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Best budget soundbar 2021: The best cheap soundbars to buy on Black Friday

19 Nov 2021
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Our pick of the best budget soundbars will help improve your home audio without breaking the bank

If you’re in search of a cheap way of improving your television’s audio, our advice is simple: buy the best budget soundbar you can afford.

Soundbars can elevate the quality of your telly's sound significantly and, best of all, you can pick one up for a fraction of the cost of your fancy 4K TV.

We’ve tested numerous soundbars across a wide range of price points, and this article lists what we consider to be the best of them available for under £300.

The best budget soundbars may lack some of the bells and whistles offered by pricier models, but all of the options on this list have one thing in common: solid sound quality at an affordable price.

If you don’t know your 2.0 from your 2.1, or simply want to learn more about the features you can expect to find in a budget soundbar, we’ve put together a handy buying guide detailing everything you need to know before making a purchase.

Save 10% on the Creative Stage V2

The Creative Stage V2 is our favourite budget soundbar and subwoofer combo, offering pretty much unbeatable value for money. It does a great job of boosting your TV's audio and offers up some extra punch courtesy of the subwoofer. Ordinarily retailing for £100, this Black Friday it's down to £90.
Creative
Was £100
Now £90

The Roku Streambar is £30 off for Black Friday

Roku's Streambar is a compact soundbar and 4K HDR streamer rolled into one. This enables you to upgrade your TV's audio and smart streaming capabilities at the same time. While it ordinarily retails for £130, in Amazon's Black Friday sale it's down to just £99. While this isn't quite the lowest we've seen it discounted, it's still a great deal.
Amazon
Was £130
Now £99

Save £40 on the Denon DHT-S216 this Black Friday

The Denon DHT-S216 is our favourite sub-£200 soundbar. It offers virtual surround sound via DTS Virtual:X features a built-in subwoofer. While it ordinarily retails for £199, this Black Friday it's been reduced to £149.
Currys
Was £199
Now £149

READ NEXT: The best soundbars money can buy


Best budget soundbar: At a glance


How to choose the best budget soundbar for you

There are a number of things to consider when shopping around for the best budget soundbar. Top of your priority list should be sound quality. If a soundbar doesn’t significantly improve your TV’s audio, there’s no point in spending your hard-earned cash on it.

Audio quality is affected by a number of factors, including the size and type of speaker drivers used, the audio formats supported and the number of audio channels a soundbar incorporates.

How many channels should a budget soundbar have?

The number of channels present in a soundbar is represented by two digits separated by a full stop. The first digit reflects the number of primary channels, while the second indicates the presence of a subwoofer to handle low-end frequencies. So, a 2.0 soundbar possesses two audio channels – left and right – while 2.1 bars add a third via a subwoofer.

Subwoofers are sometimes built into soundbars, but many come as separate units included in the price. Both types have advantages: soundbars with built-in subwoofers are more space-efficient, while standalone subs generally deliver fuller, more impactful bass.

Rarer at under £300 are soundbars with three or even five primary audio channels. A 3.0 or 3.1 soundbar features a central channel in addition to left and right ones and is generally better at delivering dialogue compared with its 2.0 and 2.1 counterparts. Meanwhile, 5.0 and 5.1 devices add a further two channels to create a surround-sound effect and really ramp up the immersion.

Those additional channels are most commonly incorporated via rear speakers connected to the soundbar wirelessly or with cables. You do sometimes find “all-in-one” 5.0 and 5.1 soundbars where everything is housed within a single bar, but you can expect to pay more than £300 for one of those.

READ NEXT: Save big with this month’s best soundbar deals

How important is power output for a budget soundbar?

Most manufacturers state the peak and average (Root Mean Squared or RMS) output of their soundbars in watts (W). Larger soundbars with more speaker drivers are capable of outputting bigger sound than their compact competitors, but don’t worry too much about finding a bar with massive audio output.

The least powerful bar on this list, the Roku Streambar, is able to fill a reasonably sized room with sound.

What’s the best way to connect a soundbar?

Even budget soundbars offer a range of connectivity options and, generally speaking, the more ports present, the better.

The easiest way to hook up a soundbar to your TV is by using an HDMI cable. Ideally, both your TV and soundbar will have HDMI ARC (audio return channel) ports and, assuming they do, you simply connect the two to enable your bar to play audio from your TV and any devices connected to it. Some soundbars feature additional HDMI inputs, which are useful for connecting external devices such as games consoles or a Sky TV box if all of the ports on your TV are already in use.

Aside from HDMI sockets, most budget soundbars also give you the choice of connecting via an optical digital cable (also referred to as TOSlink or S/PDIF). This is generally the simplest method of connecting a soundbar to a TV that doesn’t support ARC. Analogue 3.5mm inputs are less common than they once were, but you’ll still find plenty of soundbars incorporating them.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity are becoming increasingly popular inclusions in soundbars, and not just the pricey ones. Wi-Fi-enabled bars such as the Polk React allow for the use of voice assistants – in the React’s case, Amazon Alexa – and can be incorporated into multiroom wireless speaker systems. Bluetooth is great for playing music and podcasts directly from your phone, laptop or tablet if you’re in the mood for a casual listening session.

READ NEXT: Our favourite TVs to pair with your soundbar

Other things to consider before buying a budget soundbar

Think about what size soundbar suits your television setup best. You’ll want to make sure it fits in your AV cabinet and slots neatly in front of or under your TV without obstructing your view or getting in the way of any infrared sensor your telly may have.

If you plan on wall-mounting your soundbar, ensure that your chosen device supports mounting and comes with the necessary accessories to facilitate this. Many do, but it’s worth checking.

EQ options and different audio modes are also worth keeping an eye out for. A lot of soundbars will let you tweak the bass and treble, while others offer audio presets tuned for watching specific types of content such as music, films or sports. If you watch a lot of TV in the evening and don’t want to disturb the neighbours, a Night mode designed for low-volume viewing is particularly handy.

More advanced soundbars offer support for surround-sound audio formats such as Dolby Atmos or DTS:X. These multidimensional, object-based codecs are capable of adding height effects to a soundbar’s soundstage for a more immersive audio experience, but you’ll typically require additional speakers to make full use of them.

You may also come across DTS Virtual:X, which seeks to recreate a surround-sound experience without the need for those additional speakers, making it a great inclusion in budget soundbars.

READ NEXT: The best Bluetooth speakers


The best budget soundbars to buy in 2021

1. JBL Bar 2.0: Best standalone soundbar under £100

Price: £99 | Buy now from Amazon

Budget soundbars don’t get much more straightforward than the JBL Bar 2.0. Once connected to your TV via HDMI ARC or optical it requires no further tinkering; simply turn it on and you’re good to go.

While many soundbars offer multiple audio modes, the JBL Bar 2.0 scraps EQ options in favour of a single sound profile. It’s a risky ploy but one that pays off: sound quality is strong across the board. Dialogue is articulated clearly, and although the Bar 2.0 doesn’t possess the widest of soundstages, it manages to communicate mid-range and high frequencies with a pleasing amount of detail. The absence of a subwoofer isn’t felt too keenly either. Low-end reproduction is deep and controlled and we were never left wanting for impact while watching movies with thunderous soundtracks.

The JBL Bar 2.0 also has a low-profile form factor going for it. It’s compact enough to fit under pretty much any TV, and its metallic black finish looks very sleek. If you want a great-sounding budget soundbar that’s a doddle to set up and use, you’ll be hard pushed to find one better than the JBL Bar 2.0.

Key specs – Channels: 2.0; Total power output: 80W; Dimensions: 614 x 90 x 59mm (WDH); Weight: 1.61kg; Connectivity: Bluetooth, 1 x HDMI (ARC), 1 x optical


2. Creative Stage V2: Best budget soundbar with a subwoofer

Price: £100 | Buy now from Amazon

The Creative Stage V2 delivers everything you could want from a budget soundbar. The bar is sleek and compact, making it a great fit for most medium-sized TVs, while the discrete subwoofer adds welcome weight and richness to bass reproduction.

Audio quality is impressive and the two new sound modes – Surround and Dialog – are welcome additions to the package. Surround mode can’t match a true 5.1 setup – you wouldn’t expect it to at this kind of price – but widens the soundstage for an engaging, immersive experience. Dialog mode successfully enhances voices, which is particularly useful if you struggle to follow speech-heavy shows or films.

The Stage V2 is also one of the best-connected cheap soundbars around, offering optical, HDMI ARC, AUX and USB-C connections along with wireless streaming over Bluetooth 5.0. If you’re after a cheap soundbar with a discrete subwoofer, this is the bar to buy.

If you can live without USB-C connectivity and aren’t bothered about the additional sound modes, the original Stage 2.1 is an even cheaper option at just £80.

Read our full Creative Stage V2 review for details

Key specs – Channels: 2.1; Total power output: 160W; Dimensions: Soundbar – 680 x 100 x 78mm, Subwoofer – 116 x 250 x 423mm; Weight: Soundbar – 2kg, Subwoofer – 3.3kg; Connectivity: Bluetooth, 1 x HDMI (ARC), 1 x optical, 1 x 3.5mm, 1 x USB-C


3. Denon DHT-S216: Best budget soundbar for virtual surround sound

Price: £199 | Buy now from Denon

The Denon DHT-S216’s big selling point is its incorporation of DTS Virtual:X, an audio format that creates a sonic experience resembling surround sound without the need for additional speakers. It’s available while using two of the soundbar’s four sound modes – Movies and Music – and works extremely well, adding height and scale to audio to increase your immersion in the onscreen action.

The other two sound modes are less impressive, but useful nonetheless. The processing-free Pure setting delivers audio as intended by its creator, while Night mode decreases the dynamic range to improve low-volume listening. There are also three dialogue enhancement options available, all of which successfully accentuate speech.

Read our full Denon DHT-S216 review for more details

Key specs – Channels: 2.1; Total power output: 120W; Dimensions: 890 x 120 x 66mm (WDH); Weight: 3.4kg; Connectivity: Bluetooth, 1 x HDMI, HDMI (ARC), optical, 3.5mm, subwoofer out

Buy now from Denon


4. Sharp HTB-SB110: Very cheap and rather cheerful

Price: £55 | Buy now from Amazon

If you’re on an extremely tight budget, this is the soundbar for you. It won’t win any awards for sound quality, but at this kind of price you wouldn’t expect it to. However, it does offer a decent range of connection options – Bluetooth, HDMI and optical are all supported (though no connection cables are included) – along with three sound modes designed for different content types.

Of the three EQ modes, Movie mode proved our go-to for pretty much everything as it delivered the best-balanced audio and widest soundstage and articulated mid-range frequencies most cleanly. By contrast, the News mode sounded overly congested and did little to enhance dialogue, while the bass reproduction of the Music mode was a little woolly.

With a maximum output of 90W, the HTB-SB110 packs a decent punch for a soundbar of its price and size, and we never found it wanting for room-filling prowess as we cranked the volume up. That power combined with a slim, lightweight design and ultra-affordable price tag helps position it as one of the top cheap bars on the market today.

Key specs – Channels: 2.0; Total power output: 90W; Dimensions: 800 x 62 x 62mm (WDH); Weight: 1.35kg; Connectivity: Bluetooth, 1 x HDMI (ARC), 1 x optical


5. Polk React: Best budget soundbar with Amazon Alexa

Price: £249 | Buy now from Amazon

Smart soundbars are becoming increasingly popular, and the Polk React is the best budget option we’ve tested. It features full Amazon Alexa integration, providing access to a host of useful functions. Basic voice controls such as adjusting volume and switching sound modes are the React’s bread and butter, but there’s also support for more advanced features such as Alexa Communications and Multi-Room Music. Alexa is responsive, if a little loud at times, and only failed to pick up our commands when playing audio at full volume.

Sound quality is another strong point, with the React offering three modes in addition to a Night setting intended for evening viewing sessions. Movie mode is the bassiest and most immersive, Music mode shines when delivering mids and vocals, while Sports mode pushes bass right back in the audio mix to enable you to hear commentary perfectly.

Read our full Polk React review for more details

Key specs – Channels: 2.0; Total power output: 100W; Dimensions: 940 x 120 x 50mm (WDH); Weight: 2.9kg; Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 1 x HDMI (ARC), 1 x optical


6. Roku Streambar: A budget soundbar with 4K streaming capabilities

Price: £130 | Buy now from Amazon

The Roku Streambar is unlike any of the other options on this list in that it’s both a 4K HDR media streamer and soundbar in one package.

The bar grants you access to Roku OS, which is packed full of content and among the most intuitive streaming platforms around. There are thousands of apps and services available, including all the big hitters such as Netflix, Disney+ and Prime Video, along with every free UK catch-up app you could wish for.

Although it’s a 2.0 bar, Roku says it performs like one with a central channel thanks to “multi-channel decoding capabilities”. We were certainly impressed by how it sounds. For its size, the Streambar gets very loud and is able to deliver a wide soundstage that’s full-bodied and rich in detail. And if the default sound profile isn’t to your liking, the Roku OS offers a few different presets to play around with.

It may seem like a rather niche product, but for those that don’t already own a soundbar or media streamer, the Roku Streambar comes with a glowing recommendation.

Read our full Roku Streambar review for more details

Key specs – Channels: 2.0; Total power output: 64W; Dimensions: 356 x 107 x 61mm (WDH); Weight: 1.09kg; Connectivity: 1 x HDMI (ARC), 1 x optical, USB-A


7. Panasonic SoundSlayer: Best budget soundbar for gaming

Price: £250 | Buy now from Amazon

This soundbar from Panasonic was created in conjunction with the sound team behind Final Fantasy XIV Online and is aimed squarely at gamers. Its compact form means it can be easily slotted under a TV or PC monitor, and there’s support for 4K passthrough and both the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X surround-sound audio formats.

Sound quality is excellent, with three audio modes to choose from. RPG mode is optimised for surround-sound gaming, FPS mode focuses on delivering accurate positional sound to give you the edge when playing competitively, while Voice mode enhances speech, making it perfect for dialogue-heavy titles.

The built-in subwoofer isn’t able to produce the same level of low-end weight a discrete sub would, but not having to find space for another hefty piece of kit in your gaming setup is certainly appreciated.

Key specs – Channels: 2.1; Total power output: 80W; Dimensions: 431 x 132 x 52mm (WDH); Weight: 1.8kg; Connectivity: Bluetooth, 1 x HDMI input, 1 x HDMI output, optical


8. Sharp HT-SBW460: Best budget soundbar with Dolby Atmos

Price: £299 | Buy now from Amazon

The Sharp HT-SBW460 is one of a limited number of budget soundbars to support Dolby’s surround-sound technology, Atmos, and it delivers surprisingly effective virtual height effects given its price. The bar uses four front-firing drivers to successfully convince your brain that certain sounds are coming from above you, and also does a great job of positioning effects to the left and right of the soundstage.

However, the soundbar does have one big weakness. The subwoofer that comes as part of the package is so boomy that its bass response overshadows what is otherwise a musical and detailed audio profile. Our reviewer resorted to plugging the bass reflex port with cleaning cloths to tone things down and once he’d done so, said the HT-SBW460 was one of the best-sounding bars he’d ever heard for the money.

So, if you don’t mind a bit of audio DIY, the Sharp HT-SBW460 is an attractive choice, but if you’d rather not tinker, you’re better off with one of the other options on this list.

Read our Sharp HT-SBW460 review for more details

Key specs – Channels: 3.1; Total power output: 440W; Dimensions: Soundbar – 950 x 110 x 70mm (WDH), sub – 240 x 240 x 415mm (WDH); Weight: Soundbar – 2.5kg, subwoofer – 5.4kg; Connectivity: Bluetooth, 2 x HDMI inputs, 1 x HDMI output (ARC), 1 x optical and coax S/PDIF, AUX-in, USB