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Most TVs these days deliver decent sound quality, but if you want that true cinema experience from your home entertainment system, you’ll want to invest in a soundbar. The speakers built into your television set are designed for everyday viewing (I.e. watching the news or streaming a talk show), but they’re often a secondary consideration for manufacturers, losing cache next to picture size and sharpness of images. If you’re watching a movie or music program, or even a show with quick, frenetic dialogue, a soundbar will help amplify the audio for bold, bracing, room-filling sound.
After all, you could always stream Black Panther on your computer, but it wouldn’t be the same as seeing it displayed on a crisp and dynamic 4K TV. Wouldn’t you want to give the film’s pulsating soundtrack and booming sound effects the same boost as well? Gamers also like adding a soundbar to pick up little details and to enhance the special effects of the game they’re playing, while sports fans know there’s no better way to feel like you’re part of the action than by having the big game blaring through a set of portable and powerful drivers.
Whether you’re adding to your home entertainment setup, decking out your workspace or upgrading your gaming console, here are five soundbars to add to your list.
What Are The Best Soundbars?
There are many factors to think about when choosing the right soundbar for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Size: A soundbar will always take up less space than a traditional home theater system, but they can still vary in size quite a bit. We’ve made sure to include sound bars that can fit in any entertainment center.
Stereo Vs. Surround Sound: Soundbars are designed to replicate 2.0 or 2.1 (stereo) home theater speakers, which provide great audio quality, but a less immersive experience than a surround sound system.
Many of the soundbars we’ve chosen can be augmented with additional speakers to create a compact surround sound system. This gives you the option to upgrade your home theater over time, rather than having to start from scratch if you move to a place with more space.
Ports: A soundbar’s inputs (otherwise known as ports) are what allow you to connect it to your TV. The most common ports found on soundbars are HDMI and Optical inputs, which are both found on all TVs released in the past ten years.
Smart home integration: Some soundbars can be connected to a smart-home platform from Amazon and Google that allow them to do a lot more than just play music. These soundbars allow you to control accessories like smart lightbulbs, so you can change the mood lighting in your home theater system to add ambiance to your movie night or gaming session.
Bluetooth support: Your soundbar will always be connected to your TV with a cable, but many of the options on this list support Bluetooth. This lets you connect your phone, tablet, or computer to the soundbar and stream music to it wirelessly, which is nice if your home theater setup is in a living room or common area and you want to play DJ for yourself or guests.
BEST OVERALL: Sonos Beam
Sonos has built its reputation on having smart, easy to use speakers, and its latest soundbar, The Beam, doesn’t disappoint. The 2.0 soundbar is packed with features inside its slim, 25.6 inch frame, which I got to experience during my year of using it in my home theater system.
Sonos did a good job coaxing a lot of sound out of the Beam, and I was impressed at how it sounded right out of the box. Dialogue, background effects, and loud noises (think explosions in an action movie) were always crystal clear, even at high volumes. Sonos built in an optional “speech enhancement mode,” which boosts voices, but I rarely found it necessary to use.
Unlike the other soundbars in this guide, the Beam only has a single HDMI port for connectivity. Sonos also includes an HDMI to optical audio adapter, which offers an additional option.
The reason to get the Sonos Beam — beyond its ultra compact size, which is a big asset — is its smart slew of smart features. You can set the Beam up to work with Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant, which allows you to use it for smart-home tasks like controlling accessories. You can also get answers to your questions, set timers, or ask the Beam to stream music from a variety of sources.
Apple has locked Siri support to its devices, but the Sonos Beam does support AirPlay 2, which lets you set it up as a smart speaker within Apple’s “Home” app. Once you’ve done that, you can ask Siri to play music on the Beam via your phone.
The Beam is a 3.0 audio system out of the box (Sonos says the speaker array inside the soundbar offer distinct right, left, and center channels), but you can turn it into a 3.1 system by adding a Sonos Sub to your system. You can take things further by adding a pair of Sonos One speakers to the system to create a 5.1 surround sound system. All of these speakers connect to one another wirelessly, so you won’t need to string speaker cables around your room.
2. ENTRY LEVEL: Alto 7+
TCL’s Alto 7+ soundbar offers a quick and simple solution for people who want to ditch their TV’s internal speakers. It has an HDMI, optical, and auxiliary input, which gives you a lot of options for connectivity, and an IR pass-through cable, so you can control the soundbar with your TV remote. It comes with its own remote if you don’t want to set that up.
The Alto 7+ is 36 inches long, which TCL says makes it a good choice for TVs 55 inches and larger; if you have a smaller set, its Alto 5 may be a better way to go. This is a stereo soundbar that comes with a subwoofer for extra bass.
This soundbar doesn’t have any smart features, but it does support Bluetooth, so you can connect to it wirelessly to stream music. It may not have a lot of bells and whistles, but TCL’s Alto 7 is the perfect option for beginners.
3. MOST COMPACT: Bose TV Speaker
Bose’s TV Speaker is a new compact soundbar that can bring big sound despite its small size
The soundbar is just 23.3-inches long, and 2-inches tall, so there’s no chance it’ll cut into the bottom of your TV set. Bose designed the TV Speaker with a pair of full-range drivers that deliver clear, well-balanced sound without a subwoofer or tweeters.
The drivers are pointed outward to create a wider stereo image, which is especially important because you cannot connect more speakers to Bose’s TV Speaker. You can add a Bose subwoofer with the right cable.
Bose outfitted the TV Speaker with an HDMI port, optical audio input, and a 3.5mm AUX input. This gives you three ways to connect it to your TV. We recommend plugging it into the HDMI ARC (audio return channel) port on your TV for the best experience.
This soundbar doesn’t have any smart features, but it does support Bluetooth, so you can stream audio to it wirelessly from your phone, tablet, or computer. This makes the TV Speaker a good choice if you want a compact stereo system for your living room.
If you’d like to move up from your TV’s built-in speakers, but don’t have much room, Bose’s TV Speaker is the right pick.
4. Best Smart Sound Bar
Roku’s Smart Soundbar can produce great sound, and was designed for people who want quick access to streaming services.
It’s 32.2-inches long, which means you’ll need a fair amount of space for it in your home theater system. The soundbar will work well on its own, but you can get a subwoofer and a pair of additional speakers to create a wireless 5.1 surround sound system over time.
The Roku Smart Soundbar’s standout feature is that it’s also a 4K media streamer. Not only will this soundbar replace your TV’s speakers, but you’ll be able to stream movies, TV shows, or music from popular services using the included remote. Roku makes our favorite 4K media streamer, which makes this two-in-one soundbar an excellent value.
The Smart Soundbar has an HDMI and optical audio ports, giving you two ways to connect it to your TV. Roku also included a USB port, so you can play media off an external hard drive.
Roku’s Smart Soundbar doesn’t have any smart assistants built into it, but you can connect it to an Amazon Echo to control it using Alexa. This soundbar does support Bluetooth, though, so you can stream audio to it wirelessly.
Most multi-use gadgets are a compromise, but Roku’s Smart Soundbar is one of the few notable exceptions. You’ll get a great sounding home theater system and a powerful, easy to use media streamer in a single package.
5. PREMIUM PICK: Sony Z9F Soundbar
If you have a high-end TV, and want to pair it with a luxe soundbar, we recommend Sony’s Z9F.
The 44.5-inch 3.1 audio system — like Sonos, Sony spaces the drivers in its soundbar far enough away it considers them separate right, left, and center channels — comes with a wireless subwoofer, and delivers on features typically found in a larger, more traditional home theater system.
The Z9F handles the basics just fine: it has two HDMI ports, one optical input, and support for Bluetooth. From there, Sony went the extra mile to put this soundbar into a whole other league.
It supports Dolby Atmos, 3D surround, and DTS-X, which are the highest-end surround sound audio standards. The ability to decode these signals allows the Z9F to offer a detailed, immersive experience to hardcore audio fans. These features are especially welcome because you can expand this soundbar with a pair of wireless Sony speakers to create a full 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system.
The Z9F supports high resolution audio streaming through a Sony-created technology called DSEE HX (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) for audiophiles who want to connect an SACD player, or digital high resolution audio streamer.
On the smart-home side, the Z9F doesn’t have Alexa built in, but it can be connected to an Echo device to gain voice control. Additionally, it has a Chromecast built in, so you can stream video to the soundbar directly from apps like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, wirelessly. If you’re looking for a home theater in a small package without many compromises, this is it.