If your short on space, bulky speakers don’t appeal to you, or you just want a single unit that can handle Dolby Surround or 7.1 channel audio, then a Yamaha YAS-107BL Sound Bar might fit your needs.
Soundbars are great if you hate messing around with wires because they typically only need a power source and an HDMI cable or optical cable and you’re ready to go.
We thought the YAS-107BL sat right at the intersection of value and usability. It has the most popular functions, like Bluetooth, HDMI or optical hook-up, built-in subwoofers, and multiple remote control options.
The Top 5 Soundbars
|Yamaha YAS-107BL||HDMI, Analog, or Optical||Woofers, tweeters, 3″ built-in subwoofers||Check Price|
|Sonos PLAYBAR||Optical||9 Speaker Drivers||Check Price|
|Wohome TV||HDMI, Optical, Coaxial, RCA||6 Speaker Drivers, tweeters, bass reflex tubes||Check Price|
|VIZIO SB3621n-E8M||Optical, RCA Plugs, Digital and HDMI||2 Speaker Drivers, 1 Subwoofer||Check Price|
|ZVOX SB380||Optical||3 Speakers, Built-In subwoofers||Check Price|
1. The Best Overall Soundbar
Yamaha YAS-107BL Sound Bar
If you just want to buy one unit and be done, the Yamaha YAS-107BL is probably it. It has two built-in subwoofers for bass sound and performs like a 5.1 system.
It doesn’t pair as well with an extended audio system as some other soundbars we reviewed, but if ease of use and a sleek appearance are the most important to you, then the YAS-107BL should be enough for you.
For the average user, ease of operation is probably the most important element. We thought the YAS-107BL scored well on convenience, since you can control it from an app, the included dedicated remote, or from your TV remote
It’s also Bluetooth capable, so if using your soundbar as an external speaker for mobile devices or integrating Amazon Echo are important to you, this is a good pick.
It’s Clear Voice feature is nice because it ensures a good sound balance between loud action scenes and quiet dialogue. You can set it up with either an HDMI (ARC or not) or an optical cable. It holds up to pricier models on the market for ease of use and multifunctionality.
Pros and Cons
- Sleek design – looks good wall-mounted or on table-top
- Bluetooth Enabled
- Handles 5.1 system sound
- Easy to set up
- Multiple control methods
- Doesn’t integrate well with extra speakers
- You might have to buy a premium HDMI cable to get top sound quality
2. The Best High-End Soundbar
If you’re after a soundbar that can do literally everything and pairs with other external audio elements, the Sonos PLAYBARD is a favorite.
The Sonos PLAYBAR is easy to setup with an optical cable and boasts that it delivers the sound for anything from gaming systems to Alexa.
While it’s on the high end of the price spectrum for most users, the Sonos audio quality is highly respected. If you’re a serious audiophile, this might be worth looking into.
It has some advanced sound settings that some people might find useful, including a Night Sound function that enhances quieter sound. It also has a spoken word enhancement to feature the dialogue in a movie.
We didn’t love how aggressively Sonos pushes the purchase of addition speaker units – this soundbar is definitely a huge step up all on its own, and you only need the extra subwoofers and speakers if you’re headed to a full-on surround sound system.
Setting up the dedicated Sonos network trips up some people initially, but once you have it going its simple to operate. Bluetooth is a plus.
Pros and Cons
- Nine Speaker Drivers
- TruTuning App Customizes the PLAYBAR for your room
- Gradually build a sound system with other Sonos speakers
- No HDMI Hookup
- App needs to be on the same WiFi network as the PLAYBAR to work.
3. Best Budget Soundbar
Wohome TV Sound Bar
The Wohome TV Sound Bar made the top of our list for budget pick because not just because it’s on the low end of the price range for quality soundbars, but it also includes the wall-mount brackets which are usually another added expense on top of the soundbar itself.
For the price, it has remarkable sound quality. We liked that there are 6 drivers and though the Wohome claims to offer surround sound, it’s really a pseudo-surround sound created by the soundwaves bouncing off your room’s walls.
The range of input options is impressive, so there should be a way to connect the Wohome to just about any TV that you have.
You can use it as an external phone speaker too, since it has Bluetooth capability, though it can be a bit tricky to set up initially.
Overall, if you are on a limited budget and still want a soundbar that checks all the boxes, this is a decent pick.
Pros and Cons
- 6 Drivers
- Included Wall Mount Brackets
- Multiple Hookup Options
- Bluetooth Pairing can be Tricky
- Remote has some Issues
4. Best 2.1 Soundbar
If you don’t want to spring for a 5.1 model but still want a serious upgrade to your TV’s built-in speakers, then the VIZIO SB3621n-E8M might be a good pick for you.
The difference between a 2.1 and higher-number soundbars (like most of the others that made our top list) is simply the number of speakers. A 2.1 soundbar has two speakers and one subwoofer, whereas a 5.1, for example, includes more speakers to produce the quasi-surround sound quality.
For a 2.1 model, the sound quality is decent and the wireless subwoofer adds better bass, though the subwoofer might be a bit loud for people with neighbors on the other side of the wall.
We liked that there were multiple inputs for the SB3621n-E8M. You can hook it up to your TV with an HDMI, optical, and even RCA plugs.
Keep in mind that the subwoofer is a separate unit, so you’ll need to find space for that somewhere. It is wireless, though, so it won’t create more wires messing up your TV stand.
Not everyone needs a unit with 10 speakers shooting sound out at you. If you just want a nice little unit that’s easy to hookup and hang, this might be the winner for you.
Pros and Cons
- Wireless Subwoofer
- Easy to Mount on Wall
- The Remote is Tricky
- No Surround Sound Function
- Doesn’t Pair with Other Devices Super Well
5. Best Soundbar If You Have Trouble Hearing
Soundbars are a godsend for people with trouble hearing. This surprisingly common problem often means that you can hear loud action scenes just fine, but the quieter dialogue gets lost.
Many soundbars feature dialogue prioritization, and but liked the ZVOX SB380 for its AccuVoice Dialogue Boost and Output leveling features.
The SB380 prioritizes spoken word sound balance, so if you’re bothered by overly-loud commercials or too-soft dialogue, this might be a good match for you.
There’s not Buetooth with this model, so it won’t work great as a remote speaker for wireless devices. It also didn’t score the highest for home theater sound quality, but it’s still going to be an improvement over your built-in TV speakers.
The design is compact, which is good for small spaces, and it has two built-in subwoofers which should help balance sounds on the low end.
On a practical note, its helpful that you can hook it to a wall with the built-in holes on the back so you don’t need to buy a separate mounting unit. Overall, this might be a good choice for people with varying levels of hearing.
Pros and Cons
- AccuVoice Dialogue Boost
- Streamlined Design
- Built-In Wall Hanging Slots
- Output Leveling Feature
- No Bluetooth
- Not the best audio on the market
Should You Get a Soundbar?
So you’ve settled in on the couch with your popcorn and your beautiful flatscreen TV – but the audio quality is more like a sketchy drive-in and less like a personal home theater.
The built-in speakers on even the most premium TVs are often substandard because they need to be small to match the slim profile that TVs have adopted. This means that if you want a good viewing and listening experience, you need to supplement your TV with some external speakers.
There’s nothing like a shiny new flat screen hanging on your wall or reigning majestically over an entertainment system. Unfortunately, most of these beautiful televisions are designed for a streamlined design, which is great for the aesthetics of your décor but not so great when it comes to speaker quality.
Most TVs today have flat speakers built in. They look nice, but the sound quality won’t be top notch, even on higher-end TVs or massive screens.
That means that you need to purchase some kind of home speaker system if you want sound quality to match the viewing experience.
Multiple speaker systems are great and can give you real surround-sound, but they are expensive, bulky, and a lot of people just don’t like the look of large audio equipment scattered around their living room – flashbacks to the 80’s, anyone?
Even at it’s most basic, a soundbar is a good option if you’re fed up with your TV’s poor sound and just want a single, better speaker that can handle your movies and music better.
More complex versions have advanced pairing options, Bluetooth, connectivity to other speakers, custom apps, and on and on. More on that in a second.
Basically, a soundbar might be worth it to you if:
- You want a better speaker for your TV
- You want something that can be wall-mounted
- You’re tight on space
- You move a lot
- You don’t like how multi-speaker sound systems look
- You want something easy to install
- You want to simulate surround sound without paying the big bucks
- You want something that can pair with mobile devices
- You have trouble hearing or have a hearing aid.
Buckle your seatbelts, because there are all kinds of variety here. To start off, you’re going to need a TV that is compatible with a sound bar.
Don’t panic, though – LCDs, Plasmas, and OLEDs can all pair with soundbars, and if you’re like most of us, then you probably have an LCD TV because they are by far the most popular TV lately.
Your soundbar is going to hook up to your T V in one of two ways:
- An HTMI Hookup
- An Optical Audio Output
Let’s take these one at a time.
HTMI Soundbar Installation
If you’ve ever used a flash drive, Apple TV, Roku, or Amazon Fire Stick, then you’re familiar with HTMI. This option is super nice for installing a soundbar because you literally just plug it in to one of your TV’s available HTMI ports and you’re good to go.
But, you may have one HTMI input on your TV that’s special. It’s called an Audio Return Channel (ARC) and it’s usually labelled since there’s typically only one of them, so it shouldn’t be hard to identify.
The advantage of plugging your soundbar into the ARC HDMI port is that the TV is using that one cable to channel everything the TV is handling down into your soundbar.
Practically, this means that anything that is linked to your TV – Roku, Netflix, Spotify, etc. should then have its audio routed down the ARC to the soundbar. This also means that your soundbar doesn’t need to have a whole bunch of ports that you can plus your Roku, Fire Stick, etc. into – it just needs one.
This is nice because you don’t have to pair each of those devices/streaming services separately with the soundbar after you’ve already gone to the trouble of doing that with your TV. We like only having to do work once – it leads to more time watching TV.
Some cautions about using the ARC:
- Not all TV’s ARC ports support 5.1 channel audio
- The ARC port might not pass through higher-end Blu-ray audio format
You’ll still get sound, it just might be 2.1channel audio instead of higher-grade 5.1.
This varies widely among TV’s so rather than worrying that your ARC isn’t going to work with your multi-speaker soundbar, just do a quick online search for your TV’s owner’s manual. They usually list exactly what the ARC will and won’t do.
If the ARC on your TV isn’t the best, you can always just use a regular HDMI port, or use the Optical Audio Output.
Optical Audio Output Soundbar Installation
To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what that funky-looking input on the back of my TV did. Turns out, this little guy can support up to 7.1 channel audio and can connect modern audio equipment to older TVs that don’t have HDMI.
It’s basically another way to connect your soundbar to your TV and rout all of the sound through one cable, instead of connecting each individual device to your soundbar separately
The Optical Audio Output is undoubtedly the less popular option, and if you make sure to get a soundbar with enough HDMI inputs, you probably won’t need it.
Just keep it in the back of your mind as a backup solution.
What About Bluetooth?
Some soundbars allow for Bluetooth connections with your devices. This is obviously super-easy to use, because it connects just like any other Bluetooth speaker and so might be a good option if streaming from your phone or tablet is just as important to you as using the soundbar for amplifying TV sound.
It’s also nice to get a soundbar with Bluetooth capabilities if you were thinking of purchasing an external speaker anything – you can roll that purchase into your TV sound system. And as an added bonus, maybe convince your significant other that an audio upgrade is necessary?
We didn’t include Bluetooth as a separate installation method, though, because you’re still going to need to connect your soundbar to your TV using an HTMI or an Optical Audio Output.
Wait, Will It Fit?
One of the huge benefits of a sound bar is that it’s small and more visually appealing than a couple of ginormous speakers on either side of your TV.
If you’re going with a soundbar for looks, remember the old saying: measure twice, cut once (okay, buy once in this case).
The last thing you want to do is buy a beautiful new soundbar with the perfect number of HDMI ports and 7.1 channel audio just to get it home and realize its waaay longer than your TV, making the whole setup look weird.
A lot of soundbars include wall mounting brackets or have an option to purchase those separately. This is a good option if you don’t have a shelf, table, or mantel under your TV.
You can also usually just set the soundbar right underneath the TV, but make sure that you have enough space on your shelf or entertainment center and that the soundbar doesn’t block the remote control receivers on your TV.
Is It Really Surround Sound?
Great, so now you have a fancy new soundbar hanging out under your TV. How is this thing actually making your media sound better?
While a lot of soundbars will market themselves as “surround sound,” they are all simulated surround sound – unless of course you actually have the soundbar paired with speakers that are sitting behind your couch.
True surround sound is just what it sounds like – there are speakers positioned around the room, typically with the seating area in the middle facing the TV. That way, you feel like the dragons from Game of Thrones are actually swooping in behind you.
And let’s be real, who doesn’t want that?
A soundbar mimics this experience to provide a similar experience at a lower budget and with fewer units. A soundbar produces multidirectional sound, and the soundwaves bounce off the walls of your room, fooling your ears into thinking that the sound is coming from behind and around you.
It’s pretty clever, actually. It’s the ideal solution for apartment dwellers or anyone with a small, box-like living room (or wherever you’re watching TV).
A small, square room without too much furniture blocking the soundbar is the perfect setup for a soundbar to function.
It will still work if that’s not your situation, but it the simulated surround sound effect won’t be as perfect. If you have empty space in one direction, there’s nothing for the soundwaves to bounce off.
Keep this in mind if:
- You have an open floor plan
- Your TV area is large (say a finished basement or really big living room)
- You have a lot of furniture/decor in your TV area
Soundbar Audio Quality
Okay, so the most important reason you’re buying a soundbar is to get better audio quality, right? There are a few main elements to pay attention to here.
First, some soundbars exist as part of a system of sound products. If you suspect that you might want to include more speakers over time, make sure you get a soundbar that is part of a family of speakers so you don’t have to start over from scratch the next time you want to upgrade.
It’s not uncommon for soundbars to come with one subwoofer to provide deep bass sounds. These two are the most essential elements to an upgraded audio system and are more than enough for a lot of people.
Second, the number of sound channels indicates the individual sources of sound coming out of your soundbar. Higher numbers are better here.
Anything is probably better than the built-in speakers on a flat-screen TV, but it’s a good idea to reflect on how big of an upgrade you want, because a lot of the price tag is reflected in the number of audio channels.
You might also see something called Dolby Atmos listed on a lot of soundbars. Basically, Dolby Atmos is a sound feature included on some DVDs, Blu-Rays, and video games released since 2014.
It mimics more closely the audio quality of viewing a film in a movie theater, but you need the speakers that are optimized to handle it.
Many soundbars are Dolby Atmos compatible nowadays, which is definitely a plus though it’s not going to interfere with watching a Dolby Atmos movie if your speakers don’t process it. You’ll just hear the normal audio quality of a non-Dolby Atmos movie.
The technology powering soundbars continues to improve, but there’s a wide range of solid options on the market currently. While we still think the Yamaha YAS-107BL Sound Bar is a good all-around choice for most of us, all of the soundbars we listed meet the needs of the average users who just want improved audio quality and easy setup.
If you’re ready for a step up from the underwhelming speakers embedded in your flatscreen TV, then a soundbar might be a great fit for you.