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Published Mar. 23, 2022

Every year TVs find a way to get even better and better. But whether they are the best QLEDs or the best OLEDs, even the latest and greatest TVs 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. However, if you’re ready to drastically improve the level of your TV’s audio to watch that screen, while perhaps also adding a wireless music streaming solution to your media room, you don’t have to shell out thousands of dollars on a massive home theater system. Soundbars can definitely get expensive but the best soundbars under $500 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 Wi-Fi connectivity for wireless streaming, as well as voice control from digital assistants. This guide shows you the best soundbars for getting everything you want in one modestly priced package.

How we picked 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 a number of speakers integrated into one unit made to accompany and enhance a TV.

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 need to make sure 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. 

Audio channels

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 can vary a lot. 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. If a soundbar states a 7.1.2-channel configuration, for example, 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 of those under $500, so if that appeals to you, check out something premium like the Sony HT-A7000.

Add-on speakers

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 that are sold separately. The satellite speakers also need to plug into an outlet and sometimes need connecting with 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. 

Connectivity

Because soundbars are made to supplement your TV’s audio, all of 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 of them 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 Wi-Fi for wireless streaming, and even integration with 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. 

The best soundbars under $500: Reviews & Recommendations

Permit yourself a bit of excitement because no matter which soundbar under $500 you choose, it will bestow you with a marked improvement over your TV’s built-in speaker audio. 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, and you’ll be ready to pick from these selections and immediately enhance your TV viewing. 

Best soundbar under $500 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. 

Specs

  • 25.6 (W) x 2.7 (H) x 3.9 (D) inches
  • 6.35 pounds (2.88 kg)
  • 5.0 channels with 1 tweeter and 4 woofers
  • Frequency response: apprx. 49Hz-19kHz
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and HDMI eARC
  • Compatible with Dolby Atmos, Apple AirPlay 2, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant

Pros

  • Good sound and spacious audio imaging for its compact size.
  • Smart speaker features and Wi-Fi streaming.
  • Pleasant minimalist design.

Cons 

  • No Bluetooth
  • Limited connectivity of 1 HDMI and 1 Ethernet port.

If you love the look and features of the big-daddy Sonos Arc soundbar, but have a smaller space and/or budget the Sonos Beam (Gen. 2) is like a smaller, less expensive version of the Arc. It gives you smart speaker features like built-in Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as Apple AirPlay 2 streaming. And the updated 2nd-gen. Beam makes the design a little bit sleeker, adds HDMI eARC (which also allows for high-resolution audio), and supports Dolby Atmos material with a stronger processor that creates a virtual Atmos height effect from the Beam 2’s L/R and side-firing speakers. This Atmos 3D effect is not a replacement for real Atmos systems with top-firing or overhead speakers, but it’s still a nice addition. 

There are some limits to the Beam’s minimal aesthetic, such as a single HDMI connection and an app-only remote control. However, the soundbar has an impressive soundstage for its size; the side speakers work well to widen both stereo and surround sound signals to fill a small- to mid-sized room. The mid-range and high frequencies sound satisfyingly precise. Although the Beam does not bellow with huge bass, you can add the Sonos Sub subwoofer and the Sonos One SL surround speakers if you like.

Best with Dolby Atmos: JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam

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 the Bar 5.0 MultiBeam makes a valiant effort. 

Specs 

  • 28 (W) x 2.3 (H) x 4 (D) inches
  • 6.17 pounds (2.8 kg)
  • 5.0 channels with dedicated center channel and side-firing channels
  • Frequency response: 50Hz-20kHz
  • Built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, and 4K HDMI eARC
  • Compatible with Dolby Atmos, Apple AirPlay & Siri, Google Chromecast & Assistant, Alexa Multi-Room-Music & voice control

Pros

  • JBL MultiBeam and room-correction technology to enhance surround sound
  • HDMI ARC/eARC out, plus 4K passthrough HDMI input and USB input
  • Solid build quality with metal grilles

Cons 

  • Virtual surround-sound processing is just that
  • Not so authoritative with the lowest bass frequencies 

When you have a small space but still want to supplement your TV speakers with a compact soundbar to play Dolby Atmos material, your options aren’t vast. Compact soundbars at that price don’t often have top-firing speakers that make the 3D height-oriented Atmos effects special, but some of them 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 JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam soundbar uses virtual Dolby Atmos processing to create the illusion of Atmos effects from its L/R stereo and side-firing speakers. 

We chose the Bar 5.0 MultiBeam as the best Dolby Atmos soundbar under $500 because it does a similarly decent job with Atmos material as the Beam (Gen. 2), but unlike the Beam (Gen. 2) the Bar 5.0 MultiBeam has extra connectivity in the form of Bluetooth 4.2, a 4K HDMI input, and USB input. That makes the JBL soundbar a more diverse centerpiece for a home theater, at a price even more affordable than the Beam (Gen. 2).

The Bar 5.0 Multibeam also has an excellent dedicated center-channel driver, which makes the dialogue in movies and vocal in music more distinguished. It also can get very loud (over 90 dB) while still retaining all the qualities of its punchy sound. 

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. 

Specs 

  • 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 

Pros

  • 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.

Cons 

  • No Wi-Fi 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 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 they are in most higher-priced systems; rather, you have to connect them with speaker wire to the subwoofer, which can make it more challenging to position them well in your space. You also don’t get Wi-Fi 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—all for under $500.

Best 5.1 soundbar: Samsung HW-Q60T/ZA

SAMSUNG

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Why it made the cut: With good spacing and interaction between its internal speakers and wireless subwoofer, the HW-Q60T makes a great 5.1 companion to TV viewing and is expandable with rear surround speakers. 

Specs 

  • 38.6 (W) x 2.3 (H) x 4.1 (D) inches (soundbar)
  • 7.5 pounds (3.4 kg) (soundbar)
  • 5.1 channels with nine total speakers and wireless subwoofer
  • Frequency response: 42Hz-20kHz
  • Built-in Bluetooth and 4K HDMI ARC
  • Compatible with DTS Virtual:X 

Pros

  • Admirable overall sound profile for this price
  • Many sound enhancement presets and graphic EQ
  • Q Symphony technology matches sound to a (Samsung) TV’s picture. 

Cons 

  • No Wi-Fi/Chromecast/AirPlay
  • No voice control through Alexa/Siri/Google Assistant
  • Some functionality only for Samsung QLED TVs.

You don’t have to own a Samsung QLED TV to enjoy the solid overall performance of the HW-Q60T/ZA 5.1 soundbar with wireless subwoofer but you’ll be treated to a little something extra if you do. With compatible Samsung TVs, the Q Symphony feature syncs the TV picture with the soundbar, which has Samsung’s Acoustic Beam up-firing sound ports on top to make sounds appear to match the location that they appear on the screen. The soundbar doesn’t support Dolby Atmos, but the Acoustic Beam ports also help with DTS Virtual:X 3D immersive sound and with other sound modes like the soundbar’s Game Pro mode for enhancing the directionality of console game audio. 

If you’d like to expand the HW-Q60T/ZA’s soundstage, it’s compatible with the Samsung SWA-8500S wireless surround kit, which will add two rear surround sound speakers to your setup. And at press-time prices, you could add the wireless surround speakers to the soundbar and subwoofer all for under $500. 

Best 3.1 soundbar: LG SN6Y

Why it made the cut: When you want to trade virtual surround-sound channels for a heavy dose of audio power, the LG SN6Y has what you need, along with the option to expand to 5.1 true surround sound. 

Specs 

  • 41.7 (W) x 2.2 (H) x 3.4 (D) inches (soundbar)
  • 7.6 pounds (3.4 kg) (soundbar)
  • 3.1 channels with left/center/right channels and wireless subwoofer
  • Frequency response: 48Hz-20kHz
  • Built-in Bluetooth 4.0 and HDMI ARC
  • Compatible with DTS Virtual:X 

Pros

  • Supports hi-res audio up to 24-bit/96kHz
  • 420W total power
  • Excellent performance from center channel for clear dialog/vocals

Cons 

  • No Wi-Fi/Chromecast/AirPlay
  • No voice control through Alexa/Siri/Google Assistant
  • No 4K video passthrough

While 5.0/5.1 soundbars have side speakers that mimic surround sound rear speakers, those are virtual surround effects that only do a passable job with surround sound. With a 3.1 soundbar like the LG SN6Y, you start with the three most important audio channels: left, right, and center—the channel most important for helping to get clear dialog when you’re watching something. And while this soundbar has internal processing for trying to mimic surround sound effects and supports DTS Virtual:X, those are gestures more than real surround-sound solutions. Instead, you could build on this impressive foundation by purchasing the LG SPK8-S wireless rear satellite speakers separately and the total price would add up to just a bit over the $500 mark.    

At this price level, the SN6Y is loaded with power—420W total—and gets quite loud for blasting music and action movies: over 92 dB max volume. Its bass is quite heavy, but the frequency response is not low enough to rattle your walls. You can, however, adjust the levels of the subwoofer and the center channel, and LG’s AI Sound Pro automatically adjusts sound levels for the system based on what’s playing.

Best with subwoofer: Yamaha YAS-209

Yamaha Audio

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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. 

Specs 

  • 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 Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, Amazon Alexa, and 4K HDMI ARC
  • Compatible with DTS Virtual: X 3D
  • 200W total power

Pros

  • Remarkable overall sound and low-frequency bass response for the price
  • Product Dimensions
  • Amazon Alexa integrated

Cons 

  • 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 of the extra features for a soundbar under $500. It allows both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi 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 very crisp sound overall that doesn’t suffer when you turn it up. While a center channel might help a bit for distinguishing vocals and dialog within complex sound mixes, the Clear Voice setting goes a long way to make up for it.

FAQs

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 make sure 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. If you want to make sure the soundbar fits between a TV’s stand legs and under the TV’s frame, you’ll have to find out those measurements and compare them to individual soundbars. 

Final thoughts on the best soundbars under $500

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 a lot of 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. 

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