The sound quality from TV speakers is often very underwhelming, but it can be a lot of hassle to hook up a multi-speaker surround sound system. The best alternative is a soundbar, offering much-improved audio quality in a relatively compact package that sits in front of your TV.
Depending on your budget, your soundbar can do much more than simply play TV audio – some high-end options offer compatibility with AirPlay and Chromecast, while others offer Spotify Connect integration for wireless music playback. There are even some that offer compatibility with virtual assistants like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, allowing you to control your soundbar with your voice.
With so many options available, which is the best for your needs? Here’s our selection of the best soundbars available in 2022, along with the key features to consider when on the hunt for a soundbar.
Best soundbar 2022
1. JBL Bar 5.1 Surround – Best overall
No Dolby Atmos
The JBL Bar 5.1 Surround is our favourite soundbar right now. The soundbar looks sleek and although it may lack standard connectivity options like aux-in, it more than makes up for it with the inclusion of both AirPlay 2 and Chromecast alongside Optical In, HDMI and Bluetooth connectivity.
Using JBL’s own cinema-level MultiBeam technology within the system, the Bar 5.1 Surround sounds incredible, with the ability to easily project audio around the room with impressive detail, creating an immersive viewing experience. That’s backed up by the 10in wireless subwoofer that delivers thunderous bass, adjustable via the bundled remote.
Overall, the JBL Bar 5.1 offers both great value and impeccable performance.
Read our full
JBL Bar 5.1 Surroundreview
2. – Best for booming bass
No remote control
The Denon DHT-S516H soundbar system ticks a lot of boxes for tech-savvy consumers: it sounds marvellous, with crisp highs and booming bass that you can really feel in your chest, the wide soundscape is immersive and the variety of connectivity options from AirPlay 2 to Spotify Connect means you’ll probably be using the system as your go-to speaker for anything music-related, not just when watching TV.
It is high-end, admittedly, but it’s worth pointing out that you get a similar offering without a subwoofer from the competing Sonos Arc. The only real downside is the lack of a remote – the soundbar controls revolve around an app available for iOS and Android, and that’s not the most convenient way to control a soundbar.
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3. Polk React – Best for Alexa users
Great Alexa integration
Decent sound quality
No AirPlay 2 or Chromecast
Though the Polk React soundbar doesn’t quite have the bells and whistles of alternatives in our chart, lacking AirPlay 2, Chromecast and other smarts, it makes up for it with deep Amazon Alexa integration – there’s even a built-in Alexa-esque lightstrip.
As well as handling general smart queries, you can use Alexa to control the volume, switch audio presets and more – perfect for when you inevitably lose the remote. Via Alexa, you’re able to stream songs from Amazon Music, Spotify and other streaming providers, but you’ve also got Bluetooth if you want to stream from your phone.
The audio quality is decent for a soundbar at this price, and even without a bundled sub the bass is decent, but you’ll need to invest in one for the full bass experience.
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4. Creative Stage 360 – Best budget soundbar
Dolby Atmos support
Great sound quality
Unusable USB port
No 3.5mm input
If you’re after a budget-friendly soundbar that doesn’t compromise on audio quality, the Creative Stage 360 is a solid option. It’s affordable but still manages to include premium features like Dolby Atmos, and a combination of HDMI, Optical and Bluetooth connectivity makes it a versatile option, though a standard 3.5mm port would’ve been appreciated.
Unlike other entry-level soundbars, the Creative Stage 360 comes with a subwoofer at no extra cost, adding extra oomph to your home cinema experience. It’s wired rather than wireless, but that shouldn’t be much of an issue for most consumers.
Of course, it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of more premium soundbars – including the full 5.1 speaker system, offering a simpler 2.1 setup, and AirPlay/Chromecast support – but it ticks many boxes at a cheaper price than we’ve seen previously.
Read our full
Creative Stage 360review
5. Polk MagniFi 2 – Affordable 3D sound
Impressive 3D sound
Multiple HDMI slots
Basic Virtual Assistant support
Occasional playback issues
Polk’s affordable MagniFi 2 soundbar and wireless subwoofer combination offers a rich, immersive experience with decent 3D sound capabilities and thumping bass, but without the high-end price tag.
It offers great audio output customisation, making it easy to tweak the output depending on your own taste, and there are five presets to choose from if you’re not too confident.
You’ve also got access to built-in Google Chromecast, allowing for wireless playback from the likes of Spotify and YouTube, and three HDMI 2.0 ports provide a handy extension for TVs devoid of HDMI ports. It’s a capable bit of kit for the price.
The only downside? It’s a fairly hefty setup, which isn’t ideal for smaller TVs – we’d recommend 43in at a minimum.
Read our full
Polk MagniFi 2review
6. Sonos Beam – Best compact soundbar
Sonos Audio quality
AirPlay & Digital Assistant
If you want a Sonos soundbar specifically, the Beam will be the best choice for most consumers, offering a blend of great audio quality and an attractive price.
The main draw over the Beam compared to the Playbase and other Sonos speakers is its size: it’s much more compact than any other soundbar in our chart, making it perfect for smaller rooms. But despite the small dimensions, there’s no sacrifice in the audio department.
There’s excellent sound quality on offer, although it has to be noted that the Beam, like most other Sonos speakers, doesn’t come with a subwoofer.
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7. Sonos Arc – Most feature-packed
No HDMI passthrough
It took a while but Sonos has replaced its original soundbar with the fantastic Arc.
Beyond all the usual features you get from Sonos devices like multi-room, the Arc is all about spacial sound, thanks to drivers pointing in all directions and support for Dolby Atmos.
It’s easily one of the best sounding soundbars we’ve ever tested, and it looks rather nice too.
It also benefits from eARC HDMI, although the problem here – apart from the Arc being expensive – is making sure your TV is compatible to get the most out of the soundbar. There’s also no HDMI pass-though which makes it tricky for those with limited ports.
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8. Panasonic SC-HTB490 – Soundbar & sub on a budget
Limited connectivity options
Subwoofers are usually exclusive to mid- to high-end soundbar systems, but that’s not the case with Panasonic’s budget-friendly SC-HTB490 2.1 soundbar & wireless sub combo.
While the design might not be that eye-catching, it makes up for it in the sound department with the 2.1 output delivering great volume, prominent bass levels and presets that actually enhance the sound – most of the time, anyway – and levels can be adjusted via the bundled remote.
It’s also much smaller than competing soundbars, making it a great fit for smaller rooms and compact spaces – and it’s wall-mountable too.
Connectivity options include HDMI Arc, Optical and Bluetooth, albeit with the basic A2DP codec. The one downside is the lack of smarts, with no AirPlay, Chromecast or virtual assistant support available.
Still, if you’re on the hunt for an affordable soundbar and wireless sub combo that won’t take up too much space on your TV stand, the Panasonic SC-HTB490 remains a solid option.
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9. Polk Magnifi Mini AX – Premium build at a mid-range price
Rich sound for the size
Excellent sound profiles
Easy to set up and connect
Unappealing subwoofer design
Middling optical performance
More expensive than predecessor
The Polk Magnifi Mini AX has a premium, compact design. However, its small size does not compromise on sound. The Magnifi Mini AX comes with Dolby Atmos, DTS: X and numerous audio profiles – including a 3D mode suited for cinematic experiences.
Whilst the build of the soundbar itself is neat and small, the accompanying subwoofer is a bit of an eyesore. However, both fill the room with sound easily.
You can connect the Polk Magnifi Mini AX via HDMI eArc and optical – though for the best performance you will want to stick with the eArc connection. There is also support for Google Chromecast, Apple AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect.
This model is also more expensive than the previous generation, so whilst it is a good all-round soundbar at a mid-range price, its not as competitive as the older models.
Read our full
Polk Audio MagniFi Mini AXreview
10. Roku Streambar – The all-in-one entertainment package
Range of video and audio content
Only supports HDMI
Remote isn’t customisable
Roku boasts one of the most feature-packed and intuitive smart TV experiences around, with a complete roster of UK streaming services and standout features like AirPlay 2 that aren’t on offer from many alternatives in our chart – especially at such a cheap price point. Whether you’ve used Roku before or you’re looking to upgrade your smart TV experience alongside TV audio, the Streambar is a great option.
Audio quality is generally great, producing room-filling audio suited to both TV shows and big Hollywood blockbusters, complete with the ability to boost the bass when required. That said, the lack of a separate subwoofer means it isn’t quite as bass-heavy as some of the alternatives in our chart.
Overall, it’s a feature-packed soundbar that’s also easy on the bank balance.
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What should I consider when buying a soundbar?
The most important factor to consider when buying a soundbar is how you’ll connect it to your TV. The most common way to connect a soundbar is to use an optical cable, and most modern TVs support it, but it’s probably worth checking your TV has it before buying a soundbar. You’ll also find soundbars that feature HDMI connectivity with any ARC-supported TV – again, it’s worth checking that your TV has Audio Return Channel support before splashing the cash.
Most soundbars feature more than just Optical and HDMI – many feature auxiliary and stereo phono jack ports – and while they offer lower quality, analogue feeds, the upside is that either will work with pretty much any TV (and other 3.5mm-enabled devices).
But, in 2022, it’s all about wireless connectivity, so if you’ll be wanting to play music from your smartphone or tablet, we’d recommend investing in a soundbar with Bluetooth connectivity. It’s a fairly standard feature, admittedly, and all the soundbars we feature here offer Bluetooth support, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
Some soundbars take it a step further, offering wireless connectivity via AirPlay 2 and Chromecast, but these soundbars are generally at the higher end of the market.
What about power figures?
Some manufacturers attempt to wow consumers with huge amplifier power figures, but it’s not worth paying too much attention to. Even if the power figures are accurate, wattage isn’t a true representation of volume, as speaker sensitivity also has a part to play when it comes to overall volume.
Do I need a subwoofer?
Though there are exceptions to the rule, most standalone soundbars simply can’t produce full-range sound, so many offload the bass tones to a separate subwoofer. The dedicated subwoofer produces much deeper, richer bass than any standalone soundbar, making explosions, gunfire and the soundtracks in Hollywood blockbusters and the latest AAA games sound incredible.
There are two types of subwoofer – active and passive – with the latter ditching the built-in amp, and thus, the need for mains power. That’s made possible by using a wire to connect the sub to the soundbar and using the amp within the soundbar, but if you’re looking for a wireless subwoofer, you’ll need a second plug nearby to power the sub separately.
Can I wall mount a soundbar?
It’s becoming more popular, but the ability to wall mount a soundbar isn’t a feature that’s universally supported. It is possible, depending on the design of the soundbar, and any wall-mountable soundbar will come with all the brackets and parts you’ll need to attach it – apart from the drill, of course!
Home Audio, Speakers