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We all love modern flat-screen TVs, but their sound is also a bit flat. As TVs become thinner and thinner, they also have less space for built-in speakers that generally need a lot of mass to churn out a good sound (with the exception of electrostatic panel speakers). Therefore we need another method to do justice to the images on the screen. The solution? Add a soundbar to amplify their sound and thus create the home theater of our dreams. The best soundbars can pack awesome audio into a chassis small enough to place in front or under the TV.
Why should I buy a soundbar?
Do I need a soundbar? Even if you love the subtle aesthetics of your new TV, we are ready to bet that its audio is not on par with the picture. The dialogues are difficult to hear, while the big sound effects (in blockbuster movies like Mad Max: Fury Road) sound tiny and unimpressive. This means that a soundbar is the best choice to get the most out of your favorite TV shows and movies. Almost all soundbars provide a smart and relatively inexpensive way to dramatically improve the sound quality of your TV, while the really good ones are just impressive and the premium ones will give you goosebumps.
Modern soundbars are built to be as pleasing to the eye as they are to the ear. Most of them are stylish and minimal. They are long speakers, usually relatively thin (but thicker than a modern TV) that integrate stereo or surround sound into an easy-to-use device that connects to the TV’s HDMI or TOSLINK. These are additional audio systems that don’t occupy much space but add the necessary weight, scale, and purity to the sound experience. They are therefore the perfect solution for smaller homes or rooms that don’t need large home theater speakers, surround sound systems, or AV receivers.
Whether you want a soundbar that supports Dolby Atmos or one to connect to your MP3 player, there’s a model out there for you. However, not all soundbars are the same, and some provide a better listening experience than others.
All of the soundbars on this list are designed to be placed before the TV, but they can also be wall-mounted.
Although most of them are equipped with only front-firing speakers, many are able to project that sound, producing booming audio that seems to come from every direction.
In general, all soundbars offer clear sound, different sound modes (movies, sports, music) and many can communicate with your existing smart theater system, so you can “talk” to them via Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. We’re also starting to see the integration of voice assistants directly into the soundbars, which means many of them can double as smart speakers.
How to choose the best soundbar for you
There is a number of key factors you need to consider before deciding which soundbar to buy. First, you need to measure the length of your TV in order to know how wide your new soundbar must be; you want a soundbar that complements your TV and not one that is way bigger or way smaller. And do not forget to check the height: if you have to place the soundbar in front of the TV, you do not want it blocking the lower part of the picture. And since a soundbar is one of the central pieces of your home theater setup, it also needs to look good and match stylistically.
Do I need a subwoofer?
After that, you have to consider the size of the room and the distance between the soundbar and the listeners. If you’re dealing with a large space it’s best to choose a soundbar that comes with a subwoofer — it will make a big difference.
Soundbars, in fact, are designed to emit mid to high-frequency sounds, still, they typically fail to reach the depths that low-frequency sounds require. Because of the way sound waves resonate, you require ample space to obtain a robust bass sound, and the long, thin-shaped soundbars are not suitable for it. That’s why most soundbars come with a separate subwoofer.
A subwoofer is nothing more than a low-frequency speaker. It typically boasts a big driver (around 6”) and is bulky enough so that it can displace big volumes of air in order to produce its characteristic low-end rumble that can make the walls tremble.
Thankfully, you don’t have to dwell on where to place the subwoofer. You can shove it behind a sofa or place it in a corner. And you don’t have to worry about cables either; most of them are wireless anyway.
Functionality and connectivity
When this is done, you need to turn your attention to functionality and connectivity. Many soundbars boast high-resolution audio, surround sound, Bluetooth connectivity, multi-room playback, 4K HDMI ports for gaming consoles or 4K Blu-ray players, HDMI ARC ports, and support for Dolby Atmos. Thus, you have to think both about the content you intend to reproduce and the sources you need to connect to.
Connectivity, in fact, (both wired and wireless) is crucial. Not all soundbars have an HDMI port; some only have an optical audio input. This is fine if you intend to connect the soundbar only to the TV. But if you need to connect multiple devices to it – gaming consoles, Blu-ray players, streaming boxes, etc. – then you need a unit with multiple HDMI (ARC) ports.
What about surround sound?
Many soundbars can replicate surround sound. Using advanced audio processing methods and driver positioning they can simulate the feeling of being surrounded by sound, but they can’t duplicate the precise directional sound of a true surround system with dedicated side and rear speakers.
However, there are also some disadvantages, that make true surround sound systems less endearing. A traditional surround system means more mess since each speaker needs its own cable. You can conceal the cables underneath a carpet or run them along the walls, but it is a far more laborious and expensive solution than a single soundbar.
Lastly, the best modern soundbars support Dolby Atmos, which is a surround sound technology designed to simulate the 3D audio you get in a cinema. The big difference between Atmos and traditional surround sound is that you can hear the sound moving up and down and not just side to side, thus delivering deeper engagement and immersion.
So which one to choose?
With the multitude of choices available today, finding the best soundbar for your setup can be difficult. The list below contains the best soundbars you can buy right now for every budget, purpose, and room size. All of them are easy to install and will elevate your TV’s audio without the need for additional speakers and without their messy cables.
These are our picks for the best soundbar
Sonos Arc: best Dolby Atmos soundbar
Sonos is famous for its soundbars and Arc is their first soundbar fully compatible with Dolby Atmos. Although we don’t know if this device takes its name from the HDMI interface it uses (eARC), the Sonos Arc replaces both the Playbar (Check on Amazon) and Playbase (Check on Amazon) for all intents and purposes — it takes their best parts and combines them in a package compatible with Dolby Atmos.
This premium soundbar (Check on Amazon) stands out for its gorgeous curved design and is the perfect centerpiece for your living room. It is the ideal pairing for a 55-inch TV (and upwards) and can be placed on the TV cabinet or wall-mounted using the optional stand (Check on Amazon).
It features touch-sensitive buttons for play/pause and volume control and status LEDs that activate when you’re using voice commands via Alexa and Google Assistant that are built into the soundbar. Connectivity includes AirPlay 2, Ethernet, and of course eARC for Dolby Atmos.
The Sonos Arc uses 11 speakers many of which point upwards or to the sides in order to bounce sound off the walls and ceiling. All this creates one of the most compelling Atmos 3D performance you can get from a soundbar. Surround effects are expertly placed and there is also great dynamism and good sound weight.
While all this might seem complicated, its setup couldn’t be simpler — it requires only a couple of steps using the smartphone app. Thanks to the company’s TruePlay technology, Arc is able to automatically tune into any room, and give you the sharpest and most accurate audio possible.
The Sonos Arc also makes use of Dolby’s latest TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus audio codecs to deliver the best audio quality available on Blu-ray discs and some of the major streaming services. And it’s also well balanced tonally if you simply want to listen to music.
If you have a large lounge and a fat wallet, the Sonos Arc is the best premium soundbar with Dolby Atmos.
Sennheiser AMBEO: excellent sound but at a steep price
The Sennheiser AMBEO (Check on Amazon) is larger and heavier than the Samsung HW-Q90R (Check on Amazon) 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.
Sonos Beam: the best soundbar for most people
After the success of the Playbar (Check on Amazon), Sonos launched a more affordable and compact soundbar: the Sonos Beam (Check on Amazon). 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.
JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass: best $300 soundbar
JBL managed to improve the sound quality of the classic soundbar. A number of mid-range soundbars sound OK, but the JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass (Check on Amazon) sounds great.
If all you want is to improve the way your TV sounds, especially dialogues, then the JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass is the ideal solution. Connect it and turn it on and you’ll immediately experience a dramatic improvement in audio quality thanks to the deeper, richer sounds and much cleaner, sharper dialogues – it boasts the crisper voice reproduction of all other “budget” soundbars.
The JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass includes 4×2.25” mid-range drivers and 2×1.25” tweeters in a compact (38” wide), slim (2.3” tall) and elegant device. It also offers good connectivity for the price: it is equipped with built-in Bluetooth, for easy music playback from a mobile device, and can be connected to the TV via the digital optical cable (included in the package) or an HDMI cable. In addition, it is equipped with both a standard HDMI port (which does not support 4K or HDR pass-through) and an HDMI ARC port, so you can also connect a gaming console or Blu-ray player, while the wireless subwoofer connects automatically the moment you turn on the device. Sadly, it has no analog audio input, which can be a dealbreaker for people who want to use it with older TVs.
Although this is just a 2.1-channel soundbar, that doesn’t offer much in terms of extra functionalities – compared to similarly priced soundbars -, the thing that sets it apart from the others is also the most important: audio quality; this is still a JBL device, which ensures a big and enveloping soundstage whether you watch action movies, sports, or listen to music.
And as the name suggests, this soundbar is also equipped with a relatively big (measuring 9.4×9.4×14.9″, 6½” driver) subwoofer that produces really deep bass – compared to most other models in this price range -, thus adding a feel of true dynamism, which can’t be found in cheaper soundbars. If you want a home cinema setup, this is one of the most convenient ways to create one.
Its remote controller is very simple, almost spartan, and therefore provides far fewer adjustments than most of its competitors, but we don’t think it needs them.
Overall, despite its “too good to be true” price (Check on Amazon), we think that the JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass sounds on par — and sometimes even better — with soundbars that cost twice as much.
Yamaha YAS-209: best mid-range soundbar
The Yamaha YAS-209 (Check on Amazon) 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.
Vizio SB36512-F6: best cheap sound system
The Vizio SB36512-F6 (Check on Amazon) shows us that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get a quality 5.1.2 sound system, that can handle the latest Dolby Atmos soundtracks.
If you’re a competitive gamer, you understand the importance of hearing an opponent creeping behind you. This budget Vizio soundbar helps you notice every step in the real physical space. And Dolby Atmos extends the soundstage upwards making the audio coming out of your TV truly 3D. That means you’ll be able to hear what happens above you as well, which is perfect for avoiding that armed helicopter.
It can’t get as loud and doesn’t feel as premium as the Samsung HW-Q90R (Check on Amazon), but it provides great performance for the price, even if its stereo soundstage isn’t the biggest we’ve tried. It also has fewer inputs, so it’s not the best option if you have lots of devices. On the plus side, it has Google Chromecast built-in, so you can stream music from any Chromecast-enabled app, such as Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and Google Play.
If you want a great sound system, without spending much, get the Vizio SB36512-F6.
Yamaha YAS-207: best bang for your buck
The Yamaha YAS-207 (Check on Amazon) 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: best sound system
Samsung is not very recognized in the audio department, and yet its high-end 2019 HW-Q90R (Check on Amazon) 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) and HW-N950 (Check on Amazon) 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
The main feature of the SB362AN-F6 is its budget price, just (Check on Amazon).
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.
Sonos Playbar: 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.