More than a year ago I realized my regular TV speakers weren’t cutting it. My hours spent watching Battlestar Galactica and X-Files were dulled by muddled dialog and blaring musical overtures. I was priced-out of multi-speaker surround-sound systems and had been burned by inexpensive speakers before, but I remained optimistic that contemporary technology could provide clear, crisp sound for us less-than-rich audiophiles. That’s how I got started testing sound bars. The result of my studies: this list of speakers that maintain the integrity of sound even at high volumes. What’s even better, none of these cost more than a couple hundred bucks.
Yamaha YAS-207 sound bar
A sound bar capable of creating virtual surround sound without all the extra speakers. Amazon
The bar with the best sound quality is also, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most expensive piece of tech on this list. But the relatively pricey the Yamaha YAS-207 comes with some features the others don’t, like a separate wireless subwoofer to enhance the bass. It also comes with DTS Virtual:X built in that virtually recreates surround-sound without the need for an entire surround sound setup. It reproduces a virtual height and depth that wouldn’t normally be possible with a single forward facing speaker.
ZVOX AccuVoice sound bar
A sound bar for people that can’t understand dialogue. Amazon
Then there’s ZVOX, a sound bar that enhances the dialogue by using digital algorithms to manipulate the audio signal and boosts just the voices. Basically, the sound bar lowers the background noise and raises the volume of the speaking. This makes it perfect for people that constantly ask “what did they say?” while watching TV shows or movies. If you don’t have a problem hearing what actors are saying it’s also just a well-balanced, great-sounding speaker. The ZVOX can be controlled by your TV’s remote and can be plugged in via an optical audio input or a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Soundcore Infini 2.1 Channel sound bar
A great, cheaper sound bar for smaller rooms. Amazon
My favorite budget pick is the 35-inch Soundcore Infini from Anker. The 2.1-channel speaker—with two tweeters and two built-in subwoofers—provides deep bass and crystal clear high tones. Plus it lets you stream music via Bluetooth from your Smartphone, and comes with a remote to switch between audio modes. The sound bar can be hooked up to your TV via optical, digital coaxial, or AUX and comes with a wall-mount setup. The 2.2-inch tall speaker also features a dialogue mode similar to that of ZVOX, boosting the mid-range to enhance the dialogue. I have to say, ZVOX’s execution is superior.
Fluance AB40 Soundbase sound bar
A powerful 90-watt sound bar with a sleek wooden cabinet and Bluetooth connectivity. Amazon
The Fluance AB40 Soundbase is a 90-watt sound bar that’ll make anything you watch better. Similar to others in this list, the Fluance AB40 creates a wide, virtual 3D surround-ish sound without needing all the extra speakers in the room. The speaker is 26 inches wide, 14 inches deep, and less than 4 inches tall. It’s encased in a wood cabinet and weighs only 24 pounds. You can connect devices via Bluetooth, 3.5mm Aux cable, or the included optical cable. It doesn’t include an HDMI port, so keep that in mind if that’s your preferred way of plugging in your speakers. There are two color options—Black Ash and Lucky Bamboo.
Polk Command smart sound bar
An Alexa-enabled sound bar that will elevate your watching and listening experience. Amazon
At first, I was skeptical about a sound bar that has Alexa built into the speaker. I listen to my TV super loud, so I didn’t expect the speaker to be able to hear my voice without me screaming. To my surprise, The Polk Audio Command Sound Bar heard my requests without me having to raise my voice. It also has great sound, features two HDMI inputs and it comes with a wireless subwoofer to enhance the cinematic sound quality. It features built-in Dolby and DTS surround sound, helps create clear, understandable dialogue in the content you’re watching, and lets you stream music. The speaker is wall-mountable and features the option to plug it into your TV via digital optical cable.