If you're looking to upgrade your TV speakers, these are the best soundbars you can buy.
Updated Nov. 22, 2023 11:10 a.m. PT
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Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
ExpertiseTy has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He majored in Cinema Studies when studying at RMIT. 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.
No matter the cost of your TV, it's worth investing in a separate, dedicated speaker for your screen. Soundbars are a much more affordable alternative to home theater speakers and AV receivers, while still providing powerful and immersive audio. I've tested the best brands including Bose, Sony, Vizio, Sonos, Klipsch, Sennheiser and Polk to bring you the absolute cream of the crop. To help you find the best one for your needs, these are the best soundbars based on my listening tests.
What is the best soundbar overall?
If you're looking to spend the least amount of money on quality sound, then the best soundbar to buy is the Roku Streambar. It offers both streaming and sparkling movie sound and is an unbeatable value.
If you're looking for a step-up from that, then the best soundbar for most people is the Klipsch Cinema 400. This Klipsch speaker adds the oomph of a wireless subwoofer, which will help you get the most out of action films and music. Taking this one step further, the Vizio M512a-H6 with Dolby Atmos support is an excellent buy for under $500, and the best option for spatial audio on a budget. Lastly, if you want the best that money can buy, then the Sennheiser Ambeo will give you the best sound I've ever heard in a soundbar.
If you're on the hunt for the best soundbar 2023 has to offer, I've rounded up some excellent speakers starting from $100. This list is updated periodically as I test new models.
Easily supplanting my previous favorite, the JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass, the Klipsch Cinema 400 adds great design and an even bigger wireless subwoofer. Sound quality is still king, though, with a real sense of dynamics and excellent music replay. If you want to make your TV the next best thing to a movie theater, this is one of the most affordable ways to do it.
While I really like the Roku Streambar Pro, the Roku Streambar does essentially the same job for $50 less. With a full-fledged 4K HDR Roku streamer built in and a single voice remote controlling everything, this bar gives you audio and video in one simple bar. The Roku soundbar setup is a breeze; just add to a TV with a simple HDMI port connection. This affordable soundbar has sound quality that's acceptable for the size and price, and you can add a $129 wireless subwoofer for more punch.
If you're looking to ditch your TV speaker, this is where I suggest you start. The subwoofer may be smaller than usual for the brand, but this audio bar still sounds great, as well as offering HDMI connectivity with ARC and a much easier-to-understand input display. The Vizio V-Series 2.1 is the best soundbar value I have tested in the last few years.
For less than a C-note, the Creative Stage soundbar offers a bunch of previously unheard-of features, including HDMI connectivity with an HDMI ARC port and a subwoofer. But what's even more remarkable is that this affordable PC soundbar sounds better than most of its ultrabudget competition; its wired subwoofer fills the room with great bass. The soundbar includes a variety of audio modes, making it quite versatile, and the speaker delivers excellent sound quality for gamers and movie fans alike.
While it doesn't support Dolby Atmos surround sound or have an HDMI port to connect to your TV (you use the included optical cable instead), I was impressed with the sound quality for music and movies. You can pair it with a couple of other Sonos speakers like the Ikea Symfonisk, or even the new Sonos Sub Mini, to create a surround sound system.
A true step up from the preceding soundbars, the Vizio M512a-H6 is the most cost-effective way to get true Dolby Atmos playback. This surround system includes the main soundbar with up-firing height speakers built in, a 6-inch subwoofer and two wired rear speakers. That's a lot of parts, but it was easy to set up, and I was impressed with the overall build quality. Most importantly, it offers excellent performance with movies, including real Atmos effects I could hear, as well as music. The M512a-H6s lacks Chromecast and AirPlay streaming but still earns my hearty recommendation both for home cinema fans and for people looking to listen to their favorite album (whether in Atmos or not).
If you simply must have the least number of boxes and remotes in your living space and yet demand the best Atmos quality sound performance you can get, this Sennheiser speaker is your baby. It's a single unit, without a subwoofer, but it's able to conjure up the most realistic overhead and true surround-sound effects I've ever heard. It's also controlled entirely via remote control. It's not a cheap piece of sound equipment, but it's comparable in price to a full set of surround speakers without the bulk and with 85% of the great sound and performance. It's now been joined by the cheaper Ambeo Soundbar Plus.
If you're interested in setting up a multiroom sound system, a Sonos soundbar system is still the best option. The Sonos Arc is the company's best soundbar and includes Dolby Atmos playback, a class-leading music ecosystem, and Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa built into the bar itself. The soundbar system sounds good with music and movies, and adding a pair of Ikea Symphonisk bookshelves should really boost your home theater sound experience. The Arc sounds a lot bigger than the cheaper Beam, and the smaller speaker needs the $700 subwoofer to make it comparable in terms of sound.
The Yamaha YAS-209 offers excellent sound quality in a compact soundbar. Built-in Amazon Alexa voice control is useful, allowing this smart soundbar to stream music, and the mics work well in loud environments. The soundbar's implementation of DTS Virtual:X virtual surround sound offers a rich effect reminiscent of surround speaker sound. Two HDMI connections are included, one with HDMI ARC. This smart soundbar's wireless subwoofer is more articulate and offers more headroom than the competing, and also excellent, Polk Command Bar. However, the Yamaha soundbar YAS-209 doesn't use the company's MusicCast system, so it won't sync up with other Yamaha speakers.
The Vizio Elevate's main draw may be its motorized-height speakers, but once you get over their novelty, you'll find that the speaker system also sounds great. The separate sub and height-enabled rear speakers really help pull this Vizio soundbar ahead of the Sonos Arc sonically. With Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Chromecast built in, multiple HDMI inputs and Bluetooth, the only thing the Vizio doesn't provide is Apple AirPlay support.
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Factors to consider when choosing a soundbar
When choosing which soundbar to buy, CNET also uses the following criteria as part of its selection process:
Price: The most important consideration when choosing a soundbar is how much it costs, and I have found there are great soundbars at every price level, starting at $100 and up. I give a lot of thought to the features a soundbar has in comparison to others that cost the same. I do have one rule of thumb, though: Once the price of a soundbar exceeds $500, you may find it more worthwhile to save for an AV receiver and speakers.
Wireless streaming: Whether it's connecting a phone over Bluetooth or more advanced streaming technologies such as Spotify Connect or Apple AirPlay, the more choices for streaming technologies a soundbar has, the better.
Dolby Atmos: Dolby Atmos is one of the most popular features in soundbars over $400, and so I look at features that help maximize spatial sound quality. For example, does the soundbar offer dedicated height speakers, or is it simulated Atmos? See my roundup of the best Dolby Atmos soundbars.
HDMI connections: At the bare minimum, a soundbar sold in 2023 should have at least one HDMI input, and preferably more. The ability to offer multiple HDMI ports will help users with a large selection of sources (Xbox Series X, Apple TV, Nintendo Switch, Blu-ray player, etc.). However, there are notable exceptions to this rule. For example, the Sonos Ray only offers an optical output, but this is acceptable given that it's most suitable for older or smaller TVs.
Subwoofer and surround speakers Single-bar systems are great for smaller TVs, while a soundbar-and-subwoofer combo is better suited for a living room. For that reason, I take note of the size of the system and whether it offers wireless or wired peripherals. Most soundbars with subs are wireless, for instance, while systems with surrounds can be wired, as in the case of the Vizio Elevate.
CNET follows a rigorous, unbiased evaluation process for all of its soundbar testing, from simple stereo speakers to Dolby Atmos systems. In the CNET AV Lab, I do comparative testing, pitting similar soundbars against each other side by side.
I evaluate the performance of each soundbar with a number of different types of content, including movies, music, TV shows and games. I use a number of test scenes -- including the opening of Mad Max:Fury Road for playback of the spatial audio standard Dolby Atmos for soundbars which support it. I also use the Thanator Attack scene of Avatar (26.53) to test a system's dynamics and detail retrieval.
When it comes to music, I use a number of CNET test tracks which you can find here in a Tidal or Spotify playlist. Tracks such as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' Red Right Hand, with its deep bass and tenor vocals, help determine a system's ability to track male voices in particular, without sounding congested. The song also helps with uncovering hidden details and the relative dynamics a speaker is capable of. Using both types of content -- movies and music -- I then grade the sound quality of each soundbar. I evaluate characteristics such as speech clarity, dynamics/volume, bass response and musical playback.
Bose Smart Soundbar 600($500): Bose makes a number of excellent soundbars including the Smart Soundbar 600 which offers true Dolby Atmos playback. The 600 is great for reproducing dialogue and sounds fine with music too. The Sonos Beam squeaks barely ahead due to better bass and the tried-and-true Sonos ecosystem. Read CNET's review of the Bose Smart Soundbar 600.
JBL Bar 500($600): Alongside Klipsch, JBL has long had a reputation for being a rock 'n' roll brand with a big sound and even bigger cabinets. During my tests, the JBL Bar 500 fulfilled both parts of the brief by pairing excellent sound with one of the largest subwoofers I've ever seen with a soundbar. Yet, while it includes both HDMI and networked music streaming, the JBL is missing Dolby Atmos -- which is disappointing for the price. You can save yourself a lot of money by getting the even-bigger sounding Klipsch Cinema 400 instead.
Polk Signa S3($299): If you're looking for a speaker that can do music as well as play the latest episode of The Last of Us, then the Polk Audio Signa S3 has a lot to offer. It's great for streaming, as it has Chromecast built in in addition to Bluetooth and an HDMI input. Read my Polk Signa S3 review.
Sony HT-S2000($498): Better in some ways than the competition and worse in others, the Sony HT-S2000 boasts better bass response than the Sonos Beam. But for $500 it misses a lot of the features of its single-bar competition, namely Dolby Atmos compatibility and Wi-Fi streaming.
Zvox SB500($430): If you're looking for a single audio bar that's even cheaper than the Sonos Arc, the Zvox SB500 is a great option for people who still prize sound quality. This speaker offers multiple sound mode options, tighter bass and better sound than most other single-speaker options. While it may lack the Sonos' Wi-Fi streaming, the Zvox still includes Bluetooth connectivity for streaming audio from your phone or tablet. Read the Zvox SB500 review.
Why do I need a soundbar?
Soundbars are the most economical way to improve the sound that comes out of your TV. TV speakers face downward so a lot of detail is lost, and a dedicated soundbar can make speech more understandable. Spending as little as $100 on a soundbar can improve your TV-watching experience tenfold.
How do I connect a soundbar to my TV?
Depending on the age of your TV, there are three main ways to output to a soundbar: analog (3.5mm headphone or RCA), digital optical and HDMI. Before you buy a soundbar, make sure it accepts the same connections that exist on your TV. The most common input on soundbars is now HDMI-ARC, and if your TV is less than five years old it should be compatible, but it's worth double-checking.
Where do I place my soundbar?
Soundbars are designed to be placed in front of the TV on a TV stand or other furniture. Most are less than 2 inches tall so that they won't block either your television's infrared remote port or the screen itself. Some soundbars can also be wall-mounted and come with brackets in the box. Third-party kits for wall-mounting soundbars are also available.
Can you use any soundbar with any TV?
With only a handful of exceptions you can use any soundbar with any TV, though it does sometimes help to match TV and soundbar brands. Many new soundbars use HDMI ARC to channel the audio from your TV through the soundbar, so if both devices have one of these ports that's all you need. Some older soundbars use an optical connection and most TVs offer these as well.
The exceptions? Roku TV Wireless Speakers and Samsung SoundConnect. The former uses a proprietary wireless connection, and lacks an HDMI port, so you need a Roku TV (and not a Roku streamer) to use it. The second is also proprietary between Samsung soundbars and TVs, though the soundbar usually offers HDMI for connection to other brands.
Can you use a soundbar to play music?
Music played through your TV almost always sounds better when you have a soundbar connected. Many soundbars have Bluetooth, meaning you don't need the TV on to listen to your tunes. In general a soundbar with a wireless subwoofer is best for music as it will help reproduce dynamics as well as deep bass.