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More compact and less expensive, the soundbar is an interesting alternative to traditional 5.1 systems and a good way to improve the sound of your flat TV.
5.1 home theater systems are good, but they are expensive and generally cumbersome. Not everyone has enough space in their living room or wants to position 5 speakers, an amp and a subwoofer in the four corners of the room. However, it is sometimes necessary to replace your TV’s speakers with a more efficient system.
This is where a soundbar can be useful; even if they cannot replace a true home theater system, these devices are still capable of reproducing a rather convincing virtual surround sound.
What to look for in a soundbar?
First, you have to take into account the way in which the soundbar will connect to your television. The most common method is to use an optical cable, also known as Toslink.
Most modern TVs, however, use HDMI, which is far handier and lets you use some advanced features on premium models like controlling your TV with your voice.
Most soundbars also have other inputs, including a 3.5mm headphone jack. These analog inputs allow you to play audio from almost any device, including smartphones and tablets.
However, it is way more convenient to stream music wirelessly from your mobile device, thus we recommend that you buy a soundbar that offers a Bluetooth or WiFi connection.
Should I also buy a subwoofer?
A soundbar cannot offer full-range sound, so many come with a subwoofer.
The subwoofer produces deep bass that elevates the experience when watching movies full of special effects.
Most of them are also “active” subwoofers (they have their own amplifier), so they just need an external power supply. And since they can receive audio wirelessly they can be placed anywhere in the room.
What are the most important specifications?
Hardware specs almost never reveal if a soundbar is good or bad. There are so many factors that go into sound that it is impossible to know if a soundbar is good or bad depending on the spec sheet.
The best thing you can do is read the reviews.
Sonos Beam: smart and compact soundbar
After the success of the Playbar (Check on Amazon.com), Sonos launched a more affordable and compact soundbar: the Sonos Beam (Check on Amazon.com). It is much more compact (25.6 in) and also lighter (6.17 lbs), it is available in black and white and it looks as elegant as the other speakers of the brand.
The Sonos Beam integrates four full-range transducers, a tweeter, and three passive radiators, plus five class D amplifiers. The transducers and radiators point towards the front and sides of the soundbar, which helps produce a more enveloping sound.
The Sonos Beam sounds incredibly good, especially considering its size. The spatiality and richness offered by this compact soundbar are surprising. The dialogues are also clear and very direct.
This isn’t your typical soundbar; it also doubles as a wireless, multiroom speaker that can play music from any type of source: Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, AirPlay 2, your mobile devices or PC. You can also synchronize it with any other Sonos speaker to play the same music in different places in the house.
It also has an integrated personal assistant and five microphones that allow you to use voice control from anywhere in the room and even when the soundbar plays music or movies.
The Sonos Beam is the ideal option for anyone who wants a truly intelligent soundbar.
Sennheiser AMBEO: the best soundbar but at a price
The Sennheiser AMBEO Soundbar is larger and heavier than the Samsung HW-Q90R but can be set up and connected in no time. All connections are well hidden in a recess at the back of the soundbar, so they can become almost invisible.
The soundbar accepts all possible signals and it can also connect to your mobile device via Bluetooth and NFC. With the Smart Control app, you can control everything conveniently via your smartphone and the app is available for both Android and iOS.
The sound of the Sennheiser AMBEO Soundbar is simply overwhelming: all channels, even the rear, and above ones, which work by bouncing the sound to the walls and ceiling arrive at your ears in a very clearly defined manner. The AMBEO does a great job here, but it cannot match the separate subwoofer and satellite rear speakers of the HW-Q90R.
Still, the Sennheiser AMBEO Soundbar is the ideal soundbar for someone who wants quality surround sound but in a single device. The price is very high but considering the built and sound quality and all the bells and whistles it comes with, we cannot say that it doesn’t worth it.
Yamaha YAS-207: best bang for your buck
The Yamaha YAS-207 (Check on Amazon.com) uses the new DTS Virtual:X codec to recreate 7.1.4 channel virtual surround sound. This technology is designed so that anyone can enjoy the enveloping effects of a blockbuster movie with just a soundbar. It is a model that offers a great combination of performance and practicality.
Yamaha has a lot of experience designing soundbars and the YAS-207 benefits from this. The soundbar has a sober design with an elegant black finish. It also comes with a slim external wireless subwoofer and a simple and easy to use remote control.
The Yamaha YAS-207 produces a quite decent surround sound. It cannot perform miracles and therefore cannot match a complete Home Cinema system, but its virtual surround sound technology is very effective and definitely exceeds the sound spatiality of any model in this price range.
You don’t really need to activate the Surround mode for every day watching since the Stereo mode also offers great balance and directionality. In addition, you can experiment with seven different Sound modes via the Yamaha HT Controller application.
This soundbar also offers good dynamism and clarity when listening to music.
The high frequencies do not offer the sublime details of more expensive soundbars, but this is all the negative things we can say about this device.
If you want the best bang for your buck, get the Yamaha YAS-207!
Read more: Yamaha YAS-207 review: a safe bet
Samsung HW-Q90R: the best sound system
Samsung is not very recognized in the audio department, and yet its high-end 2019 HW-Q90R (Check on Amazon.com) soundbar, designed by its subsidiary Harman Kardon is simply brilliant. It offers high quality, rich and powerful sound, impressive 3D spatialization and many extra features. Beating everything that the competition has to offer including Sennheiser’s AMBEO Soundbar it has become the new benchmark on the market, even if its price is sky-high.
The Samsung HW-Q90R is the successor of the equally capable HW-K950 (Check on Amazon.com) and HW-N950 (Check on Amazon.com) and we aren’t sure it is a soundbar… It is accompanied by a wireless subwoofer and two surround speakers.
Compatible with both audio formats that will mark the future of cinema sound, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, the sound quality of this device is simply amazing, offering a spectacular and unsurpassed surround effect by any other soundbar. And it handles music equally well with a sound reproduction that can be described as high fidelity.
The soundbar offers several HDMI ports, it is compatible with 4K, HDR10 and Dolby Vision, it has HDMI eARC support and WiFi and Bluetooth wireless connectivity.
Considering that it costs less than last year’s HW-N950 model it is a must buy in 2020 if you want the most complete soundbar system and the one with the best possible sound.
Vizio SB362AN-F6: the most affordable soundbar
The main feature of the SB362AN-F6 is its budget price, just (Check on Amazon.com).
But this doesn’t mean it is cheap, it sports a beautiful design, with a length of 36”, a height of just 2”. It can be placed in front of most modern TVs and Vizio also includes a pair of brackets for wall mounting in the package.
The SB362AN-F6 isn’t perfect, but its incredibly powerful sound greatly enhances the sound coming off your TV. The Virtual:X surround technology works quite well, helping create an immersive atmosphere when watching a film. Surely it does not have all the features of the more expensive devices, but the SB362AN-F6 has excellent value for money.
Yamaha YAS-209: the best mid-range soundbar
The Yamaha YAS-209 (Check on Amazon.com) tries to upgrade the excellent YAS-207. It is also a budget-conscious option, so of course, it cuts some corners. There is only a single HDMI input available, an optical digital in and an Ethernet, but it also has both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
It can work therefore with various streaming services both via the home network or Bluetooth, and the soundbar can be integrated into a MusicCast multiroom system. It also has Alexa built-in. However, everything can be controlled more conveniently using the “Sound Bar Controller” app.
The sound is excellent, and the different modes cover all possible scenarios.
The separate subwoofer helps a lot with that and unless you have a really big room the resulting sound quality is great and the volume more than enough.
Sonos Playbar: a soundbar for music lovers
Although the Playbar (Check on Amazon) has existed for a long time, it is still one of our favorite models on the market. It was the company’s first attempt to achieve that much-desired Home Cinema effect.
With a slim 35.4×5.5×3.3 inches body, it is designed to be placed under the TV, whether mounted on the wall or on the table.
With one amplifier for each of its nine drivers (six mid-range and three tweeters), you can expect exceptional sound quality, regardless of whether you’re “watching” or “listening”. The bass response is powerful, clear and blunt, even without the help of an external subwoofer. We also love its convenient night mode, which automatically enhances quiet sounds while reducing the volume and impact of intense sounds.
While this 3.0 soundbar works great on its own, for a true cinematic experience you’ll need to incorporate a Sonos Sub (Check on Amazon) and two Play:1s (Check on Amazon) (as rear speakers) to create a full-fledged 5.1 surround sound system.
It does not have an HDMI connection but only an optical audio input so make sure that your TV has an optical output before purchasing. It also sports WIFI connectivity and in order to control it, you have to use a smartphone or tablet with the corresponding app (there is no remote).
Although it is very expensive, its quality is worth it. To its fantastic sound quality, we must add the aesthetics of its thoughtful design. Sonos is a trusted brand of sound devices, and they have certainly demonstrated this with this soundbar.
Which one to buy?
Are you still having doubts? It is only logical since there are so many models to choose from, but that’s why we are here for.
Right now, the Samsung HW-Q90R is the best soundbar in terms of sound quality. It supports both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X and its sound is impressive, with spectacular surround effects and a high fidelity sound, also with music.
The Sennheiser AMBEO also offers an extraordinary sound, with support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, but its price is ridiculously high, so it settles for second place unless you want a standalone device that does everything.
A step below is the Yamaha YAS-209 and the Sonos Beam. Both sound good (the Yamaha sound better), with a sound close to high fidelity, but the included woofer of the Samsung makes it much more recommended unless you are already or plan to invest into the Sonos ecosystem of products.
For sound quality at an unparalleled price, you should definitely take into account the Yamaha YAS-207, an excellent soundbar that goes unnoticed and elevates your sound experience with little to no hassle.
Last, if you just want a cheap upgrade of your TV’s integrated speakers, get the Vizio SB362An-F6. It will do wonders and it will cost you next to nothing.
Also read: Soundbars Buying Guide