Though portable Bluetooth speakers are certainly on the rise, there’s a growing market for affordable soundbars too. Just a few years ago, soundbars of this caliber were about $1,000 as a base price, but today, we’re able to get excellent and immersive sound quality starting at $150. Without further ado, we present to you the best soundbars that should be under your TV.
For the best soundbar, pick up the Samsung HW-MS650 Sound+
The HW-MS650 Sound+ is a unibody, three-channel soundbar that covers all of your frequency range-related bases. Samsung delivers exceptional sound without the need for a cumbersome subwoofer. If you’re worried about your TV room aesthetic, have no fear because the discreet design blends into any home setting. Plus, it’s multiroom compatible, surround sound ready, and comes with built-in WiFi.
Samsung HW-MS650 Sound+
Beneath the grill are nine speakers with dedicated amps, a subwoofer, and a wide-range tweeter that allows for consistent sound from virtually anywhere. What’s more, low-end distortion is addressed by predicting and cancelling distortion before it happens. This results in greater clarity and less auditory masking, vastly improving your overall home theater experience.
Samsung’s OneRemote which controls the soundbar directly through the TV—so long as you have a compatible Samsung TV set.
As far as the technicalities are concerned, the HW-MS650 Sound+ produces 24bit/96kHz HD audio and works with Dolby Digital technology. There’s just one optical input, but you can also connect via USB, WiFi, or Bluetooth, so there’s never a shortage of options. If you’re at all concerned about format compatibility, rest assured because this works with WAV, MP3, WMA, OGG, FLAC, AAC, ALAC, and AIFF formats.
Included with everything is Samsung’s OneRemote which, when used with compatible Samsung TVs, can control the soundbar directly through the TV interface. One of the coolest features of this soundbar is the ability to select between the five sound modes: standard, music, clear voice, sports, and movie. If you don’t feel confident in your decision-making abilities, Sound+ technology will automatically determine what mode is optimal for the type of content in question.
“How does this soundbar work with Amazon Alexa?”
So long as you have an Amazon Echo device, like the Dot, you can simply pair the two products and ask the Alexa to play something. Though, it’s worth noting that Samsung mentions in the finest of prints that the Alexa service “can be terminated at any time.”
“Will this work with my 4K TV?”
Yes, fortunately, Samsung has included a 4K pass-through, which requires a basic HDMI connection that delivers top-notch audio and visual quality without the worry of degradation. In order to do so properly, you have to connect a 4K video source through the soundbar and to your TV.
“How can I connect my soundbar to the TV?”
If you have a compatible Samsung TV you can connect via Bluetooth or WiFi. Just press the source button on the remote or soundbar until the Bluetooth option appears on your TV. Then, it will read, “BT pairing,” at which point you can enter the speaker menu on your TV and choose “Bluetooth audio.” From there, select the specific soundbar and connect.
If you have a third-party TV set, then you should refer to that specific manual to pair your soundbar correctly.
What you should know before buying the best soundbar
If this is your first toe-dip into the world of soundbars, welcome. There are virtually innumerable configurations that you can create for your personalized home theater setup, but before we jump the gun on purchases, let’s get a few orders of business out of the way.
“What is HDMI ARC?”
When searching for soundbars and home theater setups, you may repeatedly see the acronyms “HDMI ARC” show up. In full, this stands for “high definition multimedia interface audio return channel.” But all that you really need to know about it is that it’s there for added convenience. In a perfect world, HDMI ARC is a single-cable solution to all of your home theater woes.
ARC is paramount for 4K streaming. For instance, right now you can really only get 4K streams from various providers if your smart TV supports it. If you’re connecting an Apple TV to your TV, you’ll have to forgo the 4K resolution, unless you get the audio from the TV through an ARC input.
One of the biggest cons of using ARC is that it only supports Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks that use the SPDIF output. Additionally, you have to make sure that your outputs and receivers are all compatible. If you want to use HDMI ARC, your TV must have an ARC output.
“What’s a 4K soundbar?”
It’s a bit of marketing, but if you have a 4K TV and you want to use a soundbar with it, you’re going to want a 4K soundbar. If you’re only planning to use the soundbar for music and not as a home theater setup for movies, no, 4K compatibility wouldn’t make a difference for your audio quality.
However, to maintain a 4K viewing experience with a soundbar, you’re going to want a soundbar with a 4K pass-through. Simply put, this just means that the 4K signal is transferred directly from the receiver to the TV. For instance, the Bose SoundTouch 300 has a built-in 4K pass-through for lossless viewing.
If you’re pining for sophisticated design, the Bose SoundTouch 300 is one of the best soundbars
Of course, if the Samsung HW-MS650 Sound+ doesn’t speak to you, maybe the Bose SoundTouch 300 will. If ease-of-use when it comes to streaming is important, this is the soundbar to invest in. The SoundTouch 300 houses four full-range drivers, a tweeter, and uses the company’s proprietary PhaseGuide technology to deliberately direct sound from the side, creating a more dynamic, room-filling sound.
Bose SoundTouch 300
If you came here for something pretty, you’ll be more than happy. As is all the rage in the world of tech, this speaker is slim and glossy. Sure, a downside is that the soundbar ends up being a fingerprint magnet, but it cleans up rather nicely. The all-black design accented with a metal grill runs along the siding is only complemented by the slick, upward-facing panel.
As with most Bose products, the SoundTouch 300 stays true to the formulaic Bose sound signature: boost the treble to feign clarity. It is a bit of a disappointment that the speaker lacks Dolby Atmos compatibility but, like the Samsung Sound+, there is Dolby Digital and DTS support. If you’re going for a modern look and don’t want to sacrifice sound for design, the SoundTouch 300 may be the next piece of hardware on your mantle.
Looking for something versatile? Take a look at the LG SJ7 Sound Bar Flex
One look at this setup and you may be thinking to yourself, “Huh, looks more like two speakers and a subwoofer to me. Where’s the soundbar?” Well, like the name “Sound Bar,” as opposed to “soundbar,” the dual soundbar design breaks up what’s typically recognized as a unibody element. This 2.1 arrangement is great for stereo sound but may turn some aesthetes off.
LG SJ7 Sound Bar Flex
OK, but what makes this so special that it’s one of the best soundbars you can buy? Well, aside from being a three-piece unit, the secondary speaker is completely portable. The internal battery, which the primary speaker lacks, provides about four hours of battery. Though this isn’t much, it’s enough for a quick visit to a friend’s house. Now, a downside to the portability is that the 60W output decreases to save juice. But, hey, it’s still cool that you have the option to bring it with you.
Though the aesthetic diverges from that of a traditionally built soundbar, this is the most versatile option. After all, the secondary speaker can be taken out of the home.
From this secondary speaker, you can control the speakers’ modes. One of them is dubbed “Rear” which produces a pseudo-surround sound effect by moving the unit behind you. On the other side, there’s the primary speaker which houses an optical input, by which LG provides a corresponding cable, HDMI in and out ports, a USB service port, and the AC power input. Setup is easy, and the subwoofer automatically pairs to the dual soundbar.
Speaking of the 200W subwoofer, it’s a 6” driver and the bass and treble output can be adjusted via the included remote control. Though $300 is anything but chump change, it’s a small price to pay for a versatile home theater arrangement. Again, it would be nice to see Dolby Atmos support, but Dolby Digital and LCOM are both great options.
When it comes to Dolby Atmos soundbars, the Samsung HW-K950 is the best
If you don’t know why Dolby Atmos is so groundbreaking, make sure to read our feature on it here. The gist of it is this: It’s referred to as “object-based surround sound” and doesn’t rely solely on channels to create an enveloping sound. Instead, each sound is recognized as an individual object that can be placed anywhere within the “atmosphere” of sound that’s produced. This allows for a three-dimensional sound that captures aerial noises much more accurately than your standard stereo setup.
Aside from Dolby Atmos compatibility, one of the main selling points of the nine-channel (5.1.4) HW-K950 Dolby Atmos is just how easy it is to configure. All you need is to connect to your TV via the ARC input if you want to have the full 4K soundbar experience. If you don’t have a 4K TV, you can opt for one of the two HDMI inputs or the single optical input. You also have the option to connect via Bluetooth or over WiFi. The speakers and subwoofer, like the LG S7J pair directly to the soundbar.
Tip: For the full Dolby Atmos viewing experience, toggle your Blu-ray player’s audio output. Make sure that “Bitstream” is selected instead of PCM.
If you leave your audio output at the default PCM option, you’ll use Dolby’s virtual Atmos which uses software to create an enveloping effect. This is still an improvement over what most of us are used to, but it’s an odd decision by the Samsung team to opt out of DTS surround sound decoding. If your media is only supported by DTS, it will be rendered as a two-channel, stereo mix. One could argue that this defeats the purpose of a Dolby Atmos soundbar.
Though there are some baffling quirks to the Samsung HW-K950 Dolby Atmos, it still stands as our pick among the best soundbars for its excellent sound, inoffensive design, an array of connectivity options, and included subwoofer and speaker units.
On a budget? Get the Vizio SB3621 C6; it really is one of the best soundbars for the price
Regardless of your whatever frugal rationale led you to look at budget soundbars, you’ve come to the right place. The Vizio SB3621 C6 has gotten a lot of attention for the insane value that it brings to the table. This is a 2.1 soundbar system that automatically pairs with an included wireless subwoofer. Built-in Bluetooth makes streaming audio a thoughtless process and the design, albeit uninspiring, is likely to blend into most settings.
Vizio SB3621 C6
As many movie-goers know, Dolby Digital is the industry standard when it comes to cinematic, broadcast, and streaming audio. Dolby Digital adds a layer of spatial dimension to your audio for a more immersive listening experience, and it’s supported by the Vizio SB3621 C6 soundbar. Additionally, DTS TruSurround and TruVolume are supported for a more realistic and consistent auditory experience.
The complete package includes the 38”, 2.1 soundbar; a wireless subwoofer; an optical cable; and a remote control. Unfortunately, you can’t expand the system with other speakers to make it a 5.1 system, but again, for the price, nothing comes close. Vizio has really struck a harmonious balance between price, sound quality, and user experience. And for that we’re thankful.
One of the most recognizable brands in the audio arena is Sonos. The company has a wide range of speakers available and the Playbar is no exception. It works well within the Sonos ecosystem and only requires two cables: one for power and an optical cable. See here
Klipsch R-10B Bluetooth Soundbar
This soundbar is a few years old and was initially one of our picks for the best soundbars. Originally, the setup retailed for $600, but today it can be had for under $300. It comes with a dedicated subwoofer and the soundbar itself is decked out with two tweeters and two midrange drivers. See here
The Focal Dimension is a discrete 5.1 soundbar that comes with a wall mount, two HDMI inputs, a digital optical input, and is Bluetooth-enabled. If you want to get the corresponding subwoofer, that’s going to cost extra. See here
Polk Audio Signa S1
The Polk Audio Signa S1 is neck-in-neck with the Vizio SB3621 C6 for the best soundbars for listeners on a budget. It comes with a subwoofer and is perfect for an apartment living space. See here
Creative X-Fi Sonic Carrier
The X-Fi Sonic Carrier is the most opulent soundbar on the list at $3,999, plus shipping. There are 17 drivers in this Dolby Atmos-enabled 11.2.4 speaker configuration. We were able to demo it at CES 2018 and it blew us away. It’s powered by eight processors and has an integrated UHD video engine for 4K, 60fps video playback. There are four subwoofers packed into this piece of hardware and you can update the software or purchase a hardware module, making it a long-lasting product. See here
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Adam, a SoundGuy for nearly three years, has heard everything from pristine highs to vacant lows. Then there’s Lily with countless hours clocked in at a radio station working in a professional studio environment and reviewing audio products on her own time prior to joining SoundGuys.
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