Budget, high end, straight, curved and flexible solutions
The market for soundbars, sound bases and lifestyle audio solutions shows no signs of slowing down. We present our best soundbars of 2015 and, as usual, they aren’t listed in any order of preference.
Yamaha YSP-2500 - £499The Yamaha YSP-2500 soundbar sits in the middle of the company's digital sound projector range, above the YSP-1400 and beneath the YSP-3300. It has been designed to match larger screen TVs and not only incorporates sound projection technology but also a matching wireless active subwoofer. The Yamaha includes a host of other features such as HDMI, Bluetooth, IntelliBeam setup, a menu system, a full remote control, an IR repeater and a remote app. That's a decent selection of features and with equally as impressive specifications and a retail price of £499 (December 2015). You'll be hard pushed to find a better performer for the money than the Yamaha YSP-2500. The company's long association with soundbars shows through in every aspect of the YSP-2500's design and there's an effortlessness to the performance that only comes from experience
In terms of its actual performance the YSP-2500 really delivered the goods, producing a wide front soundstage that filled our room with sound. There was a nice sense of precision to the sound with music and effects positioned effectively across the front and dialogue remaining focused on the screen. The mid-range and high frequencies were handled well and the subwoofer was surprisingly subtle for a soundbar package, integrating smoothly and never dominating. The sound projection technology works really well in terms of creating a sense of surround and whilst it can't fully replace a proper multi-channel system, it is more convenient. The surround effect will be dependent on the characteristics of your room but the YSP-2500 certainly delivers on its promise.
Cambridge Audio TV5 - £299.95The soundbar market is fast reaching saturation, with just about everyone jumping on the bandwagon. So to keep things fresh, the manufacturers have moved on to different variations on the theme. From sound bases and sound plates to sound plinths and speaker bases, the idea is simple - rather than putting the soundbar in front of the TV, why not put it underneath? That way you don't block the screen, it can take up less space and you can use a larger enclosure which should help with sound quality. Cambridge Audio have already had success in this area with their Minx TV sound plinth and their TV2 speaker base. Now they've launched the bigger TV5, a speaker base designed to be used with larger screen sizes. The TV5 has two forward-firing speakers and two downward-firing subwoofers, along with 100W of amplification at a price of £299. The Cambridge Audio TV5 certainly delivers in terms of its performance, with an excellent level of sound quality. The speaker base delivers a wide and open sound, with plenty of stereo separation and, as a result, it can fill the room. The built-in subwoofers also help, adding plenty of bass presence, whilst the TV5 has enough amplification to go loud without distorting.
The speaker base can handle both TV and movies well, reproducing music and dialogue with great effect. The TV5 also proved very adept when it came to music and the inclusion of aptX Bluetooth support takes full advantage of this capability. However, the lack of HDMI support is a shame and obviously precludes support for an audio return channel (ARC). Whilst its inclusion isn't vital, it does put the TV5 at a disadvantage to some of the competition and knocks its score down slightly. However, assuming that HDMI isn't a priority and that you intend to take full advantage of the Bluetooth support, then the TV5 is certainly worth considering, with a nice design, excellent build quality and a competitive price.
Samsung HW-J8500 - £649.95The Samsung HW-J8500 boasts a nine-driver configuration with an active wireless subwoofer. As the curved design suggests, the J8500 is intended to compliment Samsung's latest curved screen TVs and its dimensions mean it is best suited to screen sizes of 65 inches and bigger. The J8500 also comes with a remote control, includes HDMI input and outputs and supports Samsung's multi-room system for a current retail price (December 2015) of £649.95. It isn't cheap but you get great build quality, an excellent audio performance and plenty of features; with the limited number of HDMI inputs as our only real complaint. However there are plenty of other connections, along with built-in Bluetooth and WiFi for the multi-room features, which means you can connect the soundbar to the rest of your Samsung network.The J8500 creates an enjoyably precise and detailed front soundstage and an effectively wide one, despite its curved shape. It also has loads of power and can go quite loud without becoming brittle or distorting. The subwoofer has plenty of low-end presence and can be easily integrated into the room in either a horizontal or vertical configuration; so, whatever you're listening to, the J8500 can deliver the goods in terms of sound quality and performance. There are also a number of sound modes available and a surround sound mode that does help create a greater sense of immersion. Of course, if you don’t have a matching curved TV product, this one doesn’t make a great deal of sense.
LG LAS455H - £179.95The LAS455H sits bang in the middle of LG’s soundbar range for 2015 and is available at certain retailers for £179.95 (December 2015). The LAS455H boasts a claimed 300w total output via the speaker bar and included wireless subwoofer unit. In fact the spec sheet looks very impressive for a sub £200 soundbar with hi-res audio support, Bluetooth and some integration in to LG’s Music Flow system. In fact, you could even say LG is going for the jugular, price-wise. In fact, for the money, the LG LAS455H is definitely worthy of recommendation. It’s a well-built package that is designed to sit under the new breed of super-sleek TVs and features excellent connectivity for the price-point. You get both an HDMI input and output so you can take advantage of your TVs ARC (Audio Return Channel) capabilities, plus a Toslink digital audio in, an all-purpose 3.5mm stereo jack, a USB port and Bluetooth connectivity to boot.
The LAS455H is also compatible with LG’s excellent Music Flow app, allowing you to cast music from a range of leading streaming services, your locally stored collection or even from other devices on your home network, which is another feather in its cap that few others in this category can boast. More importantly it sounds good with movies, TV and music with a fairly rich and inviting soundstage. It’s not going to leave your jaw hanging agog but you really couldn’t expect that for the sum asked and if all you're after is a worthwhile upgrade to your TVs speakers, the LG LAS455H more than does the job.
Philips Fidelio B5 - £600Like its predecessor, the B5 system features unique (to Philips) detachable speakers that can be placed behind the listening position to create a true surround sound experience. With an asking price just short of £600 (September 2015), this definitely isn’t a budget package but it is a unique solution to a problem many will have; namely, getting the OK from your significant other to place speakers in parts of the room where they think they don’t fit. There are no unsightly trailing cables and when you’re not in true surround mode, you can simply reattach the rears to the main bar and still achieve a listening experience far superior to that provided by the speakers built-in to your TV.
The system also benefits from being extremely well connected with options including HDMI, Toslink digital, stereo and Bluetooth – as a bonus it’s aptX capable for highest possible streaming quality. It’s also a very good looking package with a sensible low profile design that keeps it from getting in the way of the screen. Most importantly, the B5 manages to sound really good – if slightly anodyne at low levels – with both music and movies and the latter benefits greatly from the inherent true surround afforded by the innovative detachable speakers. It’s certainly not the cheapest option around but if you want what the B5 has to offer, there is no real alternative.
Of course, we should point out that a soundbar is most definitely not the only audio solution worth considering and you will likely get more value for money from a pair of speakers. either active or with an amplifier, and if you really want a surround sound experience, you could consider an AV Receiver and a set of speakers or an all-in-one package.
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