The 6 Best Soundbars of 2021

Your home theater system isn't complete without one

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The Rundown
Best Overall:
Sonos Playbar at Amazon
Automatically enhances quiet sounds while diminishing the volume and impact of intense sounds.​
Most Popular:
Sonos Beam at Amazon
The Sonos Beam is a feature-rich soundbar that checks all the right boxes.
Best Compact:
Roku Streambar at Amazon
The compact Roku Streambar supports great audio and built-in 4K streaming.
A great design from a brand that’s known for innovation.
Best for Apartments:
Vizio 5.1.2 at Amazon
A six inch subwoofer and two compact rear speakers are included to create deep bass levels and a true surround sound experience.
Best with Subwoofer:
Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro at Amazon
With the Nakamichi 7.1 channel soundbar, you get two eight-inch subwoofers with down-firing drivers.

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.

Best Overall: Sonos Playbar

What We Like
  • Slim design

  • 9 sound drivers

  • Simple connections

What We Don't Like
  • 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

Sonos Playbar

Lifewire 

What We Like
  • 5.1 channel

  • AirPlay 2 compatible

  • Alexa-enabled

What We Don't Like
  • 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

Sonos Beam

Lifewire 

Best Compact: Roku Streambar

What We Like
  • Extremely compact

  • 4K streaming

  • Four internal speakers

  • Dolby audio

  • Clean interface

  • Airplay and Bluetooth

  • Works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri

What We Don't Like
  • TV needs HDMI ARC or Optical Port

  • No Ethernet port

The Roku Streambar is a rather compact soundbar, measuring only 14 inches wide. But in spite of its small size, it's loaded with features that make it possible for you to use the Streambar as the only A/V device you need (aside from your TV). In addition to having a fully functional Roku streaming player built in, the Streambar has four 1.9-inch drivers that enhance your TV’s sound. With just a TV and a Streambar, you have streaming and upgraded sound from a device that’s so small, you’ll barely even notice it’s there.

On top of its sound and streaming functionality, the Streambar has Bluetooth 5.0 and Airplay 2, so you can play content from your phone on a Roku Streambar. Blast your favorite tunes, listen to a podcast, or cast a video. The Streambar even supports Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. You can say, “Alexa, pause on Roku” when you’re cooking in the kitchen, and you won’t miss your favorite show. If you want even better sound, you can connect other Roku Wireless Speakers or a Roku Wireless Woofer for a more complete sound system. Plus, all of this comes in a device that costs less than most budget soundbars.

For anyone looking to consolidate their A/V equipment for a small space, the Roku Streambar is ideal. It’s also an excellent option for those who want upgraded sound, but don’t want to spend on a more expensive sound bar or surround sound system.

"The biggest benefit to the Roku is its dual purpose as both a streaming player and a fully-functional soundbar."Erika Rawes, Product Tester

Roku Streambar

 Lifewire / Erika Rawes

Best Design: Sonos PLAYBASE

Sonos PLAYBASE
What We Like
  • Multi-room sound control

  • AirPlay 2 compatible

What We Don't Like
  • 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.

Best for Apartments: Vizio 5.1.2 Channel Home Theater Surround Sound Bar

Vizio 5.1.2
What We Like
  • Dolby Atmos and Virtual X

  • Chromecast built in

  • Apple Music free for four months

What We Don't Like
  • 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

Best with Subwoofer: Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1 DTS:X Soundbar

What We Like
  • 4K passthrough

  • Dolby Atmos and DTS:X

What We Don't Like
  • 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 7.1 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.

"For the most part, this surround set is tuned for pop music, dialogue, and sound effects. When listening to film in particular, it has a movie theater-like quality to the sound." — Emily Ramirez, Product Tester

Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1 DTS:X
Final Verdict

There are certainly plenty of options when it comes to soundbars, but it's tough 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 7.1.4 is a solid runner-up.

How We Tested

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. 

About Our Trusted Experts

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.

Erika Rawes has been writing for Lifewire since 2019. Specializing in tech, she's previously been published on Digital Trends, USA Today, and more. She reviewed the Roku Playbar and enjoyed the compact size and solid audio mixed with streaming capabilities.

Jason Schneider is Lifewire's audio specialist with a decades' experience reviewing tech and media. He reviewed a number of products on this list, particularly the Sonos Playbar, our top choice for audio quality.

Emily Ramirez is a tech writer who studied game design at MIT and now reviews all sorts of consumer tech, from VR headsets to tower speakers.

What to Look For in a Soundbar

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.

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