can you get great sound from a cheap sound bar? – Which? News
As TVs become ever thinner, limiting the space for decent speakers, people are increasingly turning to sound bars to improve the audio quality when watching gripping dramas or explosion-packed movies.
You can pay less than £300 for a sound bar, but our tests have shown that sound quality can be very variable at this price. But we’ve also found that blowing the budget on a sound bar costing £1,000 or more doesn’t always guarantee high quality.
The latest models, fresh from our test lab, include budget, mid-range and premium models. Don’t make an expensive mistake, read our TV sound bar reviews before buying.
The best sound bars – whether bargain basement or budget blowing, we’ve got Best Buys and high-scoring sound bars to suit every room.
More money doesn’t always mean better sound
Fewer TVs are getting top marks for sound these days as companies sacrifice speaker size for stylish slimness.
A good sound bar can help address the limitations of many modern TVs – but not all of them will make the sound quality sizzle. We’ve analysed data from five years of testing sound bars to find out if you always get what you pay for. The answer? Sometimes. Here’s what you’re likely to get for different price ranges.
- Less than £300: average test score 57% Most models we’ve tested fall within this price range, but overall their performance in our tests is underwhelming and one in five models was named a Don’t Buy. However, we have also unearthed around 20 Best Buys in this price range, so it’s worth checking our reviews to find these budget gems.
- £300-£399: average test score 66% This is arguably the sound bar sweet spot; pay a little more and your chances of getting a decent model increases substantially. We’ve tested 39 models at this price, including 13 Best Buys – an impressive strike rate of 33%.
- £750 or more: average test score 68% Doubling the budget only results in a slight increase in the average test score. While we haven’t seen any Don’t Buys in this price range and eight of the 20 models we’ve tested are Best Buys, we’ve also found some sound bars that are underwhelming given the high price.
Read expert reviews for more than 100 fully tested models covering all sizes, prices and feature sets in our sound bar reviews.
Fresh from the lab: the latest sound bars on test
Bose TV Speaker, £239
You might know Bose from its range of headphones, but it makes sound bars, too. This compact and attractively priced sound bar is more suitable for small to medium TVs (40 inches or less).
It doesn’t come with a separate subwoofer for extra bass, but you can buy a Bose Bass Module 500 (around £350) or 700 (about £600) subwoofer if you like.
You don’t get support for surround-sound tech, such as Dolby Digital or DTS, but you can stream music to it from your phone via Bluetooth.
See if this budget model is worth buying in our Bose TV Speaker review.
Samsung HW-S60T, £399
The HW-S60T is a small and neat mid-range sound bar system designed for larger TVs (40 inches or more). It comes in black or light grey as the Samsung HW-S61T.
As with the Bose, above, it doesn’t come with a subwoofer included, but you can buy the SWA-W500 sub (around £280) as an optional extra. You can also buy the compatible SWA-8500S rear speaker kit (around £130) to turn it into a full surround-sound system.
It doesn’t support Dolby Atmos, but is compatible with Dolby Digital 5.1. Alongside Bluetooth, it’s wi-fi enabled, so it can be controlled via an app and you can also do some tasks with your voice via the Amazon Alexa assistant.
Does this mid-range sound bar hit our testing sweet spot? Find out in our Samsung HW-S60T review.
LG SN11RG, £1,499
If you’re happy to spend a fair bit more, then this large LG sound bar has pretty much every premium feature and function you could imagine.
Alongside the sound bar unit, it comes with a wireless bass subwoofer and two rear wired speakers, helping create 7.1.4 channel sound. It supports Dolby Atmos compatible content, such as movies.
It’s wi-fi-enabled, has Google Chromecast functionality built in and is best suited to TVs that are 55 inches or larger.
Find out if it’s worth spending the extra on this premium model in our LG SN11RG review.
Other models in our latest batch of testing
If you’re keen on the idea of a sound bar, but don’t want to spend much, see our pick of the best sound bars for less than £200.