Best soundbar: immersive sound for your home entertainment center

A stylish, understated, and compact upgrade to your sound system with big results. Here are the best soundbars we’ve found.

It’s more affordable than ever before to take your home media viewing experience to new heights. Smart TVs abound, and with this increased availability, a whole new world of entertainment possibilities come to light. One of the easiest ways to make a drastic improvement to the quality of your home theater’s audio is by introducing a soundbar to your setup. The best soundbar is compact, easy to install, and an unbeatable way to present your movies, music, and video games with elevated volume, clarity, and immersion. Unlike a traditional speaker system, a soundbar usually requires only a single connection to your television to switch between sources. These systems are often Bluetooth-compatible from the get-go—so you can sync your tablet, phone, and other streaming devices too. If you’re looking for a quick and cost-effective way to upgrade your home theater system, we’ll help you find the best soundbar to get the job done.

How to select the best soundbar

The best soundbar for your space will complement and conform to your existing setup while transforming your media viewing and listening experience. Systems come in a variety of sizes and connectivity options, and some are tuned specifically to allow the clearest and loudest listening experience possible. If you’re tech-oriented and want something more cutting edge, consider a smart home-capable soundbar or a surround sound system to take your home to the next level.

How big or small should your soundbar be?

One of the most convenient features of most soundbar systems is the understated form that helps them blend in with your existing entertainment center. It’s generally recommended that you choose a soundbar that doesn’t exceed the length of your television for aesthetic reasons. The length and size of the soundbar doesn’t always translate to volume and power, so you won’t be making too many compromises by going with a smaller soundbar.

The most important consideration when choosing a soundbar for its size is that it retains flexibility and versatility in spite of having an understated appearance. Many miniature soundbars pack Bluetooth connectivity, subwoofers, and other special features into their cases without a hitch, so you don’t have to worry about sacrificing essential features just to ensure that your smaller rooms don’t get cluttered. After all, you’re buying a soundbar for its major improvements over your television’s speaker system.

Best soundbar for small spaces and minimalists: Yamaha SR-C20A Compact Sound Bar

Enjoy Music And Films

Robust bass response thanks to the built-in subwoofer. Amazon

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This Yamaha soundbar is just 26 inches long and 2.5 inches high, but it packs a powerful bass response and Bluetooth streaming inside its small frame. A clear voice mode allows for enhanced enjoyment of dialogue, and the unit includes compatibility for HDMI, optical, and AUX inputs. Built-in keyholes allow for optional wall-mounting as well.

Do you want to connect to Bluetooth?

Bluetooth is one of the most prevalent and useful interfaces for wirelessly streaming audio from your devices to your speaker systems, and most soundbars on the market do offer some form of Bluetooth connectivity. Options like this allow the soundbar to work for you and help you get more out of your system whenever you’re listening to music or podcasts around the house. Most televisions don’t come standard with a Bluetooth audio receiver, so not only does this technology open up your entertainment center as a location for streaming audio, but it’s also an incredible improvement over a traditional portable Bluetooth speaker.

HDMI is the most commonly used wired interface for soundbars when receiving audio from your TV. Some soundbar systems use this connection to receive volume information directly from your TV remote. If you’ll be dealing with sound from numerous sources like Blu-ray players, video game consoles, and streaming services, it’s important to consider whether your soundbar has enough connectivity to support your needs, as well as how efficiently it can interface with a variety of devices. Generally speaking, more connectivity is always better due to the flexibility that it affords, as devices that play well with others make your life easier and require less tinkering. Increased connectivity options do come at a price in both cost and size, so it’s important to weigh your needs for flexibility against these factors.

Best soundbar for seamless connectivity: Samsung HW-T550 2.1ch Soundbar

Great For Gaming

Single remote control compatibility allows for simple operation of your entire system. Amazon

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This Samsung soundbar sports three-channel audio and includes a dedicated center speaker as well as a satellite subwoofer for powerful, enhanced bass and 3D surround sound effects. It offers superior multi-connectivity via Bluetooth, allowing two smart devices to remain paired at once, and the HDMI ARC interface allows for single-cable audio connections to and from your TV.

Balance tuning versus power

An oft-overlooked factor while shopping for a soundbar is its ability to adequately translate cinematic audio and dialogue in the best way for your room. For example, a soundbar with a high wattage rating and high maximum sound pressure level might appear loud on paper, but if this sound is muddy or if the device’s design renders dialogue muffled and unintelligible, it completely defeats the purpose of adding a soundbar to your system in the first place. In this way, volume and power capabilities don’t always translate to better sound for your space. If you’re looking to max out your entertainment system’s volume with a soundbar, it’s important to consider a model that combines a high wattage and maximum volume with manufacturer-designed tuning.

The system used to tune a soundbar—or any sound system, for that matter—involves using equalization to boost certain frequencies and cut others, which can enhance the audio in home environments. Unless you’re investing in a high degree of sound treatment for your theater room, chances are that there are some undesirable resonances in your space that can exacerbate poorly tuned audio. This effect becomes even more pronounced at higher volumes, so it’s important to pick out a tuned or tunable system if you’re going to listen loud or if you’re in a smaller room. With a properly tuned soundbar, dialogue becomes clear, action sequences retain impact without being ear-piercing, and most importantly, it drastically cuts the need for constant turning up and down of your television volume. If any of these issues apply to your situation, a tuned soundbar is the only way to go.

The best tuned soundbar: Sonos Playbar

Pair With Other Speakers

Control over a distance using the included remote or from the Sonos app. Amazon

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The Sonos Playbar comes tuned specifically by experienced Oscar-winning sound engineers with dialogue clarity in mind. WiFi wireless capability allows the Playbar to connect with other Sonos products around your home and deliver crisp, high-quality sound in a variety of listening situations, and optional wall-mounting ensures that it stays out of the way in cramped conditions.

Will surround sound enhance your setup?

There once was a time when surround sound and multi-channel audio was a luxury that could only be enjoyed in public movie theaters. Even the earliest home surround systems were prohibitively expensive and relied on connections that required complex installation, long wire runs, and plenty of hole drilling. Fortunately, surround sound in a home theater setting is now more compact, sleek, easy to install, and affordable than ever before thanks to designs that utilize a combination of soundbar form factors, wireless connectivity, and long battery life.

The main factor to consider when choosing a soundbar system with surround sound should be whether it fits your space and where each speaker will sit. Unlike single soundbar systems, a five-channel surround sound setup will usually include satellite speakers for placement behind your seating area and a dedicated subwoofer in addition to the main soundbar. A seating arrangement that backs up against the wall will require installation of mounts, whereas a seat in front of a console table or other piece of furniture lets you place the rear speakers right on top.

True surround sound has a distinct advantage over basic systems due to the five individual channels that carry audio signals and operate independently of one another, adding incomparable dimensionality to your media and allowing listeners and viewers to become immersed instead of merely observing. Sounds can travel around the entire room, and low-frequency rumbles translate to a higher degree with the use of subwoofers. Some systems rely on battery power for their satellite speakers, so take into account whether your preferred placement will require a nearby outlet or whether you prefer rechargeable, battery-powered speakers.

The best soundbar with surround sound: JBL Bar 5.1

Immerse Yourself

Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic, and DTS-ready to bring cinematic-quality audio to your home. Amazon

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A true 5.1 home theater entertainment setup is well within reach thanks to the JBL Bar soundbar system. This set includes two battery-powered wireless satellite speakers that can attach to the main bar, a 10-inch wireless subwoofer, and three HDMI ports for extended connectivity. Wireless speakers allow this system to flourish in any theater environment thanks to the ease of setup and maintenance, making this a no-brainer first step into the surround sound market.

Is your home a smart one?

Smart home systems like Alexa and Google Home are transforming the way we live and work around the house and beyond. Activities that were once interrupted by the need to pick up the phone, sit down at the computer, or fumble with a device have been made quicker and easier thanks to voice control integration across a whole gamut of home appliances. And since your entertainment center is a focal point of your time spent at home, it only makes sense to consider a soundbar system that offers voice control compatibility, whether you’re planning on expanding your current smart home system or starting from scratch.

One of the biggest perks of choosing a soundbar with smart home compatibility is its elevated ability to play high-volume music and media while still being able to hear your voice over the noise and execute your commands without turning the volume down or pressing pause. Think of a voice control-enabled soundbar as a more souped-up version of a traditional smart home speaker: you can turn the music up and down, resume and pause programming, check the status of your smart cooker, air quality, temperature, and so much more from the comfort of your seat. A system with this capability also eliminates the need for a separate smart speaker for your TV area or living room altogether, which is a plus if you’re trying to save space or retain a minimalist sense of decor.

The best soundbar with smarts: Bose Soundbar 700

Two Color Options

A fully-expandable system that allows for the addition of a dedicated subwoofer and satellite speakers. Amazon

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Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility make the Bose Soundbar 700 an ideal choice for users looking to maximize their space and get the most out of their media center. The unit sports Bluetooth and WiFi compatibility for wireless streaming from your devices, and a custom eight-microphone array ensures that your voice is heard even while the soundbar is playing. It’s designed to be low profile and finished with a stylish glass top, making it the way to go if you have aesthetics on your mind.

The best soundbar brands to know

Because of the widely prevalent nature of home entertainment speaker systems, it’s easy to find options from manufacturers that are long-established audio veterans as well as options from relative newcomers to the industry. It’s up to you whether you’d prefer to go with a company that has decades of experience or a company that emphasizes new technologies and leans heavily into functionality like smart home integration, but because each of the major players produces such high-quality products, this choice for the best soundbar will likely come down to personal taste.

Bose

Amar Bose founded this audio company in 1964 after becoming disappointed with the performance of his newly-purchased home stereo system. Over the following years, Bose became well-known for their unique home speaker systems with an emphasis on acoustic physics. Amar Bose donated the majority of the company’s shares to his alma mater, MIT, in 2011 in an effort to advance the university’s research.

JBL

JBL was founded by James Bullough Lansing in 1927 and began manufacturing speakers and related parts in Los Angeles. The company has built a solid reputation over the decades, with its products widely used in professional audio settings, including recording and movie studios. JBL was sold to Harman International in 1969 and began making substantial inroads in the home speaker market.

Sonos

Sonos began in 2002 as a company aiming to introduce a wireless audio streaming service, founded by John MacFarlane, Craig Shelburne, Tom Cullen, and Trung Mai. Their first digital music system was unveiled in 2004, and over the years since, the company has expanded to produce whole lines of wired and wireless home speaker systems. Sonos released their first soundbar product in 2013.

Best budget soundbar: What you get for under $50

Speaker systems can be costly to manufacture, so if you’re set on spending less than $50 for your soundbar, be aware that your product may be lacking the extended low-frequency response and overall power you can get from pricier options. A soundbar is first and foremost meant to elevate your TV’s sound system to a new level, so if you’re taking the plunge, it makes sense to upgrade rather than make a lateral move. If you’re on a budget, consider the Majority Bowfell Small Sound Bar—it’s compact, relatively powerful, and it comes with a remote control and all the cables you’ll need to get up and running. In terms of the best budget soundbar, it’s the one you want.

Bottom line on shopping for the best soundbar

A soundbar is an easy choice for drastically improving the quality of your home theater, thanks to the easy setup and maintenance that these systems provide. The wide range of choices in this product category ensure that there’s an option out there for every budget and need, from compact single-bar systems to fully-fledged surround sound setups. In looking for a soundbar system, consider the size of your space and the amount of connectivity that your home theater needs to ensure that your add-on provides the best cinematic experience for you.