12 best sound bars from budget to high-end models

Almost nobody is happy with the sound that comes as standard from their TV. The most popular solution for this problem is called the soundbar. In the store you will find a lot, with prices from a few hundred to far over a thousand euros. How do you choose the best for film and music? We brought in 12 soundbars from different price ranges and went to investigate.

People who turn on their new television with great pride and expectation are often disappointed when they hear the sound. It is particularly striking with films: the sound from a flat-screen TV sounds very flat. And if a scene has rapidly changing sound effects, then it becomes difficult to distinguish things. You miss the big dynamic leaps that make films exciting. Consider, for example, the effect of the orchestra swelling with Star Wars or the many fine details during chaotic moments of action in Ready Player One that make you look around the cinema. The general intelligibility of dialogues is also often a problem with televisions. There is perhaps a setting to make dialogues clearer, but that is entirely at the expense of music and effects. It is completely pushed away.

Read our soundbar decision aid here.

The solution: a soundbar

A soundbar (or a soundplate, a flat version on which you can place the TV) can compensate for the shortcomings of the TV sound, but as soon as you want to buy one you will discover how many differences there are between models. It is best to choose a soundbar based on what you want to do with it and where you will place it. Most sound bars can be hung up, but large top models do look very flashy on the wall.

In a smaller room a compact soundbar is sufficient, in a larger room a soundbar with a separate subwoofer is better placed. The slimmer the soundbar, the more you need such an extra subwoofer. If you want to use the soundbar as a music system, choose one with the right streaming options for you. Also look at the connections, especially if you are considering connecting consoles, a blu-ray player and / or TV decoder. Then you need extra HDMI inputs.

HK Citation Tower Bar

What does surround mean at a soundbar?

With sound bars you often see an indication that indicates the quality in which they reproduce surround sound, for example 5.1 or 3.0. The first digit refers to the number of channels or directions from which sound is played. The more, the better you are enveloped and hear sound effects moving through the space. Sound bars try to simulate individual speakers scattered around the room, which is rarely as good as working with separate speakers (such as in a cinema). Certain techniques, such as working with reflections and projection, can make a soundbar more realistic. There are also more expensive models with separate wireless speakers that you can place in the back of your room. They are already much better at creating a surround field.

The best of the best are Dolby Atmos sound bars, indicated for example by 5.1.4. The last digit indicates the number of channels in the height created by having special speakers reflect sound from the ceiling. Dolby Atmos and DTS: X create a 3D sound field, which is very impressive with the right surround mix.

Sony Hero

More expensive sound bars have separate wireless rear speakers.

That’s how we tested the sound bars

Because the placement has a major influence on the sound of an audio device, each soundbar was tested in exactly the same place on a sturdy TV unit and connected to an LG 55OLEDB6. We preferred an HDMI arc connection, which was an option with almost every soundbar. Some TVs only send stereo out via the optical cable, while you can send (certain) surround sound to your soundbar via HDMI. Whether that soundbar can handle surround sound with multiple channels is another question. Halfway through the test, however, the LG TV refused to send sound via the HDMI-ARC connection, regardless of the chosen settings. That is why we connected the sound bars to a Samsung UE60KS7000. What this mainly indicates is that TV manufacturers sometimes fall short in their implementation of HDMI-CEC, the standard used to communicate over HDMI cables. A known issue.

To test the sound bars, we always used the same pieces of content, streamed via the Netflix app or the media player app on the TV, and from a blu-ray player (ultra hd). These include excerpts from “The Last Jedi,” “Roma,” “Justice League,” “Blade Runner 2049,” and “Mission Impossible: Fallout.” For music we listened to tracks via Spotify and to our own files of lossless CD quality. In all this, we listened to various aspects of the sound bars: the dynamic performance, the clarity, the quality of the bass, the size of the sound image, the performance of the subwoofer (in particular the integration) and in particular how the center channel with dialogs is put down. Finally, we compared any sound modes and thoroughly tested the corresponding app.

Soundbar connections

You connect a modern soundbar to your television via HDMI arc.


Most sound bars come with streaming options to listen to music. Bluetooth is the basic option that is present on almost every device. It works, but in terms of ease of use and sound quality, Bluetooth is not optimal. Chromecast is less universal but also common.

The advantage of Chromecast is that the quality is good and your music is selected in the app of the streaming service that you prefer. In addition, you can control music by voice via the Google Assistant – although not all Chromecast soundbars have a microphone on board. Chromecast also allows multiroom use, where you can play music on multiple speakers simultaneously. AirPlay 2 also offers the same benefits, but currently there are few soundbars with the Apple technology on board.

Both Chromecast and AirPlay make setting up a WiFi connection from your soundbar very easy. Certain brands, such as Denon, Sonos and Yamaha, equip their sound bars with their own app to operate the sound bar and to select music. Here too you can count on multiroom functions.

Sonos app

Some manufacturers have an app to operate the music system.

Denon HT-S316

The HT-S316 is a budget soundbar with a modest price tag and a relatively small surface. It can be even smaller, but this is already quite slim. Ideal with a small TV or if you are just looking for something inconspicuous. The device has an HDMI and an optical input. Especially that HDMI port is unusual at this price point. Both connections are in a very small niche, making it difficult to plug in an HDMI cable with a large plug housing. This was the device with which the link via HDMI was the most difficult, also on our Samsung TV. We have therefore switched over to the optical connection.

It is strong that Denon delivers a large subwoofer for the price that is really good for its price. The remote comes across as cheap. Given the modest price tag, the Denon soundbar performs anything but poorly. It remains stereo, but that already provides a lot of experience. The HT-S316 adds a relatively large amount of spectacle to your movie night, thanks to that subwoofer. This allows you to place the Denon soundbar in slightly larger rooms. Dialogue is fine, for music it can be better.

Denon HT-S316
Denon HT-S316

Denon HT-S316 review

Sony HT-MT300

If there was a price for the smallest device in this file, Sony would bring it in without any problems. The HT-MT300 is extremely compact, making it more of a bluetooth speaker than a soundbar. To compensate, a large subwoofer is included that is designed to slide under the couch. In short, this is a product that is aimed directly at people with a small flat or studio. The HT-MT300 does not offer many frills. The connection to the TV is via an optical cable, so you control the volume via the remote. The HT-MT300 is beautifully finished, with a fake leather effect on the top.

Whether you experience the HT-MT300 as a great upgrade for your sound will depend on your TV and listening distance. It performs at its best when you use it in the situation that Sony has in mind: in a small room and close by. Then it can display a wider sound image and display voices relatively full. However, it remains a good entry experience for TV. Music just sounds dull.

Sony MT 300
Sony HT-MT300
Review Sony HT-MT300

Samsung HW-MS650

That the HW-MS650 is placed in the ‘compact’ category may seem like a joke. The soundbar itself is not exactly small. You can even call it relatively large, because it has the same length as a 55-inch TV. However, the Samsung soundbar can be called compact if you know that the subwoofer – which is usually a separate device – is built into this soundbar. So you get mature bass performance from one device, Samsung promises. The HW-MS650 is two years old, but still sells very well and for a lower price. But that does mean that this soundbar doesn’t hook into the SmartThings platform, as the new Samsung soundbars do. There is streaming via the old Multiroom app with many options; the question is how long the support will stay.

Placing bass woofers in a slender housing is tricky; before you know it, everything starts to rattle when you turn up the volume properly. But the HW-MS650 is resistant to this. Even with very strong action scenes, such as the final battle in ‘Justice League’, no distortion can be heard. Explosions sound mighty, really something for action.

Samsung HW-MS650
Samsung HW-MS650
Samsung HW-MS650
Review Samsung HW-MS650

Sonos Playbar and Sonos Beam

The Playbar is more than six years old, an eternity in the world of consumer electronics. Yet it remains one of the best-selling sound bars worldwide. The Playbar hooks up to the Sonos universe: it can be combined with other Sonos speakers and the operation is optionally via the clear Sonos app. You will find many music services in it, which is a huge plus for music lovers. The Playbar only connects to your TV via an optical cable and requires a little more work to set up, including connecting the TV remote to the soundbar. Fortunately, the app is very clear in that regard. However, there are no further entries.

A great asset of the Playbar is Trueplay, a very effective function that makes both details and bass clearer in your room. The improvement is spectacular in some rooms. The Sonos soundbar sounds great right out of the box, especially when it comes to music. With films you can count on a full sound and relatively good bass, but the spatial reproduction could have been better; the sound sticks to the speaker. You can expand the Playbar with extra speakers and a subwoofer for true 5.1 sound, but then you spend a lot more.

The Sonos Beam is cheaper than the Playbar and much smaller, but is far from inferior. The Beam quickly underestimates you because of its compact size, but it is still a powerful player that plays above its weight class. In a larger room you will quickly need the expensive Sonos Sub, something that the Playbar needs less quickly. A plus is that the Sonos Beam hangs on your TV via HDMI, which makes installation a little easier. The Beam and Playbar can also be expanded further with two Sonos speakers that work as rear channels. If you go for a pair of Sonos speakers, it will cost a bit. But if you go for a few Symfonisk bookshelf speakers from the Ikea, you can go to 5.1 surround for around 200 euros. That investment is – certainly for a film fan – well worth it.

Sonos Playbar
Review Sonos
Review Sonos
Sonos beam
Sonos beam black

Yamaha MusicCast Bar 400

This slim Yamaha soundbar comes with an upright subwoofer that you can easily hide behind a chair or couch. The MusicCast in the name refers to the streaming / multiroom platform from Yamaha that you access through a very good app. The only downside to the streaming experience is that the MusicCast app contains relatively few services. But Spotify is there and you can also work via AirPlay 2. Positive is that you have many settings so that you can fine tune the sound. The affordable Bar 400 can be expanded with one or two speakers behind you. That is highly recommended, because then you will be served an impressive surround field.

A real plus is that Dolby and DTS formats are processed without problems. Without a rear speaker, the Yamaha soundbar performs rather well for its price. It succeeds well in making the front sound image larger than the TV screen, which makes a subtle soundtrack like ‘Roma’ more interesting. The Yamaha is also the only soundbar in this test with a Bluetooth transmitter option for Bluetooth headphones.

Dali Katch One

In terms of design, the Katch One is a real outsider. Where most other sound bars try to be slim and long, this device is relatively high (26 cm). That can make it difficult to place a TV with a low foot. The downside is that the Katch One offers much more room for larger drivers. The design is also pretty beautiful and contemporary. There are three color versions, including one with a beautiful textile front. You can place the Katch One on a piece of furniture via two wooden legs, or hang it up so that it looks like it has two strips of leather attached to the wall.

In terms of inputs you get an HDMI arc for the TV connection, two optical inputs and Bluetooth. Dali is a true-to-life hi-fi brand and you will notice that, among other things, from the support for better bluetooth quality via aptX.

The Katch One sounds great for music, regardless of which of the two sound modes (Wide or Focussed) you want to use. Because many films rely on a musical soundtrack, the Katch One often turns out to be a great TV sound solution. But it lacks deep, fatter basses, so that action movies look less spectacular. The Transformer fan will find this too refined, we fear.

Dali Katch One
Review Dali Katch One
Review Dali Katch One

Harman Kardon Citation Bar

The clever design is a major reason to purchase the Citation Bar. It is a very elegant appearance that fits beautifully into a modern interior. That is because the soundbar is completely enveloped in a fabric from the Danish textile expert Kvadrat, a hip name that you often hear today. However, the Citation Bar has more to offer than just beautiful looks. It is part of the Citation multiroom family of Harman Kardon, so you can combine it with other wireless speakers just like the Playbar. It is also one of the few sound bars with a microphone for Google Assistant, allowing you to control it with the voice. That works great if you want to listen to music.

The Citation Bar is supplied without a subwoofer as standard. So that is an additional (expensive) purchase that is needed in a large room. For example, if you add the hefty Citation Sub, you will get a nice 5.1 sound. But Atmos sound bars such as the SL9YG and Q90R sound even bigger. Without the Citation Sub, the Bar is rather modest in terms of bass, which is ok for music but less when it comes to film.

Harman Kardon Citation Bar

Review Harman Kardon Citation Bar
Review Harman Kardon Citation Bar

Denon DHT-S716H

The DHT-S716H is a brand new premium soundbar from Denon. It is a fairly deep soundbar that appears relatively compact despite a limited height. In terms of connections, it is well equipped, including four HDMI inputs. In terms of streaming, there is Bluetooth and HEOS, the multi-room platform from Denon that lets you stream your own files and from Spotify, Tidal and Deezer via the HEOS app. The app seems sober, but its use is easy to learn. It is also powerful, because you control everything with it. With it you can select all inputs and adjust the sound via an equalizer and sound modes.

The soundbar processes standard surround codecs, which makes setting up easy. With ‘The Last Jedi’ and ‘Blade Runner 2049’ the Denon performs very well. A plus is the separate center channel that clearly displays dialogues, which you can possibly strengthen through the dialogue improvement function. It is a very broad sound stage that you will be served; a very nice result for a soundbar that does not rely on beamforming or extra external speakers.

Review Denon DHT-S716H
Review Denon DHT-S716H

Samsung HW-Q80R

As usual, Samsung releases the same soundbar twice. The Q80R is identical to the Q90R, but with the latter you get two extra wireless speakers that you place at the back of the room. Expressed in surround terminology: one Samsung is 5.1.2, the other 7.1.4. Both models come with a sturdy subwoofer and a remote control that is worth the premium price.

Even a 55-inch TV looks small at the Samsung soundbar. It is a colossal, and really heavy and large, which makes wall mounting more challenging. The Q80R is one of the best sounding bars on the market. Maybe that has to do with the collaboration with Harman Kardon. The soundbar connects with the SmartThings app from Samsung. There are few options in the app and you are also limited in terms of streaming. Spotify and bluetooth are available. Dialogues are crystal clear and well distinguished from the other channels. The Adaptive mode adjusts the sound to the content. With a talk show the emphasis is on speech, with an action scene it becomes more bombastic. It is effective, and easier than selecting the right sound modes yourself. The Q80R sets the action in Mission: Fallout very broad and open.

Review Samsung HW-Q80R
Review Samsung HW-Q80R


The SL9YG is a true premium LG soundbar in design. Well finished, not like that, but futuristic and also quite large. It is clearly intended to be combined with a minimum 55-inch television. The corresponding subwoofer is relatively large and is best placed in front of the TV, due to a high crossover. There is only one additional HDMI input and we find that scanty for this price level.

The soundbar was developed together with the British hi-fi brand Meridian, which indeed seems to provide added value when playing music. Film lovers are spoiled with a sound mode called Bass Blast that can make your neighbors very angry. In Movie mode, the SL9YG is naturally optimized for film: a powerful sound that is still relatively refined. Because the SL9YG can produce Dolby Atmos sound, there are two additional speakers at the top of the soundbar. You must take this into account in terms of placement. The SL9YG is also compatible with Google Assistant. The microphone works very well, even when the soundbar spreads a lot of noise.

Review LG SL9YG
Review LG SL9YG

Sony HT-ZF9

The HT-ZF9 is an unusual soundbar from Sony. It offers Dolby Atmos / DTS: X sound with height channels, but without separate speakers that point to the ceiling. Sony therefore promises the extra experience, without the complexity and also in a slender form. You can, however, expand the HT-ZF9 with two wireless speakers at the rear. A relatively expensive option that is certainly worth it.

The Sony is also one of the few sound bars that shows its own interface on TV, handy! And if you play music via Chromecast, an album cover will also appear on your TV. The HT-ZF9 comes with two additional HDMI ports and works with a very good app from Sony in which you can set a lot.

Can you really experience Dolby Atmos with three speakers? Well no, but the HT-ZF9 convinces with good channel separation at the front. With the ‘Justice League’ hostage-taking, the bullets are flying around, not bad. With the two extra speakers switched on, we still miss the real Atmos experience, but purely in terms of 5.1 surround, the Sony is doing really well.

Review Sony HT-ZF9
Review Sony HT-ZF9


Choosing a soundbar is not easy. To a large extent it has to do with your expectations and ambitions. Do you just want a better understanding of TV sound and voices? Then a compact soundbar such as the Sony HT-MT300 or Denon HT-S316 is sufficient. If you are at the other extreme and you are looking for a cinema experience at home, then it is best to opt for a high-end soundbar with Dolby Atmos and separate rear speakers. Those extra speakers are more difficult to place, but offer a huge upgrade in terms of surround experience. The Samsung HW-Q80R is without a doubt the best when it comes to immersion in film sound, despite the lack of streaming options. The LG SL9YG is not far behind – especially if you think voice control is necessary. Incidentally, the HT-ZF9 from Sony a great choice for those who have to pay attention to their budget and still want a more than decent surround experience.

The Sonos Playbar is perhaps the best-selling soundbar in this test, but is now outdated. He lacks HDMI and support for new surround codecs. The Beam is much cheaper and is simply better for its price. You probably choose Sonos because you are already using Sonos speakers elsewhere in your home or want to install them. If that is not the case, we would rather recommend the Yamaha MusicCast Bar 400. It is a good soundbar and the MusicCast platform has more options, including some unique ones. This way you can combine a wireless turntable with this soundbar.

Most sound bars are not exactly beautiful. It seems as if manufacturers design things without ever placing them in a real interior. The exception to this are some new appliances that can just live in harmony with the rest of the furniture (and perhaps your partner). It just so happens that we meet the best all-round sound bars of the moment: the Denon HT-S716H and the Harman Kardon Citation Bar. The Denon offers many connections, sounds good and can work together with other HEOS speakers and music systems from Denon and Marantz. The Citation Bar is slightly nicer (especially on the wall), has a microphone for voice control and Chromecast, but is a lot more expensive with the subwoofer.

Test sound bars

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