What you need to know before buying a soundbar
Ideally connect your soundbar and TV using a HDMI (or HDMI-ARC) cable as they can carry large amounts of uncompressed digital data. The second-best option is an optical cable, but it can’t process more than 5.1 surround sound systems.
Most soundbars double up as a streaming speaker using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and depending on the brand (Sonos, Yamaha, Bose) can be integrated into a multiroom system. Take time to adjust the sound settings for music, as the mix is typically set for cinema soundtracks and speech.
The next big thing in surround sound allows sound engineers to position and move audio precisely around a viewer, so if you have speakers that can bounce audio off your ceiling, it can feel like things aren’t only happening in front, to the sides and behind you, but above you too.
BBC Music Magazine’s Best Buy: The best all-round soundbar
Yamaha YSP-5600 £999
It may look like a quick upgrade for your TV’s terrible sound, but this soundbar boasts serious home cinema-sound boasting Dolby Atmos compatibility that just happens to fit inside one box. Hiding 46 speakers, each with a separate amplifier, the soundbar projects acoustics in all directions – 12 bounce sound from the ceiling – helping to recreate an immersive cinema experience at home.
The 128W, 1.2m design is huge and will dominate your living room, especially if you pair it with the £300, Yamaha NS-SW300 subwoofer. Given that all the audio is coming from one position, the engulfing effect is astonishing, even if you’re not playing a Dolby Atmos film like the sublime Roma (Netflix).
Watching BBC Young Musician (BBC Four and iPlayer), the virtuosic playing is elevated by the sheer scale of the soundbar’s output. Rarely has a TV performance felt more alive or cinematic – an experience maintained when streaming music (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay). uk.yamaha.com
Great value soundbar
Denon DHT-S216 £199
While it lacks Wi-Fi connectivity and voice control, this twin driver design with down-firing built-in subwoofers impressed me with its grown-up looks, detailed performance and wide soundstage. The standout feature is DTS Virtual:X, a 3D mode that tricks your ears into thinking sound is coming from all parts of the room. While 2:1 will never compete with a genuine surround-sound system, the added depth is a welcome boost, especially at this price. denon.co.uk
Best space-saving surround sound
JBL Bar 5.1 £699
With two detachable satellite speakers at each end, this metre-long soundbar is ideal for those who’d love a 5.2 surround sound system but don’t have the space, or maybe permission, to clutter up the living room permanently. With 11 drivers and a hefty 10-inch wireless subwoofer, this 510W system has power but is rarely uncouth. I loved being able to dispatch the wireless speakers for an opera production from the New York Met, for instance, (surround sound mode turns on automatically) and hide them away for a look at the news. jbl.com