Sound bars

A sound bar is the easiest way to make your TV sound better.

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Modern TVs are thin – far too thin to house good speakers. Because of this, the sound quality suffers. The easiest way to improve this audio situation is by adding a soundbar.

We've gathered information on 33 sound bars.

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What's a sound bar and why do you want one?

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A sound bar is a basic, plug-and-play device. It’s a single unit containing a lot of speakers, and often comes paired with a wireless subwoofer. They usually sit below your TV, though some are wall-mountable.

Sound bars trick your ears into believing that sound is coming from all around you, eliminating the need for annoying speakers and cables. The speakers are angled so that the sound will bounce off the walls of the room and create a virtual “surround sound” environment.

Compared to a full system, it takes hardly any work to set up and they take up a lot less space. Usually you only need a single cable to connect it to the TV or source.

While any soundbar will work with your TV, choosing one from the same manufacturer can be easier as they tend to be simpler to connect and can fit the TV base better. You might even get a bundle deal from retailers.

And it’s not just for audio from your TV. Every soundbar (with the exception of WiFi-only Sonos models) has Bluetooth and can be used as a wireless speaker by connecting to your phone or tablet.

Many models can connect to WiFi, which has lots of advantages over Bluetooth. For example, it allows you to play compatible streaming music services, such as Spotify and Deezer, without needing to tether your phone. It also means you can connect it to a home voice assistant, like Amazon's Alexa.

The limitations

For all the claims about having multi-channel surround sound, soundbars aren’t all that good at it. While they’ll certainly improve the sound you get straight from the TV, you’re dreaming if you think you’re going to get perfect 5.1 surround from a single source.

Some soundbars come with (or can be expanded with) separate rear speakers. This is the best way to get a real surround experience. However, the speakers usually connect to the main unit via Bluetooth, which can cause interference issues with your other devices and suffer from dropouts.

Wireless subwoofers can suffer the same dropouts, and you’ll really notice when the bass drops out while watching a movie.

Most soundbars can be controlled via your TV. So, for example, if you turn the volume up using the TV remote, it’ll turn up the soundbar. To do this you will need to make sure your TV and soundbar are connected properly, which may require playing around with your TV’s settings to make sure all the right functions are turned on (this varies from TV to TV).

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Room shape

Room shape

Room shape

graphic How do soundbars deliver surround sound? It’s all about “bounce”. The bar projects audio in different directions, which then bounces off the walls, so it seems like the sound is coming from the left or right. Some soundbars also project sound off the ceiling.

While this works fine if your room is roughly the right shape, most aren’t.

Anything can disrupt this virtual surround sound, from a wider or irregularly shaped room to furnishings, which can soften or nullify the echo.

But even if your room is perfect, the effect is somewhat overstated. Bouncing the sound gives you a semblance of a surround experience, but it’s a stretch to say it replicates a proper 5.1 system.

How we test

Ease of use:

Each soundbar is assessed by a panel of three people (including two non-experts) for ease of use including installation, basic adjustments, general usage and the remote control.

Sound assessments:

Listening tests are performed in a simulated living room by a panel of four experienced testers (including two specialist sound engineers). The sound is also measured in an anechoic room to measure frequency response. A test is done with a TV to see if there is any delay between sound and picture.

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