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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.
1. 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. Taotronics Soundbar
BEST ENTRY-LEVEL PICK
At just around $70 TaoTronics’ Soundbar is easiest home theater upgrade you’ll make this year.
The stereo soundbar is 31.5 inches long, which puts it in the middle of the pack, and provides ample room for the speakers inside. By spacing the drivers farther apart, you’ll get a better stereo soundstage, which makes music and movies sound more immersive.
You can connect TaoTronics’ Soundbar to your TV with an optical audio or AUX cable. It also supports Bluetooth, so you can pair it to your computer and mobile devices wirelessly. You can switch between these inputs by pushing buttons on the soundbar, or on the included remote. This soundbar doesn’t have any dedicated smart features, which is to be expected in a more budget-friendly soundbar.
This soundbar has dedicated sound modes for gaming, movies, and music, giving you some control over its EQ. This is a nice extra if you intend to use the soundbar for mixed media.
TaoTronics’ Soundbar punches way above its weight, offering the same core functionality as gear that costs several times more.
3. Bose TV Speaker
BEST COMPACT SOUNDBAR
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. Roku Smart Sound Bar
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.
Note: If you want similar features, but don’t have a lot of space, Roku recently released the Roku Streambar, a smaller version of the Smart Soundbar that costs $129 on Amazon.
5. Samsung Harman Kardon HW-Q80R
Samsung collaborated with the legendary audio company Harmon Kardon on the HW-Q80R, a peerless, premium soundbar.
At 50 inches long, the HW-Q80R is the biggest soundbar in our guide, but it’s packed with a lot of hardware. It has 13-drivers, some pointed upward, some pointed toward you, to create a 5.1 surround sound effect. A wireless subwoofer adds bass, which smaller drivers can have trouble producing.
It supports Dolby Atmos and DTS: X, the latest surround sound technologies; not all movies and music are mixed for these formats, but they’re becoming more popular.
The HW-Q80R has two HDMI ports and an optical audio port, with support for Bluetooth, too. This array of ports gives you a lot of flexibility, but we recommend plugging it into your TV’s HDMI ARC port for the best results.
The HW-Q80R’s most impressive feature is called “adaptive sound,” which allows it to automatically optimize its EQ based on what you’re watching. It also has a dedicated game mode, which can analyze the sound of the game you’re playing in real time (this feature is only available on select TVs).
This soundbar doesn’t have any built-in smart features, but you can sync it with an Amazon Echo to adjust its input, volume, and other controls.
If you want a true home theater experience out of a soundbar, Samsung’s Harman Kardon HW-Q80R is the way to go. It’s a wise investment for anyone who craves premium sound.