Soundbar buying guide: How to buy the best soundbar to enhance your home movie experience

Compare soundbars from Samsung, Sony, Philips, Bose and more to get better sound from your TV.

If you want the best sound quality when watching TV and movies at home, a home theatre system with multiple speakers will produce the best results. But if you don't want too much clutter, you might prefer a soundbar instead.

Soundbars are simpler alternatives to surround sound systems and can be priced anywhere from $80 up to around $3,000. But with so many models available from a host of leading electronics manufacturers, choosing a soundbar can be tricky.

Keep reading to find out how to compare soundbars, weigh up their key features and find the best soundbar for your needs.

Compare some of the best soundbars

Data obtained December 2018. Prices are subject to change and should be used only as a general guide.
Name Product Average Price (AUD) Speaker configuration/channel Dimensions (W x H x D) Weight (kg) Supported play formats Purchase today
Sony HT-S100F
Sony HT-S100F
$179
2
900 x 64 x 88 mm
2.4
Dolby, LPCM
The Sony HT-S100F is equipped with both Bluetooth and USB connectivity.
Wintal WSB11
Wintal WSB11
$203
2.1
1000 x 65 x 105 mm
2.5
Dolby, DTS, AC3
The Wintal WSB11 can be wall-mounted or laid flat and includes an additional subwoofer.
Sony HT-CT290
Sony HT-CT290
$299
2.1
1029.97 x 52.07 x 125.98 mm
2.3
Dolby, LPCM
The Sony HT-CT290 comes with a separate two-way wireless subwoofer.
Philips HTL3160B
Philips HTL3160B
$349
3.1
950 x 51 x 69 mm
1.62
Dolby, Dolby pro-logic 2
The Philips HTL3160B is designed with a low profile and has a touch panel for playback and volume control.
Philips HTL5160B
Philips HTL5160B
$579
3.1
1100 x 51 x 69 mm
2.2
Dolby, Dolby pro-logic 2
The Philips HTL5160B can connect to Google Cast and Spotify, has a USB port and is Bluetooth compatible.
Bose SoundTouch 300
Bose SoundTouch 300
$650
5.1
977.9 x 57.15 x 107.95 mm
4.72
Dolby, DTS
The Bose SoundTouch 300 has a thin, streamlined design and can connect straight to your phone via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Samsung HW-MS650 Sound+
Samsung HW-MS650 Sound+
$799
3
1060 x 78.0 x 130.5 mm
6.2
LPCM, Dolby, DTS
The Samsung HW-MS650 Sound+ can be mounted seamlessly with Samsung televisions.
Sonos Playbar
Sonos Playbar
$949.99
5.1
899.92 x 139.95 x 85.09 mm
5.4
Dolby
The Sonos Playbar works when wall mounted or lying flat and can stream music over Wi-Fi connections.
Samsung HW-K850 with Dolby Atmos
Samsung HW-K850 with Dolby Atmos
$1,499
3.1.2
1210.2 x 81.7 x 131.4 mm
6.7
Dolby, Dolby Atmos, DTS
The Samsung HW-K850 with Dolby Atmos features 11 inbuilt speakers and an upmix audio feature for creating overheard sound effects.

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What is a soundbar?

A soundbar is a compact speaker system designed to provide an alternative to a multi-speaker sound system. These long, narrow boxes sit underneath your TV screen and enhance the TV's sound quality. While they can't produce the same results as a dedicated home theatre set-up, they can greatly improve your home viewing experience without the hassle and clutter.

Pros

Why buy a soundbar instead of just relying on the sound from your TV or using a big home theatre system? There are several reasons:

  • TV sound quality is poor. Modern TVs may produce crystal-clear pictures and outstanding image quality, but their slimline design doesn't leave a lot of room for quality speakers.
  • Home theatre systems are inconvenient. While dedicated surround sound systems produce the best results, they have several drawbacks. Not only can they be complicated to set up and use, they can also clutter up a room and require more wires and cables.
  • Soundbars are a simple solution. Soundbars pack several speakers and the electronics that power them into an unobtrusive, slimline box. They're easy to set up and can mimic the effect of a home theatre system to greatly improve the sound from your TV.
  • Soundbars are more affordable. Soundbars are cheaper than surround sound systems, allowing you to vastly improve your home viewing experience without breaking the bank.

Check out our interview with Samsung's Allan Devantier to find out why soundbars are winning the home audio war

Cons

There are two main reasons why a soundbar might be a waste of money for you:

  • You're not all that worried about sound quality. For many, the sound produced by TV speakers is more than enough to watch TV and movies without a problem. If you don't need the full surround sound experience and you're happy with the noise quality of your TV's built-in speakers, save your dough and spend it on something else.
  • You're very worried about sound quality. If you want nothing but the best sound quality for your movies, TV and music, a dedicated home theatre system will be the way to go. While these set-ups cost more than soundbars, they offer superior performance. If this sounds like your perfect set-up, you might like our guide to designing the ultimate home theatre.

What types are available?

One way to distinguish between soundbars is to consider whether or not they have a subwoofer. The subwoofer is designed to boost the bass, providing better quality low-frequency sounds and adding an extra punch to your viewing experience.

Soundbars without subwoofers
  • Some soundbars, often cheaper models, don't feature a subwoofer at all. While they offer a noticeable step up in quality from your TV's sound, if you want superior sound quality or you watch a lot of action movies, chances are you'll prefer a model with a subwoofer.
Soundbars with built-in subwoofers
  • These models provide improved bass performance but incorporate the woofer into the soundbar to save space.
Soundbars with separate subwoofers
  • For best results, you may want to consider a model with an external subwoofer. These are usually wireless and just need to be plugged into a power outlet.

There's also a fourth option to consider: a soundbase. A soundbase is a large, flat base that your TV sits on top of and that has room for bigger speakers. While they can generally produce better sound than soundbars, they're not all that widely available.

Soundbar speaker configuration: By the numbers

One of the major points of confusion for anyone unfamiliar with soundbars and speaker systems is the numbers used to describe different products – 2.1, 5.0, 7.1.2 and so on. What do these numbers mean?

They're used to indicate how many built-in speakers and channels a soundbar has. Speakers are assigned to specific channels, allowing different frequencies to be isolated and directed to different speakers and make it seem like the sound is coming from all around you.

Back to the numbers:

  • The first number in the sequence refers to how many channels a soundbar has. The more channels it has, the better it can mimic the surround sound experience.
  • The second number specifies whether it has a subwoofer to provide better low-frequency sound quality.
  • The third number is used to indicate the number of upward-firing speakers, which are used to bounce sound off the roof and create a sense of height. The inclusion of the third number indicates that a soundbar supports Dolby Atmos.

So, generally speaking, the higher the numbers, the better a soundbar should be able to imitate surround sound.

How to compare soundbars

When choosing a soundbar, you'll need to consider your budget, the size of your living room and the sound quality you want. This will allow you to buy a soundbar that's the perfect fit for your needs.

Make sure you consider the following factors when comparing products:

Which soundbar is best for me?

The best soundbar for you depends on several factors, including everything from the size of your room to the amount of money you want to spend. The most important thing to remember is to compare a range of soundbars before deciding which one is right for you. To help make this easier, we've outlined the pros and cons of five popular soundbars in the table below:

The goodThe bad
Samsung HW-MS650 Sound+
  • Great sound quality
  • Impressive bass performance
  • No external subwoofer
  • Not as compact as some other models
Sony HT-ST5000
  • Excellent sound quality
  • Packed with features
  • It ain't cheap
  • No auto set-up feature
Philips Fidelio B5
  • Powerful sound
  • Long list of features and connections
  • Some negative user reviews
  • Might block TV remote
Sonos Playbar
  • Impressive performance
  • Easy to integrate with other Sonos devices
  • Software update issues
  • No remote control included
Bose SoundTouch 300
  • Beautiful sound
  • Great mobile app
  • Disappointing remote
  • Complicated set-up process

If you want better sound quality from your TV but you don't want the hassle of a full surround sound system, a soundbar could be a wise investment.


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