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Top five sound bars for music

By Daniel Nissenbaum

Could you save space and money by using a sound bar as your living-room sound system? We tell you what you need to know. 

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If you have a sound bar at home or are thinking of buying one, you may be wondering whether you could do away with your hi-fi and use the sound bar for listening to music. 

Before you decide, find out which models we recommend for their musical prowess in the tables below, and read our advice at the bottom of the page. We've split our picks depending on whether you want your sound bar to form part of a wireless multi-room audio system, or whether you're happy to use cables. 

Only logged-in Which? members can view our recommendations in the table below. If you’re not yet a member, you can get instant access by taking a £1 trial to Which?

Best for wireless multi-room audio

Samsung HW-K850
Today's best price £798.99
Which? score 87%
Reviewed May 2017
Best Buy
Overall sound quality:
5 out of 5
Audio features:
5 out of 5
Sound bar type:
Member exclusive
Separate subwoofer:
Member exclusive
Analogue red/white phono:
Member exclusive
3.5mm Jack present:
Member exclusive

Put simply, this is the best sound bar we’ve ever tested. It includes a host of high-end features that will bring cinema-level effects into your living room, without the need for rear speakers. It’s also got wi-fi, so you’ll be able to hook this sound bar up to other speakers in your house and use it as part of a multi-room audio system.

Samsung HW-J8500
Today's best price £599.00
Which? score 87%
Reviewed May 2016
Best Buy
Overall sound quality:
5 out of 5
Audio features:
5 out of 5
Sound bar type:
Member exclusive
Separate subwoofer:
Member exclusive
Analogue red/white phono:
Member exclusive
3.5mm Jack present:
Member exclusive

This high-end sound bar is another one of our top-scoring Best Buys so naturally it sounds great. Crucially, this model features wi-fi connectivity so you can link it up to other speakers in your house over your home network to form a multi-room speaker system. You can control it with an app, which enables you to play the same music all around the house, or a different song for each room.

Sonos Playbar
Today's best price £649.00
Which? score 83%
Reviewed Jul 2013
Best Buy
Overall sound quality:
5 out of 5
Audio features:
3 out of 5
Sound bar type:
Member exclusive
Separate subwoofer:
Member exclusive
Analogue red/white phono:
Member exclusive
3.5mm Jack present:
Member exclusive

An oldie, but a goodie. This sound bar has been near the top of our recommended list for four years now, but it still keeps beating off newer competition. Despite its age, it’s still well up to date with features, including wireless multi-room capability and, of course, it sounds great.

Best non-wireless models

Canton DM55
Today's best price £279.00
Which? score 87%
Reviewed Jan 2016
Best Buy
Overall sound quality:
5 out of 5
Audio features:
4 out of 5
Sound bar type:
Member exclusive
Separate subwoofer:
Member exclusive
Analogue red/white phono:
Member exclusive
3.5mm Jack present:
Member exclusive

This sound base is the highest scoring model we’ve tested. It’s easy to use and sounds great – it even does a decent job of simulating convincing surround sound. It has a stereo input so you’ll be able to plug your existing hi-fi amp into it, and there’s Bluetooth too so you can stream wirelessly from your other devices.

Samsung HW-J6000
Today's best price £249.00
Which? score 85%
Reviewed Mar 2016
Best Buy
Overall sound quality:
4 out of 5
Audio features:
5 out of 5
Sound bar type:
Member exclusive
Separate subwoofer:
Member exclusive
Analogue red/white phono:
Member exclusive
3.5mm Jack present:
Member exclusive

This Best Buy model produces top-quality sound and is easy to use - and it's cheaper than many of its Best Buy counterparts. There are plenty of connection options, including a 3.5mm audio jack for piping in music and a Bluetooth connection if you want to do it wirelessly.

Not found the product for you? Browse all of our sound bar reviews

And here's three sound bars you won't want to use for music

The products above will all do your music collection justice, but beware: there are plenty out there that sound simply awful. It's not a case of spending more and getting a better product either - we've found terrible examples priced as high-end products. The best way to avoid a dud is to read our reviews, but we've rounded up three of the worst models here so you'll know what to steer clear of. 

The worst sound bars for music

Goodmans GDSB02BT20
Today's best price £43.64
Which? score 20%
Reviewed Mar 2016
Don't buy
Overall sound quality:
2 out of 5
Audio features:
4 out of 5
Sound bar type:
Member exclusive
Separate subwoofer:
Member exclusive
Analogue red/white phono:
Member exclusive
3.5mm Jack present:
Member exclusive

This model is one of the cheapest we've ever tested. It'll cost you less than a couple of vinyl records, but don't be tempted - this sound bar will make your music sound absolutely awful. It scores a woeful 10%, putting it in a class of its own when it comes to underachievement.

Otone Bluetooth SoundBase 2
Typical price £170.00
Which? score 29%
Reviewed Mar 2016
Don't buy
Overall sound quality:
2 out of 5
Audio features:
2 out of 5
Sound bar type:
Member exclusive
Separate subwoofer:
Member exclusive
Analogue red/white phono:
Member exclusive
3.5mm Jack present:
Member exclusive

This sound base doesn’t even have the excuse of being particularly cheap. You'd really be wasting your money by choosing this model - our expert listeners couldn't wait for it to stop blaring out music, and some said it gave them a headache.

Logik L32SBIN16
Today's best price £49.99
Which? score 33%
Reviewed Jan 2017
Don't buy
Overall sound quality:
2 out of 5
Audio features:
2 out of 5
Sound bar type:
Member exclusive
Separate subwoofer:
Member exclusive
Analogue red/white phono:
Member exclusive
3.5mm Jack present:
Member exclusive

The sound that spews from this model is nothing short of horrible. Avoid it at all costs. There’s practically no bass at all, which makes everything sound harsh and tinny. If you turn the volume up, you’ll be covering your ears to get away from the noise.

Pricing, recommendations and test scores correct as of July 2017. 

Go wireless

One of the main reasons you might want to use a sound bar as your living room hi-fi is that many models can be connected to your home wi-fi network and used as part of a multi-room audio system. You can do this in a few ways:

Chromecast built-in

Previously called Google Cast, this is a feature that many sound bars and wireless features have. It allows you to stream music easily from your phone, laptop or tablet to your sound bar or speaker. It’s designed to work best with Android devices – if you use Android you won’t have to download any additional apps to use it.

Airplay

Airplay is Apple’s version of Chromecast, although it’s much less common for it to be built into sound bars.

Manufacturer apps

Most sound bar manufacturers now offer their own smartphone and tablet apps for controlling their speakers. These typically work in a similar way to Chromecast or Airplay, and allow you to connect several speakers from the same brand together wirelessly around your house. You’ll be able to download the correct app for your device from the app store (Google Play Store, Apple App Store etc).

Bluetooth

If your sound bar doesn’t have wi-fi you won’t be able to connect it to a multi-room audio system, but if it has Bluetooth you can still stream music to it wirelessly. All you have to do is connect to it the same way you would any other device and you’ll have a big wireless speaker for your living room.

Make sure you’ve got the right connections

If you want to plug in other hi-fi devices to your sound bar, such as a CD player or turntable, you’ll be best off choosing a sound bar with an analogue sound input. This might be a 3.5mm aux cable or red and white stereo plugs. If it's an aux input, you’ll probably have to buy an adaptor cable to go from your CD player or record player to the aux input.

If your sound bar and your TV both support HDMI ARC, you’ll be able to use your TV remote to control the volume and settings on your sound bar. This will get rid of even more clutter in your living room.

Sound quality: sound bars vs hi-fis

Sound bars can be convenient, space-saving devices, but no matter how good your sound bar is, it will never match a good hi-fi for sound quality. This is true for music, as well as TV audio.

We’ve tested sound bars against traditional home cinema systems, hi-fi systems and built-in TV speakers. Our results showed that while a good sound bar and a decent home cinema system sound about as good as each other, a top quality hi-fi will blow both out of the water.

To enjoy your music in the best possible quality you’ll be better off sticking with a hi-fi system. You could even use your hi-fi for TV audio, though you won’t be able to enjoy surround sound this way (although you won’t be able to with most sound bars either).

Size and space: sound bars vs hi-fis

Hi-fis usually take up more space than a sound bar, and involve more cables trailing around.

Sound bars are a better option if you’re looking to declutter your lounge, especially as bigger sound bars aren’t necessarily better. In fact, our sound quality tests show that there’s no connection between the size of a sound bar or sound base and how good it is for listening to music. The most important thing is that the sound is well balanced.

Our rigorous lab tests separate the wheat from the chaff by playing hours of films, TV programmes and music in front of our panel of industry experts. 

Head to our Best Buy sound bar reviews to find out which ones come out on top, and which to avoid.

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