Best budget soundbars 2023: affordable home cinema sound

So, you've got a fancy TV and you subscribe to every streaming service known to humanity – you're all set for a supreme home cinema experience, right? Wrong! You've forgotten the sound, which is almost as important as the visuals when it comes to cinematic enjoyment.

The speakers in your TV simply won't be up to the task of doing justice to your movies, TV shows or games. In fact, they might not even be good enough to deliver clear dialogue, and that simply won't do.

The good news is that you can do something about it without spending a fortune, simply by adding a budget soundbar to your setup.

How to choose the best soundbar for you

Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.

Soundbars add more powerful, direct and better quality audio to your TV but, unlike dedicated speaker packages, your lounge won't have to accommodate six chunky boxes. Instead, a soundbar sits demurely beneath your TV, quietly getting on with levelling up its sound.

Best budget soundbar: Sonos Beam Gen 2

The Sonos Beam Gen 2 is the best soundbar for those with limited space and budget who still want 3D sound. (Image credit: Sonos)
The dinky Sonos Beam delivers a refined sound and excellent Dolby Atmos interpretation


Sound format support: Dolby Atmos DP / Dolby Atmos True HD / Dolby Digital / Multichannel PCM/ Dolby Multichannel PCM / stereo PCM
Connectivity: 1 x HDMI eARC, Wi-Fi, Ethernet
Streaming: Apple Airplay, Spotify Connect
Voice control: Works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
Dimensions (hwd) : 7 x 65 x 10cm

Reasons to buy

Effective handling of Dolby Atmos
Warm, refined sound
Streaming smarts

Reasons to avoid

No additional HDMI ports
Doesn’t support virtual DTS:X

Delivering Dolby Atmos from a small chassis is no mean feat and the Sonos Beam Gen 2 achieves a convincing, immersive performance without so much as a vertical speaker insight. Instead, when watching Atmos content, two of the soundbar's five front-facing arrays are dedicated to reproducing overhead and surround sounds. With its hefty processing power, the Sonos Beam Gen 2 uses psychoacoustic HRTF (head-related transfer function) technology to give the impression of height without needing to get vertical.

While genuine overhead sounds are perhaps a stretch too far for this petite TV soundbar, its virtual delivery of the Atmos format outstrips any similarly priced soundbar and even a few that are more expensive. The Beam Gen 2 offers an enveloping, spatial soundscape with rich, detailed audio as well as tangible motion and depth.

Not that many soundbars at this price point come with networking capabilities, but this being a Sonos product, the Beam Gen 2’s ability to integrate into a wireless multiroom system is fundamental to its design. This means you can stream to the Beam Gen 2 from a handheld device using Apple AirPlay 2, and Spotify Connect is built-in too. A recent upgrade also added support for Amazon Music Ultra HD audio, giving access to lossless 24-bit/48kHz tracks as well as Dolby Atmos Music.

Despite the lack of upward drivers, if space and budget are limited there isn't a better Dolby Atmos soundbar that we'd recommend.

Read the full review: Sonos Beam Gen 2

Sony HT-G700 Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Sony HT-G700 is an entry level virtual Dolby Atmos soundbar. (Image credit: Future)
A good entry-level Atmos soundbar with plenty of bass.


Sound formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Connectivity: 1 x HDMI (eARC), 1 x HDMI input
Streaming: Bluetooth
Dimensions (HxWxD): 6 x 98 x 11cm (bar); 39 x 19 x 40cm (subwoofer)
Power output: 400W

Reasons to buy

Big, weighty sound
Impressive Atmos effect
Solid and stylish

Reasons to avoid

Lack of crispness and clarity
No streaming functionality

If you're on a tight budget, the Sony HT-G700 could be just the ticket. It might not be the most compact bar around, but it's certainly big on sound, big on value and comes with a wireless subwoofer, dedicated HDMI input and support for both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.  

Sony’s own Vertical Surround Engine and S-Force Pro Front Surround technologies dish up a convincing Dolby Atmos soundscape while that chunky subwoofer (39cm-tall) adds plenty of heft to big explosions. 

Of course, being an entry-level Dolby Atmos soundbar, it doesn't compare to the much pricier Sony HT-ST5000 (above) in terms of clarity. It also lacks music streaming features and voice control.   

Still, if you're after a dedicated bit of home cinema kit on a budget, the powerful-sounding HT-700 serves up a seriously cinematic performance at a nice price.

Read the full review: Sony HT-G700 

Roku Streambar soundbar

The Roku Streambar packs streaming smarts and clear audio into an budget TV soundbar. (Image credit: Roku)
This streamer/soundbar combination represents very good value


Connectivity: HDMI 2.0a (ARC), optical, USB 2.0
Remote control: Yes
Streaming: Bluetooth 5.0
Dimensions (HWD): 6 x 35.5 x 10.7cm

Reasons to buy

Direct, well-projected sound
Great feature list
Can go loud

Reasons to avoid

Doesn't sound cinematic

Think of the Roku Streambar as an upgrade on your TV, rather than an entry into proper home cinema, and it ticks pretty much every box. While it doesn’t quite ascend to five-star status, it easily nails the aspects for which it is most commonly going to be used: projection and clarity. The Streambar will work with any television with an HDMI input, outputting 4K HDR at up to 60fps for those with compatible sets. Everyone else will get 1080p Full HD, with lower resolution signals upscaled.

The bundled remote is splendid, and for an out-of-the-box boost to TV audio and older sets’ smart features, the Roku Streambar is extremely low risk for this price. In that sense, it’s something we can wholeheartedly recommend.

Read the full review: Roku Streambar

Sony HT-SF150 soundbar

The Sony HT-SF150 is an easy and affordable soundbar to step-up your TV sound. (Image credit: Future)
A budget friendly soundbar that's a step up from your TV’s speakers


Connectivity: HDMI, optical, USB, ARC
Streaming: Bluetooth version 4.2
Sound formats: Dolby Digital, Dolby Dual mono, LPCM 2ch
Dimensions: 6.4 x 8.8 x 90cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to buy

Looks and feels premium
Impressive scale and width

Reasons to avoid

Slightly muffled presentation
Could have more punch

If you're looking for a simple, constructive step up in sound from your TV's in-built speakers, Sony's SF150 offers a significant sonic enhancement for little outlay. Indeed there's almost no other competition worth considering for under £100 ($100, AU$200).

Despite its low price point, the SF150 is a well-built speaker and wouldn’t look out of place perched beneath a TV that costs several times its price. Alongside HDMI ARC, it has an optical input supporting Dolby Digital, Dolby Dual mono and LPCM 2ch. There's also a USB port and Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity for music playback from an external source too.

The SF150 also features Sony's S-Force Front Surround technology, which applies processing to give the acoustic impression of a more encompassing sound stage. While it's certainly is no replacement for surround sound, it does add a dramatic sense of weight and separation.

Sonically the SF150 paints with fairly broad brushstrokes, meaning dialogue can sometimes feel a touch muffled, and transients lack impact, but that should come as little surprise at this almost ridiculously low price. Anyone wanting a musical, finely detailed speaker should aim for a more sophisticated model, but for those looking for a quick and easy improvement to their TV, this budget bar is ideal.

Read the full Sony HT-SF150 review

Dolby Atmos soundbar: Majority Sierra Plus

The Majority Sierra Plus is a budget Dolby Atmos soundbar with upward firing drivers.  (Image credit: Future)
A Dolby Atmos soundbar that won’t break the bank


Connectivity: HDMI ARC, optical, coaxial, 3.5mm aux, USB
Audio Formats : Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos 2-channel, MP3, FLAC, WAV, WMA
Bluetooth: 4.2
Total power: 108W Class D amplification
Weight : Soundbar 2.7kg / Subwoofer 7.9 kg
Dimensions (hwd): Soundbar 8.1 x 96 x 10.8cm / Subwoofer 37 x 19 x 30.6cm

Reasons to buy

Well projected vocals
Broad sound
Additional HDMI ports

Reasons to avoid

Sub is ill-defined
Front display is always on
Could be more detailed

Majority might not be a particularly well-known name, but the British brand has been producing affordable AV equipment for a decade and offers a three-year warranty on all of its products, with free shipping to the UK from its website and worldwide via its Amazon storefront.

It's flagship soundbar is the Sierra Plus, handles 2.1.2 channels of sound with Dolby Atmos decoding for less than the price of many standard non-Atmos soundbars.

While it doesn't have wi-fi connectivity this budget bar does feature Bluetooth for music streaming and hard-wired inputs for HDMI ARC, optical, mini-jack and USB. Handily it also gives users two additional HDMI 4K HDR passthrough ports to directly connect external devices such as a games console or Blu-ray player, reducing the number of cables you need to run to your TV.

As the Sierra Plus has ARC, as opposed to eARC, it can only decode Dolby Atmos in its lossy Dolby Digital Plus format. However no streaming service currently offers Dolby Atmos content in lossless True HD, so unless you also plan to connect a 4K Blu-ray player into your TV and then pass the sound out to the soundbar, this should be no great loss.

It’s not the most detailed performer, with a vague separate sub and height effects that won't make you duck and cover, but sonically it delivers an engaging, enjoyable home cinema sound with a broad soundstage and clear dialogue. An easy upgrade to your TVs speakers.

Read the full review: Majority Sierra Plus

Soundbar: Sonos Ray

The Sonos Ray is a budget soundbar that delivers crisp dialogue. (Image credit: Future)
An assertive, punchy and petite soundbar with sparkling vocal clarity


Connections: 1 x optical
Sound formats: Stereo PCM, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Digital Surround
Bluetooth: No
Wi-fi?: Yes, with streaming via Airplay2, Spotify Connect and Tidal Connect
Finishes: Black matte, white matte
Dimensions: (hwd) 7 x 56 x 10cm
Weight: 2.8kg

Reasons to buy

Excellent vocal clarity
Punchy, forthright projection
Detailed high end

Reasons to avoid

Not much low-end extension
Delivery a touch clinical
Narrow soundfield

The Ray marks something of a departure for Sonos. It can form part of a wireless multi-room system using Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect and the Sonos S2 app (though users should note there’s no Bluetooth streaming onboard). Similarly, it can be partnered with other Sonos speakers for a complete 5.1 surround system.

However, this is a speaker with practicality and affordability in mind. Its ultra-compact dimensions, tapered build and forward-facing speakers mean it takes up little space and removes any need for a clear line of sight for upward- and side-firing drivers, making it a practical choice for small rooms and even desktops.

The Ray has been conceived to slot into cabinets without its sonic dispersion being impacted. However, it doesn’t feature the virtual Dolby Atmos decoding of Sonos’ more premium soundbars – the Beam Gen 2 and Arc. So, pragmatically, Sonos also decided to ditch the HDMI eARC connections of its pricier products in favour of a classic optical input, which almost every TV will have, but monitors and consoles may not.

It may not be the warmest or most cinematic sounding speaker, but the Sonos Ray is very capable and, most importantly, is an accessible way to boost your TV audio, competently addressing the biggest concern most users have: dialogue intelligibility. It is a talented budget soundbar and delivers clear, punchy sound without the frills.

In our initial review of the Ray, we felt that its bass handling, which resulted in an unusual low-frequency resonant buzz across various movies and music, hampered its overall performance. However, since an update in July 2022, that problem has now been widely alleviated, and as such, we have upped our initial verdict from three to four stars.

Read the full Sonos Ray review

Soundbar: Hisense HS214

For a compact, all-round performer the HS214 is a fine budget soundbar. (Image credit: Hisense)
It’s hard to dislike Hisense’s inexpensive but effective 2.1 soundbar.


Connectivity: HDMI ARC, optical, coaxial, 3.5mm aux, USB 2.0
Audio Formats : Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, 2-channel and multi-channel PCM
Streaming: Bluetooth 4.2
Total power : 108W Class D amplification
Dimension (hwd): 9.5 x 5.8 x 65 cm

Reasons to buy

Decent low end
Clear vocal projection
Compact size

Reasons to avoid

No display for remote control functions
Not particularly dynamic

Despite its price, the HS214, with its low profile and quality build, would sit happily beneath both a new high spec TV or an older model. Its small footprint makes it well suited to smaller rooms and screens (up to 55 inches), and if you’re more into wall mounting, there are rigging points at the rear with fixings included in the box, though it’s worth bearing in mind that this will affect the bass performance of the downward-firing woofer.

All the TV connection options you’d expect are present, with HDMI ARC, optical and coaxial sockets capable of handling Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus and PCM audio. Meanwhile, for playback from an external device, there’s a USB port (supporting MP3/WAV/WMA/FLAC file types), 3.5mm mini-jack aux and Bluetooth 4.2 for wireless streaming. When playing back from USB, there’s no way to view the index of files, so you’ll need to pre-make a playlist or use the remote to skip blindly between tracks. 

Sonically the inclusion of the woofer is a nice touch, and whilst you shouldn’t expect cinematic low-end, the enhanced depth that the bass unit brings to the table isn’t superfluous either, giving this tiny soundbar more solidity and musicality than you would expect. Dialogue is generally quite direct though slightly more sparkle would help it cut through busy scenes. 

The Hisense HS214 Soundbar is a simple way to boost your TV’s sound with more forthright dialogue and an extended tonal reach. You won’t get the dynamic performance and detail of more premium models, but you could easily spend more and end up with less at this end of the soundbar spectrum. 

Read the full review: Hisense HS214 

JBL Bar Studio soundbar

The JBL Bar Studio is a quality budget soundbar with virtual surround sound.
As excellent upgrade on your TV's speakers at an brilliant budget price.


Connectivity: 1x HDMI, 1x optical, 1x aux, 1x USB
Remote control: Yes
Streaming: Bluetooth
Dimensions (HWD): 58 x 614 x 86mm

Reasons to buy

Solid, punchy sound
Plenty of bass
Good range of features

Reasons to avoid

Hardens at high volumes
Lacks timing and dynamics

This affordable soundbar is designed to emulate the sound from a surround sound system, and it does so admirably. Bass is rich and punchy, and there's a decent amount of detail in the midrange too. It doesn't quite have it in the music stakes though – this is very much a TV sound enhancer, rather than a living room hi-fi speaker. But at this price (remember, it's a mid-2018 model, so deals abound), that's not really a complaint.

Read the full review: JBL Bar Studio

How we test soundbars

We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers test the majority of hi-fi and AV kit that passes through our door.

Each soundbar we test is paired with an appropriate reference TV and is directly compared to the best in its price and features class – whether that's the current What Hi-Fi? award winner or a few of the latest models we've been impressed by in recent reviews. What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, and we keep class-leading products in our stockrooms so we can easily compare new products to ones we know and love.

We are always impartial and do our best to make sure we're hearing every product at its very best, so we'll try plenty of different styles of films and TV shows that show what each soundbar is capable of with both advanced and standard audio formats. We'll check all the features onboard including music playback with a variety of genres and allow for plenty of listening time as well as running them in before we begin reviewing.

All review verdicts are agreed upon by the team rather than an individual reviewer to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we're being as thorough as possible, too. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, with What Hi-Fi? proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.

Soundbar FAQ

What is a soundbar?

Are soundbars better than TV speakers?

Soundbars are slim, often rectangular, speaker systems with drivers positioned side by side that are designed to slot underneath your TV or to be fitted neatly to the wall. With front-facing drivers, even basic, budget soundbars typically offer more direct and clear audio than a TV. 

This is because as TVs have become slimmer, their in-built speakers have shrunk and are often positioned at the rear or underneath the screen – hardly the ideal position as large speakers that face forward will always be clearer and louder than tiny speakers pointing in another direction.

Manufacturers have tried, with varying success, to enhance the audio coming from their televisions. But, if you want to improve TV audio, you need a separate speaker designed for that purpose.

There are a few options to improve your TV sound that range from the budget to the expensive, but a soundbar is one of the simplest ways as they are typically compact and require minimal cabling. They often also have added benefits, such as wireless streaming over Bluetooth or wi-fi.

How do I connect a soundbar to my TV?

Can you add a soundbar to any TV?

Almost every soundbar and TV, no matter its age, will have an optical connection. Some older models may have a stereo RCA connection as well.

ARC and the more advanced eARC is now the most common way to connect a sounbar to a TV. It works over HDMI. You simply find the HDMI socket on your TV that's labelled 'ARC' or 'eARC', and connect the soundbar to that. Not only is ARC/eARC much more convenient than optical, it's also capable of handling higher-quality formats such as Dolby Atmos.

Is ARC or Optical better for a soundbar?

The key thing to know about optical is that it's restricted in bandwidth compared to ARC/eARC. So if you have the choice between the two and opt for optical, you might not be making the most of the audio decoding built into your soundbar. The most advanced immersive formats optical can handle are compressed Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 surround sound, so that means no Dolby Atmos or DTS:X.

When it comes to ARC/eARC, you need to ensure that your TV has a compatible HDMI socket that supports all the audio formats being sent to your TV. Read our guide to HDMI ARC and HDMI eARC for the full lowdown on this connection, but you need to know that ARC supports Dolby Atmos in its lossy Dolby Digital Plus format (the codec used by streaming services), while eARC can handle high-quality codecs such as Dolby Atmos in Dolby TrueHD. If your viewing involves physical media, you will probably want to ensure you have got an eARC connection to get the most from your system.

ARC/eARC also allows your main TV remote to control the basic volume and power functions of your soundbar via HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control). Some soundbars come with their own remotes and/or have app control, but if your connection to your TV uses an optical cable, you may still be able to use your regular controller. Certain models, such as the Sonos Ray, can 'learn' to recognise the commands of both IR and RF remotes, but the set-up will depend on your TV manufacturer.

Unfortunately, ARC/eARC can sometimes introduce a slight audio lag resulting in lipsynching issues that can vary depending on your TV-soundbar combo. However, many brands include controls to adjust the delay on a soundbar's app, and sometimes there's also an option to modify it on a TV's settings.

If you are using ARC/eARC to connect to a Dolby Atmos soundbar, check whether you are actually receiving Atmos. Most soundbar apps will give you confirmation of the type of audio format that you are currently listening to on the Now Playing page or occasionally on the soundbar's display (if it has one). So if what you are playing should be in Dolby Atmos, but the app says otherwise (likely 'PCM', '5.1' or '2.0'), then it's time to delve into the settings of your TV and Blu-ray player.

To receive Dolby Atmos, any source device must be set to output bitstream audio. You can find this option in the audio settings of TVs, Blu-ray players and streaming sticks. In PCM, you will hear the audio only in stereo, but sending bitstream means your soundbar will be able to receive those lovely Dolby formats, including Atmos.

What are the best equaliser setting for a soundbar?

If your soundbar comes with its own automatic calibration software, then make sure you run it, so the soundbar’s audio output is matched to your room’s layout and characteristics. The Sonos Beam (Gen 2), for example, uses Sonos's Trueplay software in conjunction with your smartphone's microphone to tailor its sound. 

While automated optimisation is great, your own ears are even better. If your soundbar also has options to alter individual channel levels, don't be timid with tweaking things to suit your taste/needs. Every room is different, and hearing is subjective, so what sounds great to one person may not to another. The great thing about a soundbar is that it is generally straightforward to make adjustments and swap back if you change your mind.

Some soundbars will come with pre-programmed modes for different types of content. In our experience, soundbars with cinematic modes often use 'spatial' processing that can introduce high-frequency artefacts. In contrast, 'music' modes will usually have a bass and treble-heavy EQ that can sound a little brash. We tend to favour a flat standard mode, if one is available, that we manually adjust to our liking. But there is no one size fits all approach that will work for every room and listener.

There is little more frustrating than not being able to hear dialogue when watching a TV show or movie, but inevitably, varying levels of speech clarity combined with how busy the soundscape is and the overall style of the mix can mean that whispery, mumbly vocals hinder even a top-quality, room-tuned soundbar. 

Fortunately, most soundbars have speech enhancement feature settings that will typically raise the volume of the centre channel and crispen up the EQ to help improve dialogue audibility. Not every brand implements this with sophistication, and sometimes these modes can sound thin and harsh, but once again, it's always worth experimenting to find what works for you and your space. 


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Tom Parsons

Tom Parsons has been writing about TV, AV and hi-fi products (not to mention plenty of other 'gadgets' and even cars) for over 15 years. He began his career as What Hi-Fi?'s Staff Writer and is now the TV and AV Editor. In between, he worked as Reviews Editor and then Deputy Editor at Stuff, and over the years has had his work featured in publications such as T3, The Telegraph and Louder. He's also appeared on BBC News, BBC World Service, BBC Radio 4 and Sky Swipe. In his spare time Tom is a runner and gamer.

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