This content originally appeared on Mashable for a US audience and has been adapted for the UK audience.
It’s official: No home cinema setup is complete without a soundbar. Even the best, most expensive TVs will lose something in the sound. The audio can leave a lot to be desired. That’s often because speakers are built into the back or bottom of the TV, which isn’t always ideal for quality audio. Even with TVs thinking up new ways to sex-up their sound — such as audio that seems to be coming from the exact point of action on the screen — high-quality TVs are made to be paired with a good soundbar.
A soundbar will be the foundation of a great sounding home cinema, with the option to add a subwoofer (sometimes included) or additional speakers. In this kind of setup, the TV itself becomes just one component in a whole system of cinematic-quality speakers.
But how to choose a soundbar? There are lots available and it’s hard to wade through all the tech and specifications — especially if you’re a soundbar novice. But listen up, because we’ve done some important research to help you decide.
What is a soundbar?
Instead of needing a series of speakers dotted around the room, or a hefty amplifier, a soundbar sits underneath your TV. You can also mount them on the wall, if that’s how you prefer to watch TV. As a dedicated speaker, with a wide design for better acoustics, they’re far better equipped for quality audio than your TV speakers. That means crisper nuance and detail, thunderous bass, and clearer dialogue.
Do soundbars provide surround sound?
Soundbars can absolutely be integrated into a surround sound setup. Surround sound puts you in the centre of the action by having speakers literally surrounding you, or dotted around the room, so the sound comes from all directions. Soundbars can be linked (often wirelessly) and you’ll find that some brands make it especially easy to connect with other speakers within their range. However, as you’ll read below, you may not need to connect your soundbar with other speakers for surround sound.
What is Dolby Atmos?
This is a fantastic innovation in surround sound technology, derived from cinemas. Any TV, speaker, or soundbar that’s equipped with Dolby Atmos is essentially a premium bit of kit. Dolby Atmos bounces sound off the walls to create a 3D soundstage and truly immersive experience. Atmos equipped soundbars have speakers that fire upwards and bounce sound off the ceiling. Dolby Atmos soundbars essentially create an immersive cinema experience without the need for multiple speakers.
Do soundbars have a voice assistant?
Many soundbars have Alexa and Google Assistant, so you can ask them to adjust the sound or even change the channel. Some soundbars will also connect to music streaming apps.
How much does a soundbar cost?
You can spend around £200 for basic soundbars, or go into the thousands. It all depends on the kind of tech and quality of sound you want. This roundup includes options for most budgets.
What is the best soundbar?
You need to ask yourself several questions before making a decision — questions about audio quality, smart features, connectivity, and price. Whatever features suit you and your watching habits best, there’s a good option listed below.
These are the best soundbars in 2023.