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Make that halftime show sing: The best audio systems for the big game and beyond

From $100 sound bars to $1,000 full-surround packages, these are the best audio systems for everything from sports, movies and music.

Ty Pendlebury Editor
Ty Pendlebury has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
Expertise Ty has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast. Credentials
  • Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
Ty Pendlebury
3 min read

You may have bought yourself a TV to watch the biggest game of the year, but as any sales-floor employee will tell you, the picture is only half of the story. It's not just hyperbole: there's no way a tiny TV speaker can communicate the roar of the crowd, the dialogue of those must-see Super Bowl ads, or the slam of the halftime show. And you don't need to spend much at all.

Great-sounding systems start at $100, and offer features like Bluetooth streaming audio and input selection. Trading up gives you better features like Dolby Atmos decoding and 4K video switching. No matter what your budget though, you can find something here.

Of course, sound systems are for life, not just the Super Bowl, and so you'll need ones that can not only do sports, but also movies and music. The systems that follow sound good with everything, but they will also heighten your football experience in a way that no TV speaker ever could.

Entry-level: $100 to $250

One hundred dollars. That's all you really need to spend to make your music and TV sound better than it ever has. Bluetooth and an optical connection, and you're set to enjoy the football, and a post-game party, too.

Trading up to the SB3621n-E brings significant benefits -- namely a separate, wireless subwoofer. It adds oomph to movies and sports alike. If you can spare the extra $50, get this one.

"Smart" sound bars are all the rage this year with offerings coming from the likes of Klipsch and CNET_TAG: LG | Score: 525

" data-slug="lg" data-subtype target="_self" rel="follow" class="shortcode-link" style="font-style: normal; font-variant-ligatures: normal; font-variant-caps: normal; font-weight: 400; font-family: \"Helvetica Neue\", Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px;">LG, but Polk was one of the first. The Command Bar looks and operates like the CNET_FAM_SERIES: Amazon Echo (2017) | Score: 300
" data-slug data-subtype target="_self" rel="follow" class="shortcode-link" style="font-style: normal; font-variant-ligatures: normal; font-variant-caps: normal; font-weight: 400; font-family: \"Helvetica Neue\", Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px;">Amazon Echo it was based on, but it sounds like a true home theater speaker. With the latest update it can also stream music to other Echo devices around your house -- useful if you want to hear the game while you're out of the room.

Watch this: Vizio's SB362 solo sound bar is great value for money

Midrange: $400 to $550

If you're looking for a simple one-box system the Zvox SB500 offers great sound, rugged construction and ease of use. It's one of the few all-in-one sound bars that truly doesn't need a subwoofer. It may not be "smart," but the addition of a Chromecast Audio (while you still can) or an Echo Dot should help close the gap.

Once you get over the $500 barrier, the sound bar field starts to thin out, but there are some excellent options for this kind of money including the Sony HT-NT5. It offers HDMI switching and excellent simulated surround. Plus, it has a separate sub, which gives it more slam than the cheaper Zvox SB500. 

High-end: A true surround system for about $1,400

Sound bars are great, but if you want to capture the full impact of the country's biggest game only a full surround system will do. There's no reason to spend silly amounts of money though -- around $1,500 will get you an up-to-date surround system with a sub and the ability to upgrade later.  

The Onkyo TX-NR585 ($449) is the hub of this system and offers all of the latest standards -- including HDR and Atmos/DTS:X -- plus all of the streaming music options you could ask for. It has plenty of connectivity, and it happens to sound great, too. Feel free to substitute the Sony STR-DN1080 if it's cheaper, or if the Onkyo isn't available in your area (outside the US). 

The speakers


The Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2 bookshelf speakers 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Pair the receiver with a great set of speakers. You can go with as few as two for straight stereo, but we'd recommend a full 5.1 system: That's four "satellite" speakers, a center channel and a sub (that's the ".1"). (Yes, you can eventually go to 7.1 and 9.2 systems, but that's overkill for most folks -- and you can always get more speakers later.)

Suggested configurations: 

2.1 system -- stereo speakers plus subwoofer: A pair of Elac B6.2 bookshelves ($300 per pair) and DS10.2 200-watt sub ($200) and you have a kicking 2.1 system. 

5.1 system: If you can stretch the budget a little further, add another pair of B6.2s or a pair of Pioneer SP-BS22A-LR ($179 per pair) speakers to use as rear surrounds. If you can stretch the budget a little further add a C5.2 center speaker ($150). 

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