Nine of 2018’s new sound bar models ranging from under £150 all the way up to £900 have been into our audio testing lab, with Panasonic, LG, Samsung and Sony all going under the microscope.
2018 started slowly for the sound bar market, but as we get to the halfway point, all the big manufacturers have now launched most of their most important products. We’ve taken nine of the newest through our brand-new test programme to see whether they’re worthy of a place in your living room.
Only the best is good enough: browse our top-rated sound bars.
Sony: Budget sound bar models on test
The first two Sony sound bars we’ve tested this year are the firm’s cheapest models. Despite their low price, they aren’t short on features.
At £150, the Sony HT-SF150 is a basic all-in-one model that comes without a subwoofer. It has Bluetooth connectivity, so you’ll be able to connect your phone to play music, and also features virtual surround sound in an attempt to make big-budget blockbusters feel more immersive. Read our full Sony HT-SF150 review to see what we thought.
The Sony HT-SF200 costs just £20 more than the HT-SF150 and includes a built-in subwoofer. This means you’ll get the extra bass without the extra clutter of a separate subwoofer unit. Again, there’s virtual surround sound, Bluetooth connectivity and HDMI, meaning it ticks all the boxes for a modest yet capable home cinema setup. Our full Sony HT-SF200 review reveals whether it offers enough.
Panasonic sound bars: The basics for under £200
We’ve tested the Panasonic SC-HTB200, which is identical to the SC-HTB208 model aside from colour (the ‘208’ model is ‘charcoal’ instead of black). It has a chunky design and a built-in subwoofer, along with Bluetooth and HDMI connectivity, all for under £150 – if it lives up to its billing, it could be an excellent budget choice. Read our full Panasonic SC-HTB200 review to see whether you need to spend more.
Also in the lab is the SC-HTB258, which is similar to the HTB200 but comes with a separate, wireless subwoofer that you can place anywhere you want. All you need is a power source, and you can add bass to your home cinema without trailing an audio cable across the room. We’ve found wireless subwoofers can add a lot to the quality of a sound bar and can often be worth the premium over all-in-one models, and our full Panasonic SC-HTB258 review explains whether that’s the case here.
Samsung HW-N400: Feature-packed for £400
Samsung is pitching this sound bar as the perfect companion for your other Samsung gadgets, including TVs and Blu-ray players. If you have a compatible 2017 or newer Samsung TV, you’ll be able to control the sound bar and all its settings using your TV’s remote. It includes Bluetooth, HDMI and Optical inputs and also features HDMI ARC, which should make the setup process simpler and require fewer cables. Read our full Samsung HW-N400 review for more.
LG: A chance for redemption
Last year’s LG SJ3 was awarded a Don’t Buy award due to very poor audio performance. Based on feedback, LG redesigned this model to improve performance. According to our expert listening panel, the new model is noticeably better than its predecessor, but is it ready to make the step up? Find out in our LG SJ3 review.
Elsewhere, Which? Has looked at LG’s three higher-end models, brand new for 2018. There’s the £399 SK6 that goes toe-to-toe with the Samsung HW-N400, the £599 SK8 and the £899 SK9Y. All three models feature smart capabilities including Google Chromecast support and Google Assistant functions. They don’t have built-in mics, but if you have a Google Assistant device such as one of LG’s ThinQ speakers or a Google Home, you’ll be able to bark commands to play music from your sound bar.
While the SK6 just supports virtual surround sound, the SK8 and SK9Y step it up a notch, supporting Dolby Atmos audio, which bounces sound off your ceiling to give a more immersive, ‘object-based’ audio experience. We’ve found this feature to be hit-and-miss on sound bars in the past, but it’s improving all the time. The two higher-end models also support 4K passthrough, meaning you can connect 4K Sky or Blu-ray boxes directly to the sound bar and then pass the picture all the way through to your TV, making setup even simpler. Read our reviews of the LG SK6, SK8 and SK9Y.
Which?’s new sound bar test: A tougher challenge
For 2018-model sound bars, Which? has introduced a new listening test to push the sound bars to their limits. This includes new clips from the latest blockbuster films, popular TV shows and high-quality music samples, and we now provide individual star ratings for movie, speech, music and Dolby Atmos content, so you can be sure that whatever you’ll be listening to or watching most often is well served by the sound bar you choose.
The panel is still formed of five audio industry experts, who each provide their own individual pros and cons for each sound bar. In 2017 there were 125 individual data points taken into account for sound bar reviews. This has increased to 151 for 2018.
We’ve also updated our technical assessments, so sound bars are awarded for having a wider range of relevant connections and features, including HDMI ARC, wi-fi and Chromecast support.
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