Really good soundbars for home cinema: some recommendations

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Here’s a round-up of some really rather excellent soundbars that might just give your home cinema set up something of a sonic boost.

Let’s face it, the speakers that are finagled into the ever-shrinking surrounds of the best TV screens are not good. There’s simply not the space to squeeze in decent speakers while simultaneously claiming to have the slimmest TV ever. That, and the manufacturers have cottoned on to the extra profits to be made from external speakers.

Soundbars therefore are a good option. They come in many sizes, and range from a pair of reasonable stereo speakers – just enough to improve upon what your TV produces – to those that come paired with subwoofers or even rear speakers to provide a surround sound effect. Buying one that matches the width of your TV is important in getting a proper stereo effect, where voices from the left and right sound like they are coming from those areas of the screen.

There are other benefits too. Soundbars often come with Bluetooth connectivity, so you can use them with your phone for streaming music, while others can act as HDMI switchers to pipe the output from more than one source to a screen. Here’s a selection we’d recommend…

Sonos Arc
Buy and get more information here

Sonos’ single bar solution is fully compatible with Dolby Atmos (as long as your TV is too), bouncing sound off the walls and ceiling of the room to simulate more speakers. It’s a kind of magic, but it undoubtedly works, taking a lot of the setup pain out of a surround sound experience.

Inside, you’ll find 11 separate drivers, each angled up or out to create the broad soundstage. On the outside, HDMI eARC and optical digital ports take care of connectivity, and there’s Wi-Fi and Ethernet to handle networking.

Sound quality is very convincing, as you would expect from Sonos, with good levels of detail and dynamic shifts handled well. To cap it all, there’s voice control via Amazon Alexa, with other services coming via an update. You’ll not miss the subwoofer, but you may miss a simple Bluetooth connection if you want to use it as a speaker for music. That, and its reliance on your TV for compatibility with eARC and Atmos, are the only downsides.

Sony HT-X8500
Buy and get more information here

Available at a bargain price thanks to the existence of the newer Sony HT-G700, grabbing one of these while they’re available might be the soundest decision you’ve made. It’s a complicated single unit with no upward-firing drivers but an integrated subwoofer that’s got the right amount of power to make itself known.

You get two HDMI ports, one an input and the other an eARC-enabled output, along with a digital optical port and Bluetooth. While its lack of upward-angled speakers limits its Dolby Atmos compatibility, Sony’s sound processing attempts to make up for this, and does a reasonable job, wrapping you in sound even if the verticality isn’t quite there. The thick quality added by that subwoofer helps immensely too, and it will upmix soundtracks provided in older codecs and even stereo.

The soundbar’s simple looks and limited input variety mask the complexity and subtlety with which it handles movie soundtracks, and it’s not as if, once you’ve got it set up, you’re likely to keep adding new devices to it. The simplicity extends to its looks too, purely black with a silver line plus touch-sensitive buttons, but not the ‘remote commander’ as Sony insists on calling remote controls, which has buttons for all presets and processing modes. Grab one while you can.

Denon HEOS Bar
Buy and get more information here

High-end hi-fi manufacturer Denon should know a thing or two about speakers, and its soundbar offering proves just as intuitive to use and compelling to listen to as you’d hope.

Part of the HEOS system, the Bar can become part of a multi-room audio setup if you’re already invested in Denon gear. It works perfectly well as a standalone unit too, connecting to your TV by HDMI. There are four HDMI 2.0a inputs on the back of the Bar, with one ARC output, meaning you can use it as a switch for multiple inputs, all putting out 4K HDR and Dolby Vision. In addition, there are optical digital and coaxial audio ports if you need them, and even a 3.5mm jack socket. There’s no Dolby Atmos support, but you do get Dolby TrueHD, and access to streaming music services through the HEOS app. There’s Alexa voice control too.

It’s a chunky looking unit, but then it produces a chunky sound, and a separate wireless subwoofer only adds to the density. Inevitably, there are optional rear speakers too, but with nine speakers arranged in groups of three, the Bar is excellent for both music and film use straight out of the box.

Dali Kubik One
Buy and get more information here

We’re including this one as much for the (optional) brightly coloured speaker grilles as much as its exceptional sound. In a minimalist viewing room, why not finish it off with a splash of red or orange? There’s even purple and lime green.

The colours on offer perhaps shouldn’t sway your purchasing decision, but the noise this thing makes certainly should. It’s big for a soundbar, and heavy too. This gives its speakers the room to work in exactly the way modern TV design doesn’t, and the four stereo speakers have the support they need from the aluminium shell to really g off.

All this comes at the cost of missing features. You don’t get a lot in the way of surround sound support here, and while there’s Bluetooth for streaming music there are only a pair of optical digital inputs, aux in, and a USB port to handle input. Not a single HDMI. It really doesn’t need them, and nor does it need the external subwoofer hinted at by a forlorn output port – it knows it’s not going to get used. What you’re paying for here is a huge, heavy thump of stereo sound that retains all the clarity you’d expect. The ability to make it bright red is just the cherry on the top.

Buy and get more information here

We hope you have a big TV, because this one is really wide. At 1.4 metres across, this soundbar is long enough to sit under a 65in TV without looking too small. You get a subwoofer and a couple of rear speakers too, all upward-firing for a genuine Dolby Atmos experience.

Of course it’s expensive, but it’s also comprehensive: you get two HDMI inputs and an eARC output for 4K passthrough, digital optical for legacy devices, wireless music streaming over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, plus Google Assistant voice control. The system sees 12 speakers dotted about your room, all wirelessly connected for easy setup via its auto-calibration system.

Sound quality is immense, as you’d expect, and sitting inside the ‘bubble’ it projects around you pulls you into a film like nothing else. A soundbar like this isn’t playing, it’s absolutely serious about wringing every last detail and sense of three-dimensionality out of a cinema soundtrack, the seven-inch sub rooting everything while the satellites, and the bar itself, look after the rest. It will upconvert older soundtracks too, but there is a standard stereo mode for purists.

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