Tired of clutter under your TV? A smart soundbar could be your solution. These sleek devices bring voice assistants, music streaming, and sometimes even video streaming to any TV with an HDMI port. The best part? You don’t need to break the bank.
Before we dive into the top picks, it’s important to distinguish between a smart soundbar and a smart TV. While a smart TV comes with built-in streaming apps, a smart soundbar typically includes an onboard voice assistant like Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. There are exceptions, like the Roku Streambar and Streambar Pro, which combine streaming apps with an optional always-on assistant.
Smart soundbars work seamlessly with most TVs, whether they’re smart or not. If you’re searching for a one-stop solution for streaming and voice assistance, these soundbars have you covered.
Investing in a quality soundbar is essential for enhancing your TV’s audio, especially if your TV’s built-in speakers fall short. These soundbars offer larger, forward-facing speakers for better speech clarity and immersive movie experiences. Plus, they’re designed to fit neatly beneath your TV or on the wall.
While some TVs may not require a soundbar, many of the best TVs on the market benefit from external audio. Soundbars come in various styles: all-in-one units for a minimal setup, soundbars with subwoofers for powerful sound on a budget, and soundbars with subwoofers and rear speakers for a complete home theatre audio experience.
Premium soundbars offer features like wireless connectivity for multi-room setups, while budget-friendly options deliver great audio via HDMI or optical digital connections. With a wide range of soundbars available, from elite units with Dolby Atmos 3D sound to budget-friendly options, there’s something for everyone.
Now, let’s take a closer look at some of the top smart soundbars for 2023:
1. Samsung HW-Q700B
- Ideal for 55-inch to 77-inch TVs
- Offers 3.1.2 channels of sound
- Supports Dolby Atmos and has up-firing height channels
- Includes 4K HDR HDMI passthrough, Bluetooth, AirPlay 2, and Chromecast
The Samsung HW-Q700B is the quintessential soundbar for most users, delivering a significant improvement in audio quality over standard TV speakers, complete with Dolby Atmos height channels – all at an incredibly reasonable size and price point.
This soundbar boasts 3.1.2 channels of sound, including left, right, and centre channels at the front, bass via a wireless subwoofer, and two up-firing Dolby Atmos height channels. The result is truly impressive audio performance, as our comprehensive review attests: “It excels in delivering crisp dialogue, a hallmark of Samsung’s top-tier soundbars, while also packing a punch for action-packed scenes. It’s equally adept at filling the room with streamed Bluetooth music.”
Its size makes it an ideal match for TVs ranging from 55 to 77 inches, and it can also work for slightly smaller 48-50-inch TVs – just be sure to double-check the dimensions for a seamless fit.
What’s more, the Samsung HW-Q700B comes equipped with a range of compelling features. It includes a 4K HDR HDMI passthrough port, ensuring you don’t sacrifice one of your TV’s HDMI slots. While it doesn’t support 4K 120Hz passthrough, it compensates with Bluetooth, AirPlay 2, and Chromecast support for seamless audio streaming. Additionally, it features Samsung’s Q-Symphony technology, which, when paired with a compatible TV, combines its speakers with the TVs for even more expansive sound – although this functionality is limited to select Samsung models.
Even without these extras, the Samsung HW-Q700B has earned a stellar five-star rating due to its exceptional value for cinematic sound quality. However, it’s worth noting that it does have certain limitations compared to pricier models, including a less pronounced side-firing virtual surround effect and the absence of rear speakers out of the box. Nonetheless, you have the option to purchase and add rear speakers separately to enhance your audio experience further.
2. Sony HT-G700
- Suitable for TVs of 48 inches and up
- Supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X for elite surround sound
- Comes with a wireless subwoofer for deep bass
- Offers clear dialogue even in action-packed scenes
The Sony HT-G700 strikes a superb balance, offering a compelling blend of features, affordability, and impressive sound. This soundbar, accompanied by a wireless subwoofer, is perfectly sized for TVs measuring 48 inches and larger.
Sony’s reputation for audio prowess shines through once again with the HT-G700. Beyond its excellent stereo performance, it stands out by supporting both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X elite surround sound formats, a feature not guaranteed even in pricier soundbars. Sony’s expertise in sound processing and acoustics creates an expansive audio landscape that extends far beyond your TV screen, complete with precise sound positioning and directional effects.
But Sony doesn’t neglect the fundamentals. The subwoofer adds depth to the bass, surpassing what you’d find in soundbars like the Sonos Arc on its own. Plus, speech remains remarkably clear, even during action-packed soundtracks, even without the speech-boosting mode enabled.
To be thorough, there are a couple of downsides to note. The Sony HT-G700 lacks dedicated upfiring channels, resulting in slightly less immersive Atmos performance compared to soundbars with dedicated Atmos speakers, like Sony’s AV amp. Additionally, it may not deliver the same dynamic impact as premium models such as the Sonos Arc or JBL Bar 1300X during sudden explosions and intense soundtracks. However, it’s essential to consider that the HT-G700 offers a significantly more budget-friendly option.
While the Sony HT-G700 is undoubtedly impressive given its price point, it doesn’t quite claim the top spot for most users, as the Samsung HW-Q700B slightly outshines it in terms of overall sound quality and built-in features, all for just a modest increase in cost.
3. Samsung HW-Q990C
- Features 11.1.4 channels for immersive Dolby Atmos playback
- Provides excellent sound quality without distortion
- Utilizes Q Symphony technology for enhanced sound
- A premium choice for a complete Dolby Atmos experience
The Samsung Q990C undoubtedly stands out as the ultimate soundbar package on the market. It boasts a remarkable 11.1.4 channel setup, divided across the primary soundbar, a subwoofer, and two compact rear speakers, ensuring an exceptional Dolby Atmos experience for both movies and music enthusiasts.
Even when pushed to its limits, the Samsung Q990C maintains impeccable sound quality, avoiding any distortion. As per our review, even the most demanding trebles remain clear and free from harshness, while the subwoofer delivers deep, enthusiastic, and responsive bass.
What sets the Q990C apart are a couple of unique features, notably the Q-Symphony technology update. This innovation enables seamless communication between Samsung-compatible soundbars and TVs, allowing them to collaborate and utilize all available speakers for a more extensive and immersive soundstage – a feat that the Q990C accomplishes admirably.
However, it’s essential to note that such excellence does come with a higher price tag. While prices have slowly dropped since its release, the Q990C still resides in the premium segment of the market, which is why it doesn’t claim the top spot on our list. Nevertheless, if you’re seeking the complete Dolby Atmos experience from your soundbar and have a more generous budget, the Samsung Q990C stands as the absolute best choice.
4. Bose Smart Soundbar 600
- Compact design, perfect for smaller homes
- Delivers big Dolby Atmos sound
- Offers onboard streaming features and easy setup
- Excellent value for the price
The Bose Smart Soundbar 600 is an exceptional choice for those seeking a budget-friendly soundbar without compromising on audio quality. Despite its compact size, measuring 27 inches wide, 2 inches high, and 4 inches deep, it delivers impressive Dolby Atmos sound.
During our thorough review, we found that the Bose Smart Soundbar 600 excels in dialogue clarity, ensuring that conversations in movies and TV shows are crystal clear. While it may not reach the deepest bass notes achieved by soundbar systems with dedicated subwoofers, it consistently provides captivating sound for an immersive viewing experience.
This soundbar also offers a host of other appealing features. It boasts abundant onboard streaming options, including AirPlay 2 and Chromecast support, making it effortless to stream your favourite content. Setting it up via the user-friendly app is a breeze, and the attractive all-in-one design complements any home entertainment setup.
Notably, the Bose Smart Soundbar 600 impressed us during testing, and its affordability makes it an exceptional value proposition for those in search of a high-quality soundbar on a budget.
5. Sony HT-A7000
- Ideal for gamers with HDMI 2.1 passthrough support
- Provides clear dialogue and 360 Reality Audio Music
- Optional subwoofer and rear speakers available
- A top choice for gaming enthusiasts
You may be curious about how a soundbar can cater to gaming needs, and we’re here to clarify. If you’re a gamer who owns both the PS5 and Xbox Series X, you’ve likely encountered a common challenge: many TVs have just two HDMI 2.1 ports. One of these ports is usually dedicated to eARC, the HDMI audio channel, leaving you with only one HDMI port for both consoles if you want to enjoy the full 4K 120Hz gaming experience.
Here’s where the Sony HT-A7000 distinguishes itself from the competition. It offers two HDMI 2.1 ports that not only pass through 4K 120Hz, perfect for gaming but also, thanks to a firmware update, support Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) and Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), enhancing your gaming experience on the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
Moreover, the HT-A7000 excels in delivering clear dialogue levels, making it well-suited for dialogue-heavy video games and movies. It also features 360 Reality Audio technology for music, creating a room-filling sound that provides a precise sense of instrument placement, as highlighted in our review.
While it’s true that the HT-A7000 offers even more capabilities with optional subwoofers and rear speakers, its built-in bass levels may not match some other soundbars like the Sonos Arc. However, when it comes to gaming, the HT-A7000 stands out as the soundbar that excels in catering to gaming features better than any other.
6. Sonos Arc
- Delivers impressive Dolby Atmos sound
- Supports TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus audio
- Simple setup and compatibility with other Sonos speakers
- Premium sound quality within a single bar
The Sonos Arc may not be among the most budget-friendly options, but if you’re already a fan of Sonos, you’re in for a treat with its remarkable Dolby Atmos sound.
This soundbar harnesses the power of Dolby’s latest TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus sound codecs, delivering top-tier lossless audio quality found in cutting-edge Blu-ray discs and leading streaming services. Importantly, it fully supports Dolby Atmos, although the reflected height and side channels may not be as pronounced as some other soundbars in this category, they remain impressive. The precision and range of the Sonos Arc’s audio are truly exceptional.
One of the highlights of the Sonos Arc is its straightforward setup, requiring just a few steps through the smartphone app. Connecting it to other Sonos speakers is a breeze, aligning with the brand’s reputation for user-friendly systems. The minimalist cable connections and all-in-one design contribute to its no-fuss operation and streamlined appearance. However, it’s worth noting that it lacks HDMI passthrough, which is a notable drawback.
Among the Sonos lineup, the Arc undeniably stands at the pinnacle. While the Sonos Ray and Sonos Beam (mentioned later in our list) have their unique strengths, the Sonos Arc’s sound quality is unrivalled within a single soundbar. It offers an incredible audio landscape that sets it apart, though it’s essential to consider its taller design compared to most Sonos soundbars and ensure compatibility with your TV before making the purchase.
7. Sonos Beam (Gen 2)
- Balanced sound is ideal for music
- Compatible with hi-res audio files
- Compact design and budget-friendly pricing
- A great choice for music lovers
While the Sonos Beam may not boast the largest or most powerful sound profile, it shines when it comes to musical performance, striking a harmonious balance that music enthusiasts will appreciate.
In our assessment, we observed that when listening to tracks like Little Simz’s “Woman,” the Sonos Beam produces deep and well-controlled bass, along with warm and rich synth strings. This equilibrium between bass and treble, coupled with clear vocals, positions the Beam as an excellent choice for elevating your music experience.
What sets the Sonos Beam apart is its compatibility with hi-res audio files, allowing you to enjoy higher-quality versions of your favourite songs through streaming platforms like Tidal. Despite its affordability, the Beam often surpasses its competitors in terms of musical performance.
Should you desire more bass in your music, you have the option to pair the Sonos Beam with one of Sonos’ subwoofers. However, the built-in speakers of the Beam already deliver a rich sound quality, making it an ideal selection for individuals seeking a versatile soundbar that can double as a speaker for their music needs.
8. Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar Max
- Premium soundbar with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support
- Offers 4K HDR pass-through and auto-calibration
- Creates a captivating audio experience
- A top choice for audiophiles
Sennheiser’s Ambeo Soundbar represents the company’s debut in the realm of consumer speakers, and it’s an impressive offering. This premium soundbar is packed with features, boasting support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, 4K HDR pass-through – particularly handy if you rely on Netflix or Amazon for your movie and TV content. Additionally, it comes equipped with auto-calibration, four HDMI inputs, Bluetooth connectivity, and Chromecast support.
Measuring a substantial 127cm in width and 14cm in height, the Ambeo Soundbar makes a bold statement. Its size allows it to deliver expansive sound without the need for a separate subwoofer. The result is a remarkable auditory experience characterized by clear, precise dialogue and an abundance of detail and subtlety. The way it envelops you in sound creates an immersive atmosphere that truly immerses you in the action.
To fully unleash the Dolby Atmos effect, you’ll want to either wall mount the soundbar or position it on the top shelf of your entertainment rack to ensure the upward-firing speakers are unobstructed. This effort is well rewarded, as the Ambeo Soundbar delivers a convincing three-dimensional audio experience.
For those seeking an exceptional 3D soundbar experience without the need for external speakers, the Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar stands out as the best premium soundbar we’ve had the pleasure of testing. Its accolades, including its recognition at the 2022 “What Hi-Fi Awards,” speak to its outstanding performance and value.
9. JBL Bar 1300X
- Versatile soundbar with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support
- Multiple HDMI inputs for extra sources
- Rechargeable rear speakers that double as Bluetooth speakers
- A powerful and flexible option
The JBL Bar 1300X stands out for its remarkable flexibility, offering a versatile audio experience. It boasts support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and its substantial subwoofer contributes to a powerful and immersive sound that sets it apart from many other soundbars on the market.
What truly sets the JBL Bar 1300X apart are its numerous connectivity options and features. The presence of multiple HDMI inputs allows you to connect a variety of additional sources without any hassle. Moreover, the system’s rechargeable rear speakers can also function as portable Bluetooth speakers, adding an extra layer of versatility. While this may not be a significant feature for everyone, it enhances the overall value of the Bar 1300X.
This soundbar is an excellent choice for those seeking a potent and immersive audio solution, especially if you crave the visceral excitement that top-tier home theatre systems effortlessly deliver. However, it’s worth noting that the JBL Bar 1300X, while not excessively large, is designed to fill larger rooms with sound, so it may not be suitable for smaller homes. Additionally, serious gamers may find it lacking, as it doesn’t support 4K 120Hz pass-through for gaming on devices like the PS5 or Xbox Series X. For dedicated gaming needs, the Sony HT-A7000, featured as our best soundbar for gaming, offers more suitable features.
Despite these considerations, the JBL Bar 1300X’s rechargeable rear speakers, abundant HDMI ports, user-friendly setup, and immersive sound make it an incredibly versatile soundbar. (Note: In some countries, you may encounter the JBL Bar 1300, without the “X,” featuring a slightly smaller 10-inch subwoofer driver instead of the 12-inch driver in the X version. This difference is relatively minor and doesn’t significantly alter our overall opinion.)
In summary, finding the best soundbar for your needs involves considering factors like size, Dolby Atmos support, and connectivity options. Soundbars enhance your TV audio and provide a more immersive viewing experience, making them a worthwhile addition to your entertainment setup.
Choosing the Ideal Soundbar to Suit Your Needs
When looking to purchase the best soundbar for your needs, there are several important factors to consider. Here’s a breakdown of key considerations to help you make an informed decision:
- Size Compatibility: Ensure that the soundbar you choose fits appropriately with your TV setup. Measure the space under or next to your TV where you intend to place the soundbar. Check the dimensions of the soundbar you’re interested in and compare them to your available space. A soundbar designed for larger screens, like the Sonos Arc, may not look right with a smaller TV, so size compatibility is crucial for aesthetics.
- Dolby Atmos Support: Decide whether you want a soundbar with Dolby Atmos support. Dolby Atmos technology provides immersive surround sound by placing audio elements all around you. Soundbars with Dolby Atmos tend to be more expensive, so consider whether the enhanced audio experience justifies the cost. If you’re on a budget, you can explore capable yet more affordable options, like the Yamaha SR-C30A.
- Audio Connectivity: Pay attention to the types of audio connections the soundbar offers. Most modern soundbars include HDMI connectivity and optical connectivity. HDMI is preferable for high-resolution audio transmission, including Dolby Atmos. If you seek a premium and immersive audio experience, ensure that both your soundbar and TV have HDMI ports, including HDMI ARC (audio return channel) on your TV to connect to the soundbar.
- HDMI Passthrough: Some soundbars come with HDMI “passthrough” ports. This feature allows you to connect additional devices like gaming consoles or set-top boxes to the soundbar, and it passes the video signal back to your TV. If your TV has limited HDMI ports, a soundbar with HDMI passthrough can be a valuable addition.
- Number of HDMI Ports: Check the number of HDMI ports on the soundbar, especially if you plan to connect multiple devices. Having multiple HDMI ports can simplify your setup by accommodating various sources like Blu-ray players, gaming consoles, and streaming devices.
- Other Connectivity Options: Consider any other connectivity options the soundbar offers, such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or Ethernet, which can enhance your versatility in streaming audio from various devices.
- Sound Quality: Don’t forget to assess the sound quality and audio performance of the soundbar. Look for reviews and user feedback to ensure that the soundbar meets your expectations for clear dialogue, deep bass, and overall sound clarity.
- Brand and Model: Research reputable brands and specific soundbar models that align with your preferences and needs. Brands like Sonos, Samsung, Sony, Bose, and JBL offer a range of soundbars with various features and price points.
- Budget: Determine your budget and find a soundbar that provides the best combination of features, sound quality, and price within your budget range.
- By carefully considering these factors, you can select the best soundbar that complements your TV setup and delivers the audio experience you desire for movies, music, and gaming.
What Soundbar Size Is Suitable for My Setup?
Selecting the right soundbar size depends on your available space and TV setup. For those with wall-mounted TVs, a soundbar can neatly fit underneath, while others with TV stands can place the soundbar in front. It’s essential to consider both your available space and your TV’s size. Ensure a harmonious look by matching the dimensions of the soundbar with your TV.
Can Soundbars Replicate Surround Sound?
True surround sound involves strategically placed speakers all around the room. Some soundbars, such as the Samsung Q990C, come with a subwoofer and two smaller rear channel speakers that can be positioned throughout your space for a more authentic surround sound experience.
However, some soundbars that consist of just one unit claim to provide surround sound. In reality, they deliver a stereo effect that simulates audio coming from different directions.
Many premium soundbars in this list also feature Dolby Atmos technology. While not traditional surround sound, Dolby Atmos uses advanced audio techniques to create the illusion of immersive sound by reflecting audio off walls and ceilings, enhancing the overall audio experience.
Soundbars are unquestionably worth the investment for a multitude of reasons that significantly enhance your audio-visual experience. Here are some compelling arguments:
- Improved Audio Quality: The most obvious benefit of a soundbar is the substantial improvement in audio quality. Built-in TV speakers are often subpar, delivering flat and uninspiring sound. Soundbars, on the other hand, are designed to enhance audio clarity, dialogue, and overall immersion. Whether you’re watching movies, sports, or simply listening to music, the difference is remarkable.
- Space-Saving Design: Soundbars are compact and sleek, making them an excellent choice for modern living spaces. They fit seamlessly under or in front of your TV without the need for extensive wiring or bulky speaker setups. This space efficiency is particularly valuable for those with limited room for elaborate audio systems.
- Easy Installation: Setting up a soundbar is a breeze. Most models come with user-friendly instructions and can be installed in minutes. You don’t need to be an audio expert to enjoy high-quality sound in your home.
- Cost-Effective: While a full home theatre system with multiple speakers and an AV receiver can be costly and complex, soundbars offer a cost-effective alternative. They provide a significant audio upgrade without breaking the bank or requiring extensive wiring and installation.
- Dolby Atmos and Surround Sound: Many modern soundbars come equipped with advanced technologies like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, which create a surround sound experience. While not a replacement for a dedicated home theatre system, these technologies simulate immersive audio, making movies and games more engaging.
- Wireless Connectivity: Soundbars often include Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing you to stream music from your devices or connect wirelessly to your TV. This versatility makes them a valuable addition to your entertainment setup.
- Enhanced Dialogue: Clear dialogue is crucial for understanding movie plots and enjoying TV shows. Soundbars are designed to emphasize speech, ensuring that you catch every word, even during action-packed scenes.
- Customization: Soundbars can be tailored to your preferences. Some models allow you to adjust bass, treble, and other audio settings, enabling you to fine-tune the sound to your liking.
- Flexibility: Soundbars can be used with various devices, not just your TV. You can connect gaming consoles, streaming devices, and even your smartphone, making them versatile components of your entertainment ecosystem.
In summary, soundbars offer a significant boost in audio quality, ease of installation, and cost-effectiveness. They are an excellent investment for anyone looking to enhance their home entertainment experience without the complexity and expense of a full-fledged home theatre system. Whether you’re a movie enthusiast, a music lover, or a casual TV viewer, a quality soundbar will undoubtedly elevate your audio experience.