If you want to opt for something a little more advanced, without it necessarily being much more complicated, you’re going to have to buy into a legit stereo, by which I mean a receiver and some passive speakers.
A receiver is a big box with a lot of buttons on it, into which you plug speakers. (Shut up, audiophiles.) Passive speakers are so named because they don’t plug into the wall themselves; when plugged into the receiver, the receiver does the work of powering them and pumping sound through them.
This setup is much more flexible; you can use as many or as few speakers as you’d like, place them anywhere you want, and replace any at any time. You can buy any size of speaker that you want, or any brand, any shape. You can have a subwoofer or not, a center speaker or not.
More important, a speaker-receiver setup sounds better for cheaper than any soundbar. And most important of all, it looks sick as hell. A receiver and speakers are just, like, cool-looking gadgets: big and blocky and muscular and utilitarian.
If you go this route, there are tons of options; going vintage is less of a bad idea with a stereo than with most other gadgetry, because most of the big advancements in receiver tech (connectivity like HDMI and Bluetooth, support for new speaker arrangements, better interfaces, better energy-efficiency) are sort of optional. A wood-paneled speaker from the 1970s like this one, paired with a couple of decent modern speakers, looks super cool, can sound great, and comes in at a very cheap price.
That said, buying decades-old equipment isn’t for everyone. New receivers are not really very expensive, and still look pretty cool. To buy a receiver you have to first figure out how many speakers you’ll want — from a traditional two-speaker stereo set to a full five-speaker surround-sound experience. The important spec there is called “channels,” written as X.Y; the first number refers to the total number of speakers the receiver can support, and the second the number of subwoofers. So a 5.1 channel receiver, like the well-reviewed Pioneer VSX-530-K ($199.99), can support five speakers total, one of which is a subwoofer (the other four are usually two front and two rear). A 2.0 channel receiver, like the Sony STRDH130 ($118.00) can only support two speakers and no subwoofer.
Once you’ve got your receiver, it’s time to shop for speakers. You’ll probably first want to look at “bookshelf speakers,” which offer an ideal combination of price, power, and size. These are fairly small, usually around a foot or so tall, but you’d be shocked at what kind of sound you can get out of them. I have the previous generation of the Pioneer SP-BS22-LR ($126.98), which sound spectacular. If you want to splurge, it’s easy to find some that are quite a bit more expensive, like these Wirecutter-recommended KEFQ100B ($339.54).
Once you’ve got your gear, setup is easy: You connect the speakers to the receiver with very old-school speaker cable, which you can buy in bulk for dirt cheap, and connect the receiver to your TV using the output of your choice.
People get nervous about home-audio shopping, and for good reason: The people who care about this stuff are all extremely crazy, and if you start to read reviews of audio equipment you’ll end up in a deep dark hole with perfectly smooth walls on which are scrawled things like “balanced soundstage” and “intermodular distortion” and “burn-in period.” You can very safely ignore all of that garbage and just buy the top-rated Amazon receiver and speakers that fit your budget and the number of speakers you want in your setup, and be extremely happy.