The best soundbars and the best soundbases let you improve a rather sorry scenario with television audio. Y'see, one unfortunate side effect of the best TVs now often being about the thickness of a pencil (especially the best OLED TVs) is that they can often feel a bit short of volume, with dialogue being hard to pick out from a heady movie mix, and music coming across as tinny and, as musicologists would put it, 'crap'.
You could get an AV receiver and surround sound speakers, but that tends to require both a suitable living room, and also a suitable amount of will to run cables everywhere and manage the whole shebang. And that will certainly isn't universal. Enter the soundbar and the soundbase.
Modern soundbars range from simple units with a pair of stereo speakers with 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. Soundbases are similar, but are deep enough for your TV to sit on top of, rather than behind.
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.
What is the best soundbar or soundbase?
Our pick for the best soundbar overall is the Bang & Olufsen Beosound Stage. Its eleven drivers products a simple stunning wall of sound, packed with precision, detail, finesse and then a meaty punch of bass just to surprise you. It's a single-box solution, so you just plug it in over HDMI and away you go… with astounding sound.
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.
If you want a low-price soundbar that's even more compact and can double as an excellent music and smart speaker, look to the Sonos Beam. It doesn't have the same cinematic virtual surround goals, instead going just for being a top-sounding, dynamic bar for a good price.
The one downside to these soundbars are that they're not equipped for full, real surround sound on their own. If you want more of a true cinema experience, the Samsung HW-Q90R is our top pick, giving you two rear speakers in addition to the soundbar, with four up-firing Dolby Atmos drivers, plus a subwoofer.
The best soundbars and soundbases: ranked
• Read our full five-star B&O Beosound Stage review
The Danish audio masters have done it again with this soundbar, where 'it' is 'pack an astounding amount of sound into a small, stylish unit'. The Beosound Stage is actually B&O's first soundbar, and it's been worth the wait.
There are 11 drivers hidden behind is 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, too.
The amount detail is just excellent, and its a deft touch with everything 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 does feature a noticeable boost to the spatial positioning of audio compared to simpler soundbars, though don't expect it to offer a full surround experience like the Samsung Q90R below.
But that's okay – because this is a single-box solution that's basically plug-and-play, and sometimes that's just what you want. It doesn't even have its own remote – you'll just use your TV's remote, or the B&O app, to control it.
It's also probably the single best soundbar we've ever tested for music playback, bringing a rhythm and musicality that most can only dream of. And with that big, tall soundstage, it feels like sitting in front of an orchestra.
With Chromecast and Apple AirPlay 2 streaming built in, plus support for B&Os system, it's a multi-room music marvel too. And there's Bluetooth, for streaming from other devices (such as a wireless turntable).
It's expensive, yes, but you can ear every penny you spent.
• Read our full Sony HT-G700 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.
• Read our full Sonos Beam review
Is it a fantastic-sounding 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 great in fetching white or black, 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. And 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.
And you can 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, like 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 – via virtualisation or other means. But Sonos does offer the ability to turn it 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, 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.
• Read our full Samsung HW-Q90R review
Like the LG SN11RG also in this list, this setup gives you not only a large soundbar at the front, but also a subwoofer and two wireless rear speaker units – in combination, it's a full surround system, but without all the messy cables between them. But it's not done impressing yet – the soundbar and both rear speakers also have upfiring drivers for Dolby Atmos height channels, again like the LG.
Samsung describes the end results as a 7.1.4-equivalent configuration, and the result really is stunningly close to the effect of having seven speakers around you, but without all the hassle and expense. And having four upfiring drivers really creates a ceiling of sound for movies with Atmos or DTS:X soundtracks – it's utterly engrossing.
Price cuts mean that this is quite a bit cheaper than the LG, and represents excellent value compared to the Sonos Arc, which is a little less expensive, but doesn't have a subwoofer or rear speakers. It has two HDMI inputs to pass through 4K HDR video.
• Read our full Sonos Arc review
The Sonos Arc is a Dolby Atmos soundbar with eleven drivers at various angles, for projecting sound upwards as well as out to your left and right. As a single-box soundbar, it's not able to fake sound truly coming from all around you, but 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 noise seeming like it's coming from a speaker, it's projecting from the entire wall, spanning the full width and height to the room. And 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, and when a noise 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 add two smaller Sonos units, such as Sonos One SLs, as wireless rear speakers.
The audio quality is just fantastic, no matter 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.
However: 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, and if your TV doesn't decode or passthrough Dolby Atmos itself, then you won't actually be able to make full use of what it can do anyway. This is incredibly frustrating, and cheap for a premium soundbar. It's a good thing the audio quality is so good that we still rate it as one of the best soundbar buys, provided it's a good fit with your TV.
• Read our full Vizio 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos Soundbar review
For those who want a real surround experience but without such a high price tag, this is a slam-dunk. It's a modest 36-inch soundbar delivering the front channels and with two upfiring drivers for Dolby Atmos, a wirelessly connected subwoofer for bass oomph, and two rear speakers (though unlike the Samsung, these don't also have upfirers).
The rear speakers need to connect to the subwoofer via a cable each, which means this isn't quite as flexible as the Samsung Q90R, but if you can place the subwoofer behind you too (or under your sofa) then it's not a big problem at all.
Most importantly, the 3D effect in movies is still excellent, and certainly doesn't sound like it's coming from something half the price of the Samsung. 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 compared to the Samsung – you only get a single HDMI input as well as the HDMI connection to the TV, and the build is not as luxurious. But the sound quality is there, and that's what gets it a strong recommendation from us.
• Read our full LG SN11RG 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 centre, front left and front duties, and has two upfiring height drivers; each of the two rear speakers handles one surround channel and that have an upfiring driver each; and 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. There's excellent dynamic range on offers, and it make a hell 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, useful wireless streaming options and Google Assistant support, and a really easy setup process, it's a hugely impressive system… with emphasis on the huge. This is for 65-inch TVs and up, really, and it's very priced for the premium end of the market, which is why we don't recommend it for more people. But you can very much hear what you're paying for…
We're seeing this soundbar regularly discounted at the moment, which is making it a hell of a bargain. It's the closest direct competitor to the Sonos Beam here, but where the Sonos is concerned with simple rich audio plus a host of multi-room features, this aims to go more cinematic.
Despite being a simple stereo setup inside (with integrated subwoofer, which really does deliver impressive bass), Sony's digital processing claims to replicate a 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos surround system. Let's be clear that it doesn't achieve this (not even as closely as the HT-G700 further up does), 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.
And while the lack of upfiring speakers mean it can't achieve the true overhead effect of Dolby Atmos, it does add height to the presentation, so it sounds like it's coming from the whole area in front of you, rather than pumping out of a small bar. And it's really nice compared to other such cheap soundbars – distinctly more cinematic than a TV's speakers, in an immediate and obvious way. And it will upmix stereo or regular 5.1 sources with extra height.
It's also the only soundbar this cheap to have an HDMI passthrough, meaning that you won't lose an HDMI port by plugging it in. For the current price, this is easily one of the best soundbar buys, but we'd recommend people step up to the Sony HT-G700 if they can.
Soundbases are a (sadly, rapidly dwindling) alternative to soundbars, where you TV actually sits on top of the speaker, rather than behind it. It can be great for TVs with low stands, or if you're worried you don't have space for a separate soundbar on your TV unit (though you'll need to see the soundbase would be too big too, of course).
As an added bonus, a soundbase has more room for speaker drivers to really add power, and German hi-fi specialist Canton has really gone for it here: eight drivers for just a 2.1 stereo configuration is really putting their all into it. With four four-inch woofers, two two-inch mid-range drivers and two one-inch tweeters, this is geared up to give you big dynamic range, and also to be a dab hand at music playback, thanks to hi-res Bluetooth aptX connectivity.
There's no HDMI connection, which is a shame – it means you won't get the automated control of the soundbar's volume from the TV remote, and that your TV must have an optical output – but in terms of being a good-looking soundbase with big results, it ticks all the boxes and then some.
This model is designed for TVs under 50 inches – it has a big sibling, the Canton DM 101, that's designed for 50 inches and up.
How to buy the best soundbar
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.
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 look 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 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.
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- 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