Even if you can afford to spend lots of cash on a gorgeous new 4K OLED TV and subscribe to every single streaming service, your home cinema viewing may still, unfortunately, remain sonically disappointing. From struggling to hear dialogue to lacklustre action sequences, relying on your TV's built-in speakers is a bit like using the headphones that come bundled with your phone: they do a job, but once you sample an upgrade, you're never going back.
But the good news is that you can do something about it without spending a fortune just by adding a budget soundbar to your setup.
- Best Dolby Atmos soundbars: the best Atmos TV speakers
How to choose the best soundbar for you
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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.
So what should you look for when buying one? Bluetooth is a fairly ubiquitous extra feature that allows the soundbar to wirelessly play music from an external device. While network connectivity is less common at the affordable end of the market, it is possible to find models that support other wireless technologies like Apple AirPlay 2, and a few work with smart assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, too.
As most of the models listed don't have app support, you should also look for a decent remote control, ample connections appropriate for your set-up and of course that all-important sound quality. But rest assured, all of the soundbars below sound good – you can read the full, in-depth review attached with each if you need further information and if a model's not on this list, it's because we wouldn'trecommend it.
The best part is that some of the best soundbars on the market don't cost a fortune, as our list below illustrates, meaning you can make easily make an impactful change to your TV and film watching. And, you can always visit our dedicated guide on how to choose and set up a soundbar for some extra tips and advice.
Right then. Let's take a look at (and listen to) the best budget models around right now.
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
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
This is the original model of Sonos's smaller, cheaper soundbar, and although it has been supplanted by the Beam Gen 2, it's still an impressive-sounding device, unmatched in its price bracket, and packed with great features.
It supports Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple Siri personal assistants, and its WiFi connectivity means it has excellent integration with streaming services, including Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, Amazon, Deezer and Google Play Music.
As a Sonos speaker, it works with other products from the brand and can be added to a multi-room network or a surround system. Of course, you'll probably want to connect it to your TV, where it will bring a sound quality that's far superior to built-in speakers. We liked it so much that we gave it one of our coveted What Hi-Fi? 2019 Awards. In 2020, we had no choice but to give it the nod yet again – for the best soundbar in the highly competitive £300 - £500 / AU$500 - AU$800 bracket.
If you do fancy saving some money and want the still-excellent original Beam, you'd best act fast because it's officially been discontinued. It can still be found on resale and refubish sites but who knows how long for?
Read the full review: Sonos Beam
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
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
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
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
Another What Hi-Fi repeat Award-winner for the best soundbar under £300, this Yamaha does a fine job of emulating a surround sound system and deserves pride of place in most home cinema set-ups. Its soundfield is gloriously enveloping, and there are no fewer than seven sound modes to choose from, so you're bound to find one that suits your room and whatever you're watching.
You also get a dedicated subwoofer for extra bass. Add in some beautifully layered detail, and you've got a fine-sounding, great-performing soundbar.
Read the full review: Yamaha YAS-207
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
For anyone wanting a big sound or hoping to fill a big room with a small 'bar for a reasonable amount of money, the JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam could be just the ticket.
That said, the sound isn't perfect. Although we might nudge you towards the better all-round sonic performance of the Sonos Beam, that isn’t really comparing like for like – the Bar 5.0 Multibeam boasts a long list of wireless connectivity and, considering its size, it positively kicks down the door and tramples the furniture as it announces its presence in your living room.
Read the full review: JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam
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
If you've previously considered Devialet products too rich for your blood, you might want to think again, because you can now nab this Sky/Devialet collaboration for a significant discount even if you're not a Sky customer, with prices hovering around £250 – down from its original price of £800. Anyone familiar with the premium French hi-fi brand will know how much Devialet kit usually costs.
Yes, it's kind of bulky, more like a large lunchbox than a bar, but it’s a box with a big presence. Don’t expect “surround sound” but do expect heft and guts, especially through the midrange, plus plenty of clarity and expression overall.
Read the full review: Sky Soundbox
What if you have a small room, a small TV and a small budget but want a big, enjoyable sound? That’s easy: you take the Acoustic Energy Aego Soundbar for a spin.
The Aego Soundbar is compact, comprising a small bar and a wired subwoofer at a very affordable price. Despite the budget price tag, however, Aego's system doesn't feel cheap and the bar’s dimensions (just 50cm long and 7cm tall) are such that you can prop it right up close to your small telly or even desktop computer without obstructing the screen.
There's a pleasing solidity to the Aego's presentation. All in all, a great option for smaller homes.
Read the full review: Acoustic Energy Aego Soundbar
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.
See all our soundbar reviews