It’s no secret that TVs generally need a helping hand when it comes to audio. In the race to be the thinnest, brightest, most feature-laden rectangle out there, not much room is left in the chassis for one of the most important parts: the speaker.
Enter the soundbar. Built as a consumer gadget to replace your TV’s speakers (but without replacing high-end surround sound systems), these products can outperform just about any tube on the market when it comes to audio. If home theater headphones just won’t cut it, you need a soundbar.
However, these things can get expensive. If you don’t have $700-$2,000 to blow—nor do you need an audiophile setup—what do you do? Well, I’m an expert, and I’m here to tell you that there are ways to stretch your dollar. If you’re tired of having to suffer tinny, distorted audio, there’s plenty of ways you can skate by if you have $100-300 lying around.
Okay, I cheated a little bit and this is technically a surround sound system. However, the main guts are housed in the soundbar, so I figure this counts. Having first-hand experience with this unit, I can tell you that not only is the audio quality up to snuff for even picky cinephiles, the Vizio unit also has fewer headaches associated with swapping between wireless (Bluetooth, WiFi) and wired sources—especially music from your phone. Speaking of, the new model also supports Chromecast, so no more expensive dongles hanging out of your equipment; just cast to the bar. It’s just gravy that there are two extra channels that can be used for actual surround sound instead of just the emulated kind. All that for under $300? Tough to do better, I promise you.
LG Electronics SH6
One thing that drives me nuts on many sound bars is the lack of Google Cast. It’s a minor issue, I know, but sound bars should be able to handle one of the most important additions to the living room, right? Thankfully, LG has this covered with their absolutely loaded SH6 4.0 Channel soundbar. Though the unit is very heavy, it can be wall-mounted or placed inconspicuously on an entertainment center. In my experience, it has no trouble filling a room with sound, but it is a tad on the weak side for bass. If audio device connectivity is your thing, give this model a look.
Though in some respects judging sound quality is subjective, this Yamaha does fantastically well for the under $300 crowd. The bass won’t rumble your house, but this unit competently replaces your TVs speaker systems with one that can give you virtual surround sound, good audio quality, and won’t break the bank.
Despite the gamer-centric branding, Razer’s Leviathan is a shockingly competent soundbar for under $200. Bearing all the standard guts and features afforded by the other audio products in this price bracket, the Leviathan can be hooked up to your computer or TV to give it that extra audio boost to turn your setup into a media haven. Built with the idea that your space may be at a premium, the subwoofer is split out from the main body into a standalone 5.25 downward-firing unit.
AmazonBasics 2.1 Channel Bluetooth Sound Bar
You really can’t get much more bare-bones than a piece of AmazonBasics equipment. However, this will easily replace your TVs lackluster speakers in a pinch—without emptying your wallet. We’ve opted to add the 2.1 channel system for under $100, but you can also pick up the subwoofer-less model for $70. The audio quality is easily the least-good of the bunch, but don’t take that to mean that it’s bad; on the contrary, it’ll blow your TVs onboard speaker units out of the water.
Considering the fact that soundbars are an ever-changing and growing category, new models will be released that dethrone some of our picks. In that light, be sure to check back periodically so you don’t miss a good deal if there’s one to be had. There are also many soundbars out there that offer quite a lot even under $1000, but we figured $300 was a good cutoff point for most people who just want something that handles what their TV can’t.
Did we miss anything? Sound off in the comments with your favorite budget soundbar!