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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 Spider-Man 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: The best 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 (Gen 2), builds upon the success of the original model. The 2.0 soundbar is packed with features inside its slim, 25.6-inch frame, and I’ve been able to test them out over the past few months.
Sonos has somehow coaxed even better sound out of the second-generation Beam, than the original model. Dialogue, background effects, and loud noises (think explosions in an action movie) continued to sound crystal clear, at every volume level. Sonos also built in an optional “speech enhancement mode,” which boosts the sound of voices, but I rarely found it necessary to use.
Like its predecessor, the second-generation Beam only has a single HDMI port for connectivity. Sonos also includes an HDMI to optical audio adapter, which offers an additional connectivity option.
The reason to get the second-generation 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 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 biggest new feature for the latest-generation Beam is support for Dolby Atmos, an increasingly popular audio format that creates a 360-degree soundscape around you.
The effect is surprisingly effective, and made possible thanks to a custom-designed processor developed by Sonos. Some Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbars struggle with this feature, but the second-generation Beam handled playback flawlessly.
The second-generation Beam is a 3.0 audio system out of the box (Sonos says the speaker array inside the soundbar offers 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. TCL Alto 6+
TCL is known for its budget-friendly products, and the TCL Alto 6+ is just what you need to add to your home theater.
The soundbar is 31.5-inches long and comes with its own wireless subwoofer for deeper bass beats.
You can connect this TCL soundbar to your TV with both an HDMI or optical connection. It also supports Bluetooth, so you can pair it to your computer and mobile devices wirelessly.
This soundbar has dedicated sound modes for TV, music or movies, so you’ll hear clear audio and dialogue when needed. This is a nice extra if you intend to use the soundbar for mixed media.
TCL’s soundbar punches way above its weight, offering the same core functionality as gear that costs several times more.
3. Bose Smart Soundbar 900
Bose’s Smart Soundbar 900 is the brand’s newest launch in its smart soundbars line, and it’s well worth every penny.
The soundbar boasts a sleek, streamlined design that will easily fit below your TV. Bose designed this smart soundbar with six full-range transducers, a center tweeter and upfiring dipole speakers for Dolby Atmos surround sound.
It’s got Alexa built-in as well for a hands-free user experience, allowing you to adjust the volume or switch up your music with just the sound of your voice.
Bose outfitted the Smart Soundbar 900 both an HDMI eARC connection and an optical audio connection. We recommend plugging it into the HDMI ARC (audio return channel) port on your TV for the best experience.
This soundbar does have support for Bluetooth as well, 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 and are looking for an easy-to-use smart soundbar, the Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is for you.
4. Roku Streambar Pro
Roku’s Streambar Pro 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 Streambar Pro’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 Streambar Pro 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 Streambar Pro 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 Streambar Pro 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 about $100 on Amazon.
5. Samsung HW-Q950A
Samsung’s HW-Q950A is the best soundbar to deliver cinematic sound, straight at home.
It has 11 regular channels and four upwards firing channels for Dolby Atmos surround sound. A wireless subwoofer adds bass, which smaller drivers can have trouble producing.
The HW-Q950A has an HDMI Port as well as support for Bluetooth for wireless connectivity. This gives you a lot of flexibility, but we recommend plugging it into your TV’s HDMI ARC port for the best results.
The HW-Q950A‘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.
Plus, there’s Alexa built-in for voice assistance and with Q-Symphony, your audio will be perfectly synced to your Samsung TV.
If you want a true home theater experience out of a soundbar, Samsung’s HW-Q950A is the way to go. It’s a wise investment for anyone who craves premium sound.