Best soundbars 2024: options for every budget, recommended by our experts

While TV picture quality improves each and every year, TV sound quality is still more or less rubbish. There are exceptions of course, and some TVs do sound pretty good, but even the best-sounding TV can be beaten for sound quality by a decent soundbar. In the vast majority of cases, that soundbar doesn't even need to be an expensive one.

With so many people finally realising that sound is just as important as picture to the enjoyment of movies, TV shows, sports and games, it's little wonder that the soundbar sector is a constant bustle of new and interesting models. That's great in terms of giving you choice, but it can also make it tough to find precisely the right model for your needs.

That's where we come in. Our expert team of reviewers has been testing soundbars ever since the first models launched in the early 2000s. Hundreds of soundbars have been through our dedicated test rooms over the last two decades, and each has been put through a rigorous, comparative testing process. In short, we really know which models are worth your money and which are not.

You can read more about our soundbar testing process, dig deeper into how to choose a soundbar, or simply scroll down for the top models that our experts recommend.

Written by
Tom Parsons
Written by
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's tested every type of soundbar on the market and is an expert at picking the best-performing and best-value options for every type of buyer.

The quick list

The best soundbars in 2023

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.

Below, you can see our picks of the best soundbars currently available. Every one has been tested by our team of product experts to ensure it delivers great performance and value, so you can trust our buying advice.

Best soundbar overall

Black Sony HT-A7000 below a wall-mounted TV

The Sony HT-A7000 is on of the best TV soundbars currently available with a rich and punchy sound and great features. (Image credit: Sony)
What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 winner. Powerful, room-filling Dolby Atmos from a single TV soundbar


Connectivity: HDMI out (eARC), 2 x HDMI in, optical, USB, wi-fi, ethernet, Bluetooth
Sound format support : Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, PCM
Streaming : Apple AirPlay 2, Chromecast
Voice control : Google Assistant, Alexa
Dimensions (hwd) : 8 x 130 x 14 cm (3.14" x 51" x 5.6")
Weight: 8.7kg (26lbs)

Reasons to buy

Robust low-end
Excellent Atmos performance

Reasons to avoid

No VRR or ALLM at launch
EQ controls would be nice
Slightly confused styling

Launched back in 2021, the Sony HT-A7000 has now been proclaimed the Soundbar Product of the Year in all three of the last What Hi-Fi? Awards. That's quite the achievement, particularly in a category as busy and competitive as this.

So, what makes the HT-A7000 so special? It's the sound, of course. It's always about sound as far as we're concerned. Here, it combines the sort of height and precision of the Sonos Arc with even greater forward projection and an even broader soundstage.

No soundbar can quite replicate the feeling of having dedicated speakers dotted all around and above the listening position, but the A7000 gets closer than most. We used Gravity as one of the test discs for our comprehensive review, noting that "as Sandra Bullock rotates on screen, unable to detach from the spinning robotic arm, the brilliant sound design is superbly rendered spatially, undulating upward and outward, beyond the scope of the image".

Making the Sony's sonic feats all the more impressive is the fact that it does it all from a single bar. There are plenty of alternatives at this price that combine a soundbar with dedicated surrounds and a subwoofer – and you can in fact add such components to the HT-A7000 for even more immersion and weight should you wish – but that will be too much clutter and complexity for many people. Instead, the Sony creates its room-filling sound using psychoacoustic techniques and an array of drivers that includes two up-firers, two beam tweeters, five front-facing speakers and a built-in dual subwoofer.

Immersive sound is clearly at the core of the HT-A7000's appeal and so it supports myriad formats, including Dolby Atmos (in both the Digital+ and TrueHD formats), DTS:X and Sony 360 Reality Audio, plus standard LPCM and hi-res wireless audio. You can send music to the HT-A7000 wirelessly, using the likes of Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast, and it supports the Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit and Google Home smart home standards.

The connection to your TV is handled via HDMI eARC, and there are two additional HDMI inputs so that sources can be connected directly. This is a great feature that means your soundbar doesn't cost you one of your TV's HDMIs but in fact gives you one extra HDMI in total. The A7000's HDMIs can even pass through 4K/120Hz, VRR and ALLM gaming signals, with those last two having been added via a post-release software update.

Finally, the HT-A7000 supports something called Acoustic Center Sync, which allows it to work in harmony with the built-in speakers of certain Sony TVs. Honestly, this is more of a curio than an essential feature, and owners of non-Sony TVs certainly shouldn't be put off buying this Sony soundbar – it's the best performance-per-pound option whether you've got a Sony TV or not.

Read the full Sony HT-A7000 review

Best entry-level soundbar

Black Sonos Ray on a white tabletop, sat within a TV's feet

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


Connectivity: Optical
Format support: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS DIigital Stereo, Stereo PCM
Streaming: Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, Sonos S2 app
Voice control: None
Dimensions: 7 x 56 x 10cm (2.79" x 22" x 37.4")
Weight: 2.8kg (4.29lbs)

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 (both below). 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 our full Sonos Ray review

Best entry-level Dolby Atmos soundbar

White Sonos Beam Gen 2 on a TV console in front of a TV

The Sonos Beam Gen 2 is the best compact soundbar with 3D sound (Image credit: Sonos)
What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 winner. If space and budget are limited, there isn't a better virtual Dolby Atmos soundbar that we'd recommend


Connectivity: HDMI out (eARC), wi-fi, ethernet
Sound format support: Dolby Atmos, PCM
Streaming: Apple Airplay 2, Spotify Connect, Sonos S2 app
Voice control: Google Assisstant, Alexa
Dimensions (hwd) : 7 x 65 x 10cm (2.7" x 26" x 3.9")
Weight: 2.8kg (6.35lbs)

Reasons to buy

Effective handling of Dolby Atmos
Warm, refined sound
Streaming smarts

Reasons to avoid

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

While it's undeniably diminutive in stature, everything else about the Beam Gen 2 is deeply impressive. Sonos essentially took its original Beam and added genuinely convincing Dolby Atmos without changing the overall design or adding dedicated upward-firing drivers.

It's all done through clever processing: the Beam Gen 2 uses psychoacoustic HRTF (head-related transfer function) technology to deliver a sense of height using two of the unit's five front-facing drivers. 

The effect, while not quite as immersive as that offered by soundbars with dedicated up-firing speakers, is still very impressive, particularly considering the size and price of the Beam. All told, it provides an enveloping presentation that's rich, three-dimensional and full of detail.

During testing, we paired the Beam Gen 2 with TVs ranging from 43 inches to 65 inches in size, and in each case found that it "enhanced the cinematic scale and viewing experience". In other words, don't discount this little soundbar if you've got a big TV.

Of course, with this being a Sonos soundbar, movie and TV sound is only one of its features. On top of that, you can use it as a full Sonos wireless speaker and even integrate it into a Sonos multi-room system. Control can be done via the Sonos S2 app, or you can simply send music to the 'bar using AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect or Tidal Connect. It even now supports hi-res 24-bit/48kHz 'Ultra HD' tracks from Amazon Music.

To cut a long story short, if you want a small, affordable soundbar that can deliver convincing Dolby Atmos, the Sonos Beam Gen 2 is the 'bar for you.

Read the full review: Sonos Beam Gen 2

Best mid-range soundbar

Black Sonos Arc on a TV console in front of a TV

Despite being 2 years old the Sonos Arc is the best Dolby Atmos soundbar with upward-firing drivers for under £1000. (Image credit: Sonos)
Still one of the best Dolby Atmos soundbars that we've heard


Connectivity: HDMI out (eARC), opitcal, wi-fi, ethernet
Sound format support: Dolby Atmos, PCM
Streaming: Apple Airplay 2, Spotify Connect, Sonos S2 app
Voice control: Google Assisstant, Alexa
Dimensions: 8.7 x 114 x 12cm (3.43" x 45" x 4.56")
Weight: 6.3kg (14lbs)

Reasons to buy

Convincing Dolby Atmos
Dynamic, detailed and weighty
All of the usual Sonos smarts

Reasons to avoid

Music could be better projected
Heavily reliant on your TV’s specs
No Bluetooth or DTS:X support

Soundbars for TV aren't new territory for Sonos, but the former What Hi-Fi? Award-winning Arc is the only soundbar from the brand to deliver Dolby Atmos with upfiring speakers. It sits above the Beam (Gen 2) in terms of pricing and is suited to 55-inch TVs and above, with optional wall mounting fixings available for £79 ($79/AU$99).

There are touch-sensitive play/pause and volume controls on the bar with LEDs that indicate status and when you're talking to the built-in Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. Connectivity includes AirPlay 2, ethernet and eARC for Dolby Atmos from compatible TVs.

The Sonos Arc uses 11 drivers to create your soundfield, several of which are upfiring and angled into your room to bounce sound off your walls and ceiling. “It’s so much more than just pointing a couple of speakers upwards,” said Sonos’s product manager Scott Fink when the Arc launched. “We focused on the playback precision of all the channels, including the height channels.” And that effort certainly paid off: the Arc offers one of the most convincing Atmos performances you can get from a single-chassis soundbar. Height junkies can turn up the volume of the Arc's upward-firing drivers using a separate control, but during our testing we don't find it necessary to overly boost the upfiring channels to enjoy the Arc's immersive delivery. 

You're transported to the heart of the action. Surround effects are expertly placed, and there's great dynamism and good weight to the sound too. Tonally, it's nicely balanced if you just want to listen to music, although it could sound a tiny bit more direct. But, there's no doubt this is a hugely impressive TV soundbar for the money.

Read our full Sonos Arc review

Best high-end soundbar

Sennheiser Ambeo placed on a TV console below a wall-mounted TV

The Sennheiser Ambeo is the best soundbar you can buy if money is no object. (Image credit: Sennheiser)
What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 winner. The best soundbar for those with deep pockets.


Connectivity: HDMI out (eARC), 3 x HDMI in, optical, RCA, wi-fi, ethernet, Bluetooth
Format support: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, PCM, MPEG H, Sony 360 Reality Audio
Streaming: Apple AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect
Voice control: Alexa, Siri
Dimensions: 14 x 127 x 17cm (5.3" x 50" x 6.7")
Weight: 18.5kg (40.8lbs)

Reasons to buy

Rich, balanced sound
Excellent dynamics
Impressive surround effect

Reasons to avoid

Fussy about positioning
Hugely expensive

The Ambeo Soundbar Max (the 'Max' was only added to the name when the Ambeo Plus arrived) marked Sennheiser's first consumer speaker, and it's quite the proposition – a premium soundbar crammed full of features including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support, 4K HDR pass-through (all of which are useful if Netflix and/or Amazon are your main movie and TV show source). You also get auto-calibration and four HDMI inputs, plus Bluetooth and support for Chromecast. 

Measuring 127cm wide and 14cm tall, it’s certainly a beast, to the point where it will block the bottom couple of inches (and perhaps the IR receiver too) of most TV screens if simply placed in front of one. As we found during testing, it can’t be placed on a lower shelf, either, as that will block the upward-firing drivers that produce its height effects. To get the full Dolby Atmos effect, you'll need to wall mount or position the soundbar on the top shelf of your rack so the upward-firing speakers aren't obstructed. It's well worth the effort, though.

The size of the soundbar is primarily down to the larger-than-enough drivers Sennheiser has managed to fit in, and the result is a sound big enough not to need its own subwoofer, with clear, direct dialogue and detail and subtlety in spades. The way it stretches the sound around you creates a great atmosphere and really draws you into the action. As we note in our review: "While some soundbars with external subwoofers go deeper, the bass here is delivered with weighty gusto and seamless integration. This is what helps the Sennheiser achieve the sort of effortless, natural tonality and texture that most rivals can’t begin to match." But the best thing about the Ambeo Max's sound? How little attention it draws; "there's none of the beamy, nasal harshness found in many other soundbars and on the whole, the processing is natural and convincing."

For those who want compelling 3D sound without all the speakers, this is the best soundbar with a premium price tag that we've ever tested, which is why it retained its title once again at the 2023 What Hi-Fi? Awards.

Read our full Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar review

Best cheap soundbar

Sony HT-SF150 placed on a benchtop within a TV's feet

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


Connectivity: HDMI out (ARC), optical, USB, Bluetooth
Format support: Dolby Digital, LPCM 2ch
Streaming: None
Voice control: None
Dimensions: 6.4 x 8.8 x 90cm (2.51" x 35.4" x 3.46")
Weight: 2.4kg (5.29lbs)

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 there is no replacement for surround sound, it adds 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. Still, this budget bar is ideal for those looking for a quick and easy improvement to their TV.

Read our full Sony HT-SF150 review

Best smart soundbar

Roku Streambar, below a TV showing off the Roku interface

The Roku Streambar packs streaming smarts and clear audio into an budget TV soundbar. (Image credit: Roku)
A great value budget soundbar with streaming onboard


Connectivity: HDMI out (ARC), optical, USB, wi-fi, Bluetooth
Format support: Dolby Audio, PCM
Streaming: AirPlay 2, Roku system
Voice control: Alexa
Dimensions: 6 x 35.5 x 10.7cm (2" x 14" x 4.2")
Weight: 1.1kg (2.4lbs)

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 required: projection and clarity. In our four-star review, we praised its "solid balance devoid of any rough or sharp edges", which allows you to turn the volume right up without hurting your ears. Don't expect hugely dynamic or spacious sound, but know that the Streambar gets the sonic basics right.

Aside from being a TV audio booster, the Streambar is also a video streamer that offers built-in access to streaming apps within Roku's vast library. The Streambar will work with any television with an HDMI input, outputting 4K HDR at up to 60fps for compatible sets.

The included remote is logically laid out and easy to use, 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.

Read the full Roku Streambar review

Also consider

The best alternative soundbars we've tested:

Sony HT-A3000: in terms of pricing and features, the Sony HT-A3000 is just like the Sonos Beam Gen 2. It doesn't deliver Dolby Atmos sound anything like as effectively, but its detail and dynamics make it a big upgrade on TV sound.

Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar Plus: the middle model in Sennheiser's three-strong Dolby Atmos soundbar range, the Ambeo Soundbar Plus sounds spacious and grand and is very nearly as good as the Sony HT-A7000. It's usefully smaller, too.

LG S95QR: if it's a full soundbar system you're after, the LG S95QR could be right up your street. It doesn't have the precision or overhead impressiveness of the Sony HT-A7000 or Sonos Arc, but wireless surround speakers and a sub are included in the box.

How to choose a soundbar

How to choose the best TV soundbar for you

Before you buy, there are some things to bear in mind. Consider the dimensions of your TV to work out just how big your new soundbar needs to be. You don't want it to be dwarfed by the screen, but then again, it could look strange partnering a massive bar with a small TV – like a tiny head perched atop overly broad shoulders. Look up the dimensions and compare the bar's width with that of your TV. Also, check the height – if you need to place the soundbar in front of your TV, you don't want it obscuring half the picture, and if it has upward-firing drivers, they need a clear line of sight to your ceiling to be effective.

Generally, soundbars are a single long speaker with several drivers inside but some come with external subwoofers for extra low-end extension and rear speakers for surround sound effects whereas others are compatible with other speakers from within the manufacturer's brand. If floor-shaking bass is high on your priority list then these are models you'll want to consider.

Next, features and connectivity. Many modern TV soundbars boast ARC and eARC-enabled HDMI ports, which can handle high bandwidth multichannel audio formats as well as optical inputs for older TVs. If your TV has ARC/eARC, you'll be able to control the volume of your soundbar with your existing remote control. It's worth considering if having a separate physical remote for the soundbar is important to you or if you're comfortable with controlling settings from a smartphone app. 

Most modern soundbars have some options for wireless music playback with wifi streaming via services such as Airplay 2, Spotify Connect and Chromecast, as well as Bluetooth connectivity. Some also have microphones with voice assistant functionality or compatibility. If you have external devices such as games consoles or a 4K Blu-ray player, keep an eye out for additional HDMI passthrough ports that could make your setup more flexible.

Should you be looking beyond just a simple improvement of your TV sound and want to purchase a soundbar that produces an immersive home cinema experience, you'll want to pay attention to models that can handle Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio. Some soundbars do this virtually with processing, and some include up-firing speakers for height effects. If you're interested in the latter, it's important to remember that the result will be more successful if you have low ceilings to bounce the sound off and that the top of the soundbar needs to be uncovered and placed clear of the TV screen.

If high-quality 3D sound is important to you, then you'll want to make sure both your TV and potential soundbar support Dolby TrueHD and eARC. The ARC standard can handle Dolby Atmos, but only in its Dolby Digital Plus form, which is lossy, whereas Dolby TrueHD can deliver full-fat Dolby Atmos in all its lossless glory.

Have a think about the content you'll be viewing and the sources you'll be plugging in. If you are just watching Freeview, many of these technologies will be redundant. But if you're streaming the likes of Netflix, Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video in 4K HDR, you'll want to squeeze out the best possible audio quality to make sure your content sounds as good as it looks. For a complete overview, check out our in-depth guide on how to choose and set up a soundbar

Below, we've rounded up the best soundbars for various budgets (if you're specifically looking for a very affordable model, check out our best budget soundbars page), or if a Dolby Atmos soundbar is more your thing, we have a page dedicated to that too. Whether you spend a little or a lot, we think that all the models recommended will up your audio game with a fuss-free setup.

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 WiFi.

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, while ARC and particularly eARC, which was first introduced with HDMI 2.1 in 2017, and has recently become more common. Before you decide how to connect your equipment to your TV, you should be aware of the pros and cons of each and also check that the cable you need is included in the box with your soundbar.

For more detail, check out how to connect your speakers to your TV.

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, DTS-HD Master Audio or DTS:X. If you are viewing or gaming 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 and B&W Panorama 3, 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 settings 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 Arc, 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. 

How we test soundbars

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 and allow for plenty of listening time as well as running them in before we begin reviewing.

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 always try to be 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. For example, if it's a Dolby Atmos soundbar, we'll use Blu-ray discs to hear its Dolby True HD performance, but we'll also check its performance with streaming services that use Dolby Digital Plus too. 

Although soundbars are typically designed with film and TV in mind, we also put them through their paces with music too, testing out a range of streaming options with a variety of genres, both classic and modern, enduring that we listen in the highest quality that the soundbar is capable of.

Our reviews are broken into three sections: design, features and sound and all verdicts are agreed upon by the team rather than just 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.


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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.

With contributions from