|Best full system||Vizio M51ax-J6||SEE IT||
A full surround sound system that delivers advanced audio technology like Dolby Atmos.
|Best for movies and music||Polk Audio Signa S3||SEE IT||
A soundbar that support movies, shows and music with dedicated listening modes.
|Best 3.1 sound||Samsung HW-A650||SEE IT||
A soundbar with three channels plus a subwoofer featuring customizable EQ.
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Grabbing a soundbar under $300 is a great way to immerse yourself in the sweeping scores of your favorite movies and the punchy dialogue of your comfort-watch sitcoms. Bypassing any built-in speakers your television might have, soundbars can enhance and elevate your viewing experience by enhancing the stereo field or even expanding it substantially. While there are several high-end (read expensive) models out there, you don’t need to spend a fortune to improve your home theater’s audio. Affordable soundbars can still deliver a high-quality listening experience with 5.1 channel systems, multiple connectivity options, and wireless playback capabilities. Beyond any special features, the best soundbars under $300 will be compact and easy to install, providing additional amplification and clarity to any soundtrack, score, or scene.
- Best full system: Vizio M51ax-J6
- Best for movies and music: Polk Audio Signa S3
- Best 3.1 sound: Samsung HW-A650
- Best 2.1 sound: Yamaha ATS-2090
- Best budget: Roku Streambar Pro
How we selected the best soundbars under $300
The PopSci staff has spent a lot of time researching and testing budget-friendly audio products; everyone deserves access to standout sound, so we pride ourselves on knowing what to look for to ensure all personal audio we recommend will suit listeners of various types. We looked for tempting specs and features like you’d find in luxury models but focused most on connectivity options, multi-channel systems, audio codecs, and user impressions, as well as some first-hand experience. We made sure to only recommend products from reputable brands like Vizio and Roku, which have proven they are dedicated to developing and incorporating affordable audio technology.
Things to consider before buying one of the best soundbars under $300
As televisions became slimmer and flat screens took over our homes, the need for additional amplification grew. Without extra room inside the TV, it became harder to incorporate suitably sized speakers, resulting in the degradation of audio quality. Enter the soundbar, which is practically guaranteed to enhance the viewing experience because they have one job: to make your content sound better. Whether you’re just looking for a bit of a bass boost or a revelatory home theatre experience, you’ll want to consider a few key features before purchasing.
One of the most common questions asked by folks setting out to find the right soundbar for their television is, “What size should I get?” While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, rest assured that soundbars are designed to be a compact, aesthetically pleasing way to improve audio, meaning you don’t need to worry about some monstrously sized speaker taking up half the living room. The common rule is don’t pick a model that is longer than your television. You want your soundbar to sit sleekly underneath the screen to maintain proper directionality and discrete connectivity. A unit that pokes out beyond the corners of your tv or hangs over the edge of your console is at best an eyesore and at worst a hazard. Try to stick to the screen size as a guiding ruler even if you have a smaller television. Soundbar size doesn’t necessarily indicate sound quality, so larger isn’t inherently better. And, with the right model, you can expand your unit to include a subwoofer, or additional speaker fills if you feel like you need more from your slim soundbar.
Most soundbars currently on the market have multiple options for connectivity—the most popular being HDMI cables. Before buying a new soundbar, it’s important to understand your television’s connectivity capabilities, so you can ensure easy setup upon arrival.
HDMI, or High Definition Multimedia Interface, ports are a readily available way to transmit audio and visual information between a television and an external unit, like an A/V receiver or soundbar. When HDMI transmission first hit the scene, you needed one HDMI port and cable to send video and another to support audio so any pre-2009 TV will likely need a soundbar with an optical digital audio port too.
Post-2009, HDMI-ARC connections were made available; ARC stands for Audio Return Channel and enables high audio bandwidth, as well as compatibility with remote controls via Consumer Electronics Control (CEC). Essentially, HDMI-ARC eliminated the need for a secondary cable, creating a more efficient connection. HDMI-ARC transmission is what most affordable soundbars rely on and is suitable for many TVs. Note that HDMI-ARC can support Dolby Atmos, but an eARC connection is strongly preferred and you will need that eARC support for Atmos audio encoded with uncompressed Dolby TrueHD audio. You will also need a cable that delivers HDMI with Ethernet, High-Speed HDMI with Ethernet, or Ultra High-Speed HDMI.
Many soundbars will not only have an HDMI-ARC or eARC port, but also an HDMI output port as well. This allows you to connnect gaming consoles and Blu-ray players to your soundbar and pass the signal through to the TV. Some models will also list Full HDMI in their list of available ports; this slot allows you to connect an additional sound source and can enable higher quality sound but can make it more difficult to play audio from the apps on your TV.
Many soundbars on the market will also offer Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connectivity so you can link to other devices, like your smartphone or laptop, and stream podcasts, audiobooks, or music. Some even offer AirPlay 2, built-in Chromecast, or Alexa for enhanced connectivity and voice control.
At its most basic, a soundbar will offer stereo sound, meaning an independent left and right channel, also called a 2.0 channel system. Soundbar systems can generally incorporate between 1.0 and 7.2 channels. For models under $300, you’ll typically be capped at 5.1 channels and most will be packaged with 2.1 channels. These 2.1 channel systems add a separate subwoofer to take care of low frequencies. Moving up to 3.1 systems will incorporate a left, right, and center channel alongside the additional sub. And 5.1 systems will utilize one main soundbar, containing the left, right, and center channels, one subwoofer, and two additional speakers that act as surrounds, rears, or front fills for an even more immersive experience. As you can imagine, 5.1 systems take up more space and require more cabling, but for a 3D auditory experience, five channels are certainly better than two.
The deal with Dolby Digital, Dolby Atmos, and DTS:X
Dolby Digital is an audio codec that produces high-quality sound across a 5.1 channel scheme. It helps create immersive surround sound and has been used in film and television since 1992. Many soundbars will list Dolby Digital compatibility in their specs even if they are a 2.1 channel system; this simply means they can process the audio and often end up mixing down the signal, formatting it to fit the soundbar’s channel configuration.
Dolby Atmos is a surround sound technology designed to create a realistic listening experience that puts you inside whatever movie you’re watching or video game you’re playing. To do this, Atmos utilizes overhead or upward-firing speakers and object-based audio, which essentially forgoes channel assignments and creates a 3-D plane that sound can move through, mimicking the object’s spatial organization on screen. For example, a plane may sound like it’s flying directly above you, a shootout will have bullets whizzing past your head, etc. You don’t need to build out a 12-speaker sound system complete with overhead units to take advantage of Dolby Atmos; you just need a soundbar equipped with Dolby Atmos technology. Atmos-equipped soundbars can effectively process the audio and some are designed with front-firing drivers that can virtually simulate projecting sound upwards. In order to experience Dolby Atmos, the content you are watching also has to be mixed with that technology, like select films on Netflix, iTunes, or UHD Blu-ray. Dolby Atmos does come at a higher cost but if you are looking for an incredible listening experience, we believe it’s worth the price.
DTS:X, a multidimensional audio codec, can be considered the primary Dolby Atmos competitor. DTS:X doesn’t require any particular speaker set up, adapting to your system and supporting up to 11.2 channels. Unlike Dolby Atmos, DTS:X lets listeners customize their experience, with the option to manually adjust sound elements, like turning up the volume on just dialogue, lifting it above background music or effects. DTS: X-enabled content is predominantly found on Blu-ray disks, IMAXEnchanced content, or Xbox games.
While DTS:X is completely immersive, DTS Virtual:X attempts to mimic multi-speaker surround sound using digital signal processing to simulate directionality and create a larger more detailed soundstage impacting music, dialogue, and SFX alike.
Finding an inexpensive soundbar that supports well-developed surround sound technologies like Dolby Atmos or DTS:X can be difficult. So, if you are looking for a mind-blowing, 3D experience, consider saving a little bit more so you can invest in the necessary technology.
It’s true that the 4K refers to screen resolution, not audio quality, but if you have a 4K television, you’ll want a soundbar with 4K compatibility or “pass-through.” This essentially means a soundbar with an HDMI input and output so you can create a streamlined, simple connection. This pass-through allows you to direct content from another media device through the soundbar and into the tv, maintaining lossless audio synchronization.
The best soundbars under $300: Reviews & Recommendations
Best full system soundbar: Vizio M51ax-J6
Why it made the cut: The M51ax-J6 is the only product on our list that offers a complete surround system with two additional satellite speakers, a subwoofer, and Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio at a very reasonable price point.
- Dimensions: 36 x 3.5 x 2.2 inches
- Connectivity: HDMI eARC, Bluetooth, optical
- Audio Channels: 5.1
- Dolby Atmos and DTS:X processing
- Voice Assistant
- 9 speaker drivers
- Satellite speakers are wired
The Vizio M51ax-J6 is a 5.1 channel surround sound system is rife with features typically found in more expensive models. The 36-inch soundbar houses six speakers: two passive radiators, woofers, and tweeters for increased frequency isolation and support resulting in a richer sound. The 5-inch subwoofer is wireless, can be placed anywhere you like, and has a frequency response range that reaches 45Hz. Two smaller satellite speakers, which connect to the subwoofer via wire, can be placed next to the soundbar for broader coverage (also called front surround mode) or behind your seating area for dual stereo mode. Plenty of connectivity options are available, so compatibility with your TV is practically guaranteed. On the right side of the bar you’ll find an HDMI input, HDMI output for eARC connections, a USB port, and an optical audio input port. The included Vizio remote controls power, input, volume, Bluetooth, and more. You can also connect your favorite voice assistant and other smart devices via aux VA port or Bluetooth respectively to create an efficient hub for at-home music, podcast, and audiobook-listening. Finally, this soundbar is fully equipped to take advantage of DTS:X and Dolby Atmos content, a rarity for most soundbars under $300.
Best for movies and music: Polk Audio Signa S3
Why it made the cut: The Signa 3 is not only a great soundbar for watching videos, but also an excellent at-home speaker for rocking out to your favorite tunes.
- Dimensions: 35.4 x 3.2 x 2.15 inches
- Connectivity: HDMI ARC, Bluetooth, optical
- Audio Channels: 2.1
- Dedicated Music Mode
- Powerful audio across highs and lows
- Built-in Chromecast
- LED Mode indicators can be hard to read
The Signa 3 is a great soundbar for listeners who are looking for more when it comes to everyday, at-home listening. Not only will you get great sound for movies and TV shows, but you’ll also experience elevated audio when it comes to music.
Built-in Chromecast makes it easy to connect to apps like Spotify, TIDAL, or Amazon Music, and Wi-Fi connectivity expands those options. Bluetooth 4.0—with AAC, AptX, and SBC codecs—is also supported. There are three different listening modes available: Movie, Music, and Night; you can also use Voice Adjust Technology to tweak the level of dialogue to your liking. Two midrange drivers and two tweeters alongside the wireless 40-watt subwoofer support a frequency range of 45Hz – 20kHz. Users report distortion-free listening even at high volumes with a rich, natural sound across the mids and highs. The included remote control allows you to adjust volume, bass levels (on a 1-8 scale), input, power, listening mode, and Voice Adjust, so you’ll never need to leave the couch.
Best 3.1 sound soundbar: Samsung HW-A650
Why it made the cut: If investing in additional speakers (and wires for that matter) isn’t for you, but you want a little more than just a left and right channel, the Samsung 3.1 HW-A650 should do the trick.
- Dimensions: 38.6 x 2.3 x 4.1 inches
- Connectivity: HDMI ARC, Bluetooth, optical
- Audio Channels: 3.1
- Center channel
- Graphic EQ
- Overall sound quality
- No Dolby Atmos
- No Voice Control
When it comes to sound reinforcement and system design, most, if not all, venues use a center speaker or speaker array to support vocals specifically. A 3.1 soundbar utilizes this design concept to deliver better home theater audio to your living room. Alongside left, right, and center channels, the HW-A650 provides a balanced sound with a tested frequency response range of roughly 42Hz – 20kHz. When you’re ready to upgrade to a 5.1 surround sound experience, you can easily integrate Samsung’s satellite speakers into your system. This soundbar has several enhancement features to keep you happy even without additional units. Graphic EQ gives you total control over your sound and if you’re not sure where to start presets including Bass Boost, Game, Surround Sound, and Adaptive Sound Life will get you going. Connectivity options include HDMI Arc, HDMI output, Full HDMI input, USB, and optical audio, plus Bluetooth—however, there is no Wi-Fi playback option. The remote is simple and straightforward, controlling the soundbar and not the television itself. While the HW-A650 does not include a treasure trove of bells and whistles, it delivers excellent sound quality, giving you customizable control over audio.
Best 2.1 sound: Yamaha ATS-2090
Why it made the cut: The Yamaha ATS-2090 is a straightforward 2.1 unit with balanced audio designed with WiFi connectivity, voice control, and easy installation.
- Dimensions: 36 x 2.5 x 4.25 inches
- Connectivity: HDMI ARC, Bluetooth, optical
- Audio Channels: 2.1
- Built-in Alexa
- EQ Presents
- No control display
- 3D mode can be overwhelming
The ATS-2090 is a solid option for those who want the added power of a wireless subwoofer without a bunch of extra elements. It features well-balanced stereo sound, dialogue enhancement, subwoofer level control, EQ presets designed for different content, and virtual surround sound. Connectivity options include HDMI ARC, Full HDMI input, HDMI output, optical audio input, USB, and Ethernet. There is also a 4K pass-through that can support Blu-ray players, gaming consoles, and additional PC monitors. The ATS-2090 features built-in Alexa control, as well as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to support playback from your phone or other smart devices. A universal remote is included for control over soundbar and subwoofer volume, EQ presets, listening modes, input settings, and child lock. An entry-level soundbar, this unit is an excellent option for enhancing the stereo image of any film or television program.
Best budget: Roku Streambar Pro
Why it made the cut: The Streambar Pro is an inexpensive way to get solid sound quality with multiple options for control and connectivity.
- Dimensions: 32.2 x 3.9 x 2.8 inches
- Connectivity: HDMI ARC, Bluetooth, optical
- Audio Channels: 2.0
- Private Listening option
- Voice Contol
- AirPlay and HomeKit compatible
- Bass could be better
You don’t need to have a Roku TV to take advantage of all this powerful, compact soundbar has to offer. The Streambar Pro features four 2.5-inch full-range drivers that support powerful 2-channel stereo sound, gracefully enhancing movies and TV shows, but it might not pack a huge punch for music listening. Speech Clarity helps with clear dialogue, though. Luckily, Roku makes it easy to expand with the option to incorporate additional wireless speakers or a wireless subwoofer down the road if you want to round out your listening experience. The included remote contains typical features like control over volume and playback and provides unique additions like programmable command buttons and a headphone jack for private listening wirelessly, allowing you to experience big-screen visuals without waking up your roommates. A Night Mode also helps not disturb the neighbors. The Wi-Fi-enabled Streambar Pro works with Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant and is also compatible with AirPlay, so you can share photos, videos, and music from your Apple device. While this soundbar supports Dolby Audio, it will mix down to virtual without any speaker expansions. This soundbar also acts as a 4K HDR Roku media streamer, providing access to apps including Hulu, Netflix, Spotify, YouTube, Amazon Prime, as well as Roku Channel exclusives, assuming you have a compatible UHD TV with an HDMI input that supports HDCP 2.2.
Q: Does a soundbar replace TV speakers?
Yes, a soundbar is designed to replace your television’s built-in speakers. You cannot use both the TV speakers and soundbar to create an enhanced system, it’s likely you will just create an annoying echo. Soundbars are specifically structured to be better than your built-in speakers, which are often crammed into a skinny TV and too small to produce the kind of sound that should accompany film and television. You are sure to notice a difference the next time you watch an episode of Euphoria and feel Labrinth’s score soar around you or finally dig into Dune and fear the sandworms might come through the screen and attack you thanks to immersive, elevated sound.
Q: Is a soundbar better than a surround sound system?
While a soundbar is a great way to improve your home theater’s sound, a full surround sound system might be the best way to create an even more 3D experience. Larger drivers across at least four speakers plus a subwoofer can often provide more detail than the small units found in soundbars. However, while the audio quality may be better, surround systems are typically more expensive, harder to install, and require additional receivers. For a budget-friendly, easier-to-use option, we recommend looking at a package that includes a soundbar with a couple of supplementary speakers and a sub, like the Vizio M51ax-J6.
Q: What is the difference between 2.1 and 3.1 soundbar?
The difference between a 2.1 and 3.1 soundbar is the additional center channel in the 3.1 system. A 2.1 channel system includes a left and right channel built into the soundbar with an additional subwoofer. A 3.1-channel system will incorporate a left, right, and center channel, as well as the sub. The biggest perceivable difference will be in the clarity of dialogue, which is typically mapped to the center channel.
Final thoughts on picking the best soundbars under $300
If you’ve decided to upgrade your TV’s audio, but you don’t want to break the bank, consider which features are non-negotiable so you can find something that fits your needs and your budget. Do you want to invest in true 5.1 surround sound? Are you satisfied with stereo but need a universal remote? Do you need multiple connectivity options? Or would you rather be able to have complete control over EQ? Once you can answer these questions, you can narrow your search and select one of the best soundbars under $300.