Best Soundbars

Immersive audio and single-box units are definitely in vogue

by Steve Withers Jan 6, 2018 at 1:47 PM


  • The soundbar remains as popular as ever but we have seen some interesting trends in 2017.
    The inclusion of support for immersive audio formats, especially Dolby Atmos, has continued this year but there has been a move away from separate rear channels. Many of the immersive audio soundbars we reviewed in 2017 have concentrated on delivering a 3.1.2-channel immersive audio experience, rather than a full 5.1.4-channel system. In fact there has even been a move towards simpler single-box soundbars that eschew a separate subwoofer and have the bass drivers built into the unit itself. So which soundbars have impressed us this year and do they support immersive audio, use a single-box design or follow a more traditional soundbar and wireless subwoofer combination?

    Yamaha YAS-107 – £169 – Best Buy

    No one has as much experience when it comes to soundbars as Yamaha and the YAS-107 is another great example from the manufacturer. It's a single-box soundbar, which means no separate subwoofer, and it's nicely designed, well made and includes some useful features. There are HDMI inputs and outputs that support 4K and High Dynamic Range (HDR) and the inclusion of DTS Virtual:X is a nice addition which we found it to be quite effective at creating a more immersive surround experience. Sadly there's no support for Yamaha's excellent MusicCast multi-room system but there is Bluetooth and a decent remote app. In terms of its actual performance, the YAS-107 impresses, with clear dialogue and a wide front soundstage. The mid-range and higher frequencies are nicely represented, the soundbar handles most content very well and the bass is reasonable. The Yamaha YAS-107 is an excellent single-box soundbar solution that can be used without a subwoofer but has the option to add one later, and at £169 it certainly deserves to be on our list of Best Buy Soundbars of the year.

    Q Acoustics M3 – £229 – Recommended

    Q Acoustics have made a name for themselves producing high quality and competitively priced audio products and the M3 soundbar is no exception. In fact the M3 picked up our Editor's Choice Award for the Best Soundbar Under £1,000 for 2017, so it shouldn't be a surprise to discover it's on this list as well. It's another example of a single-box soundbar and ideal for those who simply want to improve the sound quality of their TV without any hassles or wires. The M3 does exactly what Q Acoustics say it will and does it very well indeed. It can fill a typical living room with decent sound from under your TV, there's a nice weight to the audio and vocals, along with decent music playback as well. The M3 is incredibly easy to set up and it does an impressive job of sounding very good indeed with excellent stereo and TV sound reproduction that is natural and clear with a decent underpinning of bass. It's this combination of features, performance and price that makes the Q Acoustics M3 one of our Best Buy Soundbars of 2017.

    Polk Magnifi Mini – £339 – Recommended

    Although many soundbars are aimed at larger screen TVs, size isn't everything as proved by the Polk Magnifi Mini. It's nicely designed, well made and small enough that it can fit just about anywhere. There are plenty of connections, some useful cables included in the box and a handy remote. The lack of a proper display or an on-screen display is a shame but set up is simple and the Mini comes with a matching wireless active subwoofer to give bass frequencies greater impact. The Mini's four driver and two tweeter design means that it can deliver a surprisingly wide and open front soundstage, despite its diminutive dimensions, whilst the subwoofer does the heavy lifting at the lower end. The result is an excellent performance with TV, movies and even music, although naturally the Mini isn't designed for larger rooms. However it's a great little soundbar and subwoofer combination that's ideal for anyone with limited space who still wants a big sound. The price is slightly high compared to some of the competition but the quality and performance make the Polk Magnifi Mini worthy of inclusion on our list of the Best Buy Soundbars of the year.

    Samsung HW-MS750 – £699 – Highly Recommended

    Samsung has serious ambitions in terms of audio, as evidenced by their recent corporate purchases, and the HW-MS750 is an excellent example of their sonic endeavours. It's another soundbar that uses a single-box design with built-in subwoofers but also adds a height element to the audio. As a result the front soundstage is suitably wide and the extra height does help to position sounds around the screen, although it should be stressed that the MS750 doesn't support Dolby Atmos. However it does support both Dolby Digital and DTS in 5.1-channels and if you want to include actual surround speakers there is a rear wireless kit available. Despite the lack of a separate subwoofer, the MS750 can produce some excellent bass extension and, with music at least, there really is no need for a separate subwoofer. The MS750 also includes distortion cancelling technology that delivers a clean and detailed audio, along with two HDMI inputs, an effective remote control and support for Samsung's multiroom system thanks to built-in WiFi. The Samsung HW-MS750 is also excellent with movie soundtracks and overall it's one of the best performing soundbars that we reviewed this year, making it an obvious addition to our Best Buy Soundbar list.

    LG SJ9 – £749 – Recommended

    The LG SJ9 also has upward-firing drivers built-in but, unlike the MS750, it actually does support Dolby Atmos immersive audio. The SJ9 is a nicely designed and well made soundbar that boasts a decent set of features including support for LG's Music Flow multi-room system and the accompanying remote app is excellent. There's only one HDMI input, which is disappointing considering the price, but at least it can pass 4K HDR and although there's no DTS:X support, the SJ9 can decode DTS 5.1. The soundbar delivered an excellent performance in terms audio quality, creating a huge front soundstage. It sounded good with both movies and music, the wireless subwoofer produced deep bass and the system could go loud without distorting. When it comes to Dolby Atmos the 3.1.2-channel soundstage is understandably rather front heavy, unless you're prepared to add wireless rear speakers via Music Flow, but the SJ9 is capable of creating an effective overhead channel above the soundbar itself. This results in an enjoyably immersive, if rather front-heavy, audio experience and for those who fancy trying Dolby Atmos without putting speakers all over their lounge, the LG SJ9 can be a cost effective alternative.

    Bluesound Pulse – £999 – Recommended

    The Bluesound Pulse is a higher-end soundbar that is designed to deliver a superior level of sound quality that befits its price tag. This single-box soundbar is quite large, which means it can use decent speakers that are able to deliver a wide and detailed soundstage with deeper bass. The design is minimalist but effective and the build quality is excellent. It's disappointing that there are no HDMI connections or a remote control, meaning you have to use the BluOS app, but thankfully it's intuitive to navigate and highly effective. The Pulse is easy to setup and includes both WiFi and Bluetooth support, whilst there is also the option to add a subwoofer. In terms of its performance the Pulse is excellent, delivering clear dialogue combined with a balanced and pleasingly wide soundstage. The soundbar is capable of a surprising amount of bass, which means a subwoofer isn't a necessity, and the Pulse is also very impressive with music. In fact given that the Pulse can handle high-res audio and MQA, it's a genuinely good speaker for even the most demanding music fan. Ultimately the Bluesound Pulse is a great choice for anyone looking for an audiophile soundbar and thus makes it on to our Best Buy list for 2017.

    Sony HT-ST5000 – £1,499 – Recommended

    The Sony HT-ST5000 is the second Dolby Atmos capable soundbar on this list and also the most expensive, although as you would expect from Sony it has an attractive design and a high level of build quality that even extends to the subwoofer. There are plenty of connections, a decent remote control and set up is fairly easy, although there's no auto EQ or setup microphone. Aside from Dolby Atmos, the ST5000 also supports high-resolution audio, Chromecast, Spotify, Bluetooth and multiroom functionality. Overall the performance is excellent and the ST5000 is extremely adept at handling music, with a wide front soundstage, good stereo separation and well-integrated bass. The same is true with TV programmes and movies, where the excellent mid-range delivers clear vocals, whilst music and effects are also handled with authority. The ST5000 can deliver an enjoyable Dolby Atmos experience with greater width and height and some nice overhead effects, although like the SJ9 it is very front-heavy. Although the Sony HT-ST5000 isn't cheap, it's a great way of getting maximum immersive audio with minimum fuss and thus deserving of inclusion on this list.


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