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Best Soundbars

Updated December 2018
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 31 Models Considered
  • 68 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 152 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best soundbars

    Last Updated December 2018

    Odds are in the last few years you've bought a fancy new flat screen TV, only to find the picture is excellent, but you can't hear anything. The days of the big speakers in rear-projection and console TVs are gone, and the thinner TVs get, the harder they are to hear. That's because there's just not enough room to put very good speakers in a flat screen.

    Even the most expensive 4K OLED TVs are lacking when it comes to speaker quality. Additionally, many flat screens aim their speakers rearward, and depend on the echo from a wall to direct the sound to you. You may not have upgraded your entertainment system's sound because you don't want to deal with speakers taking up space and wire running everywhere. Well, these days you don't have to deal with a full surround sound system to get great audio from your TV.

    Soundbars pack enough speaker power to finally let your flat screen TV's audio match its great picture. However, while soundbars aren't as complicated as an A/V receiver and speaker setup, they come in all shapes and sizes. You’ll need one that not only matches your budget, but also fits in the space you have allotted for it.

    Before you select and purchase a soundbar, measure the space you plan to put it in. Otherwise you might end up with either too big or too small a soundbar.

    Soundbar or traditional A/V system?

    The primary difference between a soundbar and a traditional surround sound system is form factor. When home speaker systems first came out, you had to buy a receiver and speakers,  wire them together, and arrange the speakers around the perimeter of the room. While this is still the form many people choose, home entertainment enthusiasts can now get a product that takes a lot less setup.

    Soundbars are a product that provides the speakers and the A/V receiver in an all-in-one package. Soundbars come in all sorts of different sizes and form factors, but for the most part, they take the rough shape of a long rectangle. You position this under, or above, your TV set, connect the two, and get vastly improved sound compared to standard flat screen speakers.

    Soundbar advantages compared to A/V receiver and speakers

    The ease of setup is the primary advantage that soundbars have over traditional speaker systems. Usually, you just have to place it under your TV, plug it in, connect it to the device you want to use (or use pass-through audio from your TV), and you're good to go. This is in stark contrast to A/V receivers, where you have to place multiple speakers, run the wire from all of them to the receiver, calibrate the audio, and tweak settings until you're happy with them.

    Soundbars are also much cheaper than a full surround sound speaker and A/V receiver setup. For even a basic surround sound system you'll have to spend $300 to $500. A decent brand name soundbar can be found for much cheaper, though.

    Soundbar disadvantages compared to A/V receiver and speakers

    There are some drawbacks to choosing a soundbar. You're not going to get as many features in a soundbar as you do a full A/V receiver and speakers. Most soundbars only have one pass-through, so if you have multiple devices you want to hook up, you'll usually have to get a switcher. Additionally, most only take HDMI and optical audio inputs, so if you have older devices that hook up using RCA cables, you'll likely be unable to use the soundbar with them without buying special adapters.

    The most significant strength of the soundbar can also be a big weakness. Since they're designed to have a small form factor, soundbars typically have more modest speakers. This means they're not going to fill a room as a regular sound system would.

    Few soundbars can achieve true surround sound as well, and most that claim to use digital processing that results in a faux-surround sound. Simulated surround sound doesn't usually sound as good as the real thing. However, there are some models on the market that have a hybrid setup, in which the soundbar serves as the front speakers, but wireless rear speakers are included, so you can achieve authentic 5.1 surround sound.

    EXPERT TIP

    If surround sound isn’t too important, you don't need to pay big bucks for the best soundbar. Expensive soundbars focus on realistic surround sound or Dolby Atmos.


    Staff  | BestReviews
    EXPERT TIP

    If the audio sounds off with your new soundbar, check the options. Many have different equalizer settings, and settings that can fix issues with things like lip sync.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    What should you look for in a soundbar?

    Looking for a soundbar that fits your needs can be confusing. Often in stores, the only thing you have to go on is what's on the box. It's hard to cut through the marketing mumbo jumbo, and usually, the tiny picture on the soundbar packaging shows a small, elongated rectangle that looks exactly like every other model on the shelves.

    When looking for a soundbar, there are a few things you need to consider. Below is a small summary of the options that can make or break your dream product.

    Subwoofers

    Any soundbar is going to be better than the speakers in your flat screen, 99% of the time. However, just like the speakers in your TV, the majority of soundbars are limited when it comes to low-frequency audio. This can lead to your audio sounding tinny and unnatural.

    Many mid-to-high range soundbars come with a companion subwoofer. This box has a large speaker that will work with your soundbar to create those bass sounds, which round out the audio coming from your TV. If you're a fan of action movies, video games, and deep cinematic music, choose a soundbar that comes with a subwoofer.

    However, if you live in an apartment with thin walls, or intend to use your TV when others in your house are asleep, you might want to get a soundbar with a smaller subwoofer, or no subwoofer at all. If you're in doubt though, we suggest to go ahead and get the subwoofer. You can always power it off, or put it in storage, and still have the option to use it later.

    Satellite speakers

    To get actual surround sound from your soundbar, you'll need a model that includes at least two satellite speakers, in addition to a subwoofer. These satellite speakers can be placed either behind or to the side of your sitting area. When they combine with the audio from your soundbar, you'll get real surround sound.

    Most higher-end models come with wireless satellite speakers. This means you can avoid dealing with the hassle of unsightly speaker wire. However, in many cases, these speakers use infrared light to beam the audio information, so you'll need a clear line of sight between the speakers and your soundbar.

    Connections

    These days you only really have to worry about HDMI when it comes to audio and video. Most soundbars have at least two HDMI connections, one for input and one for output. Newer TVs come with a technology called HDMI Audio Return Channel (ARC), which allows the TV to output audio information sent to it from other devices. Additionally, at least one device can usually hook up to your soundbar and pass video through to your TV.

    HDMI ARC means that you don't have to worry about getting a soundbar with a ton of inputs. You can just use the input ports on your TV, then pass the audio through ARC to the soundbar. ARC also gives you the advantage of being able to control your soundbar through your TV remote, so you don't have to deal with keeping up with two of them.

    If, by chance, you do want to use other types of inputs with a soundbar, the only other kind of connection that is common on newer models is optical audio. Optical audio is slowly fading from the market since HDMI can carry more audio information, including new Dolby formats like DTS:X, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby Atmos.

    The most likely reason you might want to use optical audio these days is if a device just can't output sound via HDMI, or if there's some sort of audio lag issue between a device and your soundbar.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Some soundbars have special features when paired with a TV of the same brand. That said, you needn't restrict yourself to the same manufacturer.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    If you’re not a big fan of a lot of bass, you can always unplug your soundbar’s subwoofer. It isn’t needed to produce higher frequency sounds.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Even though you’ll be using HDMI as the primary input/output on your soundbar, most still have an optical audio port you can use with older devices.

    Soundbar prices

    Even though almost all soundbars work on the same principles, price vary wildly between models. You can get a budget brand with a subwoofer for under $200, but high-end models can run over $1,500.

    • Under $200: You can easily get a budget soundbar that likely comes with a subwoofer for under $200. However, don’t expect it to be a lot better than the speakers on your flat screen. Some models are the exception to that rule, though.
       

    • $200 to $500: The majority of soundbars sit in this price range. You’ll be able to find a brand name model with a subwoofer and potentially satellite speakers for between $200 and $500. You likely won’t find a soundbar that is Dolby Atmos capable for this much, but as prices drop on older models, it’s a possibility.
       

    • $500 to $1,000: In this price range you’ll start seeing the higher end models, and the starter models for the luxury brands. Soundbars between $500 to $1,000 don’t offer a lot of advantages over their lower price counterparts. You’ll usually find these have more inputs and capabilities, like 4K pass-through, but quality of sound difference between a $500 soundbar and a $1,000 one isn’t likely to be great.
       

    • $1,000 and Up: For over $1,000 you’ll start running into soundbars with crazy amounts of speakers. These soundbars will almost always have 4K pass-through if they’re a current model, and you’ll likely find that many have upward-firing speakers for Dolby Atmos.
    If you’re toying with the idea of someday moving to a larger surround sound system, get a soundbar that can be expanded with satellite speakers. You’ll save money in the long run.

    FAQ

    Q. How many connections should my soundbar have?
    A.
    The answer to this question depends on whether or not your TV has HDMI ARC. With this technology, you can use a single HDMI cable to output the audio from your TV to your soundbar. This includes audio that is coming from any device connected to your TV inputs. If you use HDMI ARC you only need one HDMI input for your soundbar. If you’re not using HDMI ARC from your TV, though, be sure to check the number of connections needed by your other equipment before choosing a soundbar.

    Q. Why not get a traditional sound system instead of a soundbar?
    A.
    While soundbars can’t match the positional audio capabilities of a traditional A/V receiver and speakers, there are major advantages to purchasing one. For many people, space is at a premium, and a soundbar takes up much less room than even the most modest A/V receiver and speakers. Additionally, traditional systems have a habit of looking cluttered, unless you’re very careful about where you run your wire, and how you arrange your speakers.

    Q. Do I need 4K pass-through on my soundbar?
    A.
    If you don’t have a 4K TV, no. Even if you do have a 4K TV, there’s no reason to worry about immediately upgrading if you’re using HDMI ARC. The Audio Return Channel can output audio from 4K media even without a pass-through. If you use your soundbar as an input for your devices, though, you won’t be able to pass a 4K video signal through a soundbar to your TV without a 4K pass-through.

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