Three best soundbars - BestReviews
Finally, 4K TVs have gone mainstream, and while there's a lot to love about cutting-edge TVs, there's still one thing that none of them have gotten right -- they all still sound terrible. Ever since the days before flatscreens, televisions have always shipped with underpowered speakers that muddy every sound from dialogue to sound effects.
Some people solve the audio problem with an expensive, complicated, multi-speaker surround sound system, and those sound great but cost an arm and a leg. To help the rest of us who want to get the most from our TV's audio but don't want to spend a lot, there are soundbars.
A soundbar is a flat, rectangular device with at least two internal speakers that is designed to sit just below the television. Soundbars produce sound quality that's several orders of magnitude better than most TV speakers.
As with all home theater products, it really pays to know what you're looking for so you don't get overcharged or end up with features you don't need. Read on for our best advice on soundbars, and get ready for a serious audio upgrade to your TV!
Considerations when choosing soundbars
Soundbars come in many different sizes and form factors, so consider these questions before you start shopping.
How big is your TV room? It's important to get a soundbar that matches the size of your TV viewing area. Too small of a soundbar could make it hard to hear from the back of the room. Too big can create an unwieldy eyesore. For best results, measure the width of your TV and choose a soundbar that's the same width or slightly wider.
What's the primary source of content for your TV? If you mostly watch TV from a cable box or streaming box, the audio will likely be in a compressed format. If you watch movies on Blu-ray or 4K Blu-ray, you'll get uncompressed audio. All soundbars support compressed audio formats like Dolby Digital, but not all of them support uncompressed formats like DTS-HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD. If you watch a lot of content with high-end formats, look for a soundbar that supports them. If not, you can avoid high-end soundbars and save money by getting a less expensive model.
How important is bass to you? Many soundbars come with an external subwoofer, which does the heavy lifting when it comes to low audio frequencies. Without a subwoofer, most soundbars can sound okay, but not amazing. If you're really looking to boost the audio quality of your TV setup, buy one that includes a separate subwoofer.
Luxury soundbar features
Once you have a general idea of the size and type of soundbar you want, consider these features found on some premium models. These are the functionalities that can transform a so-so soundbar into an audio powerhouse.
Multiple speakers: Most soundbars have two speakers inside, which are designed to produce 2.0 stereo audio (audio formats often include a number to represent how many speakers are present or needed). When it comes to soundbars, the more speakers the better. Multiple speakers help separate the sounds, which can help make dialogue clearer and surround effects seamless. If you just need a basic audio upgrade, a two-channel soundbar will be fine. If you want your TV's audio to sound as good as it can, opt for a multi-speaker model.
If surround sound is critical to you, but you're limited on space, consider buying a soundbar that includes rear satellite speakers. Some include a set of rear speakers to offer a middle ground between soundbars and traditional surround sound. If you want a soundbar but want to take your surround sound a little bit farther, find a model that includes additional rear speakers.
Dolby Atmos: Some soundbars support Dolby Atmos, the object-based surround sound that takes existing audio and adds additional "height channels" to create a wider audio landscape. Dolby Atmos is a step above traditional surround sound, and while it works better with separate speakers, it can still deliver an incredible punch through a soundbar. If you want the best surround sound available without the need for additional speakers, get a soundbar that supports Dolby Atmos. Just be forewarned that soundbars that support Atmos usually cost several hundred dollars more than their non-Atmos equivalents.
Bluetooth: Soundbars aren't just for TV audio -- they're also great companion speakers for smartphones. With a Bluetooth soundbar, you can pair your phone and easily stream any audio, whether that's your favorite music subscription service or your favorite podcast.
Q. What's the difference between a soundbar and a sound base?
A. Soundbars are flat, rectangular speakers that can be mounted to the wall. Sound bases - sometimes called pedestal soundbars -- are shaped more like pizza boxes and are designed to rest on a traditional surface like a TV stand (as they're typically at least 16 inches deep). While it's easy to find a good deal on a soundbar, sound bases are rarer and typically more expensive. Unless you specifically need a component to act as a pedestal for your TV, get a soundbar and not a sound base.
Q. Can I stream Bluetooth audio from my phone to a soundbar?
A. It depends on the soundbar. Many soundbars offer Bluetooth connectivity as a premium feature, so you can easily connect your smartphone and start streaming any audio through the soundbar. If Bluetooth functionality is important to you, limit your search to soundbars that support Bluetooth.
Q. What cables do I need to hook up a soundbar?
A. It depends on what devices you want to connect to your soundbar, but most soundbars include connectivity options for both HDMI cables and optical audio cables. If you just want to connect your TV directly to a soundbar, an optical cable is your best choice. If you want to connect a video source directly to your soundbar and then pass the visuals to your TV, you'll need a pair of HDMI cables.
Soundbars we recommend
Our take: Despite its lack of support for high-resolution audio, the Sonos PLAYBAR is still a formidable player in the soundbar market. If you already own any Sonos products, or if you're just curious about multiroom audio, this is the best soundbar to buy.
What we like: Sonos has practically mastered getting great sound from tiny speakers, and the PLAYBAR can turn even the tiniest room into a mighty home theater.
What we dislike: Sonos speakers are overpriced, and the PLAYBAR's limited format support will turn off audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts.
Our take: The Solo 5 brings Bose's rich, warm audio to your TV, and it's a solid choice for anyone who needs a basic, quality soundbar.
What we like: Setting up and using Bluetooth is incredibly simple, a welcome change from similar soundbars.
What we dislike: For a company that built its reputation on delivering strong bass, the omission of a subwoofer is an odd choice for the Solo 5.
Our take: Sony's soundbar is one of the best two-channel options available, and it's perfect for oversized TVs.
What we like: With a whopping 300 watts of power, the CT290 can fill any room, and the included subwoofer brings bass to life.
What we dislike: The included USB port is difficult to reach and its placement might prevent the use of some thumb drives.
Jaime is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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