TVs almost never come with decent speakers built into them. These days, thankfully, you don’t have to spend thousands on a high-end sound system to make up for the poor built-in speakers though. Instead, you can get a soundbar. But it can, of course, be hard to find the best soundbars given there are so many options.
There are a number of things to consider before buying a new soundbar. For starters, you’ll want to decide whether you want a standalone soundbar, a soundbar with a subwoofer, or one that’s part of a larger surround sound system. You’ll also want to determine what audio standards you want your soundbar to support. For example, some soundbars support Dolby Atmos, which can help make for a more immersive experience on supported content.
Of course, it’s also important to consider inputs and connectivity standards. Most modern soundbars support input from your TV’s ARC or eARC output, and some also support standards like Google Cast and Apple AirPlay for wireless streaming from your phone.
Last but not least, you’ll want to think about your budget. Soundbars are available across price ranges starting at around $100 or so. As is the case with anything, you get what you pay for — but there are still some great cheaper options. We’ll go over some of those below.
Best soundbar overall: Sonos Arc
Pros: Nice design, excellent audio quality, Dolby Atmos and AirPlay 2 support
Cons: Expensive, no subwoofer by default
If you’re looking for a high-end option that looks good and sounds great, then the Sonos Arc is probably the way to go. This soundbar integrates into a modern smart home, plus it will seriously improve the sound quality in your living room.
The Sonos Arc supports Dolby Atmos, meaning that you’ll get a nice, immersive audio experience throughout. Even if it didn’t support Atmos, however, the Arc would still sound great. It boasts deep, immersive bass response, along with well-tuned mids, and plenty of detail in the high end. The bass response could be deeper though — with a subwoofer. Unfortunately, for a really deep bass response, you’ll need to spend an extra $700. And, for another few hundred dollars, you can get a surround sound setup with two Sonos One SL speakers.
The soundbar offers plenty of smart features too. You can have either Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa on the speaker itself, plus it has AirPlay 2 compatibility for Apple users.
Of course, all of that isn’t cheap. The soundbar alone comes at $799, while the surround sound package ups that price to a hefty $1,856. For some, it might be worth it, considering the high-quality sound and features on offer here.
Best soundbar with subwoofer: Yamaha YAS-209
Pros: Subwoofer included, solid design, Alexa built-in, inexpensive
Cons: No Dolby Atmos
If you want a soundbar that comes with a subwoofer at no extra cost, then it’s worth considering the Yamaha YAS-209 soundbar. This product offers a deeper, rumbling sound that will add a whole new dimension to your movie-watching experience.
The soundbar does not have Dolby Atmos support, but it does support DTS Virtual:X for a surround sound effect. On this soundbar, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of real surround sound, but it’s still pretty good. Of course, thanks to the subwoofer, you’ll also get much deeper bass. You’ll also get a decent amount of detail in the high end, and in fact, this is one of the better-sounding options out there.
There are some smart features on offer here too. Notably, the soundbar has Amazon Alexa built into it, and there’s a Yamaha Sound Bar Controller app for both iOS and Android.
The Yamaha YAS-209 isn’t perfect. The soundbar doesn’t indicate on your screen its volume, and it’s hard to see the LED lights on the device when you’re sitting on the couch. Still, that’s a minor issue, and hardly a dealbreaker for most buyers.
Best 5.1 soundbar: Vizio Elevate
Pros: Excellent audio quality, Dolby Atmos, surround sound
Cons: Expensive, no AirPlay
Vizio has long made some of the best budget options out there, but the Vizio Elevate is targeted at a different audience. The soundbar isn’t cheap, but it is very high-quality — and it supports surround sound for a more immersive experience than ever.
The Vizio Elevate actually has motorized speakers built into it which change position depending on whether you’re listening to music or watching movies. It works quite well, and makes both movie-watching and music-playing better. And, the soundbar supports Dolby Atmos, making for a more immersive experience when you watch compatible content.
In the box, apart from the main device, you’ll also get a subwoofer and two rear speakers to complete that surround sound setup.
Thankfully, the Vizio Elevate has some great smart features too, though more would have been helpful. The soundbar is compatible with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and Siri, plus it has Google Cast built into it. That said, AirPlay support would have been helpful for the Apple users that want to integrate the soundbar into their setups.
The other big issue with the Vizio Elevate is that it’s far from cheap. The soundbar comes in at $1,099, though it seems to be available at a discount from Amazon.
Best budget soundbar: Sonos Beam Gen 2
Pros: Excellent sound, relatively inexpensive, solid design, smart features, Dolby Atmos support
Cons: Still not cheap, no subwoofer, Atmos is virtual
You don’t have to spend a ton of cash to get a Sonos soundbar, if you don’t want to. The second-generation Sonos Beam offers many of the same smart features as the Arc, in a smaller and cheaper body.
The Beam is a great way to get that much-loved Sonos sound on a budget. The soundbar offers plenty of detail in the high end and a well-tuned mid-range. The bass response on the soundbar is fine, however, it doesn’t come with a subwoofer, which would make for a deeper bass response. You can buy a subwoofer separately, however, it costs an extra $699. The second-generation Beam does, however, support Dolby Atmos, which makes it a great way to get a more immersive sound on a budget.
As you would expect from a Sonos product, the Beam offers plenty of great smart features. You’ll get Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa built right into it, along with AirPlay 2 for Apple users. Plus, you can use it with the Sonos app, which is well-designed and easy to use.
So what about downsides? Well, while the Sonos Beam is cheaper than some of the competition out there, it’s still not cheap. If you’re really on a budget, we recommend checking out the next option. The subwoofer does support Dolby Atmos, however, it’s virtualized rather than through physical speaker placements, so it’s not quite as immersive as on the Sonos Arc. Still, for the price, the Sonos Beam is an excellent option.Sonos Beam Soundbar $449
Best cheap soundbar: Vizio V-Series 2.1 Soundbar
Pros: Inexpensive, comes with subwoofer, Bluetooth connectivity, solid sound
Cons: Few smart features, a little basic
If you’re looking for a great soundbar, then the Vizio V-Series 2.1 soundbar is the way to go. It’s not quite as impressive as the Elevate, with its rotating speakers, but it does offer a far better listening experience than your TV’s built-in speakers, and comes with a subwoofer for deep, rumbling audio.
The sound quality is easily the best thing about the Vizio V-Series soundbar. It offers decent clarity in the high-end, and good bass response. You won’t get support for things like Dolby Atmos, but for most day-to-day use the soundbar easily does the job.
As you might expect from a soundbar in this price range, you won’t get many smart features here — though you will get some. The soundbar supports Bluetooth connectivity, so you can connect your phone for wireless listening. But you won’t get things like Google Cast or AirPlay, let alone built-in voice assistants. Lastly, there is some distortion at higher volumes, though that’s to be expected.
Despite the issues, if you’re looking for a great soundbar at under $200 or so, the Vizio V-Series 2.1 soundbar is the way to go.