Top 5 Soundbars
Nothing beats the cinema experience – jets zooming straight at you, explosions rocking you in your seat – but sometimes the thought of driving to the cinema, eating dodgy snacks and putting up with loud and messy neighbours just isn’t all that appealing.
Until recently the next best option was to pick up a full-scale 5.1 channel home cinema kit - a central speaker under your TV, four satellite speakers either side of the TV and sofa, and a subwoofer wherever you could find space for it. And there's no denying that the sound you get from a good home cinema system can be awesome (although not always hugely popular with your neighbours). The only real downside is trying to find space for all the speakers, and if you don't choose wireless, where to trail all the wires around the room without creating a death-trap tangle.
Then came the sound bar. Slim enough to sit under your TV, looking great and offering cinematic virtual surround sound in a single multi-speaker package, sound bars gave more households the option of enhanced TV sound.
There are lots of sound bars on the market these days, so even if you know you want a sound bar rather than home cinema kit, it's still tricky to decide which one is right for you. We've chosen our five top picks to help you choose.
Just when everyone thought they had the best flat screen TV around, curved screen TVs hit the market, promising better viewing angles, a more immersive viewing experience and, of course, killer looks. Curved TVs are becoming more and more popular and Samsung are the first brand to bring out a curved sound bar to match your new curved TV. The HW-H7501 mounts with all of Samsung's curved UHD TVs and together they look undeniably good. As you'd expect, it's not just a looker - this sound bar is designed to give you something like the experience of a full home cinema kit with deep, balanced sound courtesy of 8.1 channels and 320 W of power. Since it's a Samsung sound bar it has Samsung's TV Sound Connect meaning you can pair up compatible TVs without the need for an optical cable. Big sound, beautiful looks.
The latest offering from Bose, the Cinemate 15 is all about maximum sound quality in a truly space-saving package. And boy does this sound bar sound good. Considering the Cinemate 15 is just over 30 cm wide and less than 10 cm high, it's a real big hitter, pumping out the crystal clear audio you would expect from Bose, replicating a multi-speaker setup impressively. It's ably supported by the separate Acoustimass module (the sub that houses the Bose Truespace Processor) and comes with a universal remote so you can control it, your TV, DVD player and other devices without a coffee table full of remotes. While the sound bar and the sub are about as trim as you could hope for they are wired and there is no Bluetooth, so you are slightly restricted by where you can set them up.
The HTB680 from Panasonic is a really good-looking sound bar. The Panasonic Delta Form design is simple and effective - a slanted top and minimal profile that shouldn't get in the way of your TV's screen or remote sensor (although it has infra-red pass-through just in case). At just shy of a metre wide, it's a good match for TVs over 42 inches and its design allows you to wall-mount vertically if that suits your set-up (all the gear needed for this is in the box).
The HTB680 harnesses 350 W of power and has 3.1 channels, but what really makes the difference is the central speaker which is dedicated to speech. We all know the excruciating frustration of trying to catch muffled words - this channel aims to address the issue, delivering speech cleanly using smart processing technology and four-level dialogue boosting. Loads of connection options and a simple remote make this a practical and easy sound bar and sub that would satisfy a lot of households, even if the overall audio performance isn't market leading.
Sonos have taken the home audio world by storm over the past few years. Even dedicated audiophiles have banished their HiFis to the loft in favour of the wireless convenience and undeniable audio brilliance of the Sonos multi-room range.
By itself the Sonos Playbar is a surprisingly big and loud speaker system - it has nine speakers, deep, clear sound and some nice little added features. But that's just the beginning of it. The Playbar is a Sonos product, and so it comes with all the wireless streaming potential of any other Sonos unit - endless music source options and a slick way to share music around your home. And unlike other Sonos speakers, this one comes with an optical connection (the only connection) so you can hook it up to your TV and it can be wall-mounted using an additional mount (built-in accelerometers sense the orientation and adjust the sound accordingly).
As with anything Sonos, it's dead easy to set up with an app, and once it's up and running you can connect it to other Sonos speakers to create a 5.1 system. It's the ultimate in flexible home cinema listening.
Best Bang for your buck
A pleasing combination of looks, performance, value and size, the NB3530A from LG is a pretty good all-rounder that is sure to be very popular. It's a 2.1 channel system with a separate wireless subwoofer and 300 W power output. Like all LG sound bars, the NB3530A is slim, solid and shiny, and at just under a metre wide it's well suited to 42" TVs.
In terms of setup, it's as simple as sitting it on its rubber pads, and once up and running a nice LED display in the middle of the bar shows the current input and some other bits of info. The central section also features touch controls for basic functions and a handy USB port for playback.
Wired connectivity is limited to optical (there are no HDMI ports) but this sound bar is all about wireless. On top of the beefy wireless sub, built-in Bluetooth makes playback from other devices simple and LG Sound Sync also lets you connect an LG TV wirelessly. Simple, easy and versatile.