The best soundbars you can buy, plus how to choose one


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It’s no secret that the built-in speakers in most TVs are trash. They don’t project enough sound out to the front so you can hear well – especially subtle details. Thankfully, you don’t have to splurge for a five-speaker (or more) surround-sound setup to fix the problem. In most living rooms, a single soundbar and maybe a subwoofer will suffice. To help guide your shopping spree, we’ve compiled a list of everything you need to look for when searching for the best soundbar for you, along with a list of the top picks for a range of budgets.

What to look for in a soundbar

Features

When it comes to features, the more you pay the more you’re going to get. Most affordable options ($ 150 or less) will improve your television’s audio, but that’s about it. Step into the $ 300 to $ 400 range and you’ll find things like built-in voice control, wireless connectivity, Chromecast, AirPlay 2 and even options like Android TV. They’re all helpful when you want to avoid looking for the remote, but the best audio quality is usually only in the top tier and the formats those premium devices support. I’m talking about things like Dolby Atmos, DTS: X and other audio standards. These are what you’ll want to look for if truly truly immersive sound is what you crave for your living room setup. And not all Atmos soundbars are equal, so you’ll need to look at the finer details carefully before you break into the savings account.

Ports

Sony

This is a big one. A lot of the more affordable soundbars have limited options when it comes to connectivity. They either offer an optical port or one HDMI jack and, if you’re lucky, both. Things get slightly better in the mid-range section, but that’s not always the case. The Sonos Beam, for example, is $ 449, but only has a single HDMI port. If you want to connect your set-top box, gaming console and more directly to your soundbar for the best possible audio, you’ll likely want to look for an option with at least two HDMI (eARC) inputs. HDMI connections are essential for things like Dolby Atmos, DTS: X and other high-res and immersive audio formats. And with the new HDMI 2.1 specsoundbars can support HDR, 8K and 4K / 120 passthrough to make these speakers an even better companion for a game console.

Channels

Another big thing you’ll want to pay attention to is channels. That’s the 2.1, 7.1.2 or other decimal number that companies include in product descriptions. The first figure corresponds to the number of channels. A 2 would just be left and right while a more robust Atmos system, especially one with rear satellite speakers, could be 5 or 7 (left, right, center and upward). The second number refers to the subwoofer, so if your soundbar comes with one or has them built in, you’ll see a 1 here. The third numeral is upfiring speakers, important for the immersive effect of Dolby Atmos. Not all Atmos-enabled units have them, but if they do, the third number will tell you how many are in play.

Wireless

Sony HT-A7000 soundbar, SA-SW5 subwoofer, SA-SW3 subwoofer and SA-RS3S speakers.

Sony

Most soundbars these days offer either Bluetooth, WiFi or both. When it comes to WiFi, that connectivity affords you luxuries like voice control (either built-in or with a separate device), Chromecast, Spotify Connect and AirPlay 2. Depending on your preferences, you might be able to live without some of these. For me, AirPlay 2 and Chromecast are essentials, but the rest I can live without. Those two give me the ability to beam music and podcasts from my go-to apps without having to settle for – or struggle to pair – a Bluetooth connection.

Size

This one might seem obvious but humor me for a minute. Nothing is more soul-crushing than getting a pricey soundbar in your living room only to discover you have to rearrange everything to find a spot for it. This was my plight when the Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar review unit arrived at my door. Yes, that speaker is absurdly large (and heavy), and most soundbars aren’t nearly as big. Indeed, I learned a valuable lesson: Make sure the space where you want to put a soundbar will accommodate the thing you’re about to spend hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on.

Basically, it all comes down to the TV you have (or are planning to get) and what the primary goal is for your living-room audio. Is it ease of use? Do you want the best possible sound from a single speaker or speaker / sub combo? Do you just want to be able to actually hear your TV better?

Engadget picks

By paying attention to each of those areas, you should have a good idea of ​​what to look for in a soundbar or soundbar / sub combo. With that said, we’ve put numerous products through their paces at Engadget over the years, and have a few favorites at various price points to get you started.

Best premium soundbar: Sony HT-A7000

Sony HT-A7000 soundbar, SA-SW5 subwoofer, SA-SW3 subwoofer and SA-RS3S speakers.
The HT-A7000 and optional SA-SW5 subwoofer.

Sony

Sony has a long track record for high-end soundbars and its latest is another great-sounding product. The A7000 is a robust Dolby Atmos device, capable of immersive 7.1.2 audio thanks to Sony’s 360 Sound Mapping, Sound Field Optimization, vertical surround technology and S-Force Pro front surround. There’s a lot of tech at work here, and I haven’t even mentioned 360 Reality Audio or DSEE Extreme upscaling for compression, both handy when it comes to listening to music. Speaking of audio, you’ll have the option of using Chromecast, Spotify Connect or AirPlay 2 to send your tunes to the A7000.

Two HDMI eARC inputs means you can hook up multiple streaming boxes or gaming consoles to this soundbar. Thanks to HDMI 2.1 support, you can expect 8K and 4K / 120 passthrough to your television, so the A7000 is a great option for gamers who crave a robust home theater setup. This soundbar is expensive at $ 1,400 and it doesn’t come with a subwoofer. However, Sony does give you multiple options for both a sub and rear satellite speakers. The SA-SW3 sub is $ 400 while the SA-SW5 is $ 700. For rear speakers, the SA-RS3S is $ 350 while the truly wireless (and much better looking) SA-RS5 set is $ 600.

Buy Sony HT-A7000 at Amazon – $ 1,400

Runner-up premium soundbar: Sonos Arc

Sonos has finally given us an upgrade to the Playbar, and it's impressive.  The Arc has an improved design, modern features and stellar sound.  Plus, Arc automatically adjusts if you choose to expand your system.

Kyle Maack / Engadget

The top end of Sonos’ home theater lineup was well overdue for a refresh by the time the company introduced the Arc in 2020. This unit replaced the Playbar that debuted in 2013, offering directional sound via Dolby Atmos as the main upgrade. The Arc sports a more modern design, stellar sound and all of Sonos’ smarts – including the ability to automatically calibrate to your living room and when you add additional speakers.

The $ 899 price doesn’t include a sub, but the Playbar didn’t come with one either. And sadly, Sonos doesn’t include a second HDMI jack here for direct connecting devices besides your TV. As is typically the case with the company’s wares, expansion gets expensive as quickly as the wireless sub is $ 749 and satellite One speakers are $ 219 each. However, the combination of the Arc and a sub will get you pretty far sound-wise, even if they are separate purchases.

Buy Arc at Sonos – $ 899

Best midrange soundbar: Sonos Beam

Sonos Beam (Gen 2)

Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

Solid sound quality? Check. Dolby Atmos? Yep. Compact and easy to set up? Uh huh. Compatible with other Sonos products for a more robust system? You betcha. The first-gen Sonos Beam has been one of our favorites since it arrived in 2018, but there was one thing it didn’t have: Dolby Atmos. With the 2021 model, the company’s big addition was that immersive sound, though it’s a bit limited since the Beam doesn’t have any upward-firing speakers. Sonos manages to make things seem more directional by tweaking audio timing and frequency instead of adding more drivers. The new Beam still only has the one HDMI port which means you won’t be connecting a gaming console or set-top box directly to this. It also means that if you have an older TV with an optical jack, you’ll need an adapter here.

Buy Beam (Gen 2) at Sonos – $ 449

Best budget soundbar: Vizio V21t-J8

Vizio V21t-J8 soundbar

Vizio

If you’re looking for a way to improve your TV sound on a budget, Vizio has some solid options. With the V21t-J8, you get a 2.1-channel setup in a compact soundbar and 4.5-inch wireless sub combo. This would be a great choice if you don’t want your add-on TV speaker to take up a lot of space. There’s no WiFi connectivity, but that’s really the only sacrifice when it comes to the basics. HDMI ARC / eARC and optical connections link to your television while a 3.5mm aux jack and Bluetooth allow you to play music from your phone or another device. DTS Virtual: X compatibility offers some of the effect of surround sound without a bigger unit or additional speakers.

Buy Vizio V21t-J8 at Amazon – $ 160

Runner-up budget soundbar: Roku Streambar

Roku Streambar

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

Roku has a line of products that not only allow you to improve your television’s sound quality, but they also have a streaming player built right in. For $ 130, the Streambar gives you all the benefits of a Roku player, including 4K HDR, inside of a soundbar with four 1.9-inch drivers. There are a lot of handy features here too, like the ability to dull the roar of commercials, enhanced speech clarity and compatibility with most voice assistants. Plus, the Streambar supports AirPlay for beaming both video and audio to the device. Roku doesn’t pair a subwoofer with this soundbar, but it does offer one separately for $ 180.

Buy Roku Streambar at Amazon – $ 130



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