Soundbars are an easy and cost-effective way to take your TV’s audio to the next level. Video quality has been improving by leaps and bounds but audio has lagged behind, thanks mostly to the razor thin size of modern TVs.
With the best soundbar, you get audio quality that more closely matches the gorgeous video quality of the newest flatscreens.
Our list below includes a range of the very best soundbars for different TV sizes and performance levels.
1. Sonos Beam (3.0 Channels)
The Sonos Beam is a compact smart soundbar designed for use with small to large TVs. It combines advanced functionality features like smart home compatibility, TruePlay calibration, and surprisingly good audio from such a compact soundbar. It’s not the best sounding soundbar we’ve used, but it does provide the best all-around performance for the broadest range of users.
Why we like it: The Beam offers unmatched flexibility and smart system compatibility. It works seamlessly with both Amazon Alexa and Google Home while still producing some of the richest and most enveloping sounds we’ve heard from a soundbar at this price point. It works with various streaming services, including Spotify and Tidal, plus uses an advanced HDMI ARC connector for the best quality sound replication from your TV. All this in a package that’s much smaller than similarly advanced soundbars.
Flaws: There were some compromises made to get this much functionality into such a small package. The most notable is the lack of a subwoofer. It limits the bass the Beam can produce and can lead to some harshness at higher volumes not present on more capable (and expensive) soundbars.
2. Sonos Arc (5.0.2 Channels)
The Sonos Arc is the latest soundbar offering from one of the most respected names in the home audio world. It provides Dolby Atmos sound with a versatile and upgradeable range of speakers. It can be paired with numerous devices other than your TV and even has the option to add on a Sonos Sub or other Sonos Surround Sound Speakers.
Why we like it: The Arc is one of the most feature-packed soundbars out there. It combines gorgeous sound from its five horizontal speakers and two vertical drivers with some of the most advanced smart features you’ll find. It uses an HDMI eARC as its primary connector, capable of bringing beautiful Dolby Atmos level audio to life from your favorite films. It’s definitely on the larger side, measuring a full 42 inches long, but is an excellent option for TVs in the 50” and above category.
Flaws: We mentioned its size already, that pretty much disqualifies it from use with smaller 32” or 40” TVs. The only other reservation we had was the fact that the Arc only has a single HDMI port. It supports both ARC and eARC connections, but you need the newest and most advanced TVs to get the Arc’s full benefits.
3. Bose TV Speaker (2.1 Channels)
Bose has a well-deserved reputation for audio excellence, with many of their other speakers, headphones, and earphones getting top marks from reviewers. It’s no surprise then that their latest foray into soundbars, the aptly named TV Speaker, should catch our attention. It’s a 2.1 channel soundbar that measures a pint-sized sub 24” yet provides a wide range of in-demand features.
Why we like it: The TV Speaker combines almost all the features we look for in a soundbar, and especially a soundbar this affordable. It sounds great, especially for its small size, and incorporates many useful extras. It connects with an HDMI ARC capable cord and can also work via Bluetooth with a range of other input sources. What helps set it apart from the competition is Bose’s algorithmic expertise and range of compatible extras. It has a surprisingly effective ‘Dialogue’ mode that allows the speaker to analyze the audio being produced and automatically optimize the levels for it. When you add in its compatibility with Bose’s range of subwoofers and other speakers, it becomes a great starting point for a full surround sound system.
Flaws: While the TV Speaker is an incredible value and highly capable, it isn’t suited for certain tasks. It’s too small for very large rooms and lacks the richness of sound and volume that only comes from larger numbers of speakers and greater size.
4. Sennheiser Ambeo (5.1.4 Channels)
Sennheiser is a brand better known for producing top-of-the-line professional-grade headphones and audio gear than its consumer lines. With the Ambeo, they’re entering the consumer soundbar market with a major bang that’s sure to send wide-ranging ripples throughout the industry. It’s expensive and quite large, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option as far as sound is concerned.
Why we like it: We’ll say it: The Sennheiser Ambeo is quite likely the best soundbar on the market from a pure sound and performance perspective. It provides unmatched depth and clarity of sound at a level of volume you’d have to go to the cinema to beat. You can hear the smallest nuances of whispered dialogue one moment then enjoy the most acoustically epic moments of cinematic glory. It also works seamlessly with the most important high-fidelity codecs and has enough HDMI ports for pass-through use or connection via HDMI eARC for Dolby Atmos audio. It uses 5.1.4 channels, and larger drivers to boot, to provide the richest possible sound from a single source.
Flaws: Price is one, as the Ambeo costs more than many commercial great amps and speakers we’ve seen, but by far, the most noticeable flaw for its target audience is sheer size and power. At 50” wide and nearly 5” tall, the Ambeo takes up a ton of real estate. This isn’t just an aesthetic issue, either. In our testing, the Ambeo actually obscured part of the screen of several TVs it was placed in front of. Honestly, it’s too much power, performance, and quality for the average TV viewer’s needs.
5. Q Acoustics M4 Soundbar (2.1 Channel)
The Q Acoustics M4 Soundbar is a 2.1 channel multi-purpose soundbar from a respected British hi-fi manufacturer. It’s not much to look at, but its plain package conceals one of the best sounding soundbars we’ve yet reviewed. This is especially surprising given its lack of top-quality connectors.
Why we like it: The M4 is great at wearing many hats. It’s a solid soundbar, yet also provides exceptional audio quality for music. It has a detailed sound that helps reveal nuance and depth to music that’s hard to beat without a hi-fi system involving multiple speakers plus a stereo. That’s not to say that it fails at cinematic audio, quite the contrary. The M4 offers a surprisingly rich and intensely loud boost to scenes ranging from dialogue to the most guns-blazing action scenes.
Flaws: We really don’t like the look of the M4. It’s boxy and has an honestly odd-looking protrusion on the back. There’s also the fact that it lacks HDMI connectors, relying on old-school optical connectors instead.
6. Roku Smart Soundbar (2.1 Channel)
The Roku Smart Soundbar is a 2.1 channel soundbar from one of the most popular streaming media stick companies out there. It combines the benefits of an entry-level soundbar with a full 4K streaming resolution of your favorite shows and movies. You can take it a step further by adding in wireless Roku speakers or a subwoofer as well.
Why we like it: It’s an all-in-one solution to your streaming and audio needs. It gives you much better audio quality than standard TV speakers while also including all the benefits of Roku streaming. Hooking this bad boy up to an older TV allows you to upgrade it to a smart device and provide a significant boost to the sound quality. It offers full 4K streaming, reasonable audio range, and an easy setup process, all for a price that’s hard to believe.
Flaws: It’s evident that sound quality wasn’t the number one priority when designing this soundbar. It’s still much better than standard TV speakers, but plenty of pure soundbars offer better performance for a comparable price.
7. Samsung HW-Q90R (7.1.4 Channel)
The Samsung HQ-Q90R is a 7.1.4 channel soundbar backed up by a pair of wireless external speakers and a dedicated subwoofer. It uses that comprehensive array of drivers to create a rich, objects based experience that immerses you in the events of your favorite films or the experience of your favorite songs.
Why we like it: With advanced tuning from audio giant Harman Kardon, the HW-Q90R provides clear and lifelike sound. It supports three-dimensional sound staging with Dolby Atmos and works seamlessly with all the most popular high-end codecs like AAC, WAV, OGG, ALAC, FLAC, etc. It sounds just as good playing music as it does when creating an objects based audio experience from your favorite movies.
Flaws: Some of the biggest strengths of the HW-Q90R are also its weaknesses. It’s not a soundbar strictly speaking so much as a soundbar paired with a subwoofer and two external speakers. That dramatically improves the audio quality but limits where and how you can set it up.
8. Sony HT-ST5000 (7.1.2 Channel)
The Sony HT-ST5000 was one of the first soundbars to really bring Dolby Atmos to maturity in a soundbar format. It’s a beautiful piece of equipment that leans into the function that creates form aesthetic. It’s also loaded down with all the most in-demand features and functions such as DTS:X, Hi-Res Audio support, and Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity.
Why we like it: The HT-ST5000 has it all, sound, functionality, and a gorgeous look. It’s big, sure, but you get a ton of performance for that size. Its 7.1.2 configuration gives you a true three-dimensional sound that puts you right in the action without creating harsh undertones to spoil the immersion. Its bass is some of the richest we’ve yet heard, providing near cinema-quality.
Flaws: Price vs. performance is the big one. You can pick up a very nice surround sound system that arguably provides better true three-dimensional effects at this price point. The HT-ST5000 is very, very good, but it can’t compare with a top-quality surround sound system with multiple speakers at multiple points. The included subwoofer also takes up a lot of extra space.
9. TCL Alto 7+ (2.1 Channel)
The TCL Alto 7+ is a 2.1 channel value-priced soundbar from a company that has established itself as one of the best entry-level electronics makers. It’s not the best soundbar on the market by a long shot, but it does provide solid sound at a price that’s hard to believe.
Why we like it: The Alto 7+ is, hands down, the best value you can get for a soundbar. It’s priced at the bottom of the market yet sounds better than some soundbars twice its price. There’s no frills and no extras, but what you get is reasonably good sound in a basic yet stylish package. The fact that it includes a subwoofer is just icing on the cake.
Flaws: It sounds like a value-priced soundbar. There are plenty of other soundbars that sound much, much better than it, and offer substantially more advanced features. If that’s what you’re looking for, though, the Alto 7+ won’t even be on your radar.
10. VIZIO SB3821-C6 Sound Bar (2.1 Channel)
The Vizio SB3821-C6 is an entry-level soundbar/subwoofer system. It measures 38” long and provides a much louder and richer experience than standard TV audio can match. It’s quite basic, of course, but basic in how any product that says what it does and does what it says can be.
Why we like it: It’s easy to set up, provides better quality sound than your TV, and doesn’t look half bad while doing it. It’s large enough to not look out of place with TVs in the 60”+ range and provides plenty of volume to upgrade your movie and TV watching experience. It’s included subwoofer helps provide added richness to more epic scenes and generally enhances the overall sound.
Flaws: Take your pick. It lacks all but the most basic connectors, has a noticeably harsher sound at higher levels, and generally lags behind higher-end soundbars. That said, it’s still leagues better than TV audio alone and is priced at a point where just about anyone can pick one up.
Who should buy a soundbar?
Most people can benefit from a soundbar, but the groups below will see an immediate improvement in their TV, movie, and general audio experience.
Movie and TV lovers – We’re living in a golden age of film and TV development. There are more amazing movies and TV shows out than we could ever dream of watching, and the last thing you want is to have your immersion broken by low-quality sound.
A soundbar allows you to listen to your favorite movie or TV show with the audio quality the director intended.
Audiophiles – Soundbars are one of the best ways to upgrade your general audio experience on a budget. A HiFi sound system can run into the thousands of dollars, but a quality soundbar is just a fraction of that.
If you want to take your home audio to the next level but aren’t looking to drop a considerable chunk of change, a soundbar is the best way to do it.
People with larger TVs – TVs are getting larger and higher-definition with every generation, to the point where you can pick up a gorgeous 60+ inch TV for a shockingly low price. The last thing you want is a 4K HD TV with sound that could be coming from a tin can.
A soundbar helps you get the audio quality that matches the video quality we’ve come to expect.
How we ranked
We used five key metrics to create our list. These were sound quality & channels, connection options, size & installation options, intended use & smart features, and price.
Sound quality and channels – By far, the most important consideration with any soundbar is how it sounds. The best soundbars are quite large and include multiple channels plus subwoofers and drivers.
We’ll cover the importance of channels more in-depth below, for now, just remember that more channels generally equals a richer, more versatile sound.
Connection options – The best soundbars connect to your TV using an HDMI arc or even more advanced HDMI eARC connector. They also have an optical connector if your TV is older, or if you’re considering a more value-priced soundbar.
More recently, soundbars have begun offering Bluetooth and even WiFi connectivity functions. They allow you to stream music from your phone or tablet and connect your soundbar to other speakers or systems.
Size and installation options – The size of your TV plays a significant role in what soundbar will work for it. The last thing you want is a 70+ inch soundbar for a 32 inch TV.
We also considered how involved the installation process is. Some require nothing more than space in front of your TV, while others must be permanently mounted to the wall.
Intended use and smart features- Even cheap soundbars provide an improvement over standard TV audio, but there are some definite differences depending on how you want to use it. Some are pretty much only good for watching movies and TV, while others offer multi-purpose use for music and other audio.
More and more soundbars offer smart features such as Alexa or Google Assistant access. Some even double as streaming media players.
Price – The soundbar market is undeniably one where premium pricing kicks in early and shoots to the moon. We looked for soundbars that provide the best value for their intended market. That includes both value-priced models and high-dollar masterpieces.
Q: Will a soundbar improve TV audio?
A: Absolutely! By far, the easiest and most affordable way to improve your TV and movie watching experience is with a soundbar. Even the most value-priced models offer better quality audio than the tiny speakers found in most modern flatscreen TVs.
Q: What are soundbar channels?
A: Channels in a soundbar help explain how many individual speakers, referred to as channels, it has. Every soundbar you look at will have at least two numbers listed in its channel rating and more. Some also have a third number that indicates how many upward-facing drivers it has. These help to create a simulated surround sound effect (1).
A 2.1 channel soundbar has a right and left side speaker and a subwoofer. A 3.0 channel soundbar has both a right and left channel plus a center channel to improve the clarity of dialogue, but no subwoofer. Generally speaking, the more channels a soundbar has the more nuanced and powerful the sound it can produce.
Q: What soundbar has the best bass?
A: To get the best bass out of a soundbar, it needs to have a subwoofer. They add tremendously to the depth and richness of the sound.
Our pick for best soundbar with bass is the Sennheiser Ambeo.
Q: Can a soundbar produce surround sound?
A: High-end soundbars with directional channels can simulate surround sound, but it isn’t the equal to true multi-speaker surround sound systems. It’s not possible to get the same level of directional audio from a single point of origin.
Q: Where should I put a soundbar?
A: The vast majority of soundbars work best either directly in front of your TV or mounted beneath them. You want to make sure they’re pointing directly towards your preferred seating area for best sound quality.
Q: Can a soundbar be used as a Bluetooth speaker?
A: Yes. Many modern soundbars include Bluetooth connections to allow you to play music from a variety of different devices.
Q: Does a soundbar need a subwoofer?
A: It depends. If you want the best possible bass a subwoofer is a necessity. If you’re just looking for better quality sound overall and don’t have a ton of space, you can get by without one.
Soundbars offer one of the most cost-effective ways to improve your TV audio. They provide much greater volume, richness, and overall quality than even the best TV speakers.
For Hastings #1 soundbar recommendation, click here.