Great Soundbars at Every Price
Models from Bose, Creative, LG, Onn, Sonos, and Vizio can beef up your TV's sound
When people shop for a new TV, sound quality is often an afterthought. That’s understandable; picture quality comes first, along with pricing. But sound is critical, too. Of the 300 or so sets in Consumer Reports’ TV ratings, most earn no more than a decent score for sound. That’s probably fine for routine sitcoms, talk shows, and the like. But for movies and TV dramas, you might want a bit more sonic oomph.
To buy a TV with a top score for sound quality, you may have to pay more than you’d like and perhaps invest in a model that’s larger than you really want, too.
There’s an easy fix: adding a soundbar to the TV of your choice. Below, we’ve listed several great options from our soundbar ratings, which are available to CR digital members.
First, here are some soundbar basics. Most soundbars tuck several speakers into a thin enclosure that can be mounted on a wall or placed on a shelf above or below the TV. Pedestal-style “sound bases” are sturdy enough to support a set.
Soundbar Shopping Tips
Here are a few tips to consider:
• Make sure you can return or exchange the soundbar, even if you listen to it in a store before buying it. Speakers may sound very different in your home.
• Determine how many channels of sound you want. To simply enhance your TV sound, an inexpensive soundbar with 2.1 channels (two front channels and a separate subwoofer) will do nicely. But if you want true surround sound, choose a 5.1-channel system, which will have rear speakers.
• Decide whether to spring for Dolby Atmos or DTS:X. These newer immersive surround-sound technologies can give movies with specially encoded soundtracks a more dramatic, lifelike effect. This is usually accomplished by using speakers that include upfiring drivers to add a sense of height to the sound.
“When done well, especially with models that have front and rear height-enabled speakers, listeners can really get a three-dimensional sound experience,” says Rich Fisco, who leads electronics testing at CR. Some sounds, such as a helicopter flying overhead, can appear to be coming from above the listener.
Here are a few top picks for soundbars at various prices. Members can get detailed test results for all of the 50-plus tested models in our soundbar ratings.
Best Bargain Soundbar: Creative Stage 2.1
It’s hard to find a decent-sounding soundbar for about $100, but you have at least one solid option: the Creative Stage 2.1.
This budget-priced 2.1-channel system delivers good overall sound, so more casual listeners should find that it works well for both music and movie soundtrack playback. It lacks some features usually found in pricier models, however. It’s not compatible with voice-enabled digital assistants, and you can’t use it to stream tunes directly from online music services.
But this soundbar does have built-in Bluetooth for streaming music from a portable device, as well as a wired subwoofer. Note that this model is getting harder to find. It’s being replaced by the Creative Stage V2 2.1. We’ll be buying one for our labs to test.
The Yamaha SR-B20A is an all-in-one soundbar with built-in subwoofers; it connects to your TV using either the HDMI ARC or optical digital inputs. It includes DTS Virtual:X, a technology that attempts to create a surround-sound experience without rear speakers. The SR-B20A, one of Yamaha’s least expensive soundbars, has built-in Bluetooth for pairing with your phone or tablet. A free remote app lets you control sound modes, switch inputs, and turn on the speaker using your mobile device.
Best Midpriced Soundbar: Sonos Beam (Gen 2)
Despite its relatively small size, the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) delivers very good sound quality.
The model has a lot of features but is priced several hundred dollars below the company’s Arc soundbar, which is also highly recommended. (See below for info on the Arc.) Compared with the first-gen model it replaces, the new Sonos Beam has more processing power, plus support for HDMI eArc, which provides a big boost in bandwidth and speed. It supports Dolby Atmos immersive audio, though it lacks upfiring drivers. Like the earlier model, it has both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant built in, so you can control the Beam, other Sonos speakers, and additional Alexa- or Google Assistant-powered devices using voice commands. It also supports Apple AirPlay 2 for streaming from Apple devices. It comes in a choice of black or white. If your budget and room are a bit smaller, the newer Sonos Ray might fit the bill. It, too, has very good overall sound quality.
The LG S65Q is a fairly basic 3.1-channel soundbar in LG’s 2022 lineup. It doesn’t have a lot of features but delivers very good overall sound quality, so it’s likely that even more critical listeners will find it a decent choice for both music and movie soundtrack playback. It can connect to a TV using either HDMI or optical audio connections, and if you have a compatible LG TV, it can use LG’s Sound Sync feature to connect via Bluetooth.
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