9 best soundbars and soundbases to give your TV cinema-quality sound

Those super-slim TVs we love usually lack sonic power, not least because of those thin profiles.

While some newer TVs have extra speakers mounted on the back to boost the sound, the best way to have cinema-quality sound from your TV is to add a soundbar or soundbase.

They both do the same job but a soundbase sits under the TV while a soundbar sits below or in front of the screen, or can be mounted on the wall.

Each bar or base has multiple speakers within it, angled to make the result sound wider than the bar itself. It’s not just about outstanding special effects and booming music, it’s also to ensure there’s a clear channel for dialogue to cut through the action, for instance.

The sound can be even more wraparound by bouncing the audio off walls or even the ceiling, so you can achieve great audio without having extra speakers and cables straggled round the room.

Actual rear speakers will usually sound better, mind. Some systems can be expanded with extra speakers which may connect wirelessly to the main unit. You can add a sub-woofer which delivers extra bass, though some systems include one. The sub-woofer can be placed almost anywhere because bass is not directional.

Check your TV’s connections before you buy. Most TVs have an HDMI socket, but not every speaker does. The ones that don’t use a connection called “optical out” which most, but all, TVs have.

Quality is the same with both connection methods but HDMI, for instance, can offer a more seamless way to control multiple devices (TV, DVD player, speaker etc) from one remote.

Look out for HDMI ARC: ARC is short for Audio Return Channel which means the audio goes in both directions not just from the TV to the soundbar. In turn this can mean fewer cables and remote controls.

Sonos Beam: £339, Amazon

Bar or Base? Soundbar
Sub-woofer? Sold separately
Dimensions: 65.1 x 6.85 x 10cm (width x height x depth)
Connections: Optical, ethernet, HDMI ARC, wifi

Sonos products are sensational. Not only is the audio quality outstanding but the speakers are easy to set up and work together beautifully. So, you can buy one speaker now and create a multi-speaker or multi-room system later. The Sonos beam is the company’s latest soundbar and is ideal for smaller rooms (though it still sounds good in bigger ones). The tone is bright without distorting the source and the voice track is clear. Not only does it make TV audio soar, it sounds good enough to work as a regular hifi in its own right. Although it’s not a large piece of kit, it manages to sound much bigger.

Sonos tunes its products so that they extract every detail from a movie soundtrack, guided by Hollywood industry experts. The results are rich and wide, though adding more speakers like the sub-woofer and, say, a pair of the brand’s Play:1 speakers behind you will add to the effect even more. It’s a smart soundbar, so you can control it by talking to it, using your choice of voice-activated personal assistant.

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Panasonic SC-HTB258: £143, John Lewis & Partners

Bar or Base? Soundbar
Sub-woofer? Included
Dimensions: 45 x 5.1 x 13.5cm (width x height x depth)
Connections: Optical, HDMI ARC, ethernet, wifi

This soundbar is certainly a space-saver, fitting easily under most TVs, but like the Sonos beam it sounds much wider than it looks. Dialogue sounds particularly strong and natural, leaving the TV’s audio improved rather than just louder. One of the standouts here is the value: the features might not be able to compete with the very highest-end speakers here, but most of the time it sounds more than good enough. And at this price, sound is paramount. It also includes a small but effective sub-woofer which will add significant bass to the audio without overpowering it.

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Polk Command bar: £189.99, Amazon

Bar or Base? Soundbar
Sub-woofer? Included
Dimensions: 109 x 5.1 x 10.2 cm (width x height x depth)
Connections: Optical, HDMI ARC, wifi

The sleek Command bar has an understated styling, apart from the circular panel which glows when you talk to it – it’s as if an Amazon Echo Dot has been installed in the middle of the bar. It means you can control the soundbar and compatible smart-home products by talking to the command bar. The audio is strong, spreading itself wide thanks to the length of the sound bar and its artfully angled speakers. The sound is balanced and subtle with voice clarity as you’re watching a movie particularly good. The supplied sub-woofer adds plenty of bass.

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Denon Heos home cinema HS2: £499, Hifix

Bar or Base? Soundbar
Sub-woofer? Included
Dimensions: 102 x 7.3 x 10.4cm (width x height x depth)
Connections: Optical, HDMI ARC, ethernet, Bluetooth

Denon is a superbly trustworthy brand and Heos is a standalone brand it has set up. This soundbar is extremely easy to set up and use. The audio, both from video and music playback sounds impressive, not least thanks to the supplied wireless sub-woofer. It’s more stylish than some and supports high-resolution music formats to boot. It is compatible with other Heos models for multi-room effects. It’s also smart and will support Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa.

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Sky Soundbox: £249, Sky

Bar or Base? Bit of both
Sub-woofer? No
Dimensions: 37.5 x 9.5 x 21cm (width x height x depth)
Connections: Optical, HDMI, Bluetooth

Sky’s dedicated speaker sounds brilliant, though it’s expensive unless you’re a Sky subscriber. The Soundbox is made in conjunction with Devialet, a high-end audio company whose speakers have prices in the thousands. Here, though, the price starts lower (£499) and gets cheaper still if you are a Sky subscriber where it drops to a highly attractive £249, or £199 to Sky VIP Diamond Tier customers. At these lower prices, it is great value, because the sound lifts the output from any TV: bassy and powerful but still nuanced. Voices are impeccably clear with any input but things are best of all with a Sky Q box where there’s a speech-enhanced mode. Other special modes include late-night, which dials down the lower frequencies. And a Q Sound mode for Sky Q box users takes over the details automatically, with dedicated improvements for sports, for example. It’s taller than most other boxes here, so it needs to be placed carefully so it doesn’t block the screen.

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Sonos Playbase: £699, Sonos

Bar or Base? Soundbase
Sub-woofer? Sold separately
Dimensions: 72 x 5.8 x 3.8cm (width x height x depth)
Connections: Optical, ethernet, wifi

The Playbase is like a larger version of the beam and there’s also a third soundbar from the company, the Playbar. Playbase and Playbar are similar, and priced the same, so choose whichever suits your living-room decor best. The playbase is wide and sits beneath a regular TV that weighs up to 35kg, and does not vibrate so the TV doesn’t wobble when it’s standing on it. And it’s low-slung enough to work with a TV with widely placed legs, too.

You can also place it on the floor beneath the TV if it stands on a table, say. The playbase, like the beam, has sound good enough to be used as a regular hifi when you’re listening to music. And both have keen software that will boost the voice track, limit the noise of special effects if you wish, and so on.

Sonos has a brilliant feature called Trueplay, which customises the audio for your room. It can really transform the sound, and the tuning process – walking slowly round the room while waving an iPad up and down – is simple. You do need an iPhone or iPad to do this tuning, but it’s a one-off set-up so you could just borrow one if you don’t have one and it’s definitely worth the effort. Once tuned, you can turn Trueplay on and off to hear the difference, which is very noticeable.

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Bose Soundbar 500: £499.95, Bose

Bar or Base? Soundbar
Sub-woofer? Optional
Dimensions: 80 x 4.4 x 10cm (width x height x depth)
Connections: Optical, ethernet, HDMI ARC, wifi

The Soundbar 500 is a slim, stylish-looking gadget that sounds great. Bass isn’t as powerful as on some here but it’s great for making the voice tracks sound clear and understandable. Something called Adaptiq room calibration lets you adjust the sound for various points in the room and the Bose Music app adds to the customisation of the sound. It’s thin enough to sit in front of many TVs without obscuring the picture. You can control it with your voice because Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant is built in.

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Sony HT-ZF9: £599, Amazon

Bar or Base? Bar
Sub-woofer? Included
Dimensions: 100 x 6.4 x 9.8cm (width x height x depth)
Connections: Optical, 2 x HDMI (including 1 HDMI ARC), Ethernet, wifi

There are no upward-firing speaker drivers but Sony still says this manages Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio, which it achieves through clever software. This produces audio output that expands the sound stage vertically. It’s very impressive that it can manage this without speakers pointing directly upwards. Overall, the sound is impressive with a bigger effect than many soundbars, but without the price premium Dolby Atmos usually commands. Design is unexciting, but the sound makes up for this.

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Q Acoustics M2: £189, Amazon

Bar or Base? Soundbase​
Sub-woofer? No
Dimensions: 55 x 9.3 x 34cm (width x height x depth)
Connections: Optical, HDMI ARC, Bluetooth

The Q Acoustics M2 sits underneath the TV and can support screens weighing up to 25kg. This is a keenly priced speaker and the sound is subtle with neutral tone balance – it’s not just all bass. It’s worth putting the TV directly on the M2 rather than in the rack below as it sounds better when it’s nearest to the picture it’s supporting. HDMI ARC means you can use the TV remote instead of the Q Acoustics one, too. There are no multi-room capabilities found on pricier speakers here but if this isn’t a priority, the M2 has a lot to offer.

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The verdict: Soundbars and soundbases

Sonos still rules when it comes to soundbar and soundbase speakers. The latest, the small but powerful Sonos Beam, is ideal for small-to-medium rooms and is about the best-value product yet from Sonos. The larger Sonos Playbase (or Playbar if you prefer the look of that) remains the winner for bigger rooms. Panasonic’s SC-HTB258 is a real solid performer with great audio at a very keen price.

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