If you are thinking of kitting out your living room with a full set of surround sound speakers, a soundbar is the single best upgrade you can make to your TV’s surround sound setup.
But, why would you want to?
Well, with TVs having become as slim as they are these days, they don’t have much space to contain a decent set of speaker drivers.
By accommodating just a little more room for sound, you can achieve a massive step-up in audio performance.
Ideally, a full surround set-up is the premium solution to televisions that are not great in the sound department, but if you are short on space (not to mention budget) then a soundbar offers a very decent compromise.
Plus, these days, higher-end soundbars also include the latest audio technologies like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Whether you choose a budget or a high-end model, there are options across the spectrum.
However, you must be careful when you choose a soundbar. In their quest to improve upon low bass output of a TV’s inbuilt speakers, some soundbars go too far in the opposite direction and give you a bass overload. Others forgo bass to focus on mids and highs and can therefore never provide the true cinematic experiences. The best soundbars, as you might imagine, should have no problem doing both.
We’ve tested tonnes of ‘bars in the hopes of finding the best of the best. In our quest we’ve come up with the best options to match every budget slab.
How do you pick the best soundbar?
Soundbars come in many shapes and sizes, and range in price from under Rs 6,500 to over Rs 97,000. While, cheaper models have basic connections, more expensive ones add superior HDMI inputs (including 4K/HDR passthrough), wireless audio streaming (e.g. Bluetooth and AirPlay), better power, more refined speaker drivers and decoding of Blu-ray sound formats.
Design is also important. While some models can sit in front of your TV on a stand, others may need a separate shelf, or need to be mounted on the wall.
Keeping all that in mind, here are the 5 best soundbars, ordered by their price-to-performance ratio:
The Philips Fidelio B5 is quite impressive. It’s the perfect soundbar for someone who appreciates good cinema sound but has no interest in tearing up their living room to install a 5.1 channel surround sound system. The B5 enables you to pick and choose your movie moments and it creates a decent surround sound experience using both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Digital Surround decoding.
A combination of convenience and good audio – the raison d’etre of the soundbar – along with its transformative surround sound capabilities makes the Fidelio B5 a great option for the movie fan.
Read the full review: Philips Fidelio B5
The Q Acoustics M4 soundbar doesn’t immediately set pulses racing with its slightly prosaic looks, ‘mere’ 2.1-channel sound and lack of any HDMI support.
However, you only have to hear what the M4 can do with both music and movies for your doubts to evaporate. In fact, it sounds so good that it starts to make the idea of trying to deliver more channels from an affordable sound bar look a bit silly.
That it sounds so much better than pretty much any rival soundbar in the same price bracket, actually makes it ridiculously good for its value – especially if you care about music as much as you care about your movies.
Read the full review: Q Acoustics M4 Sound Bar
Focal, known mostly for its excellent speakers (and the recently released Focal Listen headphones), was late to the soundbar space. But its Focal Dimension makes it worth the wait. The Dimension soundbar is simply gorgeous with its piano black accents and aluminum unibody construction.
Priced at Rs 90,263, it’s not exactly cheap, but you’re paying for excellent build quality, sound and design.
Read the full review: Focal Dimension
The Sonos Playbar is a non-HDMI device that uses optical to hook up to a TV set. Used simply on its own, it delivers a massive sonic boost to your TV sound, but it does require a smartphone or tablet app to operate it.
The benefit is that it can seamlessly segue in to a Sonos wireless system, and can even act as the front three speakers in a 5.1 setup with two Play:1s acting as rears.
Unfortunately, although it’s optical-only setup will be great for most, it does exclude owners of TVs that lack this connector. And this is what pushes this soundbar a little further down our list.
Read the full review: Sonos Playbar
Boasting of high-end design, Bose’s slim soundbar looks superb, and sounds above average. At 97.9cm wide, it’s best partnered with larger screen sizes (50-inch+) and priced at Rs 45,154 and offers great sound. There are caveats regarding usability and price, but overall it warrants a cautious two thumbs up.
It’s also worth mentioning that, as this isn’t a 2.1 package, there’s no subwoofer supplied – although Bose will sell you a wireless Acoustimas sub and the ST300 can be partnered with the brand’s Virtually Invisible (i.e. small at 10cm) 300 surround speakers.
The system is also compatible with the Bose SoundTouch wireless multiroom system which includes smaller Bluetooth speakers.
Read the full review: Bose SoundTouch 300
Any suggestions for our list? Let us know in the comments below!
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