The best soundbars are your next logical upgrade for an immersive home theater experience without sacrificing space and a ton of cash. TVs are becoming impossibly slimmer, so there is less and less space for clear and profound drivers. They are usually good enough for news or even sports, but audio from movies will need more oomph.
Soundbars will feel like an instant upgrade without the need to pick and pay for each component like you would for a full home theater system. They also fit nicely in front of most TVs since the designs are usually discrete and slim. Most are also plug and play, but if any need some setting up, they are usually minimal.
Soundbars come in either basic or full-featured models, so there are plenty to choose from according to your budget and requirements. The basic models are usually plug-and-play variants that require minimum fuss before you can start using them. The full-featured options have added extras like the ability to add surround speakers or online streaming.
Updated February 2022
Things to Consider When Buying the Best Sound Bars
Audition Them Personally – Soundbars are different from each other just like any audio equipment due to their unique frequency vibrations or outputs. One model may sound worse to you than the other, but it could be singing sweet melodies for someone else. It’s best to go check them out yourselves on shelves or at least check the returns and exchanges terms if you are ordering online.
Channels – Soundbars come in several speaker configurations, starting with the most common 2.1 which is composed of two front drivers and a subwoofer. And then there’s 5.1 and even 7.1, but some models even go as far as having extra speakers for surround sound. Pricing scales with the number of channels, but so will the performance.
Check Available Connections – Soundbars are now more high-tech, so they aren’t limited to simple audio and HDMI jacks. Some have Bluetooth or WiFi for new devices or RCA and 3.5mm jacks for older products like disc players. It’s best to match the soundbar with your existing entertainment appliances so you don’t end up buying more equipment.
Smart and Streaming Services – Some soundbars have access to streaming services like Netflix or Spotify, and some even have compatibility with social media platforms. You can also buy smart home-compatible soundbars now that work with Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home. This aspect is only a matter of preference, so choose the best one that suits you.
Audio Formats – This is a bit more complicated since there are a lot of new standards such as Dolby Atmos or DTS:X. Both are unique surround sound technologies that try to map objects in 3D space to create an immersive space. It’s achieved with the help of vertical-firing channels or speakers which could be built-in on the soundbar or included in the package as external satellite speakers.
Note that not all soundbars have the hardware for DTS:X and Dolby Atmos, so they can only virtualize the effect. It’s not necessarily bad, but the price difference means that you don’t get the full range that was intended when these two standards were engineered.
Dimensions – Soundbars were meant to be inserted into tight spaces such as the space that’s left in front of your TV when its placed on a shelf. However, some are still quite thick or long, so getting the size right the first time will save you some trouble and cash. You can always mount them to a wall just in case, but that also means that your wall-sized TV needs to be mounted as well.
Extra Speakers – This is related to the dimensions tip since extra satellites also need space, especially those that are meant to be placed behind you. The basic 2.1 channel soundbars are only good for small rooms or areas. You might find yourself encountering this conundrum if you buy one that’s rated for a large living room.
The Best Soundbars 2021 – Recommended by Consumer Reports
Consumer Reports independently tested and researched several of the market’s best soundbars and rated them according to specific criteria. The following models are ranked by overall rating averaged from Sound Quality, Ease of Use for TVs and Features, and Versatility ratings.
|Make and Model||CR Overall Rating / Price||Sound Quality||Ease of Use (TV)||Ease of Use (Features)||Versatility|
|Sonos Arc Soundbar||(73) - $900||4/5||5/5||5/5||3/5|
|Bose Soundbar 700||(72) - $800||4/5||4/5||4/5||4/5|
|Sonos Beam Gen2||(69) - $450||4/5||5/5||5/5||3/5|
|Sonos Beam||(69) - $400||4/5||4/5||5/5||3/5|
|Vizio Elevate P514a-H6||(68) - $800||4/5||3/5||2/5||4/5|
|Samsung HW-Q65T/ZA||(64) - $500||4/5||4/5||2/5||4/5|
|LG SP8YA||(60) - $550||3/5||4/5||3/5||4/5|
|Bose Smart Soundbar 900||(60) - $900||3/5||3/5||4/5||4/5|
|Denon Home Sound Bar 550||(60) - $600||3/5||4/5||3/5||5/5|
|Polk Magnify Max SR||(60) - $600||3/5||4/5||2/5||5/5|
|Samsung HW-S60A/ZA||(60) - $280||3/5||4/5||3/5||4/5|
|Yamaha YAS-209||(60) - $300||3/5||4/5||4/5||3/5|
Best Soundbars Recommended by Consumer Reports 2022
Sonos Arc Soundbar (73) – $800
What’s great about the Dolby Atmos-capable Sonos Arc is it doesn’t need a subwoofer to provide satisfying audio quality. It has a total of 11 drivers built-in, but you need a TV with HDMI eARC t be able to enjoy Dolby Atmos content. One of its most important talents is its Trueplay calibration technology which lets you adjust its output based on the room size.
Bose Soundbar 700 (72) – $800
The Bose Soundbar 700 is probably one of the best-looking and sounding options in its price range. Its excellent build quality with a tempered glass top while its finely-tuned drivers provide an output that critical listeners will like. It also supports Alexa or Google Assistant, plus you can add Bose rear speakers and bass modules to expand its top-notch performance.
Sonos Beam Gen2 (69) – $450
The Sonos Beam Gen2 is an upgraded variant of its popular compact predecessor. It offers the same feature set, but it has new features like Dolby Atmos compatibility for better immersion without changing the device’s size.
Sonos Beam (69) – $400
The Sonos Beam is a compact smart soundbar speaker that provides excellent sound for both music and movie playback. It features Alexa and Google Assistant functionality, and it can also be expanded wirelessly by adding a Sonos subwoofer or two rear or side drivers for 5.1 surround. It’s one of the most flexible options in the lineup thanks to its features and modest size.
Vizio Elevate P514a-H6 (68) – $800
The Vizio Elevate P514a-H6 offers a 5.1.4 setup with 18 high-performance speakers for brilliant audio quality. This option has four upfiring speakers and two rear satellites for incredible immersion and sonic accuracy.
Samsung HW-Q65T/ZA (64) – $500
The Samsung HW-Q65T/ZA offers great value at its price with its 7.1 configuration that includes wireless rear speakers. It’s compatible with Dolby 5.1 and DTS Virtual:X for sweet virtual 3D sound that will immerse you in the movies.
LG SP8YA (60) – $550
The LG SP8YA is one of the more affordable Dolby Atmos-capable soundbars with impressive specs and performance. It has a 3.1.2 channel setup, 4K HDR10 and Dolby Vision passthrough plus multi-platform support so it works with Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple Airplay 2, and more.
Bose Smart Soundbar 900 (60) – $900
The Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is a premium smart option with Dolby Atmos, wireless connectivity, and built-in voice assistant compatibility. It’s one of the best sounding surround soundbars available that doesn’t need extra speakers or clunky cables.
Denon Home Sound Bar 550 (60) – $600
The Denon Home Sound Bar 550 is a premium compact option that supports 3D sound via Dolby Atmos or DTS:X and its specialized drivers. Its designed to sync with other Denon or HEOS hardware, plus it has a few handy features like 4K HDR passthrough and Alexa compatibility.
Polk Magnifi Max SR (60) – $600
The Polk Magnifi Max SR is a midrange-priced speaker with bigger and dynamic sound that you can get from flagship models. It has 7 powerful drivers and wireless sub and speakers for true 5.1 sound, along with convenient features such as Google Chromecast compatibility.
Samsung HW-S60A/ZA (60) – $280
The Samsung HW-S60A/ZA is an affordable “acoustic beam” that’s intended to provide room-filling sound. It has side horn and a built-in center speaker for clarity, along with smart home features that make it a handy addition to your entertainment system.
Yamaha YAS-209 (60) – $300
The Yamaha YAS-209 is one of the best-sounding budget options that come with built-in Alexa compatibility and 3D sound via TS Virtual X. It also includes a wireless sub that is usually included with the more expensive options.