This article is a part of RS Recommends, an editorial series reviewing products in music and entertainment. Items are independently selected; Penske Media may earn a commission from purchases made from our links.
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.
These days, you can get a solid soundbar in an array of competitive price points, with easy connectivity, and sleek, slim packages that blend seamlessly with your room’s existing set-up. Many soundbars are also compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Home, letting you control the volume and source selection using just your voice.
It won’t replicate a multi-speaker setup, but a good soundbar will still punch above its size, mimicking a large home theater performance without the need for multiple speakers, amplifiers, docks and messy wiring. 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.
1. Sonos Beam Smart TV Sound Bar with Amazon Alexa Built-in
The Sonos name is synonymous with speakers and this Sonos Beam Soundbar continues the company’s roster of well-designed home audio products. Compact and lightweight, the soundbar pairs easily with your TV and remote, and delivers expansive sound thanks to its five amplifiers and full-range woofers and tweeters, that work to harmonize low and high frequencies for more realistic audio.
What we like: Sonos’ “Speech Enhancement” feature, that pulls out dialogue for exceptional clarity and less straining. The “Night Sound” mode, meantime, re-directs sound to let you watch TV at night without disturbing the rest of the house. The Beam pairs easily with Apple AirPlay, Alexa and a host of other services. Display it on your TV stand or mount it to the wall. Purchase: $399.00 on Amazon
2. Fluance AB40 Soundbase
Priced under $250, the Fluance AB40 Soundbase is a great starter option when it comes to soundbars. It delivers big, warm sound through an acoustically-tuned wood cabinet and uniquely-angled drivers that disperse sound across a wider stage for a virtual 3D surround sound experience. Dual one-inch tweeters deliver crisp highs, and four powerful, enhanced three-inch woofers mimic frequencies as low as 30Hz without the need for a separate subwoofer. Fluance says the Soundbase uses the same sound processing technology found on many Grammy-winning recordings.
What we like: the slim package fits neatly under your TV (supporting flat panel sets up to 65″) and Bluetooth connectivity lets you stream your music to the soundbar wirelessly, though the set comes with a 3.5mm audio input as well. Three built-in sound modes (3D, Bass Boost, and Standard) give you finely-tuned, preset levels at the touch of a button. There isn’t an easy visual indicator of the volume, and this set doesn’t allow for HDMI connectivity, but for the price point and other features, this is a value-packed package. Purchase: $249.99 on Amazon.com.
3. Polk Audio Command Bar
This performance-driven set features a wireless subwoofer, Dolby/DTS surround sound, and Polk’s patented voice technology that actively works to adjust and match audio levels for crystal clear notes and crisp, accurate dialogue. The Command Bar’s built-in Alexa capabilities let you easily control the volume, the program you’re watching, and adjust settings using just your voice. Connect the soundbar to your smart home devices and control your lights, thermostat and more from one easy base.
This set comes with HDMI and optical cables for quick and easy setup. The soundbar itself lies flat (or can be mounted), and reviewers say you can easily hide the external subwoofer out of sight or tuck it a few feet away without any lag time or loss of connectivity. The Polk Command Bar also supports 4K output so that your sound quality is as dynamic as the pictures you’re seeing on screen. Purchase: $299.99 on Amazon.com.
4. VIZIO Dolby Atmos Home Theater Sound Bar System
One of the best-selling units in the marketplace, VIZIO’s 36″ 5.1.2. Home Theater Sound System delivers cinema-quality surround sound thanks to Dolby Atmos — the same sound technology found in sonic-driven films like Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Thor. The five-channel soundbar features two, upward-firing speakers, along with two dedicated rear speakers, which combine to provide you with a room full of swirling, dazzling sound. You’re curled up with sound in a 360-degree, multi-dimensional space (up, down and around), rather than having the audio blasted straight out towards you. It’s the difference between flat sound and life-like sound ringing out with clarity, richness and depth.
The VIZIO soundbar comes with a wireless subwoofer, which offers some of the most powerful and deepest bass in its class, and it’s compatible with Google Assistant to let you control settings with your voice. Reviewers say the VIZIO system also offers better overall definition and detail than its competitors, while we like the easy set-up, with built-in Bluetooth and Chromecast. This set comes with a one-year parts and labor warranty and lifetime technical support. Purchase: $416.46 on Walmart.com.
5. Sony Z9F Soundbar
Backed by the Sony name, this Z9F soundbar packs movie theater audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X into one chic and minimal package. Sound travels farther — and in all directions — with Sony’s 7.1.2 surround technology, which reproduces sound “vertically,” for a more enveloping experience, while drawing out more meticulous and accurate details.
What we like: the seven featured “sound modes,” including a sports mode that fine-tunes any ambient noise to let you focus on the sounds of the play at hand, and a game mode created in conjunction with Sony Playstation developers.
Sony’s Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) automatically “upscales” any audio to near high-resolution quality, and works to isolate voices and play down background noise (great say, when you’re listening to dialogue or watching the news). A 4K HDR pass through allows you to stream the latest audio technology with ease. The Z9F soundbar is also WiFi and Bluetooth-compatible to let you stream content from any device, and it offers easy smart home integration with both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Purchase: $798.00 on Amazon.com.
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