- A good soundbar enhances your home theater, offering a nice upgrade over built-in speakers on most TVs.
- Soundbars are available at a variety of performance levels, from basic 2.1-channel to surround-sound and even Dolby Atmos.
- Many soundbars also include wireless connectivity for easy music streaming, as well as smart features like voice control.
- With an attractive price point and great audio performance, the Yamaha YAS-209 is the best soundbar for most needs.
A good home theater isn’t complete without an upgraded audio system. Most TVs don’t offer great built-in audio — even if the picture looks stellar — and it’s almost mandatory to fix that with an external solution.
For most people, the search begins with a soundbar. While everyone’s dream is to have an elaborate 7.1-channel surround-sound setup, that’s not a realistic or practical proposition for many. Some can cost a pretty penny, but you would also need ample space to place all those speakers and a subwoofer around the room. Not to mention, you’ll need a separate AV receiver to process and power everything.
With that in mind, a good soundbar is a perfect alternative — offering a smaller footprint, punchy sound, and no need for a receiver. Great soundbars are available at all price points, including solid entry-level models with simple stereo playback and more expensive models with surround sound capabilities. Some flagship soundbar systems even include support for advanced home theater formats like Dolby Atmos, enabling enhanced movie performance with sound effects that come from behind and above the listening position.
When choosing a soundbar, it’s important to note how many audio playback channels it supports. Channels essentially refer to audio separation, allowing directional mixes to be processed and speaker drivers to be positioned in order to create the effect that sound is coming from different directions.
Channel specifications are listed as a string of up to three numbers separated by decimal points. The first number represents how many standard directional channels are included (left, right, center, surrounds). The second number indicates if the device includes a dedicated low-frequency channel or separate subwoofer for extra bass. The final number indicates how many height channels are included for Dolby Atmos support.
A few common channel configurations found on soundbars include:
- 2.0-channel: This kind of soundbar includes two channels for basic left and right stereo audio separation.
- 2.1-channel: Like the above but includes a built-in low-frequency channel or a separate subwoofer unit for dedicated bass.
- 3.1-channel: In addition to left, right, and low-frequency channels, a 3.1-channel soundbar also features a center channel for dialogue when watching movies.
- 5.1-channel: Soundbars with more than three channels step things up through the addition of surround sound. These extra channels can be simulated via special acoustic and virtualization techniques, or they can be physically added through separate satellite speakers meant to be placed behind or to the side of your listening position.
- 5.1.2-channel and above: Soundbars that have a third channel designation include support for Dolby Atmos and/or DTS:X audio. This means that they feature special virtualization or upfiring speaker drivers designed to simulate the effect of sound coming from above. The final number in the sequence after the low-frequency channel specifies how many overhead channels are included.
Beyond channel support, connectivity is another key factor you should look at when buying a soundbar. Most include standard wired audio ports for connecting to a TV or other media device. The most common connections are Toslink optical and HDMI ARC. In addition to wired ports, most soundbars also now support wireless connectivity, including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for easy music streaming from a mobile device or music service like Spotify, Tidal, or Apple Music.
Some wireless soundbar models also support multi-room audio playback, enabling them to pair with other audio products throughout your home. Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant functionality are becoming more common as well, giving select soundbars integrated hands-free voice control and digital assistant support.
With all these factors in mind, there are plenty of soundbars out there suited for all types of buyers. Whether you just want a simple upgrade from your TV’s wimpy speakers or you want a full home theater experience, we’ve researched and tested several soundbar models, selecting the very best options for a variety of needs.
Here are the best soundbars you can buy:
- Best soundbar overall: Yamaha YAS-209
- Best budget soundbar: Vizio SB362An-F6
- Best digital assistant soundbar: Sonos Beam
- Best soundbar with Dolby Atmos: Vizio SB46514-F6
- Best media player soundbar: Roku 9101R
- Best soundbar for hearing impaired: ZVOX AccuVoice AV155
Updated on 01/14/2020 by Steven Cohen, Quentyn Kennemer, and Les Shu: Added new options and updated formatting.
SEE ALSO: The best streaming sticks and boxes you can buy
The best soundbar overall
Yamaha’s YAS-209 delivers great sound, well-balanced functionality, and Amazon Alexa support for a reasonable price.
It may come as no surprise that vaunted audio brand Yamaha has an option topping this list. The YAS-209 soundbar — an improvement over 2017’s YAS-207 — offers the perfect blend of audio quality, features, ease of use, and price.
Despite being a modest two-piece kit, the YAS-209’s most impressive feat is its ability to fill a room with great audio. It has no problem doing that thanks to a combination of four 1.75-inch woofers and two 1-inch tweeters. Those are joined by a wireless 6.5-inch subwoofer.
Though still a 2.1-channel design, the hardware pairs with audio-processing smarts like DTS Virtual:X for a simulated surround sound effect. The result, reviewers and customers say, is absolutely stunning for something so affordable. The YAS-209 will make an unsuspecting soul think there might be some extra speakers hidden around the room, but that’s just Yamaha’s solid manipulation of audio waves at work.
The YAS-209’s specs include HDMI ARC, a technology that allows compatible TVs to control volume adjustments of connected devices, as well as an extra HDMI-in port that supports 4K HDR passthrough (but not Dolby Vision). A Toslink optical audio port is also featured for TVs without HDMI, and you can also wirelessly stream music from a mobile device via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Finally, the YAS-209 even includes integrated support for Amazon Alexa thanks to built-in microphones, enabling digital assistant features and hands-free control for functions like volume.
All things considered, for a 2.1-channel soundbar with great audio performance and built-in voice control, the Yamaha YAS-209 offers one of the best soundbar values out there.
Pros: Easy setup, Alexa support, room-filling sound offers great highs and lows, diverse connection options, sleek appearance, smartphone app makes fine-tuning a breeze
Cons: No onboard display, doesn’t support Dolby Vision passthrough
The best budget soundbar
With a unique design and solid audio performance, Vizio’s SB362An-F6 is a great pick for budget buyers.
Vizio got its start as a budget brand, so it’s no surprise that the company still excels at affordable soundbar models. This includes the 36-inch SB362An-F6, which is frequently on sale for under $100. It’s a 2.1-channel bar with built-in subwoofers, meaning you’ll get two main drivers for pure stereo sound and a little extra bass without the need for a separate subwoofer unit.
Standing out from typical rectangular box soundbars, the SB362An-F6 actually features a unique trapezoid design with angled sides that slope down to create a hexagonal profile. Buttons for various controls rest on the side of the bar, including volume, source, a dedicated Bluetooth audio button, and the all-important power button.
Vizio employs audio technology from DTS and Dolby to enhance your sound, including DTS Virtual:X. This feature can create a virtual soundfield from the device’s 2.1-channels, resulting in simulated surround and height effects. Processing like this is never as convincing as a genuine multi-speaker system, but reviewers say it does provide an enhanced soundstage, especially for the price.
Wired connection options are basic but certainly get the job done. On the back of the bar you’ll find an optical audio port for your TV. You can also hook other sources up directly with a 3.5mm auxiliary port or even over USB. Sadly, there are no HDMI ports for ARC or video passthrough, so you’ll have to connect any additional media devices to your display and not the soundbar itself.
For wireless playback, the soundbar also supports Bluetooth, making it easy to stream music from your smartphone. An included remote handles all your needs for adjusting volume, accessing basic equalizer options, and toggling various modes.
There are more expensive wireless soundbar options out there that will net you more powerful performance and extra connectivity options like HDMI and Wi-Fi, but the SB362An-F6 is one of the best models you can snag for such a budget-friendly price.
Pros: Highly affordable, easy to set up and use, unique design, ample sound for basic needs, Bluetooth lets you play phone tunes
Cons: No HDMI, doesn’t support Wi-Fi, bass not as powerful as soundbar models with a separate subwoofer
The best digital assistant soundbar
With the Sonos Beam, your living room becomes the center of a blissful smart home.
The Sonos Beam is a bit different from other options on this list. While positioned as a home theater enhancer, it can’t quite match the sound profiles of those which include more elaborate audio technologies such as Dolby Atmos and DTS Virtual:X.
That doesn’t mean the Beam can’t produce nice sound, though. Sonos offers a soundbar that features four full-range woofers working with a lone tweeter to provide a 3.0-channel system. It’s a sure upgrade over any TV’s built-in solution.
What you’re really paying for, however, is the Sonos experience, which means it can work with other Sonos products to facilitate a fully wireless multi-room audio setup. It syncs with other Sonos products using a Bluetooth LE connection before letting Wi-Fi take over the data transmission duties. This means you can’t stream tunes via Bluetooth, but you can access many of your favorite services through the Sonos app to play music over a Wi-Fi connection.
The Sonos Beam’s other claim to fame is built-in support for Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. With five far-field microphones in play, you can choose which assistant you’d like to use to issue hands-free voice commands, manage music playback, control your smart home, and more. There’s also native AirPlay 2 support for Apple users, and the Beam even includes an ethernet port for those times when Wi-Fi just isn’t cooperating.
Despite its lack of deep audio processing technologies (it supports standard PCM stereo and basic Dolby Digital sources), the Sonos Beam etches out a nice spot in its niche for those who want a simple all-in-one soundbar solution with wireless music playback, HDMI, and voice assistant capabilities. Tom’s Guide says it could do with some heavier bass but otherwise offers a fantastic listening experience.
Pros: Offers ample sound for a basic home theater, your choice between Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, blends seamlessly into the Sonos family, AirPlay 2 support makes life easy for iPhone users, compact build
Cons: Lacks Bluetooth audio streaming, no DTS support
The best soundbar with Dolby Atmos
Vizio’s 46-inch Dolby Atmos soundbar offers a complete 5.1.4 audio experience with performance that rivals many full-fledged home theater systems.
For those who want to set up a more serious home theater, you’re almost obligated to stretch your budget for something with Dolby Atmos. When it comes to Atmos capable soundbar systems, few options are as immersive as Vizio’s SB46514-F6. It’s a lot pricier than most standard soundbar packages, but it’s one of the most affordable ways to enjoy a full 5.1.4 audio experience.
Dolby Atmos, if you aren’t aware, is an audio format included on many Blu-ray discs, as well as streaming titles from services like Netflix and Disney Plus. The technology allows filmmakers to produce content with far more accurate spatial audio than standard surround sound can provide. Thanks to special object-based mixing and upfiring drivers, Atmos allows soundbars to produce height effects, adding an extra layer of immersion to movies. For instance, when rain falls from the sky or a helicopter flies overhead, you can actually hear the sound coming from above.
The Vizio’s SB46514-F6 is one of the best Atmos soundbar options there is, offering a full 5.1.4 system. This means that there are left, center, and right channels in the soundbar itself, along with two upward firing channels that bounce sound off of the ceiling in order to simulate overhead effects. Two separate rear speakers with their own upward firing drivers are also included, along with a powerful 10-inch wireless subwoofer to enable a complete home theater experience.
That said, despite great Dolby Atmos performance, the soundbar does not include support for the competing DTS:X format. Like Atmos, DTS:X provides height effects on certain Blu-ray discs. DTS:X tracks are a lot less common than Dolby Atmos, however, so this shouldn’t be a deal breaker for most buyers.
Smartly, Vizio includes an HDMI ARC port for connecting to your TV, along with an HDMI input with Dolby Vision passthrough (full 4K HDR support, too), meaning you can feed a compatible multimedia device into the bar and get the full next-generation Dolby experience without issue. SmartCast connectivity is featured as well with support for wireless Bluetooth and Wi-Fi music streaming from mobile devices.
Admittedly, this is a lot more than just a soundbar, but the Vizio SB46514-F6 represents a great Dolby Atmos system for anyone looking to transform the way they watch movies. Having rear satellites and a large subwoofer means you’ll lose some of the space-saving benefits that typically come with a soundbar, but the extra speakers and bass provide a superior experience.
If you’re looking for even more immersive Atmos performance, Samsung’s flagship HW-Q90R takes things even further with the addition of DTS:X support and two more surround sound channels to create a 7.1.4 system. Those extra features aren’t cheap, though, making the Q90R a lot more expensive than Vizio’s soundbar.
Most enthusiasts looking for a great Dolby Atmos experience will be more than pleased with Vizio’s SB46514-F6. The company also offers some cheaper Atmos options, but the SB46514-F6 comes the closest to rivaling a genuine home theater speaker setup.
Pros: 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos support, powerful subwoofer, HDMI ARC, 4K HDR passthrough with Dolby Vision, includes rear surround speakers, SmartCast connectivity with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
Cons: No DTS:X support, separate rear satellites and larger subwoofer take up more space than typical soundbar systems
The best media player soundbar
The Roku 9101R Smart Soundbar includes a built-in 4K HDR streaming video player.
If you happen to be in the market for a soundbar and a new streaming media player, then the Roku 9101R could be the convenient all-in-one device you’re looking for. The soundbar offers a solid upgrade over most TV speakers, but what really makes this model special, is its integrated support for streaming all of your favorite video apps.
When it comes to audio performance, the 2.0-channel soundbar features four 2.5 inch full-range drivers for engaging stereo playback. There are no fancy virtualization options for simulated surround sound, and there is no included subwoofer for extra bass — but expert reviews from sites like CNET all say that the audio quality is solid considering the soundbar’s price and its added functionality as a streaming device.
As a media player, the soundbar provides access to Roku’s extensive library of channels, including popular services like Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV Plus, Hulu, and more. You’ll also get support for 4K playback with HDR10 from compatible apps when you connect the bar to a 4K HDR TV. Roku’s handy voice remote is included as well, enabling you to search for content. Though digital assistant functionality isn’t built-in, the soundbar is compatible with separate Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant devices for hands-free control.
There are other options in this price range that offer better overall audio performance, including models that include a separate subwoofer for superior bass, but the Roku 9101R’s unique video streaming capabilities make it a great value for buyers who want a soundbar and a media player in one device.
Pros: Affordable, solid stereo playback, 4K HDR video streaming, includes a voice remote
Cons: No surround sound modes, doesn’t include a separate subwoofer
The best soundbar for hearing impaired
The AccuVoice AV155 from ZVOX is ideal for those who are hard of hearing, but it’s also great for those who need clarity in the vocals.
While the rest of our recommended soundbars are all about pumping out the best-quality audio, the ZVOX AccuVoice AV155 serves a different purpose: boosting the voice clarity. Designed for the hearing impaired or anyone who has a hard time making out the vocals, the AV155 employs technology to simultaneously separate and lift the voice from the rest of the audio track — without increasing the overall volume.
To adjust the vocal volume, you can choose from one to six levels — the latter being the loudest, at the expense of the background. This is useful for watching voice-centric programming like news or talk shows. If music is involved, you may want to pick level three or four for balance; in our testing, we found level three to be optimal.
Using three 3-by-2-inch speakers, the AV155 produces significantly improved sound quality than our TV’s speakers, but it wouldn’t be our recommendation for a home-theater-quality soundbar. The AV155’s audio gets plenty loud and clear, but it lacks any surround or bass functionality, although you can add an optional subwoofer. However, we think it’s ideal for the bedroom, particularly for those who like to stay up and watch late-night TV while a partner is asleep or they don’t want to disturb the neighbors; you can increase just the volume of dialogue.
The AV155 is very compact and lightweight, and it’s easy to install — just connect it to a TV using an auxiliary cable or optical cable. But don’t expect any smart features or wireless capabilities like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The AV155 comes with a remote, but you can’t control it with a universal or TV remote.
Pros: Boosts vocals without raising the overall volume, good-quality audio, easy to set up
Cons: No smart features, no wireless connectivity, not for home-theater setups