Great Sound Bar Speakers at Every Price
Adding a sound bar is an easy and often affordable way to get better audio quality for your TV
As we head into the key TV buying season, sound quality may be an afterthought for many of us—but it shouldn’t be. Among the 200-plus 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, and perhaps invest in a TV that’s larger than you really want.
An easy fix is to add a sound bar to the TV of your choice. Below, we’ve listed several great options from our sound bar ratings, which are available to CR digital members.
Most sound bars 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 can support the set.
Sound Bar Shopping Advice
Here are a few tips to consider when you’re shopping.
• Make sure you can return or exchange the sound bar, even if you get to listen to it in a store before buying it. Speakers may sound very different in your home than they do during an in-store demo.
• Determine how many channels of sound you want. To simply enhance your TV sound, 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 with 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 sound bar speakers at various prices. Members can get detailed test results for all of the 48 tested models in our sound bar ratings.
Bargain Pick: Creative Stage 2.1
It’s hard to find a decent-sounding sound bar speaker for less than $100, but you have at least one solid option: the Creative Stage 2.1.
This budget 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 sound bar does have built-in Bluetooth for streaming music from a portable device, as well as a wired subwoofer.
The Onn Roku Smart Soundbar is a low-priced model with good overall sound quality. It’s a bit more expensive than the Creative Stage, but it has a few more features, such as a built-in 4K HDR Roku streaming media player so that you can access streaming services right from the sound bar. You can also add an optional Onn Roku wireless-powered subwoofer for extra bass.
Midpriced Pick: Sonos Beam
Despite its relatively small size, the Sonos Beam delivers very good sound quality.
The model has a lot of features at a price several hundred dollars below the company’s Arc and Playbase sound bars, both of which are also highly recommended. (See below for info on the Arc.) The Beam has both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant built in, so you can control it, 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 color schemes.
The Polk Audio Command Bar, a 2.1-channel system, also has very good sound, and for a bit less money. It has Amazon Alexa built in, so you can control volume and switch between inputs using voice commands. For about the same price as the Sonos Beam, the Samsung HW-Q65T/ZA is a complete 5.1-channel system that comes with two wireless rear surround speakers and a wireless subwoofer. It, too, has very good overall sound.
Splurge Pick: Sonos Arc
The Sonos Arc is our top-rated sound bar, an all-in-one Dolby Atmos model that has a built-in subwoofer. It delivers very good overall sound quality, and with the addition of optional rear speakers, it expands into a full-blown surround-sound system.
The main enclosure has 11 drivers, including side-firing and upfiring speakers, which creates a sense of height when you’re playing content with Dolby Atmos or DTS:X soundtracks.
Like the Beam, the Sonos Arc has both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant built in, and it supports AirPlay 2 for streaming audio from Apple devices. The speaker has built-in WiFi for music streaming from several services, as well as Bluetooth for beaming music from smartphones and other compatible devices.
Like the Sonos Arc, the Bose Soundbar 700 is an all-in-one model that can be expanded into a surround-sound system when paired with optional Bose rear speakers and a wireless subwoofer. The sound bar has Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant built in, and comes with a universal remote control that can be set to operate a TV, a cable box, and other audio/video devices.
The Vizio Elevate P514a-H6 is a pricier 5.1.4-channel sound bar system that comes with rear satellite speakers and a large wireless subwoofer. Among its unique features are motorized speakers at either end of the enclosure that rotate upward as height channels when the system detects a Dolby Atmos or DTS:X signal.
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