We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn more ›
Every year, TVs find a way to look better but sound worse, so upgrading to a soundbar can get you audio that does those vivid images justice. Soundbars can definitely get expensive, but there are plenty that will still fill up a room with loud, well-defined sound for a more down-to-earth investment. Many of them also provide Bluetooth and/or WiFi connectivity for wireless streaming, as well as voice control from digital assistants. This guide shows you the best soundbars under $500, so you can get everything you want in one modestly priced package.
- Best overall: Sonos Beam (Gen. 2)
- Best with Dolby Atmos: Polk Signa S4
- Best with surround sound: Vizio M Series M512a-H6
- Best 5.1: TCL Q6510
- Best 3.1: Sony HT-S2000
- Best with subwoofer: Yamaha YAS-209
- Best smart: Roku Streambar Pro
How we chose the best soundbars under $500
I have covered and reviewed audio products—both in the pro audio and home audio realms—on and off for most of the 21st century for outlets including Mix, Maximum Tech, DJ Tech Tools, Bob Vila, and some defunct publications printed on paper called magazines. PopSci editors and I chose these soundbars based on their appropriateness for different needs, first-hand experience when available, the value they present, and their consensus reputations based on expert reviews. While a stickler may insist that a soundbar is just the oblong thing that sits under a TV, the fact is that many soundbars on the market also come with subwoofers and sometimes satellite speakers for surround sound. For variety’s sake, we chose picks in several configurations, from single bars to a more expanded setup. However, all of these choices rely on the performance of the main soundbar, which is several speakers integrated into one unit to accompany and enhance a TV, improving the legibility and enjoyment of your content.
The best soundbars under $500: Reviews & Recommendations
When it comes to modern TVs, the best QLEDs or the best OLEDs all still seem to have one thing in common: internal speakers that may not exactly be garbage but that don’t reach far past the lower limits of mediocrity. Permit yourself a bit of excitement because no matter which of the best soundbars under $500 you choose, it will bestow you with a marked improvement over your TV’s built-in speaker audio while perhaps also adding a wireless music streaming solution to your media room. Sure, you could shell out thousands of dollars on a massive wireless surround sound system. But you don’t have to. Just figure out how many audio channels you want, how much wireless/wired connectivity you prefer, and whether you need an additional subwoofer or rear speakers. Then, you’ll be ready to pick from these selections and immediately enhance your TV viewing.
Best overall: Sonos Beam (Gen. 2)
Why it made the cut: With its updated design and virtual Dolby Atmos sound, the Sonos Beam (Gen. 2) keeps the versatile features, sparkly sound, and expandability that made the first version a hit.
- 25.6 (W) x 2.7 (H) x 3.9 (D) inches
- 6.35 pounds (2.88 kg)
- 5.0 channels with one tweeter and four woofers
- Frequency response: apprx. 49Hz-19kHz
- Built-in WiFi and HDMI eARC
- Compatible with Dolby Atmos, Apple AirPlay 2, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant
- Good sound and spacious audio imaging for its compact size
- Smart speaker features and WiFi streaming
- Pleasant minimalist design
- No Bluetooth
- Limited connectivity of 1 HDMI and 1 Ethernet port
If you love the look and features of the Sonos Arc but have a smaller space or budget, the Sonos Beam (Gen. 2) is the right choice. The soundbar is effectively a smaller, less expensive version of the Arc with many of the same features.
Sonos outfitted the updated Beam with four midrange woofers, one tweeter, and three passive radiators to ensure the quality of its midrange, treble, and bass performance, respectively. It doesn’t produce as much sound as larger soundbars—including the Arc, an outstanding Dolby Atmos soundbar that we’ve also tested with the stand-out Era 300 spatial audio speakers—but the Beam (Gen. 2) does well for its size. The audio quality of the Beam (Gen. 2) isn’t an issue, but you won’t get quite the same level of stereo separation and oomph at high volumes. These nitpicks have more to do with the laws of physics than a design error on the part of Sonos, though, and the Beam (Gen. 2) shines when you start watching TV shows and movies.
We heard impressive detail during our tests, with clear separation between dialogue and background sounds. When watching Groundhog Day, scenes in the diner stood out in particular. We could hear the protagonists speaking, but the ambiance of their room—people speaking at other tables, the clinking sounds of silverware hitting plates, staff puttering around—were also present and audible. The difference in audio quality between the Sonos Beam (Gen. 2) and our TV’s built-in speakers was similar to the delta between HD and 4K video. The former is passable, but the latter is a lot richer.
Much of the Beam (Gen. 2)’s audio quality comes down to custom-designed hardware combined with unique tuning. No soundbar sounds quite like this one because Sonos went out of its way to control every part of its design—inside and out. This advantage makes the Beam (Gen. 2) easy to recommend. We liked how this soundbar sounded out of the box, but you can adjust its EQ through the Sonos app. We don’t think this is necessary, but we recommend turning on TruePlay when setting the Beam (Gen. 2) up. This proprietary feature allows the soundbar to analyze the room and where it’s placed inside it to adjust its sound accordingly. The difference will seem subtle, but optimizing this soundbar is worth taking two minutes.
A lot of hay is made over premium soundbars that can decode and playback mixed using the Dolby Atmos surround sound standard, and the Sonos Beam (Gen. 2) is no different. Sonos positioned two of the soundbar’s drivers outward, so sound will bounce off the sides of your room and hit you from multiple angles. Let us be clear: This is a neat trick, but it doesn’t replace or replicate the experience of listening to music or watching movies in true surround sound, with speakers placed all around the room. Luckily, Sonos allows you to pair the Beam (Gen. 2) wirelessly with additional rear-channel speakers and a subwoofer to achieve the surround sound effect with its most compact components.
The Beam (Gen. 2) shines when it’s part of a multi-speaker surround sound system, and while building one costs a lot of money, you can break up the cost over time. We advise starting with a subwoofer to help fill out the soundbar’s bass performance (a big, dedicated speaker makes the biggest difference on the low end and opens up the smaller speaker’s headroom for clearer dialogue and effects). Then, add more speakers as time progresses.
We can’t find much fault in the Sonos Beam (Gen. 2’s) sound, but its connectivity options are pretty barebones. You can only connect it to your TV with an HDMI cable—sorry if you prefer using an optical cord or your TV’s ports are all filled up. There’s an Ethernet port if you’d like to connect it to your network with a cable, but WiFi worked just fine for us. Sonos made up for this by building the Beam (Gen. 2) with support for Bluetooth and AirPlay 2, which makes it easy to use the soundbar as a speaker for music listening. Additionally, you can use the soundbar’s microphone to control it with Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant.
If you’re space-constrained or already have a couple of Sonos speakers that can be repurposed for home theater purposes, the Beam (Gen. 2) is the right choice. Its audio performance is rock solid, it’s aesthetically pleasing, and the ability to augment it with other Sonos gear is welcome—if expensive.
Best with Dolby Atmos: Polk Signa S4
Why it made the cut: It’s a tough ask for a single compact soundbar under $500 to be the audio centerpiece of home theater surround sound, but Polk Audio’s Signa S4 succeeds.
- 41 (W) x 2 (H) x 3 (D) inches
- 21.20 pounds (9.62 kg) (Soundbar with subwoofer
- 5.1 channels with dedicated center channel and side-firing channels plus a subwoofer
- Frequency response: 50Hz-20kHz
- Built-in WiFi, Bluetooth 5.0, and 4K HDMI eARC
- Compatible with Dolby Atmos
- Respectable surround sound performance from a two-component system
- Voiceadjust™ technology actually works
- Three connectivity options.
- Virtual surround-sound processing is just that
When you have a small space but want to supplement your TV speakers with a compact soundbar to play Dolby Atmos material, your options are starting to get better. Compact soundbars at that price don’t often have top-firing speakers that make the 3D height-oriented Atmos effects special. Still, some utilize Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization, a technology that simulates the Atmos 3D effects from a speaker system without up-firing or overhead speakers.
Like the Sonos Beam (Gen. 2) above, the Polk Audio Signa S4 soundbar uses virtual Dolby Atmos processing to create the illusion of Atmos effects from its L/R stereo and side-firing speakers. Unlike the Beam, the Signa S4 has a wireless subwoofer to fill out the low end, which does very well. Setting up the Signa S4 was a simple affair thanks to its HDMI (ARC port), though you can connect it to your TV using an optical audio cable or AUX cable. Remember that you’ll need to use an HDMI connection to properly play Dolby Atmos content. We were pleased that this system’s wireless subwoofer connected to the soundbar without any configuration.
Once it was hooked up, we started playing video games and streaming videos from a variety of services. We consistently liked what we heard: Clear dialogue, no overmodulation at loud volumes, and some 3D audio effects when listening to content with a Dolby Atmos mix. Clever driver placement and AI can’t replicate the experience of hearing audio coming from speakers placed in front and behind you. Still, the Signa S4 sounds different from a standard stereo soundbar to our ears.
If you’re curious about Dolby Atmos but want a compact audio system rather than a multi-speaker monster, Polk Audio’s Signa S4 is well worth your time.
Best with surround sound: Vizio M Series M512a-H6
Why it made the cut: Simply put, this soundbar with subwoofer and rear surround speakers offers the most complete home theater audio setup of a level of quality under $500.
- 40 (W) x 2.68 (H) x 4.07 (D) inches (soundbar)
- 8.47 pounds (3.8 kg) (soundbar)
- 5.1.2 channels with 11 total speakers, including subwoofer, two satellite speakers, and two up-firing speakers
- Frequency response: 45Hz-20kHz
- Built-in Bluetooth 5.0 and 4K HDMI eARC
- Compatible with Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Siri/Google Assistant/Alexa voice control
- World-class value for the price
- Up-firing drivers for surround standards like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X
- Transparent sound for intelligible vocals in music and shows
- No WiFi streaming
- No room correction or graphic EQ; light on sound enhancement settings
- Rear surround speakers are wired to the subwoofer
A single soundbar can blow the doors off the sound of your TV’s built-in speakers. However, you don’t really get very low bass rumble or truly immersive surround sound from a single soundbar—especially under $500. So when you have a package like the Vizio M Series M512a-H6—including a soundbar with top-firing speakers, a wireless 6-inch subwoofer, and rear satellite speakers for just under the $500 mark—it’s a legitimate cause for excitement. The top-firing drivers in the soundbar make the object-oriented overhead effects from Dolby Atmos or competing DTS:X material more immersive, and the rear speakers provide the depth to your soundstage that true surround sound needs.
Naturally, there are a few limitations at this price level. For one thing, the rear surround speakers are not wireless like in most higher-priced systems; rather, you have to connect them with speaker wire to the subwoofer, making it more challenging to position them well in your space. You also don’t get WiFi streaming or built-in support for smart assistants. However, the M512a-H6 does have Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless streaming, and you can set it up for voice control via the major voice assistants.
More importantly, the M512a-H6 provides a full-spectrum, immersive sound with deep bass, top-firing and rear channels, and a transparent sound that complements a range of sources from music to visual entertainment well—and all for under $500.
Best 5.1: TCL Q6510
Why it made the cut: TCL’s Q6510 is a full-on 5.1 surround sound system with wireless speakers that work without latency.
- 35.4 (W) x 2.7 (H) x 3.9 (D) inches (soundbar)
- 5.1 pounds (2.31 kg) (soundbar)
- 5.1 channels with nine total speakers and wireless subwoofer
- Frequency response: 42Hz-20kHz
- Built-in Bluetooth and HDMI ARC
- Compatible with Dolby Audio DTS Virtual:X
- Low-latency surround sound speakers
- Automatic AI calibration
- Includes wall mounts
- No WiFi/Chromecast/AirPlay
- No voice control through Alexa/Siri/Google Assistant
TCL’s Q6510 is a four-piece 5.1 surround sound soundbar that solves our biggest issues with this type of speaker system. The front right, front left, and center-channel speakers are built into the bar itself, while the wireless subwoofer has a pair of ports on the back that supply the rear right and rear left speakers with power. Many 5.1 soundbar audio systems rely on a mix of upward and front-firing drivers to achieve surround sound, but they can’t achieve the same level of performance as a set of discreet speakers.
In our tests, the Q6510 performed very well given its surprisingly modest price tag—$300 normally, $250 at the time of this writing. Our initial test was to listen to the soundbar independently, but it was clear that TCL designed the system with at least the subwoofer connected to fill out its sound. The soundbar and subwoofer paired to one another immediately, and the soundbar’s thinner sound was instantly richer.
If the Q6510 was only the soundbar, it’d still be worth recommending for folks seeking a sizable upgrade over their TV’s internal speakers. The front channels checked all the boxes: dialogue sounded clear, loud sounds like explosions never caused distortion, and it was easy to get great sound at any volume level. But, on top of that (or, more appropriately, underneath it), we were especially pleased with the Q6510’s wireless subwoofer, which provided quite a lot of bass. Part of this has to come down to TCL’s Automatic AI Calibration, which adjusts the speakers based on the room that they’re in. As components get added to the system and moved around, the calibration makes tweaks.
And the Q6510 is not just a 3.1 soundbar system; it’s a full 5.1 surround sound system. Connecting the pill-shaped surround speakers to the subwoofer was simple (their power cable is connected to the speakers themselves), and they instantly synced with the soundbar. Linking the surround speakers to the subwoofer has one major benefit and one downside. On the one hand, your surround speaker placement options are limited to within a few feet of the subwoofer, whose placement options are also somewhat limited for the same reason. On the other hand, you get a 5.1 surround sound system that only requires two outlets, which makes it easier to configure in a greater number of rooms.
TCL made the right call here because the cable connecting the rear speakers to the subwoofer is pretty generous. Once everything was connected, the Q6510 offered an excellent surround sound experience. We used it to watch movies and TV shows with a 5.1 track and could distinctly hear sounds from every direction. Despite their size, the rear speakers included in the Q6510 system sounded full and clear. They added the level of dimensionality you want from a 5.1 surround sound system over a stereo or 3.1 audio setup.
TCL didn’t cut any audio corners when designing the Q6510, but the system doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles you might expect from a modern sound system. There’s no WiFi connectivity or smart assistant access, which may bother you but didn’t hinder our testing experience; we prefer companies focus on audio performance first over additional smart features. The one extra TCL does include is mounting gear for the soundbar and surround speakers, which is genuinely useful if you’d like to make your system look as discreet as possible. If you want a true 5.1 audio system with a small footprint, TCL’s Q6510 is the way to go.
Best 3.1: Sony HT-S2000
Why it made the cut: When you want a fuller-sounding subwoofer in a pretty small package, Sony’s HT-2000S should be your new go-to.
- 31.5 (W) x 2.6 (H) x 5 (D) inches (soundbar)
- 8.16 pounds (3.7 kg) (soundbar)
- 3.1 channels with left/center/right channels and built-in subwoofers
- Frequency response: 48Hz-20kHz
- Built-in Bluetooth 5.2 and HDMI ARC
- Compatible with Dolby Atmos, DTS X
- Supports hi-res audio up to 24-bit/192kHz
- Built-in subwoofers reduce this system’s overall size
- Bass is surprisingly powerful
- External power brick
While 5.1 soundbars offer “true” surround sound by way of dedicated rear-channel speakers, you can still get an immersive experience with a 3.1 system like Sony’s HT-S2000. The soundbar has a center channel and right and left drivers, which offer clearer vocals and stereo sound, respectively. Many 3.1 soundbars have a wireless subwoofer to provide bass, but Sony took a different tactic and built a dual-subwoofer into the soundbar itself. This makes the overall setup a lot more compact, but it required the company to move the power supply outside of the soundbar and onto the cable. This is cumbersome because you’ll have a chunky power brick hanging around your home theater setup, but this is our only real complaint with Sony’s soundbar.
On the sound side, the HT-S2000 performs very well. The internal subwoofers deliver clear lower frequencies well, though we wouldn’t say they’d beat some of the dedicated subs we’ve tried. The tradeoff is that you only need to dedicate one outlet and less than 32 inches of space to your entire home theater. If you’d like to expand your setup, you can augment the HT-S2000 with a Sony subwoofer and rear speakers over time to create a fuller 5.1 surround sound system. We like recommending modular gear so you have the flexibility to make your setup sound sweeter step by step.
Setting up the HT-S2000 was a single-cable affair thanks to its HDMI eARC support. My television immediately recognized the soundbar, and I could start watching movies and TV shows without downloading an app or even touching the included remote. We won’t say this 3.1 soundbar setup was as immersive as the multi-component 5.1 systems we’ve tried, but it’s certainly held its own. For a subwooferless system, we don’t think you can do much better than this. We could detect distinct stereo separation—so long as the movie or show had any to begin with—and sound effects never got too loud to hear the vocals.
Sound effects that typically tax an audio system’s bass (think explosions) came through clearly, too. We’d imagine this performance would be even better with Sony’s additional speakers, but don’t think anyone will have complaints about how the HT-S2000 sounds out of the box. Sony does offer the ability to tweak the HT-S2000’s sound using its Entertainment Connect App on iOS and Android, which lets you switch between a handful of EQ modes, but we never felt the need to make any changes. This soundbar supports virtual surround sound through Dolby Atmos and DTS-X, and while we detected some additional separation, it didn’t stand out.
If you’d like a compact, great-sounding soundbar setup but don’t have the space for a 5.1 setup, you should seriously consider the HD-S2000. This is doubly true if you’d like to build a fuller surround sound system when space, time, and budget allow.
Best with subwoofer: Yamaha YAS-209
Why it made the cut: A straightforward stereo soundbar with a subwoofer can still have a place in a modern home entertainment room when it sounds this good and has the technological bell and whistles.
- 36.63 (W) x 2.5 (H) x 4.25 (D) inches (soundbar)
- 6 pounds (2.7 kg) (soundbar)
- 2.1 channels with left/right speakers and wireless subwoofer
- Frequency response: 35Hz-20kHz
- Built-in WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2, Amazon Alexa, and 4K HDMI ARC
- Compatible with DTS Virtual: X 3D
- 200W total power
- Remarkable overall sound and low-frequency bass response for the price
- Product Dimensions
- Amazon Alexa integrated
- No display screen
- Doesn’t work with Yamaha’s MusicCast surround speakers
The YAS-209 soundbar with subwoofer may be only a 2.1-channel (stereo) system, but it doesn’t skimp on many extra features for a soundbar under $500. It allows Bluetooth and WiFi streaming, an HDMI input with 4K passthrough, HDMI ARC output, and a better-than-nothing virtual surround sound mode. Its built-in Amazon Alexa integration lets you control the soundbar with your voice and includes standard Alexa operation, like asking it questions, setting timers, controlling smart home devices, etc. And you can also combine other Alexa-enabled speakers to build a multi-room audio system.
Perhaps more importantly, the YAS-209 also sounds very good for this price range. It has a lower-than-average frequency response for deep, contoured bass, very good detail in the high range, and a crisp overall sound that doesn’t suffer when you turn it up. While a center channel might help distinguish vocals and dialog within complex sound mixes, the Clear Voice setting goes a long way to make up for it.
Of course, if you’re not deadset on buying something today, Yamaha announced the launch of the SR-B40A soundbar with wireless subwoofer and the SR-B30A soundbar with built-in subwoofers, expected in August and September of 2023, respectively, and both costing less than $400.
Best budget smart soundbar: Roku Streambar Pro
- 32.2 (W) x 2.8 (H) x 3.9 (D) inches (soundbar)
- 5.5 pounds (3.4 kg) (soundbar)
- 3.1 channels with left/center/right channels and wireless subwoofer
- Frequency response: 40Hz-200Hz
- Built-in Bluetooth 5.0, AirPlay 2, and HDMI ARC
- Virtual Surround Sound
- Doubles as a 4K media streamer
- Can be upgraded with additional Roku speakers for true surround sound
- Excellent audio performance and smart streaming capabilities
- Support for AirPlay 2, in addition to Bluetooth
- Works with Amazon’s Alexa and can be managed in Google Home
- Best for users who like Roku’s platform
Roku’s Streambar Pro has no right to work as well as it does for its $179 price (which is why it tops our best soundbars under $200 list). The mid-sized soundbar has four 2.5-inch drivers, which approximate the performance of a left, right, and center-channel home theater setup. In our tests, dialogue sounded surprisingly clear, and the Streambar Pro’s bass performance was strong enough to handle loud sounds (think explosions in action movies) without distorting. Don’t get us wrong, you’ll still get better bass performance out of a soundbar system that comes with a dedicated subwoofer—more on that later—but we never found the Streambar Pro’s sound lacking.
Roku says the Streambar Pro supports virtual surround sound, but there’s only so much they could accomplish with four forward-facing drivers. Please don’t get this soundbar hoping it’ll recreate the experience of a true height channel-equipped surround sound system in a compact form, or you’ll be disappointed. That said, other technologies supported by Streambar Pro make using it a lot better. Bluetooth and AirPlay 2 allow you to stream audio—and video in the case of AirPlay 2-compatible devices—directly to the Streambar Pro. If your smart home is built around Amazon or Google’s ecosystem, you’ll appreciate the ability to control this soundbar using Alexa or Google Assistant. It doesn’t support Siri control, but Apple reserves that functionality for its own hardware.
The Streambar Pro can only be connected to a TV with an HDMI cable, which is the default option for soundbars these days, but worth noting in case you’ve used up all your ports. If you were hoping to connect using an optical audio cable, you’re out of luck. Next to the HDMI port, you’ll find an Ethernet jack and USB-A port, which come in handy because this soundbar’s marquee feature: acting as a media streamer for your TV. Yes, this soundbar has a full-powered 4K Roku streamer inside (so you have no excuse not to fire up Weird: The Al Yankovic Story right after plugging everything in). We’re typically skeptical of gadgets that try to accomplish two completely separate tasks, but we can’t help but be impressed at how well Roku pulled this off.
Once you connect the soundbar to your TV, you’ll be walked through the standard Roku setup process: creating or signing into an active Roku account, logging into your home network, and picking your streaming apps of choice. From there, you can use Streambar Pro to access content from almost every major video and audio streaming platform. We’ve used Roku’s standalone media streamers before and found the Streambar Pro to be every bit as performant and easy to use. Roku bundles the Streambar Pro with the same remote as many of its media streamers, so if you’re familiar with its other tech, you’ll feel right at home.
The decision to build a media streamer into its soundbar was shrewd. Roku is counting on the fact that one of your TV’s HDMI ports is being used by a similar device, which you can replace with its own hardware. If you’ve been relying on the streaming apps built into your TV’s operating system, Streambar Pro will upgrade both audio quality and overall usability. Roku’s operating system and remote are the easiest to use in our experience, so in this case, double dipping works.
We mentioned the Streambar Pro’s serviceable bass and so-so surround sound performance earlier, and while neither is a dealbreaker, Roku does offer ways to improve these downsides. This soundbar can be augmented with a subwoofer and up to four speakers to create a true 5.1 surround sound system. The additional speakers and subwoofer connect to the soundbar wirelessly, which is wonderful. The subwoofer adds just the right amount of bass while placing additional speakers all around the room is more immersive than using any soundbar on its own. Roku sells a full surround sound system for around $500, but you can pick up these pieces individually over time if you’d prefer.
The Streambar Pro offers the right mix of audio quality, modularity, and additional features that make it the ideal choice for anyone who wants to upgrade from the speakers built into their TV. Whether you want to start building a home theater or make it easier to find and watch TV shows and movies on your new set, you’ll find what you’re looking for here.
Things to consider when looking at the best soundbars under $500
The No. 1 reason to buy a soundbar is to bask in the improved audio quality. But that improvement requires space immediately in front of your TV, so you must ensure you have room on or above some piece of furniture. The soundbars on this under $500 list aren’t giant like some of the high-ticket soundbars (the amazing but substantial Sennheiser AMBEO, we’re looking at you), but they do vary in size, so it doesn’t hurt to double-check that you have enough space for one. Of course, there are other things to consider as well.
Some people may look at a group of blocky soundbars and assume that they all have pretty much the same stuff going on inside. But that’s not the case. All soundbars house multiple speakers inside one unit, but their channel configuration varies greatly. There are 2-channel stereo soundbars; 3-channel options that add a center channel for clarifying vocals and dialog; 5-channel soundbars that are better equipped for recreating surround sound; and even larger speaker arrays that add more surround sound channels. Suppose a soundbar states a 7.1.2-channel configuration, for example. In that case, the “7” is the number of standard speaker channels, the “1” indicates a subwoofer, and the “2” is the number of top-firing speakers for producing next-generation surround-sound standards like Dolby Atmos. But you won’t find many under $500, so if that appeals to you, check out something premium like the Sony HT-A7000.
If you only want to devote enough space for a single soundbar, there are plenty of standalone options out there for you. However, many soundbars also come with subwoofers for adding some stomach-shaking bass rumble that you won’t get from a soundbar alone. Subwoofers are great, but they are bulky and have to be plugged in. Also, some soundbars either come with additional rear satellite speakers for making surround sound more realistic or can be expanded with compatible rear speakers sold separately. The satellite speakers also need to plug into an outlet and sometimes need to connect with a speaker wire. Additional speakers add to the experience but also usually add to the cost, so think about whether you want just a soundbar or a more complete setup.
Because soundbars are made to supplement your TV’s audio, all today’s models have an HDMI port to transmit the TV’s sound (some with the HDMI 2.1 standard most desirable to today’s gamer). But from there, the level of connectivity, both wired and wireless, varies greatly. Some have additional HDMI inputs, while others don’t. Some have 4K passthrough HDMI eARC for the most modern TVs, but others do not. On a particular soundbar, you may or may not find analog and digital audio connections, USB drive ports, Bluetooth and/or WiFi for wireless streaming, and even integration with smart-home voice assistants like Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google Assistant. If any or all of the above are important to you, plan accordingly while soundbar shopping.
Q: What is the difference between a 2.1 and a 5.1 soundbar?
The difference between a 2.1 soundbar and a 5.1 soundbar is that the 5.1 soundbar has three extra channels of audio inside the housing of the soundbar. A 2.1 soundbar has only left and right channels, making it stereo sound. It may be a fantastic stereo system, but it’s not made to play surround sound audio as it was originally mixed. A 5.1 soundbar has left, right, center, left surround, and right surround channels inside. It still won’t reproduce surround sound audio as fully intended because, for that, you need separate speakers physically behind you for at least two of those audio channels. But, with a 5.1 soundbar, there are more speaker channels to send elements of the audio mix, and along with special processing to create virtual surround, they do a decent job of recreating surround sound from a single soundbar. Finally, as the “.1” indicates, both 2.1 and 5.1 soundbars come with a subwoofer.
Q: What does 7.1-channel soundbar mean?
A 7.1 soundbar means it has two additional audio channels for helping to reproduce surround sound than a 5.1-channel soundbar. The 7.1-channel configuration in home theater systems with discrete speakers for each channel adds two side speakers, making the channel configuration left, right, center, L/R rear, and L/R center. With a 7.1-channel soundbar, those extra two channels may be additional speakers inside the casing of the soundbar, or they may be separate rear speakers that go along with the soundbar and subwoofer. For a good 7.1-channel soundbar under $500 that includes a subwoofer and two rear satellite speakers, the Samsung HW-Q65T is a great option.
Q: What size soundbar do I need for a 55-inch TV?
While a little overhang may add a slight perception that action isn’t perfectly synced up to sound on screen, the size of a soundbar compared to your TV size does not really matter unless you want to make sure the soundbar is not as wide as the TV and/or that the soundbar’s height and width will fit inside your TV’s stand legs and under the TV’s frame. The size of a soundbar may reflect the number of speaker drivers inside it and/or the amount of power it has to put out loud volumes. However, the soundbar will perform the same regardless of how big your TV is. If you want to ensure the soundbar is less wide than the TV, the best 55-inch TVs today are 48-51 inches wide (55 inches is the screen’s diagonal measurement). All the soundbars in this roundup, for example, are less wide than that. To ensure the soundbar fits between a TV’s stand legs and under the TV’s frame, you’ll have to find those measurements and compare them to individual soundbars.
Q: How much should a soundbar cost?
This depends on its size and features, but you shouldn’t have to send more than $180 to get a good-sounding soundbar.
Q: What are the best soundbar brands?
All the companies in this guide make great soundbars, but we have dedicated guides to models from LG and Bose because they have so many options at various price points. Another brand worth exploring is JBL, makers of the all-in-one Bar 300, which is Atmos-ready at under $400.
Final thoughts on the best soundbars under $500
- Best overall: Sonos Beam (Gen. 2)
- Best with Dolby Atmos: Polk Signa S4
- Best with surround sound: Vizio M Series M512a-H6
- Best 5.1: TCL Q6510
- Best 3.1: Sony HT-S2000
- Best with subwoofer: Yamaha YAS-209
- Best smart: Roku Streambar Pro
Oftentimes, with technology, the quality and sheer quantity of what you get increases while the price stays the same. But that’s not always the case, as price fluctuations in today’s market pop up with increasing regularity. Even while writing this guide, I saw price increases that eliminated certain soundbars from consideration. Fortunately for now, however, $500 or less is still enough to buy you some elegant standalone soundbars with many high-tech extras, a boomin’ system with a soundbar and a subwoofer, or even a full Atmos-compatible package with soundbar, subwoofer, and satellite speakers. I’m not one to advocate for conspicuous consumption. Choose prudently for features you want and will actually use, but if you’re considering buying a soundbar for less than $500 and have the budget, you may want to act before the price jump bug bites again.
Why trust us
Popular Science started writing about technology more than 150 years ago. There was no such thing as “gadget writing” when we published our first issue in 1872, but if there was, our mission to demystify the world of innovation for everyday readers means we would have been all over it. Here in the present, PopSci is fully committed to helping readers navigate the increasingly intimidating array of devices on the market right now.
Our writers and editors have combined decades of experience covering and reviewing consumer electronics. We each have our own obsessive specialties—from high-end audio to video games to cameras and beyond—but when we’re reviewing devices outside of our immediate wheelhouses, we do our best to seek out trustworthy voices and opinions to help guide people to the very best recommendations. We know we don’t know everything, but we’re excited to live through the analysis paralysis that internet shopping can spur so readers don’t have to.