A sound bar speaker.

Out of more than 220 sets in our TV ratings, most earn no more than a decent score for sound. That’s fine for routine sitcoms, talk shows, and the like. But for movies and TV dramas, you might want a bit more sonic oomph.

You can buy a TV with a top score for sound quality, but you may have to pay more, and perhaps buy a larger TV 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 have several speakers in 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.

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Sound bars are often sold with a wireless subwoofer to help with bass, and a few have rear speakers for surround sound. Many have Bluetooth, letting you stream music from a phone. And some advanced models offer access to streaming video and music services.

More companies are getting into the act. In addition to the usual names, models from newer sound bar brands—including Walmart's Onn brand, Roku, and TCL—are now in our sound bar ratings. Many of these are lower-priced models.

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 51 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 there's at least one option: the Creative Stage 2.1.

It's light on features, but 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.

However, it does have built-in Bluetooth for streaming music from a portable device, as well as a wired subwoofer.

Alternative Pick
The Onn Roku Smart Soundbar is a low-priced model with good overall sound quality. It's just a bit more expensive than the Creative Stage, but it has a built-in 4K HDR Roku streaming media player, so you can access streaming services right from the sound bar. 

Top Picks

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Midpriced Pick: Sonos Beam

Despite its small size, the Sonos Beam delivers very good sound quality.

This sound speaker has a lot of features at a price several hundred dollars below the company's Arc and Playbase models, which are both also highly recommended. (See below for info on both models.) The Beam has Alexa—Amazon's digital assistant—built in, so you can control it, other Sonos speakers, and additional Alexa-powered devices using voice commands.

The Beam also includes support for Google Assistant and Apple AirPlay 2. It comes in a choice of black or white color schemes.

Alternative Pick
The JBL Bar 5.1 also has very good sound, plus a unique design that allows you to remove speaker sections at both ends of the sound bar, using them as rear speakers in a multichannel setup.

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Splurge Pick: Samsung HW-N950

This pricey, highly rated, full-blown 7.1.4-channel Dolby Atmos system delivers very good sound quality.

The main enclosure has side-firing speakers, and both it and the rear speakers have upward-firing drivers to create the sense of height when playing content with Dolby Atmos or dts:X soundtracks.

The system has built-in WiFi for music streaming, as well as Bluetooth for beaming music from smartphones and other compatible devices. You can control the sound bar's volume with voice commands when it is used with an Amazon Alexa-enabled device, such as an Echo smart speaker.

Alternative Picks
The Sonos Arc is an all-in-one Dolby Atmos model that has a built-in subwoofer; it provides very good overall sound quality, among the best in our ratings. It has the company's Trueplay auto calibration technology to adjust sound to the room’s acoustics. The Bose Soundbar 700 also delivers very good overall sound and is priced at about the same level as the Sonos. It comes with a universal remote control that can be set to operate a TV, cable box, and other audio/video devices. Both of these speakers have Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant built in, for those who like using voice commands.

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What Makes a Great Speaker?

Do you know the difference between good speakers and excellent speakers? On the "Consumer 101" TV show, Consumer Reports' expert Elias Arias explains to host Jack Rico the art of identifying quality devices.