Most home theater systems aren't designed for the surroundings that most of us live in. If you stay in an apartment, especially one with a small lounge, then a surround sound system is going to give you iffy results and annoy your neighbours. You may want to go for something a little more self-contained: a soundbar. Essentially, these units pack all the sound equipment you could possibly need into one convenient container. And if you've recently bought a super-skinny flatscreen TV, you're definitely missing out on the sound that picture deserves. The soundbar has been the answer for those looking for big sound in a sleek package, and below we've covered the best soundbars in the market for this year.


How We Choose:

As soundbars have exploded in popularity, so too have the numbers of models available. The ten here represent the absolute best available, and any will be an excellent addition to a home setup. We made our picks based not only on price, but on overall quality and unique features, too. Whatever your budget, you'll find something to love here.

We've tried to strike a balance between high-end audio companies, and more mass-market options, but we think there's a soundbar for everyone in our list. Disagree? Think we got it wrong? Fight us in the comments, or on Facebook and Twitter! And please note that at the time of writing, all prices were correct - we try to update regularly, but sometimes prices fluctuate faster than we can write!
 

Our Soundbar Picks:

1. Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 2 ($1,300)

Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 2Wattage: 100
Channels: 5.1
HDMI: 3/1
Subwoofer: Internal
What We Like: Mindblowing audio quality matched with dead-easy setup.
What We Don't: Works best in big spaces.

With the soundbar market as competitive as it is, it takes something pretty special to snag our number one spot. We believe the Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 2 is that special something. At this level, there’s so much competition that you could genuinely make an argument for other bars at this position, but we firmly believe that in terms of bang for your buck, this is the best out there – better than the Sony, better than the MartinLogan, better than even the Definitive Technology W Studio - although to get the best of it, you’ll need a relatively big space.

What blew us away with the Panorama 2 was the effortless stereo imaging, no matter where we were in the room. It’s got an enormously wide spread, thanks to careful placement and tuning of its nine assorted drivers. It doesn’t come with an external subwoofer, but it does have an internal one – two, as a matter of fact – and it comes with a subwoofer pre-out if you feel the need to attach an external box. (B&W state in their documentation that it’s technically a 5.1 channel unit, despite the lack of external sub). Chances are, though, you’ll probably be quite happy with the thunderous noise that this thing puts out. If you disagree with us, and think another bar should be up top, feel free to duke it out in the comments below!
See the Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 2
 

2. Yamaha YSP-4300 ($1,800)

Yamaha YSP-4300Wattage: 324
Channels: 7.1
HDMI: 4/1
Subwoofer: Yes
What We Like: Massive sound.
What We Don't: No Bluetooth, huge price tag.

One of the priciest (and, it must be said, one of the best) soundbars available is the Yamaha YSP-4300. It’s a shade under $2000 at present, and we think that’s a staggering amount to pay for a bar, meaning it loses out on the top spot - especially given the wealth of features in the Sony model. But damn, this thing sounds good, albeit not quite at the heights of the B&W Panorama.

Yamaha don’t call this a soundbar: it's a Digital Sound Projector, with 7.1 capability and 22(!) speakers built into it, not including the wireless subwoofer. It’s got Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD capability, as well as a wealth of other features that will please any audiophile - even those who’ve never experimented with this particular product category before. At this point, you’re probably best off upgrading to a decent home theater system, but if you love your soundbars, then this could be the one you’re looking for. Just remember: there is at least one model which is just as good - maybe even a little better - and available for less.
See the Yamaha YSP-4300

Sonos Playbar
3. SONOS Playbar ($699)

Wattage: Unknown
Channels: 3
HDMI: 0/0
Subwoofer: No
What We Like: Ease of use, killer sound, great setup.
What We Don't: Requires that you’re locked into the SONOS ecosystem.

You know, it’s not often that we describe soundbars as sexy, but the Sonos Playbar is dead sexy. With its curved edges, end grills and metallic highlights, this is a model you’ll want to show off. And there’s a lot to recommend inside the casing, too. There are nine speakers in here – six midrange and three tweeters – as well as nine Class D amplifiers. Although you really do need to add a sub to get the full cinema experience, this model will charm you straightaway, not only with its silky sound and exterior but it’s dead easy setup, which relies on two cables. For our money, we prefer this over more expensive models from Paradigm and Bluesound - it offers superlative value.

The entire SONOS ecosystem works fantastically well, especially as you can pair speakers, making this system ideal to hook up with something like the SONOS PLAY:5 (full review here). Be warned that there are no HDMI connections round the back - this is a system that relies solely on optical - and you’ll need to be OK with being locked into the SONOS ecosystem of speakers. No playing nice with any existing ones you own!
See the SONOS Playbar


4. Definitive Technology W Studio ($1,299)

Definitive Technology W StudioWattage: 120
Channels: 5.1
HDMI: 1/2
Subwoofer: Yes
What We Like: One of the best external-sub-combos out there.
What We Don't: Doesn’t beat the big boys.

Def Tech (as we all but inevitably call them in our offices) make some excellent soundbars - and we criminally left them off the list last time, so let’s fix that. We prefer the W Studio from their lineup, although they make some superb other models, including the Mythos range, which we feature below. 

This is a fully WiFi-capable soundbar with a superb external subwoofer that really deserves its place on this list. Sound is both effortless and elegant, and the latter adjective could easily describe the design of the sub and bar themselves, which look absolutely gorgeous. While we thought the detail in the audio was a little bit lacking at times, it certainly didn’t lack for bass, or midrange warmth, and did a decent impression of a full surround system. Control is done via Def Tech’s excellent smartphone app, making setup a breeze. This is a fantastic all-around soundbar, and one we highly recommend – especially for this price.
See the Definitive Technology W Studio


5. MartinLogan Motion Vision X ($1,700)

MartinLogan Motion VisionXWattage: 100
Channels: 5
HDMI: 0/0
Subwoofer: No
What We Like: Big sound with a lot of detail, looks terrific.
What We Don't: We think it’s a little overpriced right now, lacks HDMI.

One of the better-looking and more intimidating units on this list, the Motion Vision X (which, despite being part of the Motion line, sounds to the uninitiated like MartinLogan’s marketing department couldn’t make up their minds) is stellar. It just misses out on the top spots, as it lacks an HDMI port (a problem the W Studio doesn’t have), offering only optical, coaxial and analog inputs – and it isn't helped by the fact that the Motion Vision X is relatively expensive. But make no mistake: this is still one monstrous, king hell set of speakers.

It’s a five-channel wonder that, despite lacking a subwoofer, is able to incorporate either a wired or wireless model. The sound offers a lot of detail and some good thump down low, and as a bonus, it’s DTS PlayFi capable, meaning you can incorporate it with others because that use the same technology to create a full multiroom system – like, for example, the Paradigm PW 600. That puts it among the more versatile of the models on this list, which is helped along by great remote and very simple setup. As we’ve said before, there’s a lot of competition above the $1000 mark, and any soundbar in that range is going to be worth your time.
See the MartinLogan Motion Vision X


6. GoldenEar SuperCinema 3D Array X Soundbar ($1,299)

GoldenEar SuperCinema 3D Array X SoundbarWattage: Unknown
Channels: 3
HDMI: N/A
Subwoofer: No
What We Like: Superlative sound.
What We Don't: Passive design may not be for everyone.

Passive speakers definitely aren't for everyone - and not everyone will be down with the extra effort the GoldenEar SuperCinema 3D Array X Soundbar requires. But if you have an amplifier or receiver you like, you're set for a wild ride. We looked into this one after being pointed there by a reader, and it's absolutely incredible. We'd compare it favorably to others on this list, like the MartinLogan Motion Vision X, although we think its passive nature marks it out as more of a specialist product. Still, it's a keeper.

It's a bar that's been tuned to perfection, with crisp, clear top-end notes and a stunning midrange. Although you'll almost certainly need a decent subwoofer to get the best of it, it's still a magnificent beast, with a lot to recommend it. As of right now, you'll have to go direct on this on - Amazon doesn't stock it - but it's a beast nonetheless, and ideal for those who want a little more control over their sound. There's also an XL version, currently selling at $1,599, and offering even more audio quality and power.
See the GoldenEar SuperCinema 3D Array X Soundbar
 

7. Sony HTST9 ($600)

Sony HTST9Wattage: 800
Channels: 7.1
HDMI: 3/1
Subwoofer: Yes
What We Like: Superlative sound, fully wireless subwoofer, huge power.
What We Don't: Still quite pricey.

Although Sony tends to improve their products by tiny changes rather than sweeping ones, the clumsily-named HTST9 (we don’t want to tell you how many times we had to double-check to see if there was a hyphen in the name) is still an incredible model. We prefer it over the Focal Dimension, although it’s a close call.

You’ve got seven channels, plus a wireless subwoofer, all outputting 800 watts of power – more than enough to do a very impressive imitation of a full surround system. The price may be a little too weighty for our tastes, but there’s no denying that this is an absolutely superlative piece of equipment: a bedrock buy that will keep your ears happy for years to come. If we were to list the full range of features packed into this thing, we’d be here for quite a while – check the in-depth specs page on the Sony website for more. Everything is worth having, and we’ve got no hesitation in putting this one at the top of the list. It’s magnificent – as long as you can afford it.
See the Sony HTST9


8. Focal Dimension ($995)

Focal Dimension 5.1Wattage: 450
Channels: 5.1
HDMI: 2/1
Subwoofer: Internal
What We Like: Excellent surround sound.
What We Don't: Still quite expensive.

An under-the radar-pick that, despite being massively overpriced when it first came out, has dropped to a far more budget friendly sub-$1000. We’d still pick the Sony over this one, but if the price drops further and you find you don’t need a full 7.1 surround imitator, then give it a shot.

The Focal Dimension delivers an excellent imitation of 5.1, and even manages to get the bass right with its built-in subwoofers (although you can add in one of their external models). The aluminum chassis and set of five speakers do a stellar job with the audio, particularly excelling in delivering a very passable impression of surround sound. It must be said that we’re not hugely enamored with the design, which looks a little too blocky and angular, but that’s a minor point, and we can’t see it mattering all that much. If you have money to burn, don’t care about the design, and you don’t want to upgrade to a full surround system just yet, take a look at the Focal Dimension.
See the Focal Dimension


9. Samsung HWK950 ($1,198)

Samsung HWK950Wattage: 500
Channels: 5.1.4
HDMI: 2/1
Subwoofer: Yes
What We Like: Dolby Atmos and DTS sound, huge power.
What We Don't: Needs a long-overdue update.

Those who say that home theater is always going to beat soundbars haven't heard the Samsung HWK950. With multiple speakers and full Dolby Atmos/DTS technology, this bar offers a very convenient package, and an easy way to experience surround sound at a very competitive price.

Although Samsung make many different soundbar models, this is by far the best – although not the most recent. It’s still very much the pick of the crop, and is still very much available, but it was released in 2016, and the cheaper models that have come after a just haven’t reached the heights of their mother. We don’t think this is quite as good as models like the Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 2, which just has a certain je ne sais quoi with regards to its sound quality, but it’s still a very viable alternative. And as it’s been out for so long, you can probably track one down second hand if you look hard enough.
See the Samsung HWK950


10. Paradigm Shift Soundscape ($1,499)

Paradigm Shift SoundscapeWattage: 350
Channels: 5.1
HDMI: 0/0
Subwoofer: No
What We Like: Terrific build and audio quality.
What We Don't: Internal sub would have been better as an external, no HDMI ports.

Want to know why a product from the otherwise impeccable Paradigm ranks so low? Because at one and a half thousand dollars, you would expect, at the very least, to get a couple of HDMI ports. You don’t. That’s a very strange omission, and it’s enough to knock this one a few places down our list. It’s the same problem we had with the otherwise excellent MartinLogan Vision X; if you’re going to charge this much for a soundbar, you shouldn’t be dictating how, within reasonable terms, someone connects it.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its pluses. It offers warm, rich, all-encompassing sound, with 5.1 channels of audio goodness, and a quality level that is among the best on this list. You get huge power, too, with 350 watts to play with. While we do think the internal sub channel would have been much better as an external subwoofer, that may have jacked the cost considerably. You do, by the way, get a connection to wire in an external subwoofer if you have one.
See the Paradigm Shift Soundscape


11. Bluesound Pulse ($999)

Bluesound PulseWattage: 120
Channels: 6
HDMI: 0/0
Subwoofer: No
What We Like: Integrates with the Bluesound ecosystem flawlessly, excellent sound, aptX Bluetooth.
What We Don't: No HDMI, in common with several others on this list.

While this soundbar does suffer from the same malady as the MartinLogan Vision X and Paradigm Shift Soundscape, in that it doesn’t contain any HDMI ports, it still offers absolutely terrific value combined with some genuinely brilliant sound. As such, it’s a very good pick if you have around $1,000 to spend, and you want to experience why there’s so much buzz around this company.

Bluesound are well known for creating an excellent, refined wireless audio ecosystem, and this soundbar slots right in. Although it doesn’t come with a subwoofer, you can buy the company’s wireless model, and spend almost no time at all connecting the two of them, increasing the already fantastic audio quality. Plus, you get access to the well-designed BluOS app, and Bluetooth streaming with aptX, meaning richer sound and fewer dropouts. Ultimately, this is an unorthodox choice when compared to the other models on this list, but it’s a very good one.
See the Bluesound Pulse


12. Klipsch RSB-8 ($499)

Klipsch RSB-8Wattage: 100
Channels: 2.1
HDMI: 1/1
Subwoofer: Yes
What We Like: Good feature set for the price.
What We Don't: Nothing mindblowing.

In the past, a few readers accused us of having left Klipsch off this list. We decided to rectify that – although we weren’t enamoured with the cries to consider the old R-20B (which we thought was vastly overrated) we do agree that the company deserves a place on this list. They make several models, and it took us a while to go through them, but we’ve gone with the RSB-8 – although you can easily make a case for the RSB-6 or RSB-11.

This is a surprisingly full featured soundbar, which not only incorporates things like Bluetooth, but also DTS PlayFi (assuming you can deal with their clunky app). There’s a chunky external subwoofer that really does the business on the low end, and the overall sound quality is confident and assured. The looks are nothing to write home about, but then that’s not something that Klipsch are typically known for. When it comes down to is that this is an excellent and slightly cheaper alternative to the SONOS Playbar, and as an added benefit, you are not locked into a particular product ecosystem. Good stuff.
See the Klipsch RSB-8


13. Monitor Audio ASB-10 ($750)

Monitor Audio ASB-10Wattage: 100
Channels: 2.0
HDMI: 0/0
Subwoofer: No
What We Like: Big improvement on earlier models.
What We Don't: No subwoofer included, although there’s an output for one.

Monitor Audio have always been a hugely impressive brand, and with this update to their soundbar line, they’ve done it again. We included the ASB-2 on this list last year, and the 10 further improves the sound and functionality. The 100 watts of power this thing puts out is driven by four impressive Class-D amplifiers, all of which have been expertly paired with the existing driver setup. We don’t think it offers quite as good value as the Klipsch above, but still: decent bar.

While the bass isn’t underpowered, it’s worth bearing in mind that there is no subwoofer included in this model, although there is the option available to add one. Outside of that, there’s very little to dislike here. You even get some highly efficient Bluetooth, running on the excellent aptX codec. Monitor have a little way to go if they want to break into the upper echelons of this list, but for now, we can easily recommend the ASB-10, and we can’t wait to see what the company does next.
See the Monitor Audio ASB-10
 

14. Arcam Solo ($1,499)

Arcam SoloWattage: 100
Channels: 6
HDMI: 4/1
Subwoofer: Yes
What We Like: Great design, build and looks.
What We Don't: Dodgy remote, sound isn’t as good as the others.

There is no world in which we’d pick the soundbar over the Paradigm Shift Soundscape. Yes, this may offer four HDMI inputs, in contrast to the Soundscape’s zero, but other than that, it’s chalk and cheese. The sound quality here is fine, but it just doesn’t have the refinement that we’ve come to expect in this particular price range. And we must just say, the remote is annoying.

But on this list, so that must mean it has some good aspects, right? Right. For one thing, we think it’s one of the better-looking soundbars out there, with a gorgeous, full design, and splendid curves. It’s also built like a tank, and is fully mountable. If it falls off the wall, you don’t have to worry! And we must admit, it does offer decent low end, with a very good subwoofer included in the package. Far from a topic, but still worthwhile if you can’t find the Soundscape.
See the Arcam Solo
 

Cambridge TVB215. Cambridge Audio TVB2 ($279)

Wattage: Unknown
Channels: 2.1
HDMI: 3/1
Subwoofer: Yes
What We Like: Amazing sound, great subwoofer.
What We Don't: Doesn’t do anything super-special.

A relatively new model, the Cambridge Audio TVB2 is a doozy. In terms of pure tightness of sound, and how accurately audio is reproduced, this is a superb piece of equipment - although outside of that, it doesn’t really do enough to justify placing it higher, and it’s not as loud as some of the other models. It can also be a little tricky to track down, like much of Cambridge Audio’s gear, if you live outside the UK. That’s not enough to keep it off the list, however.

Cambridge Audio almost universally make good stuff, so it's no surprise that this soundbar is the way it is. Plus, you get Bluetooth streaming, an included subwoofer, and the ability to control it with your existing remote. It has the ability to actively disperse sound to approximate, if not quite replicate, a stereo field, and the tech behind this feature is called the Balanced Mode Radiator Driver. We say it's worth the price of admission, especially as an alternative to the other models: if you care about audio clarity, get this one - and if you want something slightly cheaper, go for the Q Acoustics model below.
See the Cambridge Audio TVB2


16. VIZIO SB4051 ($335)

VIZIO SB4051Wattage: Unknown
Channels: 5.1
HDMI: 2/0
Subwoofer: Yes
What We Like: Huge improvement on its smaller cousin, Smartcast functionality.
What We Don't: For this price? Almost nothing.

We’ve got quite a lot of experience with VIZIO soundbars. While we had mixed feelings about the 38” version of this, the 40” SB4051 removes almost all of them. For one thing, it offers a vastly improved subwoofer, that not only fixes all the issues we had with the bass, but also allows you to place it in a multitude of different configurations, including under your couch.

While it’s not going to trouble true home theaters, the multiple drivers and twin satellite speakers offer very good sound quality indeed. There’s a wealth of accessories, including what feels like a hundred different cables, meaning you’ll never be caught short. You also get full Smartcast functionality, meaning you can send just about any audio you like to the soundbar with ease. If you’re on a budget, this is quite simply the best soundbar available, as it gives you huge amounts of versatility and features. We’ll have a full review of this up soon, and it’ll come highly recommended.
See the VIZIO SB4051


17. Q Acoustics Media 4 ($400)

Q Acoustics Media 4Wattage: 100
Channels: 2
HDMI: 0/0
Subwoofer: No
What We Like: Great remote, easy setup.
What We Don't: No subwoofer or HDMI.

Although it’s far from the best soundbar on the list, the Q Acoustics Media 4 makes a good account of itself, and it definitely belongs on here. Its sound quality isn’t a patch on something like the Definitive Technology XTR-SSA3, which has far better definition and bass (this bar doesn’t come with any sort of subwoofer, and in addition, lacks HDMI outputs).

That being said, it definitely has its pluses. It’s super easy to set up and run, with an excellent and very simple remote. And while the sound isn’t audiophile quality, it definitely delivers, creating a reasonable impression of home theater sound, despite the lack of extra channels. Ultimately, you go for this one if you wanted a very simple improvement on your TV sound, or you’re trying to fill a very small room. Otherwise, you may want to go for something with an included subwoofer.
See the Q Acoustics Media 4


18. Definitive Technology Mythos XTR-SSA3 ($600)

Definitive Technology XTR-SSA3Wattage: Unknown
Channels: 3
HDMI: N/A
Subwoofer: No
What We Like: The ultimate soundbar-speaker hybrid.
What We Don't: You’ll need an external amplifier or receiver.

Almost all soundbars have an internal amplifier, offering themselves as a single box solution. But Definitive Technology - Def Tech, as we call them –have done something different. They’ve created a three channel speaker in the shape of a soundbar, designed to be used with the traditional home theater setup where it takes the place of the front left, front right, and center speakers. That’s clever thinking, and we think it’s worth a place on this list, even though it’s not technically a soundbar. In this way, it's very similar to the Goldenear model, at number six on this list.

You’ll need an external receiver to power it, as well as some speaker wire, but that’s no big ask. And the sound will reward you with excellent dynamics and punch. Not everybody will be able to make use of the XTR-SSA3’s functionality, or even want to, but in certain situations, it cuts down on the number of separate speaker units dramatically, and really simplifies things in a way that rewards demanding listeners. We like it, and we’ve got no hesitation in including it here.
See the Definitive Technology Mythos XTR-SSA3


Comparison Table:

Soundbar Price Wattage Channels HDMI Sub. Bluetooth Length
B&W Panorama 2 $1,300 100 5.1 3/1 Internal No 44"
Yamaha YSP-4300 $1,800 324 7.1 4/1 Yes No 43"
SONOS Playbar $699 Unknown 2 0/0 No No 35.4"
Def. Tech. W Studio $1,299 120 5.1 1/2 Yes No 43"
MartinLogan Motion Vision X $1,700 100 5 0/0 No No 39.9"
GoldenEar SC 3D Array X $1,299 Unknown 3 N/A No No 49"
Sony HTST9 $798 800 7.1 3/1 Yes Yes 44.5"
Focal Dimension $799 450 5.1 2/1 Internal Yes 45.25
Samsung HWK950 $1,198 500 5.1.4 2/1 Yes Yes 47.6"
Paradigm Shift Soundscape $1,499 350 5.1 0/0 No Yes 42"
Bluesound Pulse $999 120 6 0/0 No Yes 42.25”
Klipsch RSB-8 $499 100 2.1 1/1 Yes Yes 40"
Monitor Audio ASB-10 $750 100 2 0/0 No Yes 35"
Arcam Solo $1,499 100 6 4/1 Yes Yes 39.3”
Cambridge Audio TVB2 $279 Unknown Unknown 1/1 Yes Yes 34.6"
VIZIO SB4051 $335 Unknown 5.1 2/0 Yes Yes 40"
Q Acoustics Media 4 $400 100 2 0/0 No Yes 39.3”
Def. Tech. Mythos XTR-SSA3 $600 Unknown 3 N/A No No 43"

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Soundbar control panel | The Master Switch

Buying Advice:

Soundbars vs. Home Theater 

One of the most common things we encounter here at The Master Switch is the idea but soundbars just aren’t worth anyone’s time, and that it’s best to just skip them an upgrade straight to a home theater system.

We have a real problem with this, and we strongly disagree. It’s true that soundbars are not going to compete with a full 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system, but then again, they aren’t designed to. You go for a soundbar if you want convenience – which is something that even the most diehard home theater fan would admit a regular surround setup doesn’t have – or if you have a smaller space that doesn’t require or can’t fit multiple different speakers.

Really, that’s the main reason to go for a soundbar. It offers huge convenience, and sound that is almost as good as a full speaker system. It’s often said but this isn’t the case, but we defy anybody to sit down in front of something like the Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 2 and not be absolutely awed.

Bottom line: if you feel like multiple speakers would be too much hassle, or you don’t have the space or inclination to get them, then a soundbar could be ideal for you.

Polk Audio Magni-Fi Soundbar

Soundbars vs. Soundbases 

Another common question we get: should one go for a soundbar, or a soundbase?

The latter, if you didn’t know, is a rectangular box that sits directly underneath your TV. It packs in all the different types of speakers, including a subwoofer, into a convenient package that doubles as a TV stand. In contrast, a soundbar often separates the speaker systems, putting midrange and treble drivers into a slim bar, and usually, but not always, having a separate subwoofer.

Each of them has several advantages and disadvantages. As a rule, soundbases cost a little bit more than soundbars, but in contrast, there aren’t nearly as many options out there – it’s much harder to get them then it is to get a good soundbar. While they do tend to sound better, this isn’t always the case, and they are also almost always heavier, as well as taking up significant space.

Soundbars have the advantage of being attached cheaper (sometimes), as well as lighter and more versatile. To be honest, however, you could go for either, purely based on how much space you have under and around your TV. Here at The Master Switch, we’ve tried both, and we like both! If you want more information, we've got a whole guide devoted to picking between the two (with a handy explainer video!)
 

Soundbar Subwoofers Explained

It’s not uncommon to see soundbars being packaged with an included subwoofer. This is because a soundbar’s enclosure isn’t always ideal for handling the low notes, which subwoofers are built to do. So when you see one packaged with your soundbar, don’t freak out about paying for equipment you don’t need. Well, technically speaking, you don’t need a subwoofer, but it’s very handy to have one. Your bass-loving friends will thank you.

Of the soundbars in the above list, there is a roughly even split between those that come with an external subwoofer, and those that incorporated into the actual bar itself. In almost all cases, we greatly prefer having an external subwoofer, which tends to deliver better low end. Having said that, we fully acknowledge that our top pick, the Panorama 2, doesn’t include an external subwoofer, while our number two pick, the Yamaha YSP-4300, does!

Ultimately, this is probably a less important decision than deciding what kind of soundbar you want. We’d say definitely go for a sub woofer if you have the space, but don’t put too much thought into it. Any bar on this list is going to give you decent low-end.

Polk Audio Magni-Fi Soundbar

Integrating A Soundbar Into An Existing System

While we can’t really recommend switching to a soundbar if you already have a full surround system, you can certainly use it with any existing speakers you might have.

We’d love to give you precise instructions as to how to do this, but there are so many different soundbar/speaker combinations available that it’s impossible. Any soundbar worth a place under your TV will come with instructions on how to do this. Generally speaking, a good setup to start with is a pair of small bookshelf or surround speakers, a subwoofer, and the soundbar itself in the center.

Be warned: soundbars are great - we wouldn't feature them here if they weren't - but they're not home theater systems. They produce killer sound, but if you're expecting to blow your walls to pieces, you might want to look elsewhere. Essentially, soundbars were invented for convenience, and if you have a situation where home theater isn't appropriate, then you should get one. Like, right now.

A further thought on buying soundbars. There's a school of thought that it makes sense to buy a soundbar from the same people who made your TV, the logic being that the two products will be matched in some way. You could, for example, pair a VIZIO SB4051 with a VIZIO TV. We'd say this is a little exaggerated, as the audio and visual departments in the same company can often be quite separate. That being said, it's certainly not a bad idea, and although we haven't seen any concrete evidence but it makes a noticeable difference, it still perfectly legitimate buying strategy.
 

Surround Sound Explained

You may notice that several of the bars on this list have a channel rating of 5.1 or even 7.1 – yet they are still distinct from pure surround sound home theatre systems. What gives?

In this case, the number refers to the number of individual speaker channels in the bar (and included subwoofer) it is not necessarily meant to indicate surround sound, whatever the manufacturers might say. Truth be told, it’s actually a little difficult to get genuine surround sound when the sound source is a single bar below your TV. Don’t get us wrong, plenty of the soundbars do an excellent job with positioning and spreading the audio around, but it’s not going to be as good as having multiple speakers.

But! As always, there’s an exception to the rule. Some of the bars in the list come with separate satellite speakers, as well as a subwoofer. That allows you get at least 5.1 sound - three channels in front, two satellite ones on the side, and a subwoofer. All the same, you shouldn’t expect the quality here to be as good as a dedicated 5.1 system, which will generally have a receiver capable of doing more intricate positioning than the circuits in your soundbar. 

In almost all cases, we’d say that if you want surround sound - the real thing - you should get a home theater. But if you don’t, then a soundbar is fine.

VIZIO SB4051 | The Master Switch

HDMI vs. Optical

These two terms refer to the type of connections on the back of the soundbar, and we have…shall, we say, strong opinions about them.

The basics first. HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) is a slim multi-pin connector with a distinctive shape. Chances are you probably use them already to, for example, connect your games console to your TV. Optical connections actually use lights to transfer audio, and are thin, bendy little wires with a distinctive connector at the end.

HDMI is better. We are absolutely convinced about that. Not only does it allow you to use high resolution codecs like Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD Master Audio, which optical does not, but we think it offers (very) slightly better sound quality. In addition, the cables are cheaper, and often a lot more robust. If you have the choice, go for HDMI. You may run into cases where you send audio out from your TV into the soundbar, and it doesn’t pass along a surround signal, but these are few and far between.

To complicate matters, several of the big soundbar manufacturers are actually ditching HDMI entirely. No, we don’t know why. To us, it’s a deeply annoying trend, and we wish it would stop. It’s why, for example, we put the MartinLogan Motion Vision X bar at number five on our list, when it could quite possibly have snagged a top three or even top two spot. To our way of thinking, there’s no good reason to leave HDMI off.
 

Wireless Streaming Explained

One of the most popular uses of soundbars these days is as actual music systems, and almost all of them will have streaming capabilities in one form or another.

In most cases, this takes the form of – you will be absolutely stunned to hear – Bluetooth and WiFi. While neither are quite as good as regular wired connections, in terms of quality, and both definitely have their downsides, in terms of dropouts and crowding existing networks, they can be an amazingly convenient way of listening to music.

Surprisingly, not every soundbar will have Bluetooth included. We have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it’s nice to have for convenience, but on the other, we wouldn’t really advocate doing music listening at home via Bluetooth anyway, except in certain circumstances. There’s just no need. While we’ve indicated whether a soundbar has this feature in our comparison table, it definitely shouldn’t be the first port of call when you’re buying.

Far more important, and interesting, is a wireless connection. If you can get your soundbar connected to your home WiFi, you open up a huge number of possibilities, including being able to control it with an app on your phone. Some bars, like the SONOS Playbar, actually rely on home wireless to function. Others, like the budget VIZIO bar at the bottom of our list, have nifty features like Google Smartcast. If this aspect is important to you, you’ll find plenty of options in our picks.

VIZIO SB4051 with subwoofer and satellite speakers | The Master Switch

Wattage Explained

Wattage would soundbars is treated a little bit differently to wattage with other speaker systems. (Wattage, by the way, is a measure of power – roughly, how loud something will be at a given volume level. It’s not a perfect analogue, but it works for our purposes here.)

For starters, with those systems, you have to take into account matching the amount of power coming out of the amplifier to the amount of power the speakers can handle. A mismatch can result in sound that is a little bit less detailed or louder than one might like, or at the very worst, a blown set of speakers. That’s not the case with soundbars, because the amplifier and speakers are all contained in a single unit, and have been matched already. There is no need to do any matching yourself.

That’s why we give our wattage ratings here as total wattage, which is the output of all the speakers in a soundbar, firing simultaneously. One of the frustrating things, however, is that manufacturers often don’t indicate whether the rating they give is RMS/continuous wattage, or peak/dynamic wattage. The former refers to the power level over a long period of time, while the latter is how much power the speakers can put out if turned to the absolute maximum. Obviously, we disregard that one, and only look at RMS/continuous power. Except: in almost all cases, manufacturers of soundbars don’t say whether the wattage is one or the other. That means it’s a little harder to trust these wattage specifications than we’d like. Take them with a very big grain of salt.
 

Length Explained

It’s such a small thing, but it’s tripped up so many people who buy soundbars. You order yours of Amazon, have it delivered, unwrap it… Only to find that it’s far too long for your actual TV stand. The ends stick out comically, or worse, actually wedge themselves up against something. Also, a soundbar that is too long or too short for the actual TV just looks a bit weird.

Fortunately, we’ve included individual lengths in our comparison table above, which means you should be able to get an idea of just how long each soundbar is, and how much space it’s going to take up. To that end, we cannot stress enough that you need to actually measure just how much space you have before making a purchase. Again, you’d be surprised how easy is to forget this in the excitement of getting new audio gear.

That being said, most soundbars do fall within a general range, from around 34” to 48”. The shortest on our list is the Cambridge Audio TVB2, at 34.6” long, while the longest is the GoldenEar SC 3D Array X at 49”. There are plenty in between those, so you should be able to find a suitable length for your TV.

Back To Our Soundbar Picks  Back To Our Comparison Table

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