This content originally appeared on Mashable for US audiences and has been adapted for UK audiences.
It’s official: no home theater setup is complete without a soundbar. Even the best and most expensive televisions will lose something in the sound. The audio can leave a lot to be desired. This is often because the speakers are built into the back or bottom of the TV, which isn’t always ideal for great sound. Even though TVs are inventing new ways to improve their sound, like audio that seems to come from the exact point of action on the screen, high-quality TVs are designed to be paired with a good soundbar.
A soundbar will be the foundation of a great-sounding home theater, with the option of adding a subwoofer (sometimes included) or additional speakers. In this type of setup, the TV itself becomes just one part of a complete cinema-grade speaker system.
But how do you choose a soundbar? There are a lot of them, and it’s hard to sift through all the technologies and specs, especially if you’re new to soundbars. But listen (get it?), because we’ve done some serious research to help you decide.
What is a soundbar?
Instead of needing a series of speakers scattered around the room or a powerful amplifier, a soundbar sits under your TV (some TVs have a specific space for this). You can also mount them on the wall, if that’s how you prefer to watch TV. As a dedicated speaker, with a wide design for better acoustics, they’re much better equipped for great sound than your TV speakers. That means sharper nuances and details, thundering bass, and clearer dialogue.
Do the soundbars provide surround sound?
Soundbars can absolutely be integrated into a surround sound setup. Surround sound is a system that puts you in the center of the action by having speakers that literally surround you or are spread around the room, so sound comes from all directions. Soundbars can be linked (often wireless these days) and you’ll find that some brands make it particularly easy to connect with other speakers in their range. However, as you will read below, you may not need to connect your soundbar to other speakers for surround sound.
What is Dolby Atmos?
This is a fantastic innovation in surround sound technology, derived from cinemas. Any Dolby Atmos-equipped TV, speaker, or soundbar is essentially premium kit. Dolby Atmos bounces sound off walls to create a 3D soundstage and a truly immersive experience. Soundbars equipped with Atmos have speakers that fire upwards and bounce sound off the ceiling. Dolby Atmos soundbars essentially create an immersive cinematic experience without the need for multiple speakers.
Do soundbars have a voice assistant?
Many soundbars have Alexa and Google Assistant, so you can ask them to adjust the sound or even change the channel. Some soundbars will also connect to music streaming apps, such as Spotify or Apple AirPlay 2.
How much does a soundbar cost?
You can spend around £200 on basic soundbars, or spend thousands. It all depends on the type of technology and sound quality you want. This roundup includes options for most budgets.
What is the best soundbar?
You should ask yourself several questions before making a decision. Obviously, the first thing to think about is the audio quality. More affordable options will provide a much better audio experience than the TV, but you may still need to look for additional speakers to really fill the room. Or you can invest in something a little more expensive and make your home theater setup the envy of the neighborhood. Another thing to keep in mind is whether or not a soundbar is smart home compatible. If so, that’s one less remote to lose. Take a look below for some recommendations of the best models available.
These are the best soundbars in 2022.