Soundbars now out-sell traditional home theater receiver and speaker packages by a large margin, and it's easy to see why. They're compact, simple to set up and affordable. And their audio quality is so much better than your TV's built-in speakers. Features such as Bluetooth, HDMI and wireless subwoofers also add to their usability, flexibility and sound quality. With their popularity comes an explosion in choice, however, making it tough for you to pick the right one.
We've listened to all of the bars below in our test lab, comparing their sound quality with both music and movies. They represent the best choices at multiple prices and feature levels, from solid bare-bones bars to Alexa-powered smart speakers. If you're looking for more check out our full.
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The Vizio SB3621n-E8 offers excellent sound quality in a compact package. Its wireless external subwoofer ensures the sound is balanced, whether you're watching movies or listening to music. The Vizio SB3621n-E8 is the best budget soundbar we've ever heard, period.
The Yamaha YAS-209 offers excellent sound quality in a compact soundbar. The addition of Amazon Alexa is useful, allowing voice control to stream music, and the mics work well in loud environments. The soundbar's implementation of DTS Virtual:X offers a rich surround effect. The wireless subwoofer is more articulate and offers more headroom than the competing, and also excellent, Polk Command Bar.
For less than a C-note, the Creative Stage offers a bunch of previously unheard-of features including HDMI connectivity and a subwoofer. But what's even more remarkable is that it sounds better than most of its ultra-budget competition. Great audio quality for gamers and movie fans alike.
The Vizio SB36512-F6 proves you don't need to spend a ton to get a high-quality soundbar that can handle the latest Dolby Atmos soundtracks. The Vizio SB36512-F6 is a full 5.1.2 immersive audio system for the price of an AV receiver, and its height channels do a solid job of bringing out Atmos effects.
If you're interested in setting up a multi-room audio system, a Sonos soundbar is still the best option. The Sonos Beam offers not only the most flexible music system available but also a choice of both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa built into the bar itself. The sound is built for movies, and adding a pair of Ikea Symphonisk bookshelves will really boost your home theater experience. Since it lacks a sub, it's not quite as powerful sounding as rivals, but it's still a great little package.
The trapezoidal looks may be divisive, but the Vizio SB362AN-F6 is the best all-in-one bar for people who want to spend a bare minimum. It offers elevated audio quality for the money and sounds unexpectedly good with music.
While you could pay $2,500 for the subwooferless Sennheiser Ambeo (below), the Zvox SB500 is a more affordable option for people who don't want to litter their living room with subwoofers or rear speakers yet still prize sound quality. It offers excellent sound modes and tighter bass than every other single speaker option.
If you simply must have the fewest number of boxes in your living space and yet demand the best Atmos performance you can get, this Sennheiser speaker is your guy. It's a single unit, without a subwoofer, but it's able to conjure up the most realistic overhead and "surround" effects we've ever heard. It's not cheap but it's comparable in price to a full surround set without the bulk and with 85% of the performance.
Originally published earlier, and updated periodically.