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If you live in an apartment, especially one with a small living room, then a full surround sound system is most likely a no-go. A soundbar is a much better option, and will pack everything you could possibly need into one convenient, slim box. It'll also supercharge your sound, taking it light years beyond what your TV speakers can do. Here, we've covered this year's best soundbars, with options for everyone - no matter what your budget is. For more background information on soundbars, see our comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
 

How We Choose

You can, if you're so inclined, pay thousands of dollars for high-end soundbars. We could easily populate our list with huge, wallet-busting, audiophile options, but we've chosen not to. Our reasoning: the people looking to buy models that cost over $2,000 will almost certainly be better-served by a home theater system, and won't be truly satisfied with the audio quality soundbars produce, which is better suited for smaller rooms. That means no Martin Logan, no Paradigm, no Goldenear. As good as those bars are, they are also far too expensive for most people. If you do want an ultra-high-end bar, those are the companies you should be looking at.

We make our picks based not only on price, but on overall quality and unique features, too. Sound quality and the ability to fill a room was a must, balanced against range of features. Disagree? Think we got it wrong? Fight us in the comments. And please remember that, at the time of writing, all prices were correct - we try to update regularly, but sometimes prices fluctuate faster than we can write!
 

Best Overall Soundbar

1. SONOS Beam ($399)

SONOS BEAM

Smart Assistant: Amazon Alexa, Siri
Subwoofer Included: No
Connectivity: Bluetooth / Wi-Fi
What We Like: A future-proof soundbar that offers some of the best value around.
What We Don't: No included subwoofer.

It was a real struggle to choose between the SONOS Beam and the Polk Command Bar for the number one spot. But on balance, we think the Beam edges it. Its setup, app, and ease-of-use, combined with killer sound, make it a no-brainer. The Polk has an included subwoofer, which the SONOS does not, but this is still the best soundbar currently available.

It's the next step up from the old PLAYBAR; while that bar is still available, and ideal for bigger spaces, this definitely counts as an improvement. It not only delivers terrific sound quality, but has a good range of features, including compatibility with Apple Airplay 2 – something that bars like the Polk don't have. It also significantly shorter than the 43" Command Bar, making it a much better pick for small spaces. And of course, you also get Amazon Alexa packed in, making it easy to control this bar with your voice alone. For sheer versatility, design, sound and smarts, we've got to give it to SONOS. Their bar is a real winner...Read our in-depth review
See the SONOS Beam
 

A Close Second (And $99 Less)

2. Polk Command Bar ($300)

Polk Command BarSmart Assistant: Amazon Alexa
Subwoofer Included: Yes
Connectivity: Bluetooth / Wi-Fi
What We Like: The new standard for smart soundbars, excellent sound, great functionality.
What We Don't: Wonky integration, especially with products like Amazon's Fire stick.

Polk know a huge amount about building a good soundbar – their MagniFi Mini, below, is excellent. This feels like the culmination of everything they've learned: a smart speaker system at a terrific price, that offers a ton of functionality. The 43" soundbar and included subwoofer deliver excellent sound, too, easily comparable to more expensive models on this list, like the SONOS Beam and Bose Soundtouch 500.

Although the inclusion of Amazon Alexa isn't as unique as it once was – the SONOS Beam, above, includes it, as do several others – it's still a very useful and effective way of controlling the system. If you've ever owned an Amazon Echo, you'll recognise the distinctive ring set into the Command Bar's surface. While we would like to see better integration with things like Amazon's Fire stick, which feels a little shoehorned-in, the smart feature set makes this a real winner. You also get full 4K HDR passthrough, and a very clever little remote. In terms of value-for-money, this bar arguably edges the SONOS - even if we think that model beats it in terms of sound and useability.
See the Polk Command Bar


Best Budget Soundbar

3. VIZIO SB3621 ($180)

VIZIO SB3621

Smart Assistant: None
Subwoofer Included: Yes
Connectivity: Bluetooth
What We Like: Tremendous sound quality for the price.
What We Don't: Won't satisfy demanding listeners.

Budget soundbars can be dire. But one of the companies doing it right is VIZIO, and their SB3621 remains one of the top picks under $200. This 36" long, 2.1 channel bar - hence the name - may not have the power of the Dolby Atmos-powered VIZIO SB46514-F6, below. But it's one of the most acclaimed bars, and we absolutely love it.

The sound quality is decent - it's on par with the more expensive Polk MagniFi Mini - and has a better upper midrange. While you do lose features like Wi-Fi, and there's no smart assistant like you'd find in the Polk Command Bar or SONOS Beam, there's still plenty to sink your teeth into. It has a good range of inputs and outputs, and if you're shopping for a bar to fill a small space with a very passable sound, this should be your first port of call. At under $200 at the time of writing, its absolutely worth your time.
See the VIZIO SB3621
 

Best High-End Soundbar

4. Samsung HW-N950 ($1,400)

Samsung HW-N950Smart Assistant: None
Subwoofer Included: Yes
Connectivity: Bluetooth/Wi-Fi
What We Like: Unreal audio quality, huge power.
What We Don't: Too much for most people.

The Samsung HW-N950 is the follow-up to the K950, the company's first big Dolby Atmos soundbar. That bar was a monster, packing a huge number of speakers, and this update adds even more. There are two additional side speakers to help with spacing, and the HW-N950 offers full Dolby Atmos and DTS:X surround sound. Bottom line? This will easily compete with any dedicated home theater system, and it is ideal for big rooms.

Of course, a $1,700 price tag is no joke. That puts the HW-N950 out of reach for most people, and it will be overkill if all you need is a little extra sound quality for Netflix. But: it's still one of the best soundbars available, and easily smokes the competition, like the $1,500 Sony HT-ST5000, below. If you can afford it, have the space, and want a compact system that really kills it when it comes to sound quality, this gem from Samsung is the way to go. If you want to spend a decent amount, but not quite this much, try the $999 Atmos-enabled VIZIO SB46514-F6 - more details on that below. By the way, while there's no Alexa or Google Assistant here, the soundbar is compatible with the Samsung Smartthings app.
See the Samsung HW-N950
 

Best Soundbar for Gaming

5. Creative Sound BlasterX Katana ($300)

Creative Sound BlasterXSmart Assistant: None
Subwoofer Included: Yes
Connectivity: Bluetooth
What We Like: Great design, optimized for 7.1.
What We Don't: Bass isn't as good as it should be.

Gaming soundbars have become hugely popular, particularly as a space-saving measure. We think the Creative Sound BlasterX Katana is the best soundbar for gaming available right now, besting the cheaper Razer Leviathan, below. It has everything you'd want, including good connectivity, sleek design, and powerful sound. It has a slightly unusual design, with up-firing mid-range drivers - usually, they are front-firing - but we think the concept works well. Although it's a 2.1 channel bar, it'll translate a 7.1 mix, giving you passable imitation of surround sound. Nothing on the Samsung HW-N950, above, but still…

The downside is the subwoofer. It's not very good. Despite its size, it feels a little bit loose and uncontrolled when it comes to pushing out the low-end. We like a bit of bass while gaming, and this one doesn't quite satisfy. All the same, the Sound BlasterX Katana is a highly competent gaming soundbar, and we think it's going to be around for quite some time. And yes, there's a headphone port if you want to keep your gaming to yourself...
See the Creative Sound BlasterX Katana
 

Best Soundbar for Music

6. Bose Soundbar 500 ($499)

Bose%20Soundbar%20500.jpgSmart Assistant: Amazon Alexa
Subwoofer Included: No
Connectivity: Bluetooth/Wi-Fi
What We Like: Innovative setup, smooth sound.
What We Don't: Slightly dull design.

Surprisingly, we found that the new Bose Soundbar 500 was our favorite bar for music. It performed well no matter what we played, and although we do think it needs a subwoofer to really kick things up a notch, we loved how natural and smooth things sounded. We also appreciated the ADAPTiQ setup, which requires you to wear a special headband and sit for a while so the Soundbar 500 can calibrate its sound. It's weird, but it works. You also get Amazon Alexa, Apple AirPlay 2.0, and the excellent Bose app.

$549 is a little expensive for a soundbar - especially one that looks this dull - but we think it's more advanced and user-friendly than the Klipsch RSB-14, which is also more expensive, at $699. By the way, Bose offer several variants of this bar, including the Soundbar 700, which offers more power and more volume. You can also buy packages which include additional speakers, like subwoofers and surrounds, although you'll need to be prepared to pay more.
See the Bose Soundbar 500
 

Best of the Rest

7. Yamaha YAS-108 ($200)

Yamaha YAS-108Smart Assistant: None
Subwoofer Included: No
Connectivity: Bluetooth
What We Like: Crystal-clear dialogue, supports HDR and DTS Virtual:X.
What We Don't: Internal subwoofers aren't great.

Yamaha make some excellent affordable soundbars, and we think the YAS-208 is their best. It packs in several features to recommend it, chief among which are its compatibility with HDR and DTS Virtual:X. That means higher dynamic range in your audio, as well as the ability to deliver reasonable surround sound with actual surround speakers. Mostly? It works well, although it isn't mindblowing. This is a very, very good bar that isn't perfect - we don't think it beats the slightly cheaper VIZIO SB3621, for example, even if there's a ton to recommend it. Consider this as a very decent alternative if the VIZIO is sold out.

We do wish the internal subwoofers had a little bit more juice to them. And while we appreciate Yamaha being able to link with an Amazon Alexa speaker, like an Echo Dot or Echo Plus, it's not quite the same as having Amazon Alexa built in. If you want that, go for the Polk Command Bar, above, which isn't that much more expensive.
See the Yamaha YAS-108
 

8. VIZIO SB46514 ($1,000)

VIZIO SB46514Smart Assistant: Google Assistant
Subwoofer Included: Yes
Connectivity: Bluetooth/Wi-Fi
What We Like: Superb sound quality and Dolby Atmos.
What We Don't: Still quite expensive for what you get.

VIZIO's soundbars are really freaking good. The only reason that the SB46514 isn't in our top five picks is that other bars are better all-rounders - they combine value, sound quality, and useability in an affordable package. You'd never call the SB46514 affordable - not at just under $1,000. That puts it out of range for most people, although in fairness to VIZIO, they offer an excellent and less-expensive alternative in the SB3621, above.

But if you are prepared to shell out for the SB46514, you're in for a ride. The sound reproduction is stellar, with thick, weighty bass and excellent Dolby Atmos surround sound. We'd easily put this up against the more expensive Samsung HW-N950 - it wouldn't win, but it would give the Samsung one hell of a fight. You also get full Google functionality, including Chromecast and Google Assistant. VIZIO continue to do good things, and we can't wait to see where they go from here.
See the VIZIO SB46514
 

9. LG SK8 ($447)

LG SK8 Smart Assistant: None
Subwoofer Included: Yes
Connectivity: Bluetooth/Wi-Fi
What We Like: A good all-rounder.
What We Don't: Not great for Dolby Atmos.

LG's SK8 bar (apparently pronounced S-K-8, rather than Skate - shame, really) is a fantastic all-rounder. It puts out a huge amount of power - 360 watts, compared to 260 for the Polk Command Bar, above. That means big volume, if you want it, and it matches that volume with decent sound quality and functionality. Like the Yamaha YAS-108, you'll need a separate smart speaker to use an assistant, but that aspect works fine.

Our biggest problem here, and the reason this otherwise-solid bar isn't in our top five, is the Dolby Atmos functionality. It's just not quite convincing enough. We'd advocate for leaving it out unless a soundbar can really do it well, and LG Sk8 isn't there yet. If you don't use Atmos content, however, this is a fantastic mid-range choice with a ton to recommend it. We prefer it to the more expensive Sony HT-Z9F, below.
See the LG SK8
 

10. Klipsch RSB-14 ($699)

Klipsch RSB-14Smart Assistant: None
Subwoofer Included: Yes
Connectivity: Bluetooth
What We Like: One of the loudest bars available - perfect for big rooms.
What We Don't: Sound quality can be a little wonky.

Klipsch has a spotty record with soundbars. Despite making some of the best floorstanding speakers available, they haven't been able to replicate the magic with soundbars. The Klipsch RSB-14 is a perfect example. Its sound quality is never going to beat that of the cheapr LG SK8 or even the Bose Soundbar 500, and we had some issues with slightly odd harmonics, especially with music.

However: simply because the RSB-14 doesn't beat those bars doesn't mean it isn't worth your consideration. When you want it to, this bar can get crazy loud - louder than almost anything else on this list. That means it's ideal for big rooms, and for those people who don't want to spend close to $2,000 on the Samsung HW-N950. It may have some problems, but we loved the functionality and the design, and that massive, room-swallowing volume. For a quieter alternative with better sound, try the SONOS Beam, which is also cheaper at $399.
See the Klipsch RSB-14
 

11. Sony HT-ST5000 ($1,500)

Sony HT-ST5000Smart Assistant: None
Subwoofer Included: Yes
Connectivity: Bluetooth / Wi-Fi
What We Like: Superlative audio detail, killer design.
What We Don't: Dolby Atmos not as good as it should be.

The Sony HT-ST5000 is a worthy attempt at a Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbar, and one which creates an entirely viable alternative to the amazing Samsung HW-N950, above. This less-expensive soundbar doesn't have the additional speakers the Samsung has, and we think its surround sound is slightly less appealing as a result. Nonetheless, it makes for an excellent high-end option.

Surprisingly, it reminded us of the Bose Soundbar 500, above. Thanks to its affinity for music - helped along by its Chromecast compatibility - the HT-ST5000 manages to perform well with just about any genre. The Bose is cheaper, and better value, but the HT-ST5000 is still a fantastic second option. With its wealth of features, great design, and the ability to move seamlessly between music and movies, we think this Sony soundbar is a real keeper. For a cheaper alternative, check out the HT-Z9F, below, also from Sony.
See the Sony HT-ST5000
 

12. Sony HT-Z9F ($889)

Sony HT-Z9FSmart Assistant: None
Subwoofer Included: Yes
Connectivity: Bluetooth / Wi-Fi
What We Like: Great depth and realism in the sound, good range of features.
What We Don't: Not great for dialogue.

If you can't stretch to the epci Sony HT-ST5000, above, the HT-Z9F is a superb option, and much less expensive. We'd place it in the same category as the VIZIO SB46514, and while it doesn't do surround sound nearly as well, it offers similar functionality at a slightly cheaper price. Plus, the audio quality as a whole is brilliant, with a level of realism that cheaper bars, like the Q Acoustics Media 4, just can't touch.

There were some flaws - dialogue in particular felt a little off, with just a touch of high-frequency hiss popping through. Nothing crazy, but not what we expected to hear from Sony. We also weren't wowed by the Vertical Surround feature, which enhances 5.1 sound. It didn't feel like it made a major difference. All the same, this is a fantastic soundbar, and one we think is a viable alternative if the aforementioned VIZIO isn't available.
See the Sony HT-Z9F
 

13. Razer Leviathan ($200)

Razer LeviathanSmart Assistant: None
Subwoofer Included: Yes
Connectivity: Bluetooth
What We Like: Punchy bass, good features for the price.
What We Don't: Lack of clarity, not the best gaming soundbar available.

Razer's Leviathan soundbar doesn't quite reach the upper heights of this list. Whether compared to other gaming soundbars, or to more traditional models, it doesn't quite measure up. It has plenty to recommend it – we'll talk about those aspects below – but if you want to choose a gaming sound bar, we'd recommend going for the slightly more expensive Creative Sound BlasterX Katana, above. To our way of thinking, that's a slightly better soundbar, at not a huge additional cost.

However, if you are on a budget, and don't mind things like the fact that there is no remote, this is a very good budget option for gamers. The audio quality lacks a little bit of clarity, but you'll feel each shotgun blast and explosion. There's no Wi-Fi, but Bluetooth connectivity makes setup easy, and this is an ideal affordable rig for PC gaming setups. If you want a similarly-priced model that is more suited to movies and music, try the VIZIO SB3621.
See the Razer Leviathan
 

14. Polk MagniFi Mini ($300)

Polk MagniFi MiniSmart Assistant: None
Subwoofer Included: Yes
Connectivity: Bluetooth / Wi-Fi
What We Like: An ideal solution for smaller rooms, hugely popular.
What We Don’t: Muddy upper-mid range, sounds more like 3.1 than the advertised 5.1.

Its compact design makes Polk Audio's MagniFi Mini look more like a portable Bluetooth speaker than a surround sound system. However, with 5.1 capabilities and an external 6.5" down-firing subwoofer, the Mini is a fully loaded, robust soundbar, both compact and user friendly. It also has a full range of features: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Google Chromecast, and Spotify all stream directly through the unit. For a model not much longer than a Subway sandwich, we're impressed.

Considering its size, the Mini has a wide soundstage and decent bass playback, though not nearly as profound as others on our list - like the Yamaha YAS-108, above. The only real complaint we have for the Mini is the muddy upper midrange. This becomes an obvious problem while watching movies with a great deal of dialogue. However, this isn't a soundbar without merit: for one thing, it can also be employed as a hub to support multiple systems. This means you can plug everything into your TV, and use the Mini as your main output. The Mini also offers options like Night Effect Mode and Voice Adjust, which use compression to subdue any boosts in sound while enhancing the dialogue. This makes it easier to enjoy your favorite action films, even late at night. We would recommend these settings for any midnight movie watchers.
See the Polk MagniFi Mini
 

15. Q Acoustics Media 4 ($300)

Q Acoustics Media 4Smart Assistant: None
Subwoofer Included: Internal
Connectivity: Bluetooth
What We Like: Great remote, easy setup.
What We Don't: The internal subwoofer isn't very good.

Although it's far from the best soundbar on the list, the Q Acoustics Media 4 makes a good account of itself, and it definitely belongs on here. Its sound quality has nothing on the cheaper Polk Command Bar, which has far better definition and bass. This bar only has an subwoofer, and in addition, lacks HDMI outputs. Those can be serious black marks against a bar, and it's something we want Q Acoustics to fix for the inevitable Media 5.

That being said, it definitely has its pluses. It's super-easy to set up and run, with an excellent, simple remote. And while the sound isn't audiophile quality, it definitely delivers, creating a reasonable impression of home theater sound. This is despite the lack of extra channels. Ultimately, you go for this one if you wanted a very simple improvement on your TV sound, or you're trying to fill a small room. Otherwise, you may want to go for something with an included subwoofer.
See the Q Acoustics Media 4
 

16. Polk Signa S2 ($200)

Polk Audio Signa S2Smart Assistant: None
Subwoofer Included: Yes
Connectivity: Bluetooth
What We Like: Great EQ presets, HDMI ARC connection.
What We Don't: Beaten out by other models.

As you can probably tell from their presence on this list, Polk know how to make some excellent sound bars. If the more expensive Command Bar and MagniFi Mini don't do it for you, we recommend checking out the newly-released Signa S2. It's an upgrade on the S1 that finally offers an HDMI ARC connection, letting you listen to content streamed directly from your TV, like Netflix or Hulu. It's not a given for soundbars to have this, even now, although virtually all the models on this list have it.

While the sound doesn't compete with the VIZIO SB3621, which is not only more capable but less expensive, it still holds its own. The EQ presets are surprisingly good, really boosting the perceived audio quality. We don't think this is going to be anybody's automatic first choice, but it definitely deserves its place on this list, thanks to a good combination of affordability, sound quality, and features.
See the Polk Signa S2
 

17. Yamaha YAS207 ($300)

Yamaha YAS207Smart Assistant: None
Subwoofer Included: Yes
Connectivity: Bluetooth
What We Like: Amazing sound for the price.
What We Don't: Detail isn’t where it should be, doesn’t really compete with Polk and SONOS.

Got a small space? Want to noticeably improve your TV's sound quality? Don't want to spend huge amounts to do it? Then this is the model you should consider. The YAS-207 replaces an earlier Yamaha on this list, the pricier and older YSP-4300; that model delivered plenty of power, but lacked basic elements like Bluetooth, and simply didn't measure up to many other bars. We think this is more of a total package.

For your money, you get an additional subwoofer, and 300 watts of power - more powerful than the Polk Command Bar, which only has 260. There's DTS:X virtual surround sound - nothing on the real thing, but damn good nonetheless - an excellent control app, smooth design, and decent sound. While the audio detail could do with a little bit of extra work, there's still little to be disappointed in for the amount you pay. In terms of real value, this smokes most of the competition, bar the ones above it on this list. Yamaha regularly iterate their soundbars too, often faster than we can update these piece. Check back regularly.
See the Yamaha YAS207
 

And For When You Win The Lottery

18. Creative X-Fi Sonic Carrier ($3,999)

Creative X-Fi Sonic CarrierSmart Assistant: None
Subwoofer Included: Yes
Connectivity: Bluetooth/Wi-Fi
What We Like: The Creative X-Fi will destroy your house.
What We Don't: You'll be paying $4,000 for the privilege.

Do you require the maddest soundbar in existence? Are you absolutely jammed with cash? Do you have no sense of style or subtlety? In that case, the Creative X-Fi Sonic Carrier is for you. It is, by some margin, the most insane soundbar ever created: an 11.2.4-channel beastie, with its speakers driven by seventeen amplifiers. It won't deliver surround sound that the cheaper Yamaha YSP-5600 does, but you'll simply never find a more powerful or impactful soundbar. At 1,000 watts of RMS power, and 2,000 peak, it rivals most major high-end subwoofers for sheer energy.

You also get things like room calibration, SD card slots, a serious wireless subwoofer, and more. Having said that, there are some puzzling options, like the lack of Amazon Alexa functionality. Powerful it may be, but it feels a little like it's stuck in the past. However: if you want something that's not only going to impress the neighbours but send them scurrying for the hills, this is an excellent place to start.
See the Creative X-Fi Sonic Carrier
 

New Soundbars Coming Soon

There have been a slew of new soundbars this year, including some on our list, but not many are still in the works - at least, not that we know of. The only one we could track down is one from our pals at Harmon Kardon.

We've featured a few pieces from Harman Kardon in the past, but this one is the most highly anticipated yet. The Citation Bar is Harman Kardon's new smart soundbar, set to be released early 2019. This addition to their lineup will pit them directly against others on our list, like the Bose and SONOS above, complete with a built-in smart assistant. The Citation Bar is equipped with hands-free Google Assistant, digital 5.1 surround sound, and over 300 music streaming services. Not only does it promise to feature stellar sound quality, but it can be paired with other Citation speakers to create true surround sound. The pricing is listed at $1,000, and we're looking forward to finding out if it can live up to the hype. If you know of any new gear hitting shelves, feel free to mention it in the comment section, below!


Soundbar Comparison Table

Soundbar Price  Assistant Sub.* Conn.** Wattage Channels Length
SONOS Beam $399 Alexa No Blue. / Wi-Fi Unknown 5 25.6"
Polk Command Bar $300 Alexa Yes Blue. / Wi-Fi 260 3.1 43"
VIZIO SB3621 $180 None Yes Bluetooth Unknown 2.1 36"
Samsung HW-N950 $1,400 None Yes Blue. / Wi-Fi 512 7.1.4 48.3"
Creative S'BlasterX Katana $300 None Yes Bluetooth Unknown 2.1 23.6"
Bose Soundbar 500 $499 Alexa No Blue. / Wi-Fi Unknown 2.0 31.5"
Yamaha YAS-108 $200 None No Bluetooth 120 2.0 35"
VIZIO SB46514 $1000 Google Yes Blue. / Wi-Fi Unknown 5.1.4 46"
LG SK8 $447 None Yes Blue. / Wi-Fi 360 2.1 41.2"
Klipsch RSB-14 $699 None Yes Bluetooth 135 2.1 44"
Sony HT-ST5000 $1,500 None Yes Blue. / Wi-Fi Unknown 7.1.2 46.5"
Sony HT-Z9F $889 None Yes Blue. / Wi-Fi 400 3.1 39.4"
Razer Leviathan $200 None Yes Bluetooth Unknown 2.1 19.7"
Polk MagniFi Mini $300 None Yes Blue. / Wi-Fi 150 5.1 13.4"
Q Acoustics Media 4 $300 None Internal Bluetooth 100 2.1 39.3"
Polk Signa S2 $200 None Yes Bluetooth Unknown 2.1 35.4"
Yamaha YAS207 $300 None Yes Bluetooth Unknown 2.1 36"
Creative X-Fi Sonic Carrier $3,999 None Yes Blue. / Wi-Fi 1,000 11.2.4 59.9"

*Sub = Subwoofer Included?
**Conn. = Connectivity

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VIZIO make one of the best budget soundbars around | The Master Switch
VIZIO make one of the best budget soundbars around | The Master Switch

Soundbar Buying Advice


What Is A Soundbar?

Before we actually start giving general buying advice, it might be useful to break down exactly what constitutes a soundbar. It used to be that, if you wanted to improve the sound in your living room, your only option was a separate amplifier or receiver, and discreet speakers and a subwoofer. You had to connect these up to your TV, fighting with speaker wires all the way. That's changed. Now, you can get all of this included in a simple solution that can be positioned right in front of your TV, or on the wall above it.

That is a soundbar. It's a long, thin set of speakers, designed to encompass the full sound spectrum in one handy package. Usually, but not always, it will come with separate subwoofer – this is because soundbars don't have the power to generate really good bass, which means this particular task has to be outsourced to another box. We talk about this a little more below. This isn't always the case, however, and even if you don't have a subwoofer, you'll still be able to get excellent sound. It also helps that soundbars are generally a lot cheaper than separate home theater systems, making them much more appealing proposition for those who live in apartments, for example.

Satellite speakers help with the surround sound aspect of a soundbar | The Master Switch
Satellite speakers help with the surround sound aspect of a soundbar | The Master Switch

Soundbars and Virtual Assistants: Amazon Alexa vs. Apple Siri vs. Google Assistant

You'll notice the one thing we've paid close attention to in our list is whether or not a given soundbar has a virtual assistant included. Several do, including the two soundbars that top our list. The Polk Command Bar is at the number one spot for a reason, and part of that reason is its seamless integration of Amazon Alexa. But is it worth bothering with smart assistance for your soundbar? And if you do, which one should you pick?

Smart assistants certainly aren't going to be taking over the world at this point – just ask Alexa to navigate Spotify – but they can be very handy for things like soundbars. Whether it's controlling volume, changing sound presets, or even navigating your smart TV, yelling commands at your bar from the couch is an intuitive way to control it. But it's worth bearing a couple of things in mind. Firstly, it's very rare to find anything other than Amazon Alexa and Apple's Siri right now. Even then, the latter is only likely to be added in the coming months – just check out the amazing SONOS Beam, which is ready to go with Alexa but doesn't have Siri integration yet. You're also no likely to find Google Assistant on any current bars - although, several manufacturers say they plan to added at a later date.

It's also worth paying attention to whether your chosen virtual assistant is integrated within the bar itself, or if you require a separate smart speaker. Perfect example: the $200 Yamaha YAS-108, which works just fine with Alexa but asks you to have a separate Amazon Echo speaker to make it work. And as for which one you should choose? At this point, most virtual assistants are very close in functionality. This is especially true for controlling music, which isn't all that complicated for virtual assistants to figure out. Our take? You should pick the one that you feel most comfortable with. If you have a choice, go for Amazon Alexa, which is a little bit easier to use than Siri. Google Assistant is arguably better than both of them, but it isn't widely available yet.
 

Soundbars vs. Home Theater: Dolby Atmos and DTS Explained

One of the most common things we encounter here at The Master Switch is the idea that soundbars just aren't worth anyone's time. The consensus seems to be that it's best to skip them and upgrade straight to a home theater system. We have a real problem with this, and we strongly disagree. It's true that soundbars are not going to compete with a full 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system, but then again, they aren't designed to. You choose a soundbar if you want convenience – which is something that even the most diehard home theater fan would admit a regular surround setup doesn't have – or if you have a smaller space that doesn't require or can't fit multiple speakers.

The SONOS Beam is our top soundbar pick | The Master Switch
The SONOS Beam is our top soundbar pick | The Master Switch

You may notice that several of the bars on this list have a channel rating of 5.1 or 7.1 - or even, in the case of the absurd Creative X-Fi Sonic Carrier, 11.2.4 – yet they are still distinct from pure surround sound home theater systems. What gives? In this case, the number refers to the number of individual speaker channels in the bar (and included subwoofer). It is not necessarily meant to indicate surround sound, whatever the manufacturers might say. Truth be told, it's actually a little difficult to get genuine surround sound when the sound source is a single bar below your TV. Don't get us wrong, plenty of the soundbars do an excellent job with positioning and spreading the audio around, but it's not going to be as good as having multiple speakers. But! As always, there's an exception to the rule.

Some of the bars in the list come with separate satellite speakers, as well as a subwoofer. That allows you get at least 5.1 sound - three channels in front, two satellite ones on the side, and a subwoofer. All the same, you shouldn't expect the quality here to be as good as a dedicated 5.1 system, which will generally have a receiver capable of doing more intricate positioning than the circuits in your soundbar. In almost all cases, we'd say that, if you want surround sound - the real thing - you should get a home theater. But if you don't, then a soundbar is fine.

It's also worth knowing about Dolby Atmos and DTS. We have a much more fully-featured, in-depth explanation of what Dolby Atmos and DTS are here, but here's a quick primer. They are both surround sound software programs that translate audio coming from a source and direct bits of it where to go, in order to create the illusion that the sound is all around you. Dolby Atmos has a specific way of positioning sound that uses multiple speakers to create very precise imaging, while DTS (which comes in various flavors, like DTS:X) is less precise, but doesn't require things like height speakers. So, how do manufacturers pack these software programs into soundbars, which, of course, are all single boxes? The answer is, they don't – not really. What they do is include software that uses their speakers to create a decent impression of these surround sound programs - meaning that you can play a source that was mixed for Dolby Atmos out of your soundbar, and still have it sound damn good.

It's not going to be as good as a full home theater, of course, but it's crazy convenient. Really, that's the main reason to go for a soundbar. It pulls its weight in a major way here, and offers sound that is almost as good as a full speaker system. It's often said that this isn't the case, but we challenge anybody to sit down in front of something like the $1,700 Samsung HW-N950 and not be absolutely awed. Bottom line: if you feel like multiple speakers would be too much hassle, or you don't have the space or inclination to get them, then a soundbar could be ideal for you.

Soundbar subwoofers make a real difference | The Master Switch
Soundbar subwoofers make a real difference | The Master Switch

Soundbars vs. Soundbases 

Another common question we get: should one go for a soundbar, or a soundbase? The latter, if you didn’t know, is a rectangular box that sits directly underneath your TV. It packs in all the different types of speakers, including a subwoofer, into a convenient package that doubles as a TV stand. In contrast, a soundbar often separates the speaker systems, putting midrange and treble drivers into a slim bar, and usually, but not always, having a separate subwoofer.

Each of them has several advantages and disadvantages. As a rule, soundbases cost a little bit more than soundbars, but in contrast, there aren’t nearly as many options out there – it’s much harder to get them then it is to get a good soundbar. While they do tend to sound better, this isn’t always the case, and they are also almost always heavier, as well as taking up significant space. Soundbars have the advantage of being attached cheaper (sometimes), as well as lighter and more versatile. To be honest, however, you could go for either, purely based on how much space you have under and around your TV. Here at The Master Switch, we’ve tried both, and we like both! If you want more information, we've got a whole guide devoted to picking between the two (with a handy explainer video!)
 

Soundbar Subwoofers Explained

It’s not uncommon to see soundbars being packaged with an included subwoofer. This is because a soundbar’s enclosure isn’t always ideal for handling the low notes, which subwoofers are built to do. So when you see one packaged with your soundbar, don’t freak out about paying for equipment you don’t need. Well, technically speaking, you don’t need a subwoofer, but it’s very handy to have one. Your bass-loving friends will thank you.

Of the soundbars in the above list, there is a roughly even split between those that come with an external subwoofer, and those that have it incorporated into the actual bar itself. In almost all cases, we greatly prefer having an external subwoofer, which tends to deliver better low end. We think the best subwoofer on this list of soundbars - yeah, we know, it sounds weird to us too - comes with the amazing Samsung HW-N950. Ultimately, this is probably a less important decision than deciding what kind of soundbar you want. We’d say definitely go for a sub woofer if you have the space, but don’t put too much thought into it. Any bar on this list is going to give you decent low-end.

Polk make some amazing soundbars | The Master Switch
Polk make some amazing soundbars | The Master Switch

Integrating A Soundbar Into An Existing System

While we can't really recommend switching to a soundbar if you already have a full surround system, you can certainly use it with any existing speakers you might have. We'd love to give you precise instructions on how to do this, but there are so many different soundbar/speaker combinations available that it's impossible. Any soundbar worth a place under your TV will come with instructions on how to do this. Generally speaking, a good setup to start with is a pair of small bookshelf or surround speakers, a subwoofer, and the soundbar itself in the center.

Be warned: soundbars are great - we wouldn't feature them here if they weren't - but they're not home theater systems. They produce killer sound, but if you're expecting to blow your walls to pieces, you might want to look elsewhere. Essentially, soundbars were invented for convenience, and if you have a situation where home theater isn't appropriate, then you should get one. Like, right now.

A further thought on buying soundbars. There's a school of thought that it makes sense to buy a soundbar from the same people who made your TV, the logic being that the two products will be matched in some way. You could, for example, pair a VIZIO SB3621 with a VIZIO TV. We'd say this is a little exaggerated, as the audio and visual departments in the same company can often be quite separate. That being said, it's certainly not a bad idea. Although we haven't seen any concrete evidence that it makes a noticeable difference, it still perfectly legitimate buying strategy.

Optical and HDMI connections both have their pros and cons | The Master Switch
Optical and HDMI connections both have their pros and cons | The Master Switch

Soundbar Inputs: HDMI vs. Optical

These two terms refer to the type of connections on the back of the soundbar, and we have…shall, we say, strong opinions about them. The basics first. HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) is a slim multi-pin connector with a distinctive shape. Chances are you probably use them already to, for example, connect your games console to your TV. Optical connections actually use lights to transfer audio, and are thin, bendy little wires with a distinctive connector at the end. To complicate matters, several of the big soundbar manufacturers are actually ditching HDMI entirely. It's less of an issue than you might think, especially with the advent of optical connections. That being said, HDMI is better. We are absolutely convinced about that. Not only does it allow you to use high resolution codecs like Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD Master Audio, which optical does not, but we think it offers slightly better sound quality. In addition, the cables are cheaper, and often a lot more robust. If you have the choice, go for HDMI. You may run into cases where you send audio out from your TV into the soundbar, and it doesn't pass along a surround signal, but these are few and far between.

SONOS are the kings of wireless streaming | The Master Switch
SONOS are the kings of wireless streaming | The Master Switch

Wireless Streaming Explained

One of the most popular uses of soundbars these days is as actual music systems, and almost all of them will have streaming capabilities in one form or another. In most cases, this takes the form of – you will be absolutely stunned to hear – Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. While neither are quite as good as regular wired connections, in terms of quality, and both definitely have their downsides, in terms of dropouts and crowding existing networks, they can be an amazingly convenient way of listening to music.

Surprisingly, not every soundbar will have Bluetooth included. We have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it’s nice to have for convenience, but on the other, we wouldn’t really advocate doing music listening at home via Bluetooth anyway, except in certain circumstances. There’s just no need. While we’ve indicated whether a soundbar has this feature in our comparison table, it definitely shouldn’t be the first port of call when you’re buying. Far more important, and interesting, is a wireless connection. If you can get your soundbar connected to your home Wi-Fi, you open up a huge number of possibilities, including being able to control it with an app on your phone. Some bars, like the SONOS Beam, actually rely on home wireless to function. If this aspect is important to you, you’ll find plenty of options in our picks.

Soundbar wattage is important to understand | The Master Switch
Soundbar wattage is important to understand | The Master Switch

Soundbar Power and Wattage Explained

Power in soundbars is treated a little bit differently to power with other speaker systems. They are similar in that they are both given as wattage, which is a measure of power – roughly, how loud something will be at a given volume level. It’s not a perfect comparison, but it works for our purposes here. With those systems, you have to take into account matching the amount of power coming out of the amplifier to the amount of power the speakers can handle. A mismatch can result in sound that is a little bit less detailed or louder than one might like. At the very worst, you’ll get a blown set of speakers. That’s not the case with soundbars, because the amplifier and speakers are all contained in a single unit, and have been matched already. There’s no need to do any matching yourself. That’s why we give our wattage ratings here as total wattage, which is the output of all the speakers in a soundbar, firing simultaneously. Even mid-range soundbars can be surprisingly powerful - the LG SK8 , which costs less than $300, has 360 watts of power.

One of the frustrating things, however, is that manufacturers often don’t indicate whether the rating they give is RMS/continuous wattage, or peak/dynamic wattage. The former refers to the power level over a long period of time, while the latter is how much power the speakers can put out if turned to the absolute maximum. Obviously, we disregard that one, and only look at RMS/continuous power. Except, in almost all cases, manufacturers of soundbars don’t say whether the wattage is one or the other. That means it’s a little harder to trust these wattage specifications than we’d like. Take them with a very big grain of salt.
 

What Size Soundbar Should I Buy? Length Explained

The length of the soundbar has absolutely no effect on the sound. We've seen small 30" soundbars get louder than 45" monsters. It's all about the number of speakers contained in the bar, and how much power they have. Soundbars can be small and still have huge power, simply by including a huge external power brick. You still need to consider length when you buy, but it's got nothing to do with audio quality.

Here's what sometimes happens. You order yours off Amazon, have it delivered, unbox it… Only to find that it's far too long for your actual TV stand. The ends stick out comically, or worse, actually wedge themselves up against something. Also, a soundbar that is too long or too short for the actual TV just looks a bit weird. Fortunately, we've included individual lengths in our comparison table above, which means you should be able to get an idea of just how long each soundbar is, and how much space it's going to take up. To that end, we cannot stress enough that you need to actually measure just how much space you have before making a purchase. Again, you'd be surprised how easy is to forget this in the excitement of getting new audio gear. That being said, most soundbars do fall within a general range, from around 34" to 48". The shortest on our list is the Polk MagniFi Mini, at 13.4" long, while the longest is the Samsung HW-N950 at 48.3". There are plenty in between those, so you should be able to find a suitable length for your TV.

Back To Our Soundbar Picks  Back To Our Comparison Table

Best Soundbases of 2018

Soundbases don’t often get a lot of respect and audio world. This is a landscape dominated by huge tower speakers, feature-heavy home theater systems and sleek soundbars.

Best Subwoofers of 2018

You can survive with just a regular set of speakers. You don’t, strictly speaking, need a subwoofer. But you cannot believe the difference having one will make. This big box of wonder will do incredible things to your sound.

Best Home Theater Systems of 2018

It doesn’t matter how large your television screen is, or how impressive the resolution. If you don’t have great sound, then you’re only getting half the experience.

Best Floorstanding Speakers of 2018

Floorstanding speakers have one of the most recognizable profiles of all speaker types. They're designed to slot in next to bookcases and TV cabinets, and their shape has two major advantages...

Best 5.1 Home Theater Systems of 2018

5.1-channel surround audio has been around for two decades now, and it’s become the benchmark for home theater sound, offering a far more immersive audio perception than regular two-channel stereo...

Best 7.1 Home Theater Systems of 2018

The phrase 'surround sound' immediately makes people think of a number: 5.1. The 5.1-channel surround audio system has been around for two decades now, and has become the absolute standard for home theaters.

Soundbars vs. Soundbases

If you’re curious about the differences between soundbars and soundbases but still unacquainted, let’s delve into their features, similarities and differences - and give you everything you need to choose between them.

10 Common Home Theater Problems

There’s no denying that home theater systems can be complicated. Actually, forget can be; they are complicated. When you’ve got a system with this many wires and settings, it’s surprisingly easy for things to go wrong.

Review: VIZIO SB4051

VIZIO, who set their store by making excellent TVs, also dabble in producing speakers for said TVs. Their biggest area of expertise is in surround soundbars - I.e soundbars with multiple included speakers. The SB4051 is an excellent example.