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The best soundbars do more than just play high-quality sound—they round out a home movie setup, give you the option to stream music, and do so in a smaller footprint than a full-on audio system. As TVs have shrunk over the years, so have the large stereo speakers you used to find included on the sets themselves, which means that investing in a soundbar can help you give more oomph to your TV, letting you hear more nuance in the shows and movies you already love.
It’s more than just a way to augment the on-board speakers on your TV, though. A soundbar can be an integral part of a 5.1 or 7.1 system acting as the main, center channel, so making sure the soundbar you buy fits in with your system is paramount. Beyond that, many brands offer cutting edge features like automatic room tuning, smartphone apps to control and expand your system’s functionality, and speaker technology that fills rooms using directional cones and ports. If you’re hoping to use your soundbar as a music-centric device, too, you’ll want to look at options like Bluetooth connectivity, Wi-Fi streaming systems, and the inclusion of an external subwoofer to support bass.
If you want even more tips on selecting the right audio setup for your home, be sure to check out our beginners guide to sound systems, and read on below for a few of our favorite picks from budget speakers to truly premium systems.
AirPlay 2 compatible
Not compatible with all TV models
The Sonos Beam is a feature-rich soundbar that checks all the right boxes. Sonos has established itself as a premium manufacturer in the speaker space and the Beam is no exception — it can connect to any other available Sonos speakers through Wi-Fi, with the ability to expand into a 5.1-channel system across your home. It's also compatible with Airplay for a direct connection to Apple’s entire lineup of hardware and comes Alexa-enabled so you can integrate it with your other Amazon devices for easy voice control.
This wireless soundbar has one of the fastest setup processes in the industry. In our testing, we simply connected it to Sonos' smartphone app (available on both Android and iOS platforms) and we were ready to go. With five amplifiers built-in, the Sonos plays a spacious sound that results in crystal clear dialogue and action scenes that sound like they are coming from a much larger home theater system. And Sonos is constantly auto-updating their speakers' software, so your soundbar's performance should only improve.
"We just can’t get over how nice and modern the form factor looks and feels on this soundbar." — Jason Schneider, Tech Writer
9 sound drivers
No alexa built in
Not AirPlay 2 compatible
Sonos has become known for its top-of-class speakers for music lovers, but with its PLAYBAR, the company expands its offering to movie buffs as well. The PLAYBAR has nine amplified drivers — six mid-woofers and three high range tweeters — and together they produce a big and immersive sound. At a slim 35.4 x 5.5 x 3.3 inches, it’s designed to sit underneath your TV, either mounted on the wall or sitting flat on the table. And that’s OK because you won’t want to hide this good-looking fabric and aluminum speaker.
When it comes to connectivity, the PLAYBAR keeps it simple. It has just two Ethernet ports, a power socket, and an optical input. (Where most TV devices use HDMI, the Sonos PLAYBAR uses an optical audio input, so double-check that your TV has an optical output before buying it.) The PLAYBAR has been praised for its intuitive Android/iOS app, which draws on your favorite streaming services and can be used to play different music in different rooms. Our tester also loved its handy night mode, which automatically enhances quiet sounds while diminishing the volume and impact of intense sounds.
"The build quality on the Sonos Playbar is among the most substantial we’ve seen in a soundbar." — Jason Schneider, Tech Writer
Virtual 3D sound
Only one HDMI input
As the world’s first soundbar with DTS Virtual, a virtual 3D sound, the Yamaha YAS-207BL offers an entirely new experience to immerse gamers deeper into their world. With a slim design that’s 35 inches long, Yamaha tucks away four 1.75-inch woofers, two one-inch tweeters and one external 6.25-inch subwoofer, which makes for 200 watts of power overall. The Yamaha adds Bluetooth streaming from any compatible device with an automatic sound enhancement to deepen mid and low-range sound for a warmer sound overall. Our testing revealed a downloadable app for both Android and iOS offers even more control, including input, surround mode, sound adjustment and additional settings beyond the included remote control. The setup is a snap with a single cable connection to a television via HDMI with support for 4K, HDR and HDCP 2.2.
"There’s something about a legacy brand like Yamaha that shows just how much effort the newer brands put into user experience and branding." — Jason Schneider, Tech Writer
Auto optimizes sound based on room
Not compatible with Google Mesh WiFi
The Bose Soundbar 500 represents another move by the brand towards smart functionality. If you’re looking for a Bose-quality audio setup that can be controlled via Alexa, this sleek soundbar will fit right in in your smart home.
The Soundbar 500 features the brand’s ADAPTIQ sound, which analyzes the room the speaker is in and optimizes the sound accordingly. They’ve also put in a clearer voice pickup microphone so that Alexa won’t miss a command. The soundbar has custom-designed transducers and QuietPorts to further bolster the sound projection, clarity, and quality, and as a design touch, Bose has also included an adaptive LED light bar that lights up when Alexa is listening (much like the Amazon-built Echo and Echo Dot Alexa units).
The Soundbar 500 can be controlled via app, remote, or Alexa voice commands. You can even add a Home Speaker 500 if you want to create a surround sound or multi-room system. It’s also compatible with most popular music streaming apps like Spotify, Pandora and more.
"Always ask yourself how many living room devices you have before committing to a specific soundbar. Some models can have as few as 2 HDMI ports or as many as 4 in some cases." — Alice Newcome-Beill, Associate Commerce Editor
Multi-room sound control
No built-in voice controls
In terms of well-connected speakers, decent sound quality and ease of use with the tech already in your home, Sonos has kind of dethroned Bose for the crown. When it comes to the brand's PLAYBASE, the usual Sonos features are here as expected, including Alexa connectivity, a seamless integration into the Sonos environment (giving you multiroom sound control), their Trueplay speaker tuning and, of course, amazing sound quality. What’s interesting about the base is the logic behind why it’s a base and not just a soundbar. The theory is that a soundbar sounds best when it is mounted on a wall, underneath the TV. However, most people place their TV on a TV stand and then sit the soundbar underneath, which isn’t taking full advantage of the soundbar’s acoustic properties. Sonos has made this a base and designed it to give you the best sound while sitting under the TV. Overall, it’s a great design from a brand that’s known for innovation.
Dolby Atmos and Virtual X
Chromecast built in
Apple Music free for four months
No 4K passthrough
Setting up a sound system in an apartment can be tricky because of the limited space. Luckily, the Vizio 5.1.2 system has everything you need for a great movie watching or music listening experience without having to get rid of your couch. The 36-inch soundbar features two upward-firing drivers so sound doesn't bounce off furniture or walls to get lost and muddled.
A six inch subwoofer and two compact rear speakers are included to create deep bass levels and a true surround sound experience. All of the speakers feature Dolby Atmos and DTS Virtual X technology to create a virtual height and depth element to the dual channel speakers for richer music and movie playback. The system features Chromecast built in so you can connect apps like Spotify and Pandora to stream your favorite songs from your phone, tablet, or computer. Vizio has paired up with Apple to give you four months of Apple Music for free when you buy this sound bar package.
"It's important to consider compatible formats when choosing a soundbar. That fancy 4K TV won't do you much good if your soundbar doesn't support 4K passthrough." — David Beren, Tech Writer
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X
No voice controls
A subwoofer is the key to rich, bass-filled audio when listening to music or watching shows and movies. With the Nakamichi 7.2 channel soundbar, you get two eight-inch subwoofers with down-firing drivers. This enables the subwoofers to utilize your floor to create deep bass notes you can feel. It also comes with twin rear speakers, each with its own dedicated audio channel so you can customize their high and mid-range sounds.
The soundbar itself has six 2.5-inch mid-range drivers and two one-inch tweeters for plenty of dynamic range on its own. Every speaker and subwoofer utilizes Dolby Atmos and DTS:X technology as well as three processing engines for a more immersive listening experience. You can connect all your favorite devices with the HDMI inputs, USB port, and Bluetooth connectivity. It also features a 4K passthrough so you can enjoy UHD content without any hassle.
AptX allows truly lossless audio streaming
Historically, Klipsch is an audio brand known for quality (and high price tags to match). More recently, though, Klipsch has made efforts to deliver more affordable products — and to decent success. The R-20B might not be the best soundbar on the market, but when it comes to options with a subwoofer, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that gives you better sound quality.
The soundbar itself provides true two-way audio with a Tractrix tweeter horn for shimmering treble and four 3-inch speakers to cover the lion’s share of your midrange. The separate, wireless subwoofer unit with a 10-inch cone (that fires out the side) gives you a really nice low-end oomph that usually isn’t present in soundbar-only systems. But, where this system really shines is in its software add-ons, including Klipsch's proprietary AptX tech that gives you the ability to easily stream fully lossless audio. Wrap that up with a seamless Bluetooth experience, and you have a truly modern system from a historically significant brand.
WiFi connection issues
If it’s a room-filling sound you’re after, the Samsung Sound + Hi-Res Audio Soundbar has the audio quality you're looking for. The 3.0 channel high-res soundbar has a built-in subwoofer and tweeters to create full, beautiful sound. Included with the soundbar is a 4K pass-through, so you can get premium audio and picture quality through a single HDMI connection. Whether you’re listening to music, movies or television, Smart Sound Mode will automatically analyze the sound and optimize settings and advanced users can adjust these settings manually for the best results. (If you own a Samsung TV, you can also control the soundbar function directly from the TV's menu.)
With Amazon Alexa onboard, the Samsung has enabled voice-control functionality for volume and power controls. You can also wirelessly stream from a mobile device via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection.
There are certainly plenty of options when it comes to soundbars, but for our top pick, its touch to beat the awesome sound and sleek form factor of the Sonos Beam. However, if you're looking for something with a little more kick, the Nakamichi 7.2.4 is a solid runner-up.
Our expert testers and reviewers evaluate soundbars by taking into account design, connectivity, audio quality, and any additional features. Specifically, we look at the size and weight of a soundbar, how much space it takes up on a TV console, if it can be mounted, and if it includes a subwoofer built-in or wireless. Next, we look at the input/output ports and connectivity options available. We focus a great deal on the sound quality itself, testing the speaker on different sound profiles and with different content including TV shows, movies, music, and games. Finally, we look at the price and competition to see how the soundbar stacks up against rivals to make our final judgment. Lifewire purchases all the soundbars it tests; none are provided by manufacturers.
Alice Newcome-Beill takes her listening experience seriously and is pretty meticulous about her soundbar setup at home. Alice is an avid gamer and action movie aficionado, much to the chagrin of her downstairs neighbors.
Resident audiophile David Beren takes a great deal of pride in his home speaker setup. His experience in the world of consumer electronics provides him with valuable insight into the world of soundbars and home entertainment setups.
Subwoofer - While some soundbars come as stand-alone packages, others include subwoofers in the box. If you enjoy watching movies and playing video games with a bassy punch, you’ll want a soundbar with a subwoofer. The soundbar advertising typically denotes it is a 2.1 system.
Surround sound - If you’re looking to get lost in your entertainment, consider picking up a system that includes surround sound for a fantastic movie experience. Just be sure that the system you are eying includes actual physical surround sound speakers and not merely a virtual experience that attempts to bounce sound around the room.
Bluetooth - Want to listen to your favorite songs and stream content from your smartphone to your soundbar? Look for a soundbar that includes built-in Bluetooth for easy wireless streaming from your favorite devices. Additionally, other solutions, like the Sonos Playbar, can use smartphone apps to keep you connected.