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The Best Soundbar Systems for Your TV... and Home Theater Too?

Best Soundbar Systems for Your TV - and Home Theater?: close up of a soundbar speaker
Updated: November 16, 2019

Let's face it, the sound that you get from your TV speakers is pretty bad. You can't watch a movie using your TV speakers. Well, you can, but… why?

You know it can be much better than that.

But, where do you start? How do you improve the sound in your room for movies, sports and music television?

Obviously, as someone who has a site about home theater, I would suggest you fill your room with huge amplifiers and loads of expensive surround sound speakers.

I've got loads of articles on all those fun things.

But, guess what? I believe some people don't want all that fuss. They want an easier way to improve the sound of their TV.

It's OK. I won't hold it against you.

That's fine. There are plenty of ways to skin a cat (so I've been told).

First, I will discuss what a soundbar is and how to choose the best soundbar for your TV. 

Then I will list a few of my favorites – all wrapped up in neat little categories. How's that for service?

Top 10 Best Soundbars Comparison Table

Image Model Channels Audio & Video Inputs Audio & Video Outputs
VIZIO SB3220n-F6 2.0-Ch Soundbar VIZIO SB3220n-F6 2.0 Optical, Coaxial, 3.5mm Mini-Jack, Stereo Analog RCA, USB RCA (Sub) Check Price
Sonos Beam Sonos Beam 2.0 1 x HDMI ARC None Check Price
Polk Signa S2 2.1-Ch Ultra-Slim Soundbar Polk Signa S2 2.1 1 x HDMI ARC, 1 x Optical, 1 x 3.5mm Mini-Jack None Check Price
Samsung HW-R550 2.1-Ch Soundbar Samsung HW-R550 2.1 1 x HDMI, 1 x Optical, 1 x 3.5mm Mini-Jack, 1 x USB 1 x HDMI ARC Check Price
Yamaha YAS-209 2.1-Channel Soundbar Yamaha YAS-209 2.1 1 x HDMI, 1 x Optical 1 x HDMI ARC Check Price
Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400 2.1-Ch Soundbar Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400 2.1 1 x HDMI, 1 x Optical, 1 x 3.5mm Mini-Jack 1 x HDMI ARC Check Price
Sonos Playbar Sonos Playbar 3.0 1 x Optical None Check Price
Nakamichi Shockwafe Elite 7.2 SSE 7.2.4-Ch Soundbar System Nakamichi Shockwafe Elite 7.2 SSE 7.2.4 3 x HDMI, 1 x Optical, 1 x Coaxial, 1 x 3.5mm Mini-Jack, 1 x USB 1 x HDMI ARC Check Price
Samsung HW-Q90R 7.1.4-Ch Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer and Rear Speaker Kit Samsung HW-Q90R 7.1.4 2 x HDMI, 1 x Optical 1 x HDMI ARC Check Price
Sonos 5.1 Home Theater Surround Set Sonos 5.1 Home Theater Surround Set 5.1 1 x Optical None Check Price

What Is a Soundbar?

A soundbar is a single unit with several small speakers built into it. The main idea is that it is a quick and easy way to improve the sound of your TV speakers.

Put the soundbar in place. Connect a cable from your TV. Bingo – instant audio nirvana.

No amplifiers to install. No bulky speaker systems to wire up and create a mess in your room.

Many brands that used to make budget home theater systems have switched to making soundbars for home theater sound. 

In fact, they are so popular, that some high-end audio brands have released their own versions.

Soundbar installed in a modern home theater room

As time has moved on, soundbar systems have become more powerful, higher quality and more sophisticated. 

They are now not just simple stereo speakers. They might have a dedicated center speaker. Or surround sound speakers. Or upfiring Dolby Atmos speakers. All within the same box.

For better bass, they will often come with a wireless subwoofer.

Some models even come with separate rear speakers for 'proper' surround sound. 

These systems really blur the lines between a simple soundbar and a full surround sound experience that you get from an AV receiver and speaker package.

What Is a Soundbase?

A soundbase is a type of soundbar. It contains the speakers you need to replace the sound from your TV speakers. However, it is a flat base and you stand your TV on top of it.

Because of this, it is usually not as wide as a soundbar, but it is much deeper.

Since it isn't as wide, it might be hard to get the same wide stereo image that you can from the bigger soundbars – although that will depend on the design of a particular model. 

However, a soundbase can often add more punch with extra bass than with a standalone soundbar. 

Apart from that, a soundbar and soundbase are a similar concept.

Sonos PlaybaseImage Credit: Sonos

Sonos Playbase

There are many more soundbars available than soundbases. The most well-known examples are the Sonos brand.

They have their Playbar soundbar and Playbase soundbase (pictured above). They do a similar job – you just need to decide which one will work best in your room.

One important thing to be aware of is the stand of your TV. If it is relatively narrow, you should be able to stand it directly on top of the base.

If the stand is quite wide, it may fit over the top of the base – with the feet either side.

Of course, depending on the design of the stand, it may not fit at all. So give it some thought – and grab your tape measure.

Are Soundbars Worth It?

Ah, the million-dollar question.

First, do they improve the sound of the speakers on your TV? Yes, they really do. 

Pretty much any soundbar will take your listening experience to another level.

Even the cheap, budget soundbars.

However, as I said earlier, the great thing about soundbars is that there is a much wider choice these days.

If you want to keep the budget down, you can buy a simple stereo soundbar.

From there, you can go up a level and get a soundbar with a wireless subwoofer. That will really help to fill out the sound.

Then, you can get soundbars with built-in surround speakers. Or, Dolby Atmos upfiring speakers.

Further up still, you can get soundbar systems with dedicated surround speakers.

And there are even high-end soundbars made by some of the top audiophile brands.

You name it, you can do it with a soundbar.

Are Soundbars Any Good for Home Theater?

I'll let you into a secret. As far as I'm concerned, a 'home theater' can be anything you want it to be.

Not everybody has the time, or money, to buy all the latest technology.

You don't need something like this at home you know:

Large home theater room

I've always regarded 'home theater' simply as improving the sound and picture in your room. So that you can get as much enjoyment as you can from a movie or TV show.

That might be a projector – or just a bigger TV screen. An amplifier and speakers for the sound - or a soundbar. Anything that makes a show look or sound better is fine by me.

Does a soundbar improve the sound of your TV? It does. Even a basic stereo-only model will be a big improvement on the speakers that come with your TV. 

If you can stretch to a subwoofer or surround sound, then great. You'll love it. But, if a simple soundbar is as far as you want to go. Go for it.

If you don't have space or the budget for anything too fancy, you can still make an improvement in the sound that you hear for a modest investment.

And, soundbars have come a long way in the last few years. There are many different shapes and sizes to choose from. The higher-end models are starting to compete with mid-range AV receivers and speakers.

Go with what works best for you.

Do Soundbars Sound as Good as Surround Sound?

In my opinion, no. But the higher-end models do sound pretty good. And, it depends on what you are comparing.

Compared to standard stereo-only models, soundbars that come with built-in surround sound and Dolby Atmos speakers can do a very good job of opening the sound field.

But they are not as effective as actually having speakers placed around the room.

If you just have a soundbar at the front of the room, there's no escaping the fact that the sound will always be very front-focused. Whatever magic tricks are used to make the sound appear to be coming from elsewhere.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just depends on what you want.

Of course, you can also buy soundbar systems with dedicated surround speakers. This is a better mid-way solution between a simple soundbar and a full surround sound speaker system. And, easier to install too.

Final thought. A high-end soundbar system with dedicated surround speakers will probably sound better than a budget AV receiver and surround speakers. Therefore, it depends on what you are comparing them with.

So, to summarise, do soundbars sound as good as surround sound?

No. Sometimes. And, yes, they do.

I hope that's clear. ;-)

Does a Soundbar Need to Be the Same Width as My TV?

There are a couple of different schools of thought on this one.

Some say that a soundbar needs to match the width of your TV. Others say it doesn't matter.

I'm in the second group, and I don't think it matters that much.

Why might it be good to have your soundbar and TV the same width? I would say there are two main reasons:

  1. If the soundbar matches the width of your TV, then the sound will appear to match the pictures better. So, when there is something happening on the right of the screen, the sound will appear to be in the correct place.
  2. It just looks nice.

For point one, I don't think it makes that much difference. 

For soundbars, they are designed to create a wide stereo field from a relatively narrow width. 

If you think about it, even if you have a soundbar that is the same width as your TV, that is still narrower than the width that you get with conventional bookshelf or floorstanding speakers. So, a soundbar needs to be able to create a wide stereo image from a relatively narrow position.

If you have a pair of standard speakers with an amplifier, they will always be placed much wider than any soundbar. Otherwise, they would be blocking the TV screen!

So, any soundbar is actually much narrower than the width provided by bigger speakers anyway. As long as you have the bookshelf speakers in a good position, and not too wide, then you will get a good stereo image which works great with the picture.

So, even a well-designed narrow soundbar should create a sound field that is plenty wide enough if you are sat 6 or 12 feet away.

For point two. Well, that's subjective. If you think it looks nicer, then make sure that you buy a soundbar that matches the width of your TV. If not, then don't worry about it.

Active vs Passive Soundbars

Most soundbars are active models. This means that they have built-in amplification. You don't need to buy a separate amplifier. Just connect them to a power source and run a cable from your TV to hear the sound.

However, be aware that you can get passive soundbars that will need an amplifier to make them work. These are less common.

All the soundbars I mention on this page are active models.

What Are the Advantages of A Soundbar?

  • Compact speakers which don't take up too much space in the room
  • Sleek, modern design
  • Easy to connect to a TV to improve the sound in your room
  • A range of speaker options from 2.0 to 5.1 and Dolby Atmos – all in a single box
  • Many come with convenient wireless subwoofers
  • More affordable than many full home theater systems

What Are the Disadvantages of A Soundbar?

  • You can't upgrade the speakers (although some allow for a wired connection to any sub)
  • You can't upgrade the amplifier and keep the speakers
  • Positioning the speakers is restricted
  • Little room for expansion i.e. adding Atmos speakers later
  • Limited input connections
  • Difficult to find audiophile sound quality

What Types of Soundbar Are There?

The different types of soundbar can be confusing. There are so many models to choose from these days that it can be difficult to know where to start.

The main differences are to do with the number of speakers in the bar itself. These are the general areas that you should consider when choosing a soundbar:

2.0 Soundbar

The most basic soundbars will just have stereo left and right sound.

You place it under your TV like in the picture below. If it won't fit underneath, you can put it above. But, in this case, try to angle it down slightly to point at your listening position.

So, it's just like the stereo sound you get from your TV speakers... but better!

2.0 stereo soundbar locationLocation of a 2.0 Stereo Soundbar

3.0 Soundbar

If you want clearer dialogue, then you can buy a 3.0 soundbar.

This will have a dedicated center speaker as well as stereo left and right speakers. However, all the speakers will still come in a single case.

The center speaker will be used for most of the dialogue. The separation from the left and right channels should give the voices more definition.

2.1 and 3.1 Soundbars

As they are quite small, the speakers in a soundbar can still lack bass. Although, they will still be much better than your TV speakers. 

So, if you want more bottom-end, then you should consider a model with a wireless subwoofer. 

Pretty much all the subwoofers that come with soundbars are wireless these days. Though, some models have an output so you can connect a subwoofer with a cable.

The .1 in the name refers to the subwoofer.

Because low frequencies aren't directional, you can place the subwoofer anywhere in the room. So you don't need to follow the picture below.

Soundbar with a subwoofer positionLocation of a 2.1 Soundbar System With a Subwoofer

A wireless subwoofer will have a maximum range, so you do have some limits. But, apart from this, when it comes to positioning, a wireless sub is more flexible than a wired model.

Go to my article on how to position your subwoofer if you more detail on this.

Surround Sound Soundbars

The next option up is a soundbar with built-in surround speakers. These are fitted into the bar along with the stereo speakers.

Some bars have surround speakers and stereo speakers – others will also have a dedicated center speaker too.

As I said earlier, the surround sound that you get from these models won't be as effective as having dedicated speakers installed behind you in the room. But they will give a more open feel to the audio in a movie.

Also, be aware of soundbars that don't have dedicated surround speakers built into the unit itself – but still say that they have surround sound. These models will often just use some type of psychoacoustic technology that tries to recreate the effect. 

These don't generally sound that great. A dedicated speaker, either in the soundbar, or installed around the room, will always give a better effect in my experience.

Dolby Atmos Soundbars

A newer feature these days is soundbars with built-in Dolby Atmos speakers. The role of an upfiring Dolby Atmos speaker is to bounce the 3D sound effects in a movie soundtrack off the ceiling – and down to your listening position.

This gives the effect of sound coming from above you.

The LG SL8YG 3.1.2-Channel soundbar (pictured below) is a popular soundbar that comes with built-in Dolby Atmos upfiring speakers.

LG SL8YG 3.1.2-Channel Soundbar with Dolby Atmos upfiring speakers in a roomImage Credit: LG

LG SL8YG 3.1.2-Channel Soundbar

So, if you have decided that a soundbar is the way you want to go - and still want to experience Dolby Atmos - then a soundbar of this type gives you the best solution.

Some soundbars, like the LG SL8YG, have a dedicated center speaker too. That is quite a number of speakers in a single soundbar!

5.1 and 7.1 Soundbar Systems with Rear Speakers

The last general category is for those soundbars with dedicated rear surround speakers.

If you want the convenience of a soundbar but would like the extra realism of proper dedicated surrounds, then there are a few soundbar systems that fit the bill.

Soundbar System with a subwoofer and two surround speakersSoundbar System With a Subwoofer and Two Surround Speakers

The surround speakers will often be wireless, and in many cases are available as an add-on to a simpler 2.1 or 3.1 soundbar.

The advantage of this is you could upgrade later if you don't want to spend too much in one go.

Other systems come with all the speakers as a full package.

In fact, there are some big soundbar systems like the Nakamichi Ultra 9.2.4-Ch Soundbar System which comes with four rear speakers and two subwoofers. 

Who says you can't build a home theater system with a soundbar!

What Connections Do I Need on A Soundbar?

The most important connection on a soundbar is the audio input. Obviously, the point of a soundbar is to improve the sound of your TV, so you need a way of getting the audio from your TV into the bar.

There are a few ways that this can be done, and the most common ways are via optical audio and HDMI ARC.

Optical Audio Input

Many modern flat screen TVs will have an optical audio output. This is for sending the audio from your TV to another device to playback the sound. 

In this case, that will be your soundbar.

Optical Audio Output on the Rear of a TVOptical Audio Output on The Rear of A TV

So, assuming you have an optical output on your TV and an optical input on your soundbar, you can use an optical audio cable to send audio between them.

Don't forget to turn the volume of the TV speakers down to zero. You don't want the sound coming from two different places.

HDMI ARC and eARC Inputs

Aside from an optical connection, an HDMI ARC connection is a popular method of sending audio from your TV to your soundbar.

ARC stands for Audio Return Channel and it allows devices to send data in both directions in an HDMI connection.

For example, a common use is with an AV receiver - which will usually send video from the receiver to the TV via HDMI.

With an HDMI ARC connection, you can also send audio from your TV back to the AV receiver – all using the same connection. The aim is to make cabling simpler.

This is why HDMI ARC is useful for soundbars.

If your TV and soundbar both have an HDMI ARC connection, you can send the audio from your TV into the soundbar. No more need for an optical cable.

HDMI ARC Connection on The Rear of A TVHDMI ARC Connection on The Rear of A TV

It is important to check that both your devices support ARC. So, the TV and the soundbar should have HDMI connections that say they are ARC-enabled. Many TVs will have several HDMI connections, but only one of them will be the ARC version.

ARC supports stereo and 5.1 surround sound. The newer version, eARC, also supports higher bitrate audio like Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby Atmos. 

eARC is starting to appear on new devices, but the standard ARC is the most likely version you will have.

Connecting Multiple Devices

Another benefit of an ARC connection is that you can connect more devices to your soundbar.

If your soundbar has limited (or no) input connections for Blu-ray players or game consoles, you can connect your devices directly to the HDMI inputs on your TV instead. Then, use the HDMI ARC connection to send the audio to your soundbar.

There is one potential problem with this. Some TVs will only pass 5.1 surround sound via ARC from audio generated within the TV – like a Netflix app, for example.

If they are receiving audio from an external Blu-ray player, they may only pass stereo audio to your soundbar.

You will need to check the manual of your TV to see if that might be an issue.

HDMI CEC Connections

The benefits of an HDMI connection don't stop there. If you have an HDMI connection between your TV and soundbar, then you may be able to use CEC to operate the soundbar with your TV remote control.

CEC stands for Consumer Electronics Control and is a standard that allows devices to control each other via an HDMI connection.

If you haven't already, you will need to enable CEC control on your TV. It should be in the settings menu somewhere. 

You may already be using this to control a DVD or Blu-ray player.

Just be aware that many companies use their own name for it. For example, Samsung call it Anynet+. How annoying.

One word of warning. Some devices might refuse to talk to each other properly. It can be a bit hit and miss sometimes. And, you may find devices switching on/off when you don't want them to.

However, don't let that put you off. When it works, it can be great.

3.5mm Mini-Jack Inputs

A 3.5mm mini-jack input isn't used for getting the sound from your TV into the soundbar. It is there as an auxiliary input. That means it is meant to be used for playing other audio sources through the soundbar.

This is a common audio connection on many consumer audio products. You will likely be most familiar with it as the headphone socket on your phone or mobile device.

So, for example, you can connect a male-to-male 3.5mm mini-jack cable from your phone headphone output into the aux input on your soundbar.

That way you can rock the room/annoy your family (delete as applicable) and play your tunes from your phone on the soundbar system. Nice.

You can do this with any device that has an analog audio output. You may need to buy a converter cable if the connection type isn't the same.

Does the Power Wattage Matter for A Soundbar?

Not really. A soundbar has an amplifier and speaker arrangement which is designed to work well in a 'normal-size' room. Let's say, a viewing distance of 6-12 feet. 

Any soundbar system I've seen which gives a power rating doesn't specify what it was measured against. So, it doesn't mean much.

With AV receivers, the power rating is measured with a certain number of speakers being driven into an impedance – with a given frequency spectrum - and with a reasonable level of distortion (usually below 1% THD). They should also be average RMS figures rather than peak music output numbers.

I've yet to see a soundbar explain how their numbers are achieved, so there's no way to know what they mean in practice.

Some brands, like Sonos and Bose, don't even bother giving power ratings – which is probably the best way. Certainly better than giving a rating that doesn't mean much in real-world conditions.

How Do I Choose a Soundbar?

Think about these issues before buying a soundbar:

  • Type: do you want an active or passive soundbar? Active soundbars are the most common and don't require a separate amplifier. Just plug and play. 
  • Built-in Speakers: do you want a simple stereo soundbar to improve the sound of your TV – or do you want a higher-end solution with a built-in center speaker or Dolby Atmos upfiring speakers?
  • Subwoofer: do you want a subwoofer with your soundbar? These days these are usually wireless and will give you a fuller sound for movies and music.
  • Surround Sound: Rather than having surround speakers built into your soundbar, would you prefer dedicated surround speakers that you can install in your room behind your listening position?
  • Audio Inputs: how do you get the sound from your TV into the soundbar? Many soundbars use either optical or HDMI ARC connections. Make sure your TV has these. Also, do you want a soundbar with extra connections for connecting other devices like your Blu-ray player?
  • Video Output: if your soundbar allows for extra input connections for Blu-ray players or game consoles, how does it send the picture to your TV? Usually via an HDMI output. Does your TV have enough inputs?
  • HDMI ARC/eARC: if a soundbar has limited inputs, you could connect devices directly to your TV and send the audio to your soundbar via HDMI ARC. But, your TV and soundbar need to support this.
  • 4K Support: does the soundbar have 4K pass-through so you can connect external devices and pass 4K video to your TV? 
  • Bluetooth/Voice Control: some soundbars allow for Bluetooth connections so you can stream audio from your mobile devices. There are also soundbars which support voice control like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Are these important?
  • Streaming Services: some soundbar systems will come with apps to control the device and connect to streaming services. Do you want support for services like Spotify, TuneIn, Deezer and Amazon Music? If so, you'll need to make sure your device has this.
  • Remote Control: soundbars will usually come with a remote control for operating the soundbar. Some remotes can control your TV too. HDMI ARC connections can also allow you to control the soundbar from the TV remote.

Which Are the Best Soundbars to Buy?

Now that we have a better understanding of why a soundbar is great, and what to look out for, we need to find the perfect model.

I've created several categories and picked my favorite for each one. This should make it easier for you to quickly find the right one for you. Or, to simply understand better the choices that you have.

In the categories that are based on price, I have gone by the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). You should be aware that it is common for retailers to discount models below this price – especially during holiday sales and when there is a newer model available. 

Therefore, don't be afraid to check out the best TV soundbars in a higher price bracket. You may find them available at a cheaper price than suggested. 

Which is always good!

Best Soundbar Under $100

If you are on a tight budget, then a soundbar in this price range is a good place to start. You can't go wrong at this price and will still get a noticeable improvement in the sound from your TV. Which, after all, is the point.

My choice here is the VIZIO SB3220n-F6 2.0-channel soundbar. This is a simple stereo-only soundbar, so no fancy extra speakers and subwoofers. But, for many people, this is all that is required.

However, you can connect a wired subwoofer to this soundbar if you want to add a bit more weight to the sound later.

VIZIO SB3220n-F6 2.0-Ch SoundbarSee Price

Best Soundbar Under $100: VIZIO SB3220n-F6 2.0-Ch SoundbarImage Credit: VIZIO
VIZIO SB3220n-F6 Soundbar Features
Channels Subwoofer Surround Speakers Network/Wireless
2.0 No - sub out for connecting a wired subwoofer No Bluetooth
Audio/Video Inputs Audio/Video Outputs 4K Pass-through Voice Control
1 x Optical, 1 x Coaxial, 1 x 3.5mm Mini-Jack, 1 x Stereo Analog RCA, 1 x USB RCA Sub N/A No
Dimensions (W x H x D) Weight
32 x 3 x 3 in 5.2 lbs
Click For Latest Price

Best Soundbar Under $200

If you can stretch to the next price bracket, then you start to get a bigger sound experience. 

My choice in this price range is the Polk Signa S2 2.1-Ch Ultra-Slim Soundbar. Polk is well-known for its home theater and hi-fi speakers, so you know you are buying from a brand that knows how to make good speakers.

This model is a slim design that measures at just over 2-inches in height. Depending on your set up, this might be a useful point. It's important that a soundbar doesn't block your screen at all. So, if you are tight for space, this might be ideal.

It's a compact soundbar but includes 5 full-range drivers to deliver a solid sound experience. But, that's not all - this is the first soundbar with a subwoofer to make the list.

So, you get a compact wireless subwoofer that won't take up too much space - but will help to beef up the sound.

Polk Signa S2 2.1-Ch Ultra-Slim SoundbarSee Price

Best Soundbar Under $200: Polk Signa S2 2.1-Ch Ultra-Slim SoundbarImage Credit: Polk Audio
Polk Signa S2 Soundbar Features
Channels Subwoofer Surround Speakers Network/Wireless
2.1 1 x 5.25-inch Wireless No Bluetooth
Audio/Video Inputs Audio/Video Outputs 4K Pass-through Voice Control
1 x HDMI ARC, 1 x Optical, 1 x 3.5mm Mini-Jack None N/A No
Dimensions (W x H x D) Weight
SOUNDBAR: 35.43 x 2.15 x 3.22 in | 89.99 x 5.46 x 8.18 cm; SUBWOOFER: 6.72 x 13.4 x 12.2 in | 17.07 x 34.04 x 30.99 cm ---
Click For Latest Price

Best Soundbar Under $300

If you are looking for the best TV soundbar under $300, then you can really start to get an improvement in sound quality and features.

My choice in this range is the Samsung HW-R550 2.1-Ch Soundbar. Samsung has really been putting great efforts into the soundbar field in recent years. A Samsung soundbar in any price bracket is going to be worthy of your consideration.

The R550 comes with a 6.5-inch wireless subwoofer which can give you a solid weight to the sound in your room. Although it doesn't come with surround speakers, you can add them at a later date if you buy the Samsung SW-8500S wireless surround speakers.

Not all soundbars give you the option of adding speakers, so it's a nice option to have if you want to upgrade to dedicated surround speakers later.

You also get an HDMI input for connecting an external player – and HDMI ARC for getting the sound directly from your TV HDMI connection.

Samsung HW-R550 2.1-Ch SoundbarSee Price

Best Soundbar Under $300: Samsung HW-R550 2.1-Ch SoundbarImage Credit: Samsung
Samsung HW-R550 Soundbar Features
Channels Subwoofer Surround Speakers Network/Wireless
2.1 1 x 6.5-inch Wireless No – compatible with the Samsung SWA-8500S Bluetooth
Audio/Video Inputs Audio/Video Outputs 4K Pass-through Voice Control
1 x HDMI, 1 x Optical, 1 x 3.5mm Mini-Jack, 1 x USB 1 x HDMI ARC No No
Dimensions (W x H x D) Weight
SOUNDBAR: 35.6 x 2.2 x 3.1 in; SUBWOOFER: 7.9 x 13.9 x 11.4 in SOUNDBAR: 4.9 lbs; SUBWOOFER: 11 lbs
Click For Latest Price

Best Soundbar Under $400

In this price bracket, you really have a tough choice to make. There are a few excellent options that will all do a great job in your room.

My choice under $400 is the Yamaha YAS-209 2.1-Channel Soundbar. Yamaha is one of my favorite brands when it comes to home theater products, so it's no surprise that they produce great soundbars too.

This 2.1-channel soundbar system comes with a 6.5-inch wireless subwoofer. It supports DTS Virtual:X which is unusual in this price range. Virtual:X can create a pseudo-3D surround sound experience from stereo soundtracks.

It's not as good as having dedicated surround and height speakers in your room. But, it's much easier to install. Which is the point for many people who want a soundbar.

Another bonus is 4K pass-through. So, if you connect a games console or Blu-ray player you can be sure you will be able to play at 4K resolutions on your screen.

You also get Amazon Alexa voice control with this model - which is cool if you are already invested in this technology. And if not, what are you waiting for?

Yamaha YAS-209 2.1-Channel SoundbarSee Price

Best Soundbar Under $400: Yamaha YAS-209 2.1-Channel SoundbarImage Credit: Yamaha
Yamaha YAS-209 Soundbar Features
Channels Subwoofer Surround Speakers Network/Wireless
2.1 1 x 6.5-inch Wireless No WiFi, Bluetooth
Audio/Video Inputs Audio/Video Outputs 4K Pass-through Voice Control
1 x HDMI, 1 x Optical 1 x HDMI ARC Yes – HDR10, HLG, HDCP 2.3 Amazon Alexa
Dimensions (W x H x D) Weight
SOUNDBAR: 36-5/8 x 2-1/2 x 4-1/4 in; SUBWOOFER: 7-1/2 x 16-1/2 x 16 in SOUNDBAR: 6 lbs; SUBWOOFER: 17.4 lbs
Click For Latest Price

Best Soundbar Under $500

For a soundbar under $500, I have chosen the Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400 2.1-Ch Soundbar.

You really get some fantastic features in this soundbar system – plus the knowledge that Yamaha really knows what they are doing when it comes to home audio.

Notable features in this model are full 4K pass-through support for HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG. 

Plus, you get support for Bluetooth in and out. While it's common for soundbars to have Bluetooth streaming into the device – not many support an output too. 

This means you can pair up some Bluetooth headphones and listen to the sound this way if you prefer. Ideal for late-night listening.

Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant support give you more flexibility when it comes to voice control.

This system also has support for Yamaha's MusicCast wireless speaker system. This means you can a full 5.1 surround sound system by adding the MusicCast 20 or MusicCast 50 wireless surround speakers.

Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400 2.1-Ch SoundbarSee Price

Best Soundbar Under $500: Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400 2.1-Ch SoundbarImage Credit: Yamaha
Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400 Soundbar Features
Channels Subwoofer Surround Speakers Network/Wireless
2.1 1 x 6.5-inch MusicCast 400 Wireless No – compatible with MusicCast 20 or MusicCast 50 wireless surround speakers Bluetooth (In & Out), WiFi, AirPlay 2
Audio/Video Inputs Audio/Video Outputs 4K Pass-through Voice Control
1 x HDMI, 1 x Optical, 1 x 3.5mm Mini-Jack 1 x HDMI ARC Yes - HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG, HDCP 2.3 Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant
Dimensions (W x H x D) Weight
SOUNDBAR: 38-5/8 x 2-3/8 x 4-3/8 in; SUBWOOFER: 7-1/8 x 16-3/8 x 16 in SOUNDBAR: 6 lbs; SUBWOOFER: 21 lbs
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Best Soundbar Under $700

If you are in the market for a soundbar around the $700 mark, then you really are spoilt for choice.

My pick in this price range is the Sonos Playbar. It's been around a while but it's still one of the best soundbars around.

Although it doesn't come with a subwoofer (you can add the Sonos Sub later if you wish), this soundbar does have a dedicated center speaker.

A center speaker is ideal for getting excellent separation of the dialogue in a TV show or movie. Some people really struggle with hearing what is being said in a movie amongst all the music and sound effects. 

A center speaker can really help.

Of course, buying a Sonos soundbar gives you access to the Sonos world of wireless streaming. You have access to a wide range of streaming services and it is easy to add multiroom speakers – or surround speakers – from their wide range of products.

Inputs are limited on this soundbar. You only get an optical connection. So, make sure that your TV can connect to this bar before you buy.

Sonos PlaybarSee Price

Best Soundbar Under $700: Sonos Playbar SoundbarImage Credit: Sonos
Sonos Playbar Soundbar Features
Channels Subwoofer Surround Speakers Network/Wireless
3.0 No – compatible with the Sonos Sub. Or connect any sub via the Sonos Connect or Sonos Amp No – compatible with the Sonos One, Play:1, Play:3, Play:5, One SL and Amp 2 x Ethernet, WiFi
Audio/Video Inputs Audio/Video Outputs 4K Pass-through Voice Control
1 x Optical None N/A Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, AirPlay 2
Dimensions (W x H x D) Weight
35.43 x 3.35 x 5.51 in | 900 x 85 140 mm 11.9 lbs (5.4kg)
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Best Soundbar System Under $1000

When you get to this level of investment, you really can get a soundbar system that can start to compete with an AV receiver/surround sound speaker package. Not the top-end products, but certainly the budget to mid-range models.

My choice in this range is the Nakamichi Shockwafe Elite 7.2 SSE 7.2.4-Ch Soundbar System. This is a brand that has really made some waves in recent years and their systems come stacked with features. They really begin to blur the lines between soundbars and full home theater systems.

The Shockwafe Elite 7.2 SSE is aimed at those who want a full surround sound system in the room. It offers a total of 14 speaker drivers across the whole package. That includes dual 2-way rear surround speakers – and not one, but two, 8-inch subwoofers.

I don't buy the Nakamichi claim that a proper home theater system must have two subwoofers. But in some cases, it can be a bonus, especially if you have a big room.

Of course, if you are someone who loves to crank up the bottom end and rattle the windows, then having two subwoofers will be a treat.

Dolby Atmos and Dolby DTS:X are fully supported in this system. This is rare for a package that is based around a soundbar.

There are an impressive 3 HDMI inputs for connecting extremal devices – plus an optical, coaxial and 3.5mm mini-jack. That is almost as many options as some AV receivers.

Nakamichi Shockwafe Elite 7.2 SSE 7.2.4-Ch Soundbar SystemSee Price

Best Soundbar System Under $1000: Nakamichi Shockwafe Elite 7.2 SSE 7.2.4-Ch Soundbar SystemImage Credit: Nakamichi
Nakamichi Shockwafe Elite 7.2 SSE Features
Channels Subwoofer Surround Speakers Network/Wireless
7.2.4 2 x 8-inch Wireless 2 x 2-Way Rear Surround Speakers (connected via cables to the dual subwoofers) Bluetooth v4.1 aptX
Audio/Video Inputs Audio/Video Outputs 4K Pass-through Voice Control
3 x HDMI, 1 x Optical, 1 x Coaxial, 1 x 3.5mm Mini-Jack, 1 x USB 1 x HDMI ARC Yes – HDR10, Dolby Vision, HDCP 2.2 No
Dimensions (W x H x D) Weight
SOUNDBAR: 45.5 x 3.0 x 3.5 in; SUBWOOFER: 9.5 x 20.5 x 12.0 in SOUNDBAR: 7.3 lbs; SUBWOOFER: 19 lbs (each)
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Best Soundbar System Under $1500

If you want to invest in one of the best soundbar systems around, then look no further than the Samsung HW-Q90R 7.1.4-Ch Soundbar.

I mentioned earlier that Samsung is making some of the best soundbar systems at present – and this is their flagship model.

An impressive 17 built-in speaker drivers are included throughout this excellent package. And, those speakers are designed by Harman Kardon, who has been a favorite in home audio for many years. 

It is a soundbar system that really can compete with a full 7.1.4 surround sound system.

With full support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, you have upfiring and surround speakers built into the soundbar – plus upfiring modules in the two rear wireless speakers.

HDMI inputs on the soundbar are limited to two, but you do have HDMI ARC support so you can stream audio from devices connected directly to your TV if you wish.

If it's sound quality and surround sound performance you want, then this might be the one to try.

Samsung HW-Q90R 7.1.4-Ch Soundbar SystemSee Price

Best Soundbar System Under $1500: Samsung HW-Q90R 7.1.4-Ch Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer and Rear Speaker KitImage Credit: Samsung
Samsung HW-Q90R Soundbar Features
Channels Subwoofer Surround Speakers Network/Wireless
7.1.4 – two upfiring and two side-firing speakers in the soundbar 1 x 8-inch wireless 2 x rear wireless surround speakers with upfiring speakers Bluetooth, WiFi
Audio/Video Inputs Audio/Video Outputs 4K Pass-through Voice Control
2 x HDMI, 1 x Optical 1 x HDMI ARC Yes – HDR10 Amazon Alexa
Dimensions (W x H x D) Weight
SOUNDBAR: 48.26 x 3.26 x 5.35 in; SUBWOOFER: 8.07 x 15.86 x 15.86 in SOUNDBAR: 19.4 lbs; SUBWOOFER: 21.6 lbs
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Best Soundbar System Under $2000

If you still aren't decided on what is the right soundbar system for you, then I have another contender for you to consider.

The Sonos 5.1 Home Theater Surround Set is definitely a big investment, but you are really going to get a system that is perfect if you are interested in the Sonos ecosystem.

This is a simple 5.1 system but comes with the Sonos Playbar, the Sonos Sub and two Sonos One surround speakers. You will get excellent sound quality and speakers built to a high standard – as we have come to expect from all the Sonos products.

Just be aware that you can build a 5.1 Sonos system with other products in their range. For example, you could replace the Playbar with a Playbase or Beam.

And, the Sonos One speakers can be replaced with any of the smaller Sonos models – like the Play:1, Play:3, Play:5 or One SL. Just be aware that the two surrounds need to be of the same model.

If you buy the set with the Playbar, then you are limited to a single optical audio input. If you would prefer to have the flexibility of HDMI ARC, then you can get the Beam instead which offers this.

Sonos 5.1 Home Theater Surround SetSee Price

Best Soundbar System Under $2000: Sonos 5.1 Home Theater Surround SetImage Credit: Sonos
Sonos 5.1 Surround Set Features
Channels Subwoofer Surround Speakers Network/Wireless
5.1 – 3.0 from Sonos Playbar (also compatible with Sonos Beam) 1 x wireless Sonos Sub 2 x Sonos One (Gen 2) – also compatible with Play:1, Play:3, Play:5 or One SL 2 x Ethernet, WiFi
Audio/Video Inputs Audio/Video Outputs 4K Pass-through Voice Control
1 x Optical None N/A Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, AirPlay 2
Dimensions (W x H x D) Weight
SOUNDBAR (Playbar): 35.43 x 3.35 x 5.51 in | 900 x 85 140 mm; SUBWOOFER: 15.8 x 15.3 x 6.2 in | 402 x 389 x 158 mm SOUNDBAR (Playbar): 11.9 lbs (5.4kg); SUBWOOFER: 36.3 lbs
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Best Compact Soundbar

One of the main reasons why many people are attracted to soundbars is that they are discrete. You get to improve the sound in your room but don't need to fill your living area with ugly boxes. 

I think speakers look great, but I'm strange like that.

So, if you want a discrete speaker, then it makes sense that you would be interested in a small and compact soundbar. Some soundbars are getting bigger and bigger these days.

If that's what you want, then the Sonos Beam soundbar might just fit the bill.

The Beam is the new little brother (sister?) of the Playbar. It is more compact but still offers the excellent performance that Sonos is known by.

Apart from the size, one of the main advantages is the introduction of an HDMI ARC connection. I have discussed on this page the advantages of this connection type, so it could be something that makes a difference for you.

This soundbar has voice control from all the major players - Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri – via AirPlay 2.

Like other Sonos products, the core integration is Ethernet or WiFi to connect to your local network. Of course, this allows you to access several online streaming services, plus you can create a network of other Sonos speakers throughout your home.

Finally, don't forget that you can add a Sonos Sub and surround speakers to create a 5.1 system – with the Beam at its heart.

Sonos BeamSee Price

Best Compact Soundbar: Sonos BeamImage Credit: Sonos
Sonos Beam Soundbar Features
Channels Subwoofer Surround Speakers Network/Wireless
2.0 No – compatible with the Sonos Sub. Or connect any sub via the Sonos Connect or Sonos Amp No – compatible with the Sonos One, Play:1, Play:3, Play:5, One SL and Amp 1 x Ethernet, WiFi
Audio/Video Inputs Audio/Video Outputs 4K Pass-through Voice Control
1 x HDMI ARC None N/A Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, AirPlay 2
Dimensions (W x H x D) Weight
25.625 x 2.70 x 3.94 in | 651 x 68.5 x 100 mm 6.2 lbs (2.8 kg)
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Conclusion

So, there you have it. Now you know that the best soundbars can be the perfect solution for any home theater system.

You don't have to buy an expensive amplifier and surround sound speakers to improve the enjoyment of TV and movies in your room.

Of course, you can still do that too if you want to!

There are so many different types of soundbar these days, that it's easy to find a solution that fits your room – and budget.

A simple stereo-only soundbar is a cheap option. But, it's also easy to add a wireless subwoofer, Dolby Atmos or surround sound speakers to get a much better experience.

A soundbar might just be the simple change to your home entertainment system that you were looking for.

Enjoy better sound.

Frequently Asked Questions: Soundbars

I've covered quite a lot of subjects in this buying guide to soundbars. But there is always something else to know.

Let's take a look at some common questions that arise in this area.

Do You Need Speakers with A Soundbar?

No. The speakers are inside the soundbar.

Do You Need an Amplifier with A Soundbar?

Generally, no. Most soundbars are active designs. This means they already have amplification built into the unit to power the speakers. 

You just need to connect it to a power source and send an audio signal into it.

However, passive soundbars do exist. These don't have built-in amplification and will need to be connected to a suitable amplifier. 

What Is the Difference Between 2.1 and 3.1 Soundbars?

A 2.1 soundbar will have a stereo speaker layout and a subwoofer. So, you will hear stereo left and right audio and the low bass will be routed to the sub. 

A 3.1 soundbar will have a left, center and right speaker layout. 

This can make dialogue sound clearer as it comes from the center speaker – while the music and effects come from the left and right.

What Is the Difference Between 2.1 and 5.1 Soundbars?

A 2.1 soundbar has a stereo left and right speaker configuration – and a subwoofer.

A 5.1 soundbar has 5-speakers inside – front left, center, front right, surround left and surround right – and a subwoofer. 

The surround speakers create the surround channels from the front of the room – from inside the soundbar. So, they are virtual surround speakers rather than actually being behind you.

However, some 5.1 soundbar systems do have dual wireless surround speakers that you can install behind you. So, make sure you know which type you want and pick the correct model.

What Is the Difference Between 3.1 and 5.1 Soundbars?

A 3.1 soundbar has a left, center and right speaker inside (and it connects to a subwoofer). 

A 5.1 soundbar adds two extra speakers inside the unit which provide the surround left and right effect. In some systems, the surround speakers may be proper dedicated rear speakers. These are usually wireless.

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About Home Cinema Guide

Paul started the Home Cinema Guide to help less-experienced users get the most out of today's audio-visual technology. He has worked as a sound, lighting and audio-visual engineer for around 20 years. At home, he has spent more time than is probably healthy installing, configuring, testing, de-rigging, fixing, tweaking, re-installing again (and sometimes using) various pieces of hi-fi and home cinema equipment.


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