The 8 Best Soundbars to Buy in 2018 for Under $500

Improve your TV's audio without spending a fortune

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On a budget, but want to upgrade your TV's sound system? The good news is that you don't have to drop a lot of coin to get yourself decent sound. And soundbars are a great starting point that allow you to dramatically improve audio without investing in an entire surround-sound system. Need some help finding one that won't break the bank? Check out our list below of the best soundbars under $500.

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.

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: Q Acoustics Media 4

The Q Acoustics Media 4 soundbar offers exceptional audio, thanks to the large, elliptical driver that works as an internal subwoofer. At just under 40 inches in length, its 2.1-channel sound handily rivals any soundbar in its class. The left and right speakers use 2.5 x 2.5-inch balanced mode radiator drivers that deliver great sound no matter where you’re sitting in an average-sized room. The 4.7 x 5.9-inch twin-coil subwoofer helps deliver outstanding bass courtesy of a sound that’s tuned just right with high-precision digital filters. Ultimately, the sound is clean and the speakers offer a dynamic range that’s resistant to harsh sounds, which are perfect for soundtracks or action-packed movies. While the lack of an HDMI input is notable, Bluetooth is on board for audio streaming from any Bluetooth-compatible device.

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).

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 Surround-Sound: Vizio 38-inch SB3851

Widely regarded as one of the best soundbars available today, Vizio’s 38-inch SB3851 is an excellent entry point for giving your audio system a boost. Available with 5.1-channel surround sound capability, the Vizio includes a wireless five-inch subwoofer and dual satellite 2.5-inch speakers. The main guts are housed in the soundbar, which includes left, center and right channels for 100db of room-filling harmonic sound. Built-in Bluetooth and Google Cast help you drop the wires and enjoy your upgraded audio with the touch of a button on Vizio’s SmartCast smartphone app. The 2.75-inch full-range drivers on the main soundbar support Dolby Digital, DTS Studio Sound and DTS TruVolume for a surround sound soundbar experience that’s easily best-in-class.

Best Subwoofer: Yamaha YAS-203

The bass won’t knock pictures off the walls, but the 34.8-inch Yamaha YAS-203 offers an impressive sound that completely replaces the need for TV speakers. Hitting just the right spot between price and performance, the wireless soundbar includes a 6.5-inch subwoofer. The Yahama also has the brand’s Clear Voice Tech, which adds a boost of sound to dialogue. The inclusion of UniVolume maintains volume levels across channels, different programming, and especially commercial breaks. Ideal for televisions over 40 inches, the wall-mount-ready Yamaha offers Bluetooth wireless music streaming and requires just one cable for setup. Finally, a built-in “learning feature” allows your existing TV remote to control the volume.

Best Gaming: Creative Sound BlasterX Katana

Appropriately billed as an affordable soundbar for gaming, the Creative Sound BlasterX Katana ideally fits right underneath your PC gaming setup. The two-midbass drivers, two high-excursion tweeters, and one lengthy subwoofer offer more than 150 watts of peak power along with all the necessary inputs for properly connecting to a PC. At 26 inches in length, there’s a good chance it’ll fit neatly underneath your monitor or nicely in a living room combined with a gaming console. Looking beyond size, Bluetooth connectivity is on board, as are a headphone/headset-out jack and a microphone input. The included infrared remote control offers basic controls such as play and pause, volume adjustment and theme adjustment for different lighting schemes. The audio on the soundbar is incredible with online reviewers describing a 30 percent volume level as more than enough to shake their desks.