The 7 Best Soundbars to Buy in 2016

Your home theater system isn't complete without one

Soundbars are a great way to take your home theater and audio system to the next level. But when buying one, it can be difficult to decide which would best complement your TV, fill your living room with the right sound and be compatible with your other gadgets (smartphones, etc.). To help, we've rounded up the top soundbars, and there's something for everyone. So whether you're looking to stay under a certain budget or splurge on the highest-quality system, these soundbars won't disappoint.

Best Overall: Yamaha YAS-203

Yamaha YAS-203
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Yamaha YAS-203 is our choice for the best overall soundbar. The 35” long unit works well with dozens of television models and, with an additional 6.5” subwoofer, you’ll find deep, impactful bass that can be placed anywhere in a room. The bonus addition of Bluetooth allows you to stream music from your iPhone, iPad and Android devices whenever you want.

Setup is simple, with just one single-cable connection, and you can even set the “learning feature” to control volume with your existing TV remote. While more expensive soundbars might feature true “surround” sound, the YAS-203 utilizes a pseudo-sounding surround technology that helps fill a room. You’ll find both Dolby Digital and DTS support, as well dual 2.1” full-range drivers.

The sound of the Yamaha is also boosted by audio improvements like Clear Voice and UniVolume which are included to respectively raise the level of dialogue and narration and maintain a consistent volume level between channels and programming. In real world practice, reviews were mostly positive for these specific features but temper expectations as this is still a soundbar and won’t fill an entire room as a full home theater system can. Buy from Amazon »

Best Budget: Vizio SB3821-C6

Vizio SB3821-C6
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If you’re looking for something that can give your home entertainment experience a boost without breaking your wallet, the Vizio SB3821-C6 is the best place to look. Although the SB3821 lacks the HDMI connectivity of our best overall option and it does not offer the center speaker of its more-expensive siblings, the sound quality is just as good.

The speaker itself measures around 38” long and a hair under 3” deep, and the subwoofer can be placed anywhere you have a power outlet, thanks to a wireless Bluetooth connection to the main speaker. Temper your expectations for truly high-end material at the price point, but the black rectangular look is sleek, clean and attractive.

The 100 dB sound capability isn’t just built-in for show. The rich bass of the subwoofer enhances the overall listening experience and, while it’s budget priced, the Vizio often sounds like it is punching well above its weight class. Listening to music is great thanks to Dolby Digital decoding, great dynamic range and no signs of distortion even when taken to the absolute highest volume level. Buy from Amazon »

Best Sound Quality: Sonos Playbar

Sonos Playbar
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The Sonos is 35” in length and packs six midrange drivers and three tweeters into the entire package. The caveat to the packed drivers is additional weight as the Sonos is heavier more than most soundbars at 12 pounds and is deeper at 5.51”.

Unlike most soundbars on this list, the Playbar is one of the few that doesn’t come with a subwoofer, which is available for purchase separately. While that may sound unfortunate, it’s actually a benefit as you can add to the system depending on just how much sound, bass or treble you really want. One additional miss for the Playbar is the lack of a HDMI input and Bluetooth connectivity which means all audio sources need to come direct through the TV or from Sonos’ Android or iPhone app. There’s no remote offered as Sonos anticipates most buyers will opt for the mobile app rather than add to an already crowded list of remotes in your family room. In fact, it’s the app and the extra services offered through it that truly provide value for Sonos. You’ll find options for Amazon Cloud Player, Spotify, Google Play Music and numerous other subscription music services that all require the use of the Sonos app.

Whether it’s through the app or through the TV, Sonos knows how to put out quality sound and the Playbar more than lives up to its asking price. While it’s not a 5.1 system, it emulates surround sound that ultimately makes for a pleasant and, dare we say, immersive experience. Buy from Amazon »

Best Splurge: Definitive Technology W Studio

Definitive Technology W Studio
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The Definitive Technology W Studio has a sleek and beautiful design, and the sound is absolutely incredible. Add in HDMI switching, multi-room WiFi audio with Play-Fi and you’re starting to see why the price tag is warranted.

The unit itself, measuring 3.3"x 42" x 3.3”, is a blocky, chunky soundbar that somehow still manages to come across as attractive. There’s plenty of hard right angles with solid metal caps at the end to reinforce the idea that this isn’t your neighbor's budget soundbar. Behind the grille clothe are six 3” mid/woofer drivers and three 1” tweeters which account for the soundbars left, right and center physical speaker channels. On the rear there are three HDMI inputs, HDMI output, power connecter and a USB port for firmware updates.

The wireless subwoofer matches the stark look of the soundbar. The remote is larger than most soundbar models and features control options for just about everything you can want. Similar to Apple’s AirPlay, the inclusion of Play-Fi is both neat and gimmicky. The opportunity to play music from another room sounds well and good in practice, but feels like more of an add-on than a necessary requirement even at this price.

The 7.1-channel surround sound makes everything feel and sound immersive.. You’ll hear far more detail out of the W Studio than you will against its lower priced competitors and that’s exactly why you’re willing to pay top dollar. Overall, this is a fantastic soundbar with an attractive high-end design and enough features to last for years. Buy from Amazon »

Best Surround Sound: Vizio SB4051

Vizio SB4051
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There’s no beating around the bush. If it’s a true surround sound experience you want, a full home theater is what you’re after. However, if you want to replicate the home theater experience without the size and expense of a full system, a soundbar is the next best thing. The Vizio SB4051 is best-in-class when it comes to delivering true 5.1 sound in the soundbar form factor. To create this experience, Vizio added front, left and center channels into the main soundbar that can go above or below a TV. There’s also an included subwoofer and two satellite speakers for creating a more home theater-like experience. You’ll be completely surrounded by amazing audio that will feel like you’re ready to jump into the opening music for Star Wars.

At 40” long, you’ll want to pair the Vizio with a larger TV, which is OK because the larger the TV, the more theater-like you’ll get. Thankfully, the Vizio is another addition on this list that includes HDMI inputs, passing all video sources directly to the TV. Bluetooth is also included so streaming music from a smartphone or PC is easy enough with a quick setup through the included remote. One notable kick is the “upgrade to immersive audio” with the SB4051 filling rooms up to 102dB and less than one percent total harmonic distortion. In other words, this soundbar doesn’t mess around. It’s mission is to bring you the best possible sound. Just for icing on the cake, you’ll find Dolby Digital, DTS Digital Surround, DTS Circle Surround and DTS Studio Sound all included with the SB4051. Buy from Amazon »

Best with Subwoofer: Polk MagniFi

Polk MagniFi
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The Polk MagniFi soundbar is already a very good soundbar but where it truly differentiates itself from the competition is the subwoofer. At 38" x 2" x 2”, the MagniFi is sleek, slim and will quickly feel right at home underneath your TV. There are three drivers: left, center and right along with three control buttons on top: power, volume bass and “voice” which offers direct control of the center channel volume. The not-standard-but-it-should-be addition of Bluetooth allows for a wireless connection from your smartphone or tablet for playing music. Unfortunately, like too many others on this list, there’s no HDMI connection, so you’re connecting to your TV via a single optical digital port.

The 13" x 12" x 9” wireless subwoofer is larger than many of its competitors. Still, it’s small enough that you can conveniently hide it in a corner while still enjoying the additional bass. There’s room-filling sound to be had here and watching movies and TV will not disappoint. In fact, this may be the loudest option on this list. Buy from Amazon »

Best for Gaming: Razor Leviathan

Razor Leviathan
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The Razor Leviathan is our choice for the best gaming soundbar, and at just under 20” wide, 4” tall and only 3” deep, it's easily the most compact on this list. It’s also perfectly priced, and includes a dedicated subwoofer and immersive 5.1 channel surround sound. Bluetooth 4.0 means wireless music streaming is cinch.

You’ll find controls for the Razor on the top edge of the backside with volume control, input options, three sound modes and a choice to turn on the virtual surround sound feature which emulates a 5.1 setup. Unfortunately, there’s no remote or smartphone app which further seals the choice that the Razor is best suited for an up-close experience rather than a living room or family room. There are no bass or treble levels to adjust, which might not suit the audiophile looking for complete control over sound, but at the budget price there were bound to be some tradeoffs. Thankfully, the small size doesn’t mean small sound and if you’re a computer gamer, you’re going to love what you hear. Whether it’s Call of Duty or some other hit game, the Razor Leviathan will make the entire gaming experience more immersive, detailed and overall just more of a blast to play. Buy from Amazon »


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