Televisions are getting slimmer, bigger, and better, but most of them still need a boost in terms of sound performance. That’s where soundbars can make all the difference. They pack impressive audio in compact frames that virtually disappear under your flat screens. But which soundbar works best for your TV, tablet or phone? We spoke to a Dubai-based sound engineer for all the shopping advice you'll need.
Who should buy a soundbar?
When we compare different audio setups, from home theatre systems to portable Bluetooth speakers, we might wonder if we truly need a soundbar. Barry Kassab, a seasoned electronics and audio engineer, also the owner of Barry Electronics and Audio Works in Dubai, tells us that a sleek soundbar makes up for the speakers on your TV.
"Soundbars are ideal for those who want to step up from the traditional TV sound, which is focused on a very small spectrum. It can get tiring to listen to this, so the audio quality of a soundbar could feel pleasant and wow those who are used to standard speakers," explained Barry, who has over 25 years of experience in the industry.
If you're looking for volume, decent bass, and clear trebles and high mids, soundbars are for you. This also helps clarify a lot of the movie dialogues that get lost in the action. Soundbars have a straightforward setup, too, since there's no hassle of piecing multiple speakers together. But, with their slim, minimalistic build, you can expect to sacrifice what Barry calls a true surround sound experience.
"People with a trained ear can pick up spatial details, which they won't find in soundbars. These will only be able to give you a 'feel' of a three-dimensional sound, with virtual enhancements to make it seem like the audio is coming from different directions in the room," he said, adding that this limitation owes to the form factor of a soundbar and its compact drivers.
What should I look for in a soundbar?
An actual surround sound system involves placing speakers behind, above, in front and next to the audience. Soundbar engineers cleverly mimic this stereo imaging by tapping into physics and the way our ears perceive sounds.
Some soundbars promise upward-firing speakers with standalone subwoofers, and these add-ons do enhance the sound profile to an extent, but not how a fully-fledged home theatre system would.
Fortunately, the casual listener will be mostly concerned with the fuzzy dialogue on the television, or their large living room that needs a powerful speaker to throw out sounds far and wide. A careful inspection of the features will also ensure you've bought a better-sounding soundbar.
"The first thing I would consider when buying a soundbar is its connectivity options. I'd avoid a pure wireless soundbar for two reasons: one, you might experience a bit of lipsync delay between the audio and the picture on the screen, which will need adjustments in the settings; and two, there's usually some loss of audio quality over wireless connections because of compression," said Barry.
So, while Bluetooth and Wi-Fi options are undeniably convenient to have, always check for a HDMI connection. This cable guarantees completely synchronised audio and video, as well as improved sound quality.
Another feature to consider is how much console space you're willing to give up. The more compact you go, the farther away you'll get from a true sound, says Barry. For instance, a built-in subwoofer will not be as efficient at delivering bass as an external amplifier. Though, note that you'll be paying a premium for more channels (2.0 and up).
We've rounded up the best soundbars for every TV setup and budget; you can also purchase many of them at a discount right now. Become an Amazon Prime member and get it delivered to you as early as today.
1. Best Overall: Bose Soundbar 500 Bundle with Bass Module 500 and Surround Speakers
- Arrives with a wireless subwoofer and two surround sound speakers
- Crisp audio quality
- Volume adjustments are incremental and accurate, say reviews
- Connectivity options include HDMI, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
- Built-in voice assistants Alexa and Google
- Only has Dolby Digital support
Based on his years of experience, Barry finds Bose's customer service and audio quality noteworthy. What we also like about the Bose Soundbar 500 bundle is that it comes with a separate 10-inch subwoofer and a pair of small surround speakers. The physical setup will kick your sound system up by a notch, when it's boosted by these compact peripherals. The bar itself is integrated with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and virtual voice assistants Alexa and Google - eight microphones on the unit are always awaiting your commands for a remote-free operation. Your subwoofer and surround sound speakers connect to the soundbar wirelessly, but the bar does come with an HDMI output. Reviewers think this bundle is amazing value for money and love that its volume adjustments reflect the actual sound. The only drawback would be the lack of Dolby Atmos, and, hence, the absence of height channels.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh291.58 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh199 and a two-year extended warranty for Dh283.
2. Best with Dolby Atmos: Sonos Arc
- Uses the latest Dolby Atmos, TrueHD and Dolby Digital technology
- Sound fine-tuned by Oscar-winning sound engineers
- Special settings to enhance unclear dialogue
- Touch controls
- Works even better with other Sonos speakers
- No Bluetooth connectivity
The powerful Sonos Arc uses Dolby's latest TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus sound codecs to deliver impressive, lossless audio. It creates a 3D soundscape using Dolby Atmos, wherein you feel like the sound is all around you, thanks to 11 internal speakers that include two up-firing drivers. It's also fine-tuned by Oscar-winning sound engineers, so that the Arc delivers crystal clear dialogue from your favourite movies. Use the speech enhancement setting in the Sonos app to decode even quieter whispers. The soundbar syncs up with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, and you can even use it while your TV is off, to stream music, radio, podcasts and more. The hefty price tag for a single bar makes sense when you consider its touch-sensitive surface - you can tap the soundbar to pause or swipe to adjust the volume and skip a track. Connect via Wi-Fi and HDMI. Buyers can't stop raving about the virtual cinematic surround sound they get, choosing to pair the Arc with their latest smart TVs, most mentioning LG's OLED models.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh334.59 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh256 and a two-year extended warranty for Dh363.
3. Best Value Surround Sound Setup: Sony HT-S700RF High Power Real 5.1 Ch Soundbar
- Real 5.1-channel soundbar, with tower speakers and subwoofer
- Value for money
- Option to switch to virtual surround sound with DTS
- Bluetooth, HDMI and optical connectivity
- No Wi-Fi connectivity
For just a fraction of the Sonos Arc, you can snag a 5.1 surround sound system with this Sony bundle. Its three-channel soundbar is paired with a subwoofer and two powerful tall-boy rear speakers that add height to blockbuster films. The tall boys are 120cm high with full-range 65mm drivers, and are meant to stand behind the audience to cocoon the viewers. There's DTS format support, as well as Dolby Digital to enhance the separate audio channels. Unlike Arc, you can stream via Bluetooth, but note that there's no Wi-Fi connectivity. As for TV, the soundbar connects through HDMI or the less advanced optical input. Reviewers assure that the tall boy speakers come with long cables for a living room setup.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh124 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh86 and a two-year extended warranty for Dh121.
4. Best Compact: Yamaha Compact Sound Bar Sr-C20A Black
- Delivers clear movie dialogues
- Has an integrated subwoofer
- Four sound modes, including for gaming
- Affordable price
- Bass is just alright for music listening, note reviews
- No Wi-Fi
A compact soundbar that’s ideal for apartments, this device from Yamaha still manages to pack a punch with its built-in subwoofer. Place the 60cm-wide bar anywhere, under your gaming monitor, bedroom TV or on the desk, and have its virtual surround technology recreate an immersive experience. Depending on the choice of entertainment, switch between four sound modes, consisting of stereo, standard, game and movie. It connects to your media consoles using HDMI, so that you can control the audio from both the TV and the soundbar with one remote. As a backup, you can always rely on the Soundbar Remote App to control settings from your phone. It's a no-frills bar for those looking to add oomph to their existing budget TV. According to reviews, the soundbar delivers clear dialogue in movies and shows, and other buyers pair it with their PC.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh45.75 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: The manufacturer offers a one-year warranty. Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh35 and a two-year extended warranty for Dh49.
5. Best Soundbar/Subwoofer Package: Samsung 3.1.2 Ch Wireless Soundbar
- 3.1.2-channel setup with built-in up-firing speakers and a separate subwoofer
- Wireless Dolby Atmos for Samsung TVs
- Supports DTS:X surround sound technology
- Optimised sound for gaming
- Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, optical and HDMI connectivity
- No Bluetooth multi-connection
- Doesn't work with Alexa
Own a Samsung smart TV? This 3.1.2-channel Samsung Soundbar is missing from your setup, especially since its Wireless Dolby Atmos is meant to work with your display, without any cables. The bar incorporates two up-firing speakers and comes with a standalone subwoofer, creating a 3D surround sound. Samsung’s soundbar also features Adaptive Sound technology, which optimises sound based on each scene, enhancing quiet conversations and more. When you connect a PlayStation, Xbox or Nintendo Switch console to your Samsung TV, the bar automatically switches to Game Mode Pro. Don't worry, you can still achieve lossless gaming audio with HDMI connectivity. Reviewers call it a perfect buy for their Samsung TV. Do note that Dolby Atmos is still available over a wired connection with non-Samsung TVs, as buyers report.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh123.33 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: The manufacturer offers a one-year warranty. Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh86 and a two-year extended warranty for Dh121.
Our recommendations are independently chosen by Gulf News editors. If you decide to shop through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission, as we are part of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.