the HW-Q950T will already set you back £1,499/$1,399/AU$1,949, so expect this to throw a few bucks on top of that), but if you're looking for a more budget option Samsung has also used CES as an opportunity to unveil the 3.1.2 Dolby Atmos HW-Q800A.
2. LG QP5 Éclair
Though we do not advocate chowing down on your soundbar, LG's delectable QP5 Éclair does look good enough to eat. It's only 11.7"/30cm wide, which means it's perfect for more compact TV setups (or larger ones, if you'd rather your soundbar didn't make your living room look like a space monolith has fallen over in front of your screen) and it's clad in oh-so-modern white cloth – with, we hear, the potential for a black version down the line.
Squashed into this pastry shape are five individual drivers: a front firing center, two 45-degree angled stereo drivers, and a pair of upfiring drivers to add height to Dolby Atmos or DTS:X soundtracks. There's also a similarly soft-edged wireless sub along with it, designed to be small while not over-cooking the vibration. No word on price as yet.
3. JBL Bar 5.0
The '.0' in the name tells us JBL's newest low cost soundbar does not include a sub, but the company says its four passive radiators dish out enough wallop for it to be able to cope without.
Equipped with Harman's Multibeam virtual surround, the JBL Bar 5.0 should be able to manage a convincing Dolby Atmos effect in what is a pretty compact little shell, and you can send all kind of sound to it with Chromecast Audio support as well as AirPlay 2, Bluetooth and, unusually Amazon Multiroom – it's Alexa and Google Assistant compatible, too.
Possibly the best bit is the price: it appears the JBL Bar 5.0 is launching in the spring at £350 (US price TBC), and given the way JBL is able to wrangle sound, we imagine that will be quite the good deal.
4. Panasonic SoundSlayer SC-HTB01 Final Fantasy Edition
The soundbase returns! Although it'll work perfectly well beneath a TV, Panasonic's compact collaboration with Square Enix is really meant to sit beneath your monitor, blasting out 2.1 sound tuned by the audio team behind Final Fantasy XIV Online.
That means a set of dedicated game modes, similar to those making their way to Panasonic's TV portfolio in the near future: FPS mode boosts effects like footsteps to help you better pinpoint sounds, voice mode turns down the explosions and turns up the dialogue, and you'd better believe there's an RPG mode specifically designed to enhance FFXIV. Of course there is.
A release date is as yet unknown, but the non-JRPG edition of the SC-HTB01 is available now, with the same Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and DTS: Virtual X support as this. Our review is imminent.
5. Cowin Soundbar
The idea of a modular soundbar isn't new; the JBL Bar 9.1 has been doing it for a few years with its detachable satellite speakers, and CES has seen JBL offer it a nifty Dolby Atmos upgrade. But the Cowin Soundbar brings modular soundbars to an intriguing and perhaps slightly silly conclusion: the whole thing splits down the middle, so if you're looking for a bit more stereo separation you can pull it apart and stand each half on its end.
Admittedly this very much at the cheaper end of things – it's set to launch in the US at $80, which is around £60/AU$100 – so we're not expecting outrageous audio fidelity or any high-end features. But for a bit of extra flexibility depending on your room setup? This is certainly an intriguing option.