Names are tricky. They can needlessly confuse you, making you think that something is more than it is — especially when it comes to technology.
A soundbar, for instance, might “sound” like a futuristic device that requires a degree in electrical engineering to understand and operate, but in reality, it’s essentially a long, thin speaker usually mounted directly below your television to provide better sound.
A soundbar is affordable and often the best option for the typical user who desires an optimum entertainment experience. They promise to be a popular item on wishlists this holiday season and should be considered whenever someone buys a new television.
(On sale now: The Bose Solo 5 Soundbar is currently $199 while it’s discounted 20%, a noteworthy deal on a compact but powerful soundbar by an industry leader. And if you have a compatible Samsung TV, the Samsung 2.1 Channel Soundbar is discounted $32, making it just $167.99.)
Why was the soundbar invented?
As televisions have gotten thinner and thinner, it’s was no longer physically possible to fit top-of-the-line speakers inside the unit. As a result, anyone who wanted a quality listening experience has had to purchase external speakers.
External speakers, especially those used in a surround sound system, can cost several times what you would expect to pay for the best TV on the market. They also add a great deal of clutter to your home.
Thus, the flatscreen television's inferior built-in speakers and the prohibitive costs of a surround sound system created a market for a creative solution.
What exactly does a soundbar do?
The built-in speakers on a flatscreen television usually face away from the listener. Additionally, they are often of such poor quality that you must turn the volume up to 80 percent just to understand the dialogue. Then, when the music comes on, you find yourself frantically scrambling for your remote to lower the level again before the excessive volume wakes the neighbors.
Conversely, a surround sound system that is designed for your home gives you a fully immersive entertainment experience that is specifically tailored to your living space and audio preferences.
A soundbar is the bridge between these two worlds. It takes the elements of a surround sound system and packs them into a single “bar.” In short, a quality soundbar offers far superior audio to that of your flatscreen television, and it provides a decent simulation of surround sound.
Also, they're easy to set up and can be incorporated without too much extra effort.
Which soundbar is right for you?
If you’re looking for an affordable way to get better sound from your flatscreen television or if you’re just dipping your toe into the waters of surround sound one piece of audio at a time, a soundbar just might be the ideal option.
However, you must be careful because every soundbar is a bit different and some may not do exactly what you want — or even be compatible with your television or your future audio plans. These are our top soundbar picks, arranged by price (lowest to highest).
If you’re looking to enhance your audio experience with an affordable soundbar that’s easy to install, TaoTronics has a versatile model that contains four full-range speakers along with two passive radiators, which enhance lower frequencies to give you more bass. The wired/wireless connection and multiple mounting options help ensure this model is compatible with a large variety of televisions.
VIZIO 2.1 Channel Soundbar — $129.99
Stepping it up a little, VIZIO has an affordable soundbar/subwoofer combination that provides a 2.1 channel sound system. This pair offers Dolby Digital, DTS Tru Volume for consistent and comfortable volume levels, and DTS TruSurround — a virtual surround sound experience designed to provide the most immersive sonic experience possible.
Samsung 2.1 Channel Soundbar — $167.99
Similar to VIZIO's offering, Samsung also has a 2.1 channel sound system that features a soundbar and wireless subwoofer. The soundbar is also equipped with a Smart Sound Mode that analyzes the audio content to automatically provide the best listening experience possible. To get the most out of this system, however, it's recommended to have a Samsung television.
Bose Solo 5 TV Soundbar Sound System — $199.99
Bose has an extremely compact soundbar that features the company's legendary audio technology tweaked for television to ensure all dialogue is easy to hear. With this option, since there is no subwoofer, you are paying for ease of set up (just one cable connectivity), ease of operation, and the Bose name. The powerful soundbar is less than two feet long, and the unit has Bluetooth connectivity so you can stream all your smart devices through the system as well.
The Sonos Playbar is a high-end mountable soundbar that was carefully tuned by Oscar-winning sound engineers to enhance the frequencies of the human voice so you never have to worry about missing a single word of dialogue. Like the VIZIO and Samsung offerings, you also get a wireless subwoofer. The last two pieces of this impressive system are two Sonos speakers, which can be paired to deliver true stereo.
As a bonus, one of the speakers is a voice-controlled smart speaker with Amazon’s Alexa built-in. If you’re ready to go all-in on a high-quality soundbar sound system that doesn't take up much space, this is the way to go as it maximizes user choice and top-of-the-line performance.