As TVs get thinner and thinner, there is one big downside: There’s no room left for good speakers. One solution is to add an audio system, but that involves a lot of extra money and a bunch of wires to try to keep from tangling. The easier solution is a soundbar. These sleek devices don’t provide quite the same immersive sound as true surround-sound systems, but they do give you an excellent — and much simpler to install — approximation. To help you find the best soundbar for your setup and budget, we spoke with 11 sound engineers, recording industry professionals, and audiophiles. Here are their favorite options.
Best overall soundbar
Of the 11 experts we consulted, 7 recommend Sonos’s smart soundbars, and 3 specifically mentioned the Arc. “If you’re looking for something cost-effective and plug-and-play, the Sonos Arc is great for those who want a minimalist footprint with a convenient all-in-one audio solution,” says Justin Schwartz, owner of Sage AV in New York City. “The Arc easily connects to any TV to improve the acoustics for all your shows and movies, in addition to providing all the bells and whistles of a stand-alone smart speaker for the times you just want to listen to music.” Plus, the Arc has “the benefit of being part of the Sonos ecosystem,” says Mark Feinberg, founder of Home Theater Advisors in New York City. That means you can add additional Sonos speakers or a subwoofer and group speakers in various rooms to play music seamlessly throughout your home. And the quality is excellent. Our colleague Chris Welch at the Verge says, when paired with a subwoofer, “the Arc delivered sound as immersive as the multiple-speaker Atmos system. If you didn’t know the Arc was bouncing sound off the ceiling and rear wall, you would easily believe that there were speakers there.”
Best overall (less-expensive) soundbar
Two of our experts recommend the Beam, and Welch likes it as an alternative to the Arc for setups that are tight on space. Although it’s not going to get you quite the same depth of sound as the Arc, Feinberg says the Beam “sounds very good and really serves a purpose for those smaller or budget-oriented needs.” Audiovisual and acoustics consultant Matt Mahon of LSTN calls the Beam his “personal pick.” Along with the sound quality, he likes how the speaker can be connected to your phone over Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth. That way, when you want to use it to play music, you don’t have to worry about the signal dropping because you walk too far from the speaker. Plus, he says, “it’s dead easy to expand to add a Sonos subwoofer and satellite surrounds.” (Note: The Beam is currently available in both white and black for $399 at Sonos, but in white only for that price at Amazon.)
Best budget soundbars
Sometimes, instead of the entire dynamic range of a full surround setup, you just want Call of Duty or Terminator to feel that much more alive. “If all you need is a small speaker to improve your overall sound quality beyond your television’s built-in speakers but don’t want to spend a lot, a basic unit from Monoprice or Vizio can be purchased for less than $150,” says AIX Records founder and author Mark Waldrep. He recommends the Monoprice SB-200SW bar, which connects via HDMI, Bluetooth, and optical and coaxial inputs. It also includes a separate 30-watt wireless subwoofer.
Sound engineer Nicholas Radina is frequently asked what he uses in his personal life. Eschewing pro equipment, “I strive to keep it simple at home and gravitate toward brands I use often,” he says. “A brand I trust day in and day out is Yamaha.” He loves the YAS series of soundbars, particularly the YAS-109 as a “great, affordable entry.” Or for a little more money, the YAS-209 adds an “easy-to-deploy subwoofer” for those looking for a slightly fuller sound, he says. (His tip: “Put the sub in a corner to take advantage of the ‘boundary effect,’ which will give a nice, free loudness bump to your low end without needing more power or larger enclosure.”)
Best soundbar and subwoofer bundle
Waldrep’s favorite soundbar is JBL’s Bar 9.1. It comes with a dedicated wireless subwoofer and two satellite speakers that carry “discrete surround channels into your listening room,” he says. Those satellite speakers are also interesting because they are completely wireless. Attach them to the soundbar to charge, and when it’s time to watch a movie or a football game, you can set them up behind you, where they’ll last for up to ten hours. “It delivers theater-quality sound,” Waldrep says.
Best (less expensive) soundbar and subwoofer bundle
Audiovisual and acoustic consultant Alexander Mayo of the Arup Group really likes JBL’s 2.1 Deep Bass bar, which includes a separate wireless subwoofer. “The perfect soundbar for me is aesthetically neutral, can pair with a subwoofer, and includes Bluetooth for easy music playback from a mobile device. The JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass hits all of these points while leaving behind some of the simulated surround processing of its rivals, which are hit or miss in execution,” Mayo says. Though it lacks some smart features like Alexa or Google Assistant, Mayo says “it more than makes up for that in the bass response of the subwoofer and is priced very competitively for those looking for an upgraded experience to what the built-in TV speakers can provide.”
Best budget soundbar and subwoofer bundle
Video editor Travis Weir recommends this soundbar, which includes a separate and surprisingly delicate subwoofer. “The essential feature here is the subwoofer,” he says. “Normally it’s extravagant — overbearing in modest spaces and insufficient in big, lofted living rooms unless you let a pro audio service turn your pockets inside out,” he says. But the HW-R450 “has quality-of-life things that I like. The remote is weird enough to stand out in the pile, the Bluetooth is reliable, and the subwoofer is small enough to fit inside my entertainment center. Why do we put it there? It’s dead center to our sofa, and resonance goes through the furniture rather than the floor, saving us a cranky knock from the folks downstairs.”
Best soundbar for audiophiles
For true hi-fi audio-heads, three of our experts recommend the Sennheiser AMBEO. Yes, the price is high, but according to Amanda Lopez of Immersive Audio Album, a company that promotes and sells immersive music, “If you’re looking for a soundbar to avoid the hassle of configuring a full surround sound setup at home, but still want incredible high-fidelity audio, then the AMBEO is a really great option. It’s as all-in-one as you can get.” The speaker itself is big, housing “13 drivers, which is a lot more than most soundbars,” Lopez says. “As a result, you get supremely rich and dynamic sound, as close to a true surround-sound effect as you can get from a soundbar.”
While technically it’s a “smart audio speaker,” the gorgeously designed Crescent has digital surround sound and can connect to your TV like a soundbar. It’s meant to stand out in your living room, not fade into the background. According to Peter Otto, vice-president of innovation at audio solutions company Dysonics (who had a hand in the Cleer’s development), “It’s both a compact, crescent-shaped ‘bar’ and an art object.” Waldrep calls it “an example of a completely new approach to soundbars.” As he explains, its 3-D audio setup utilizes different modes for different vibes, and it beams sound from all directions without the need to bounce it off walls or ceilings the way most competitors do. Which means it should sound great anywhere, no matter how low your ceilings are or how funky your room setup is — and it’ll even work outside. Other virtual surround sound can’t say that. (Note: The Crescent is available for pre-order.)
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