The 8 Best Soundbars for Under $500 in 2020

Improve your TV's audio without spending a fortune

Most Popular: Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1

Forget rigging up multiple budget soundbars to create makeshift surround sound. The Nakamichi Shockwafe (yes, that's wafe — not wave) Pro 7.1 soundbar is here to get the job done. Serving up an eight-inch wireless subwoofer and dual rear satellite speakers, the soundbar adds true surround sound. All totaled, there are 11 speaker drivers and 400W of room-filling sound for a theater-like experience. At the heart of the soundbar are four 2.5-inch full range drivers on the left and right sides followed by dual 2.5-inch drivers in the center. Each satellite speaker features an extra 2.5-inch driver and silk dome tweeter along with one-inch drivers for left and right channels. Combined with the subwoofer's eight-inch side firing driver, the soundbar system fills up a medium to large room with no issue.

Measuring 45 inches in length, the soundbar isn’t the smallest in the category but it can comfortably rest beneath any 50-inch or larger TV. Controlling the sound while sitting on a couch or chair is done via the included remote. The rear of the soundbar features connectivity options including dual HDMI 4K pass-thru inputs as well as optical, coaxial, and analog inputs. 

Best Overall: Vizio SB4551 SmartCast

Packed with features, Vizio’s 45-inch SB4551 SmartCast measures just two inches high and two inches deep and has a style that’s both sleek and clean. As one of the only 5.1-channel surround-sound soundbar manufacturers, The Vizio SB4551 has four-inch drivers in the right, left and center the speaker. The inclusion of Google Cast offers the same technology as Chromecast and provides access to millions of songs, podcasts and streaming directly over Bluetooth or 802.11n Wi-Fi.

The audio can get as high as 103dB, thanks to the eight-inch subwoofer that comes in a flat black box (it's best stashed underneath a sofa or chair providing corded access to the rear satellite speakers and their surround sound). The system is best utilized from the SmartCast app, which is intuitive and offers fine-tuning of the bar through easy-to-navigate system settings.

If you've never bought a soundbar before, you may want to familiarize yourself with the process of setting it up.

Best 4K: Sony CT800

Sony’s 2.1-channel Sony CT800 is a must-own if you have a 46-inch or larger 4K TV. The lengthy 41-inch soundbar offers a near utilitarian black design that can fit unobtrusively underneath your TV, be wall-mounted or work well propped up with the included foot stands. The built-in Google Home means you can control volume, skip to the next track or stop audio altogether without lifting a finger. Sony also adds support for Google Cast, which allows more than 100 audio apps to stream directly from your smartphone or tablet. Beyond streaming via Google, NFC or Bluetooth, the highlight is the 4K HDR compatibility with HDCP 2.2. Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD audio format support are also included.

Best Value: Bose Solo 5 TV

The Bose name requires little introduction in the audio world, and the Bose Solo 5 TV soundbar is a superb value for the quality of sound. Measuring 21.5 inches in length, the wall-mountable Bose is a one-piece soundbar that features no buttons since all controls are handled by the included universal remote. The controller manages the Bose unit, but can also take command of your Blu-ray player, connected Bluetooth devices (not including phone) and gaming systems. Setup is super simple with a lone audio cable connecting the Solo 5 directly to your TV. Beyond setup, features such as Dialogue Mode make the Bose standout with improved speech quality helping to make every spoken word easier to understand. Additionally, the Bose provides extremely flexible placement options, including underneath the TV, on a shelf or even mounted directly on the wall with an optional mount (sold separately).

Best Budget: AmazonBasics 2.1-Channel Bluetooth

If you want an audio upgrade to your TV sound without emptying your wallet, the AmazonBasics 2.1-channel Bluetooth soundbar is a great choice. The 31.5-inch soundbar offers a built-in subwoofer that totals up to 100dB of power and three different modes (standard, news, and movie) to find the best experience for delivered sound. Standard mode will offer straight out-the-box settings, news mode offers more intelligible dialog and movie mode provides optimal acoustic performance for soundtracks. The included Bluetooth v2.1 tech offers the opportunity to stream video or music from either a smartphone, tablet or computer up to a range of 10 meters. Amazon conveniently includes a remote control for controlling audio right from your sofa. The sound won’t knock your socks off, but, for the price, the AmazonBasics soundbar will perform far better than your TV.

Best Sound: ZVOX SB500 SoundBar

Don’t let the non-brand name fool you. The ZVOX SB500 Soundbar packs powerful sound that’s well worth a listen. Designed to work with televisions sized 50 to 90 inches in length, the 43.9-inch length of the ZVOX is well within the norm. Packed inside it are three two-inch full range speakers and dual four-inch subwoofers. A 140-watt class D digital amplifier assists the soundbar with finding its own natural sound. ZVOX’s MegaBass feature eliminates the need for an external subwoofer by utilizing digital processing tech to produce powerful bass. 

Whether it’s placed vertically or mounted on a shelf, the sound of the ZVOX will not be diminished. While many soundbars focus on musical audio, the ZVOX is second-to-none in its category for dialogue enhancement. AccuVoice technology incorporates the same technology found in hearing aids to deliver crystal-clear voices. Output leveling works to reduce the annoying sound of too-loud commercials by making loud sounds softer. Multiple inputs serve as homes for a variety of third-party audio devices including Chromecast or a multi-zone Wi-Fi audio system. 

Best Subwoofer: Polk Audio MagniFi Mini Soundbar System

Dismissing the small size of the Polk Audio MagniFi Mini soundbar system would be a mistake; it may be just 13.4 inches, but the soundbar serves up room-filling sound. Incorporated into its diminutive package are dual 0.5-inch tweeters and four 2.25-inch drivers. The 14.5-inch tall subwoofer adds a key component to the soundbar system delivering the kind of deep bass you can feel. Driving the audio experience is Polk’s exclusive Voice Adjust technology. By increasing volume and vocal clarity for crystal-clear dialogue, the Polk Audio MagniFi Mini works whether you're listening to action scenes, a rom-com, or the big game.

Set up in minutes, the soundbar’s universal compatibility connects to a TV, cable box, or satellite IR remote control. Wireless connectivity through Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enables third-party support for devices like Chromecast, Google Home, and Roku. Additionally, the Wi-Fi works for streaming music from a smartphone or tablet. Streaming options like Pandora, Google Play Music, and Spotify can also connect via Bluetooth. All of the functions are controlled via a remote that manages volume, input, and sound modes. 

Best Gaming: Razer Leviathan Gaming & Music Soundbar

Although Razer is synonymous with PC gaming thanks to its wildly popular laptop lineup, it’s no surprise to see one of the brand's soundbars top the charts. The Leviathan, the company’s elite gaming and music 5.1 soundbar, measures a mere three inches high, making it unobtrusive in front of a monitor. Contained within its small frame are two 2.5-inch drivers and two 0.74-inch tweeters that produce booming sound. The 10-inch high subwoofer adds an extra 5.25-inch downward firing subwoofer with two full-range drivers and tweeters. Combined together with aptX technology, audio quality on the Razer is downright exceptional. That’s good news for gamers who want room-filling sound with each fired shot or mission passed.

Disappointingly, the soundbar lacks a remote control which reduces its use to just more than a few feet away. Without a third-party application for smartphones, the only way to control volume or input is directly from the soundbar. That might be a hiccup for anyone who wants to use this in combination with a television. For PC gamers, it’s unlikely to be much of a drawback. What the soundbar does offer is NFC technology for fast pairing with smartphones or computers connecting via a single tap. 

What to Look for in an Affordable Soundbar

Design - Unlike surround sound speakers that can be tucked away, a soundbar is meant to sit front and center in your home. Luckily, soundbars are generally sleek, attractive pieces of technology — just look for one that’ll match your existing setup.

Sound quality - When possible, always listen to a speaker before you buy it. However, if you’re shopping based on specs alone, look carefully at a soundbar’s sensitivity rating (how loud it can get) and its frequency response (how high and low it can play). For an average speaker, the sensitivity rating should be around 88 to 90 dB, and a solid frequency response would be 65Hz to 20kHz.

Size - Soundbars come in a wide array of lengths, but the size you need will depend on the size of your TV. In general, for a 42- to 50-inch TV, you’ll want a soundbar measuring 38 to 45 inches; for a 50- to 55-inch TV, you’ll want a 50-inch soundbar; and for a 70-inch TV, buy a soundbar around 60 inches long.