The Best Sound Bars of February 2020

MAJ 05/02/2020 : More compact and less expensive, sound bars are proving to be an interesting alternative to traditional 5.1 systems and a good way to improve the sound of your TV. A short overview of the sector’s top players.

  • Wednesday 05 February 2020 at 16:30

Article updated on 05/02/2020 – No change for the moment in our ranking despite the recent publication of the test of the LG SL9YG. This one is far from being a bad sound bar but we prefer the Samsung HW-Q70R at this price level. Note that those who wish to get advice on how to choose the right sound bar can refer to the FAQ located just below the selection.

1. Samsung HW-Q90R, a complete Home Cinema and a reference on the market

Samsung isn’t a very well-known player in the sound business, and yet its top-of-the-line 2019 HW-Q90R, designed with its subsidiary Harman Kardon, which is very well known for the job, is simply brilliant. It offers high quality rich and powerful sound, impressive 3D spatialization and many features. This makes the Sony HT-ST5000 our benchmark in the market, even though it is very expensive.

The Samsung HW-Q90R sound bar is a complete home cinema in reality as it comes with two satellite speakers to place behind your sofa, as well as a subwoofer, giving you a 7.1.4 system with a total power of 500W. In addition to Dolby Atmos compatibility, it also supports DTS:X, two standards that allow it to provide a particularly enveloping 3D sound, thanks also to its powerful vertical speakers. And all this, Samsung has put it in a relatively compact chassis, at least compared to its rival the Sony HT-ST5000. Covered with a metal grille, the Q90R also adopts a stylish design, full connectivity with HDMI ARC and CEC ports, optical, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for the wireless part. In short, it has everything it takes and offers a truly high-end music and movie experience. But unfortunately, it will cost a lot of money to qualify.

2. Sony HT-ST5000, the former fallen queen, but still excellent

Despite the many releases, the Sony HT-ST5000 is still here, even though it no longer sits at the top of our ranking. A little old now but far from being outdated, it remains an excellent sound bar recommended above all to film and music lovers.

Sony hits hard with its HT-ST5000. Equally at home in music and home cinema, this Dolby Atmos-compatible sound bar is accompanied by a wireless subwoofer that allows the whole system to deliver impressive sound quality Moreover, it is clearly the most powerful sound bar on the market (800 Watts in total). The only defect is the lack of compatibility with the SDR : X and, more importantly, it’s even more expensive than the Samsung K950. But if you can afford it, the HT-ST5000 will certainly give you full satisfaction.

3. Samsung HW-Q70R, when the mid-range teases the premium

The market has become very competitive in the mid-range segment, so that you can now find models equipped with very high-end features for less than €500. That’s the case with this sound bar. Directly competing with the LG SK10Y, this Samsung HW-Q70R is a close contender, especially thanks to its advanced features. 

With this HW-Q70R, the Korean giant Samsung and its subsidiary Harman Kardon co-sign an excellent sound bar with impressive surround effects. In addition to supporting the two 3D spatialization standards, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, the latter features an exclusive vertical sound projection system that is particularly effective. It’s stylish, but it also offers quality sound with powerful bass thanks to its wireless subwoofer and a range of features. Finally, the Q70R features an HDMI ARC connection, optical input as well as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and can even be upgraded with an optional rear speaker kit. A very complete offer, therefore, with almost nothing to complain about, except for the size of its integrated screen, if any. But for a price of 499€, it’s hard to do better.


4. Creative Stage 2.1, unbeatable under €100

The entry-level range is full of references, but few products are really effective in this market segment. The Creative Stage 2.1 is clearly the best sound bar for under €100 we’ve tested. 

The Creative Stage 2.1 is the perfect speaker to enhance the sound of your TV or PC (Creative requires) without breaking the bank. And despite a price below 100 euros, it comes with a lot of features, more than most of its entry-level competitors. These include HDMI ARC, Bluetooth, USB, optical input, subwoofer, integrated display and remote control all in an extremely compact chassis. Very comfortable with music or video games this one offers slightly less cinematic performance, however. This is due to the lack of predictable spatialization given the very contained size of the product, but for such a sweet price, the Stage 2.1 remains without a doubt an excellent little sound bar.


Our advice on how to choose

5.1 home theater systems are fine, but they are expensive and usually bulky. Indeed, not everyone has enough room in their living room, or simply wants to place 5 speakers, an amp and (often) a subwoofer in the four corners of the room. However, it is still pleasant, and sometimes even necessary, to replace the speakers of your television with a more efficient system.

This is where sound bars and sound trays can be useful, especially as they have made great progress recently in terms of spatialization of sound, even if they do not replace, on this point, a real home cinema system. However, products that use Dolby Atmos or DTS:X are able to deliver surround sound with a 3D feel that is quite convincing given the compactness of these objects. 

Which format? Box ? Satellites ?

First of all, ask yourself what format of sound bars you wish to acquire? Do you just want to improve the sound of your TV? Would you like to build a real Home Cinema? These questions will guide your choice. In any case, we recommend that you choose at least one product consisting of a sound bar AND a separate subwoofer. In addition, some models integrate or allow you to add satellites, small speakers to be placed behind your sofa that will give you a real 360° sound. Also pay attention to embedded spatialization technologies (Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital+, DTS…), the most demanding will move towards Dolby Atmos or DTS:X products, to add a vertical dimension (3D sound). 

What size?

A very important criterion to consider when buying a sound bar is the size of the product, as you will need to make room for it on your TV cabinet. Observe the depth of the device to see if your furniture can accommodate it, but also the length and especially the height, to check that the sound bar does not hide one end of your TV screen. Note that size affects the power and audio quality of the unit.

Which control possibilities?

Then, having controls on the speaker and a remote control (backlit if possible) is a minimum nowadays, check their presence. An LCD screen is also useful for quickly making or viewing bar settings, and almost indispensable if you also use your sound bar to listen to music. Entry level models often lack this, however.

Which connector?

Another crucial point to think about is connectivity. This must of course correspond to that of your TV and your equipment (Blu-Ray player, game console, TV box…). Remember to choose a product with enough ports for all your devices. Some only use analog RCA ports, others have optical inputs, but the best is still to have an HDMI ARC (if your TV is compatible). Note that newer TVs are beginning to incorporate HDMI 2.1 ports with eARC capability, which can be useful, but manufacturers are slow to incorporate this next-generation connectivity into their sound bars. Beyond the wired connection, a Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connection is a real plus.

What are the audio quality criteria?

Generally speaking, the larger the speaker, the richer and more powerful the sound, at least if the amplifiers and built-in speakers do their job properly. The power is expressed in Watts and the maximum sound level in dB on the data sheets, take a look at them, as well as at the frequency response if this data is available. It should range from about 20Hz to 20kHz to cover all audio frequencies perceptible to the human ear. Finally, observe the codecs used for Bluetooth transmission if you intend to use it. SBC and AAC is the base, but AptX, AptX HD or LDAC is better (the perceived difference is very fine however, don’t be offended if none of the three is present, it’s not dramatic).

Which features?

Finally, be aware that modern speakers often offer many advanced features and audio profiles, sometimes useful, other times superfluous and often counterproductive. Some functions are based on AI to optimize the sound according to the acoustics of the room, or according to the soundtrack for example, others are supposed to improve spatialization . All brands have their own home-made functions, but we advise you not to pay too much attention to them when you buy them, you can then try them out to judge their quality.

Why you can trust us

CNET France has been online for nearly 15 years and is a reference site for high-tech leisure activities. Our recommendations are based on a large number of independent tests and comparisons, technical observations and in-depth knowledge of the market. Our tests and expertise focus on product usage and value for money to help you make the right choice. 

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