Want way better sound than your TV can provide, but detest the idea of wiring up a bunch of speakers and then trying to learn all of the arcane settings inside an A/V receiver? You, my friend, need a soundbar.
Some soundbars come with lots of extra speakers. Some are terrific for music. Still others manage to get the job done on a shoestring budget. But when it comes to sheer versatility and performance, the Sonos Arc is the whole package.
It’s compatible with Dolby Atmos, it has room-filling sound, it’s expandable, and there’s nothing like it on this list when it comes to multiroom audio. It’s certainly not the cheapest soundbar you’ll find, but once you consider its many strengths, it’s hard to deny the value Sonos provides with the Arc.
That’s not to say it’s the only soundbar out there worth your hard-earned cash, though. Far from it, in fact. We’ve stocked this list with multiple other recommendations for you to check out, separated into the areas in which they excel, so you’ll have plenty of options to find the right soundbar for your setup and preferred media.
Table of Contents
The best overall
- Excellent surround sound
- Easy and simple setup
- Decent Dolby Atmos from a single speaker
- Choice of Alexa or Google Assistant
- No HDMI inputs
- Not ideal for all music genres
Why should you buy it? It’s a thrilling combination of Sonos functionality and impeccable Dolby Atmos sound.
Who’s it for? Anyone looking for premium home theater sound wrapped in Sonos’ signature simplicity.
Why we picked the Sonos Arc:
At the risk of sounding too sensational, the Sonos Arc embodies everything Sonos is about. It’s incredibly easy to set up and use, it provides great sound, and it seamlessly incorporates itself into your larger network of whole-home Sonos sound. With all of that packed in, it would have been easy for Dolby Atmos to be an afterthought.
Quite the contrary, as it turns out. The Arc uses up-firing drivers to re-create Dolby Atmos sound, and while it doesn’t completely blow you away, the execution is incredibly effective. The Arc adds a solid sense of 3D space to action-oriented films like Avengers: Endgame and Ford v Ferrari, bringing the sounds of roaring cars and interplanetary battles to life in stunning form.
The Atmos goodness doesn’t stop there. If you have an Amazon Music Unlimited account, you can stream Dolby Atmos Music tracks from within the Sonos app. And if you have an Apple TV or Nvidia Shield, you can also stream Atmos Music from Tidal or Apple Music from their respective apps, and pipe them through your TV to the Arc.
Like the Sonos Playbar before it, you can easily expand the Arc’s home theater capabilities by adding other Sonos speakers as surround satellites, and its magnificent — if very expensive — Sonos Sub to fill in the low end.
It’s also a smart speaker, with three choices of voice assistant: The bare-bones but super useful Sonos Voice Control, for Sonos-only functions, or Alexa and Google Assistant, which can control Sonos products and much more, too.
But what really pushes the Arc to the top of our list is how versatile it is for non-TV listening. The Sonos app gives you an incredible amount of control over the Arc (and any other Sonos speakers in your home), as well as streaming music sources. Whether it’s a playlist from Spotify or a track buried deep in your personal music collection, the universal search feature makes it a snap to find.
Did we mention the Arc is also an AirPlay 2-enabled speaker? For Apple users, this is a much better option than Bluetooth, as it preserves more of the sound quality.
It’s worth noting that unlike some soundbars on this list, the Arc does not have any HDMI inputs. So when you connect it to your TV’s HDMI ARC port, you will be losing an HDMI input on your TV. For those with only one or two video sources, this isn’t a problem, but others may have to make some tough choices — or buy an HDMI switch.
If having an HDMI input is important to you, we highly recommend spending an extra $100 on the Sony HT-A5000. It might not have the Arc’s multiroom and music streaming chops, but it has superb sound quality, with even better bass than the Arc thanks to its built-in subwoofer.
Right now, the Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is probably the closest competitor to the Sonos Arc. With an almost identical feature set and price, it’s an excellent alternative.
The best overall
The best value
- Clear, powerful sound
- Multiple sound modes
- Built-in Alexa
- Wi-Fi and Spotify Connect
- No independent Alexa volume control
Why should you buy it? The YAS-209 offers excellent sound quality and tons of features for an unbelievably low price.
Who’s it for? Those who want the best sound and diverse features, including voice assistance, for a very reasonable price.
Why we picked the Yamaha YAS-209:
Though no longer one of the newest products on this list, we’ve kept the aging YAS-209 around because it continues to offer a great set of features, great sound, and a price that keeps it in contention.
It’s hard to beat a bar as versatile and feature-packed as Yamaha’s YAS-207 — it really was the total package. But Yamaha added some impressive upgrades for its latest model, the 209, including Amazon Alexa built-in. These improvements, along with all of the other features we loved about Yamaha’s value-leading soundbar, make it the perfect complement to a reasonably priced 4K television. In fact, one of the only features this bar doesn’t have that we wish it did is Dolby Vision HDR pass-through for its extra HDMI input. It only supports HDR10, but at this price, that’s not unexpected.
When it comes to sound quality, the YAS-209 is just like the 207: Extremely impressive for the money. The bar boasts clear treble and deep, growling bass, with a warm midrange to boot. It also features two dedicated virtual surround modes that emulate taller, wider surround sound images. While these modes aren’t quite as immersive as Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, they still provide a bigger, more comprehensive surround sound experience from a simple soundbar setup.
Throw on an action movie and the sound effects will fill your living room, or use the Clear Voice mode for slower, more dialogue-heavy scenes — it doesn’t matter, because this soundbar will deliver solid performance no matter what you send its way. The bar supports both Dolby Digital and DTS Virtual:X (though the latter tends to add an icy touch to the sound). It can also double as a Bluetooth speaker for streaming music from your smartphone, or get even better sound over Wi-Fi with features like Spotify Connect.
AirPlay 2 and Chromecast Built-in are unfortunately absent, but on the bright side, the YAS-209 works with any streaming service that’s compatible with Amazon Alexa, and that’s an increasingly wide choice, which includes Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Deezer, Pandora, Tidal, iHeartRadio, and more.
The Yamaha YAS-209’s big sound profile comes from surprisingly compact components, with the soundbar itself easily disappearing on your TV console. In fact, most people probably won’t notice the soundbar at all. The included wireless subwoofer is equally demure, allowing you to tuck it away behind your screen. Yamaha’s YAS-209 is an excellent upgrade, offering more features in a stylish yet subtle device that will provide a handy and handsome accent to your setup.
Want another excellent option at the same price? JBL’s Bar 5.0 Multibeam is a compact, single-speaker soundbar that can do virtual Dolby Atmos. It doesn’t have a dedicated subwoofer or the YAS-209’s voice assistant option, but its HDMI input supports 4K/Dolby Vision passthrough, and it works with AirPlay, Chromecast, and Alexa for a superb choice of connections.
The best value
The best money-is-no-object soundbar
- Incredibly detailed sound for all formats
- Breathtaking Atmos virtualization
- Polished, intuitive interface
- Loaded with features
- Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and MPEG-H decoding
- Beefy size (and no IR repeater) requires mounting
Why should you buy it? It delivers powerful Dolby Atmos surround sound and high-end audio from a single (massive) bar.
Who’s it for? Those with plenty to spend who are looking for virtual Dolby Atmos, future-proofing, and high-end audio performance.
Why we picked the Sennheiser Ambeo:
Sennheiser’s massive monstrosity of a bar offers incredible performance at a price to match. Sure, it’s got a crazy price tag, but if you’ve got to have the latest in home theater technology — and you want a thrilling Atmos experience without all the speakers and wires — the Ambeo is your new bar of choice.
Using Sennheiser’s acorn-to-oak Ambeo technology, the soundbar creates a vibrant swell of Atmos sound (along with multiple other 3D audio formats) right from your TV console. This isn’t just a bar, it’s an A/V receiver replacement, offering three HDMI inputs bearing the latest in eARC technology and supporting all major HDR formats for a future-proofed way to match that marquee TV with a marquee sound unit. One warning — this bar will cover up your TV screen if you use the legs or stand your TV came with, so you’ll want to wall-mount at least your TV.
When it comes to performance, the Ambeo is an incredible experience for cinematic audio, TV, and music, while auto-calibration and a slick and intuitive interface help you run the show with very few hangups. The system does depend on your room itself for its surround immersion, bouncing sound off walls as well as ceilings, so it’s difficult to hear sound fully behind you in many setups. Still, what this bar does with virtual surround is near-magical, while its high-end drivers and impressive interface (including a loaded app) make for a luxurious experience.
As of April 2021, the Ambeo is also compatible with Sony’s immersive 360 Reality Audio format, via Chromecast.
For a less expensive single-bar Dolby Atmos option, consider the superb Sony HT-A7000. It can’t quite match the Sennheiser Ambeo’s sonic chops, but it comes close and costs a lot less.
The best money-is-no-object soundbar
Sonos Beam (Gen 2)
The best small soundbar
- Easy setup
- Immersive, room-filling sound
- Sleek design
- AirPlay 2
- No HDMI inputs
- Requires compatible TV for Dolby Atmos
Why should you buy it? It delivers immersive surround sound and smart speaker capabilities in a compact and elegant package.
Who’s it for? Those with small to medium-sized rooms who want a single speaker that does it all.
Why we picked the Sonos Beam (Gen 2):
The first Sonos Beam was one of the best small-sized soundbars you could buy, thanks to its great audio quality, simple setup, voice assistant compatibility, and Sonos’ excellent multiroom audio software. With the recently released second-gen Beam, Sonos has kept that proven formula but improved what the Beam can do by giving it virtual Dolby Atmos.
What does that mean? Thanks to a more powerful processor, the Beam (Gen 2) can use software to deliver much more immersive sound from the same internal audio components as its predecessor. That sounds like hype, but it’s not — when you connect the Beam (Gen 2) to a Dolby Atmos-capable TV, the soundstage has a much greater sense of width, depth, and even height. Of course, you’ll need a source of Dolby Atmos content, but that’s getting easier all of the time as streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and Apple TV+ have all embraced it.
Sonos has added support for Dolby Atmos Music via Amazon Music Unlimited, which will give you a more immersive version of new songs and old classics. The same clever virtualized surround sound also helps non-Atmos content sound bigger and deeper.
The new Beam has a slightly new appearance. Now the gently curved speaker, which is available in black or white, features a grille made of plastic instead of fabric. Some folks may prefer the older design, but the new grille matches the rest of the Sonos speaker lineup and it’s way easier to keep clean.
The only downside to the new Beam (other than its $50 price increase over the original) is its single HDMI eARC port. Sonos likes to keep things simple, which is why it made this decision on the Arc as well, but we wish there were at least one HDMI input, which would give folks more flexibility in terms of connecting devices.
Still, with AirPlay 2, your choice of Sonos Voice Control, Amazon Alexa, or Google Assistant, and compatibility with just about every music streaming service on the planet, it’s easy to recommend the Beam (Gen 2) if you want great TV sound in a small and elegant speaker.
Sonos Beam (Gen 2)
The best small soundbar
The best for music
- 8K-ready HDMI input
- Excellent movie and music sound
- Easy on-screen setup
- Tons of connection options
- Hi-res, Sony 360RA, and DTS:X
- No EQ adjustments
- Some settings are buried
- Poor integration of music services
Why should you buy it? It’s the Swiss Army knife of soundbars, with support for every kind of music format and connection.
Who is it for? Those who want a soundbar that can handle any music format you can throw at it.
Why we picked the Sony HT-A5000:
When it comes to music management and multispeaker playback, you really can’t beat Sonos. The company’s software is without equal. But, there’s more to listening to music than managing playlists and searching for songs. So if you’re looking for a soundbar that can do a terrific job with advanced music playback (in addition to movie and TV audio), we think the Sony HT-A5000 is the speaker to beat.
It starts with a very well-appointed (if somewhat plainly styled) soundbar, that packs its own built-in subwoofer. That driver is powerful enough that unless you’re looking to shake your fillings loose, you probably don’t need a dedicated sub. Sony’s virtual surround technology does a very good job creating an immersive sound field when listening to Dolby Atmos or DTS:X content, but it does a surprisingly good job upscaling regular two-channel content too. But the A5000’s secret sauce lies in its connections and audio compatibility.
With Wi-Fi, AirPlay 2, Chromecast built-in, and Bluetooth (send and receive), it doesn’t matter what kind of device you’re holding in your hand — you’ll be able to stream its audio content in the highest possible quality to the A5000. Better yet, Sony has included support for a huge variety of audio formats and qualities, from the lowliest MP3 files all the way up to hi-res 24-bit/96kHz FLAC and DSD tracks. You can play these files from a USB storage device, your home network, or virtually any streaming service that supports HD audio like Tidal, Amazon Music, or Apple Music. Want to explore the worlds of Dolby Atmos Music and Sony 360 Reality Audio (360RA)? The A5000 has you covered there too.
Even Bluetooth — normally the lowest quality wireless audio link — has received an upgrade in the form of LDAC codec support. When connected to an LDAC-capable phone (mostly Android handsets), you’ll get audio fidelity that almost rivals Wi-Fi.
That support for high-quality audio extends to the A5000’s HDMI input. It can passthrough 8K, Dolby Vision, and 4K at 120Hz, which is awesome for future-proofing, but it’s even better news for those whose TVs don’t support HDMI eARC: You’ll still be able to get the very best, lossless version of Dolby Atmos by plugging your Blu-ray player or Nvidia Shield TV into the soundbar directly, thereby avoiding the down-conversion that some older TVs will do to Dolby Atmos content.
Add to this Sony’s excellent on-screen menus and setup process, auto-room calibration, and tight integration with Sony Bravia TVs and you’ve got a soundbar that easily justifies its admittedly high $1,000 price. The only thing we wish Sony had included is the ability to adjust the HT-A5000’s sound EQ parameters.
The best for music
Vizio M-Series 5.1 soundbar (M51a-H6)
The best budget soundbar
- eARC, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X support
- Impressive subwoofer
- Seamless surround effects
- Comprehensive control
- Excellent fidelity
- One HDMI input
- Less suitable for larger rooms
Why should you buy it? The Vizio M-Series delivers immersive surround sound at a shockingly low price.
Who’s it for? Those with smaller rooms who want the best sound quality for the lowest possible price.
Why we picked the Vizio M-Series M51a-H6:
Our previous pick for this category was another Vizio TV model — the V-Series V51-H6. And while we’re still bullish on that soundbar, Vizio’s M-Series packs even more features and better sound for just $50 more. And as far as we’re concerned, that’s $50 very well spent.
The M-Series looks like a typical soundbar at 36-inch in length, and its 6-inch wireless subwoofer looks like many others. But what helps this model stand apart is its versatility.
If you have a medium-to-large room, you can place the subwoofer toward the rear of the space which lets you position the wired surround modules behind the viewing area. But if you’ve got a smaller space, you can put the sub near the front, and the surround speakers can be used from the front too — the M-Series will automatically calibrate the system to give you the best sound possible.
Our reviewer noted that one of the M-Series’ strengths is its ability to process lower-frequency sounds, like a deep, gravelly-voiced announcer, without having it sound like they’re being generated by the subwoofer — something that cheaper systems typically do.
With support for both virtualized Dolby Atmos and DTS Virtual:X, you may not get quite the jaw-dropping overhead sounds that you’ll find with up-firing soundbars like the Arc or the Ambeo, but it’s a much more immersive experience than a traditional 5.1 setup.
Because of its HDMI eARC port, the M-Series can support much higher bandwidth, lossless hi-res audio when connected to a compatible TV. An extra HDMI input means that you’re not forced to give up an input on your TV.
Its auxiliary port is ideal for plugging in an Alexa or Google smart speaker. When you do, they can play any requested content through the soundbar and reduce the volume of your TV sound when they answer your question, bringing it back up when they’re done.
There’s also the usual complement of connections, including Bluetooth, optical in, and a USB port for removable drive-based audio files.
All of the M-Series’ settings — of which there are many — can be controlled from the included remote, which has an embedded LCD screen to help you navigate the myriad options.
The only real caveat with the M-Series (which we noted about the V-Series too) is the lack of Wi-Fi. This means you can’t stream music to it via AirPlay or Chromecast, and it can’t be controlled via voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant. But that one aspect notwithstanding, the Vizio M-Series is an outstanding choice for anyone who wants fun, room-filling surround sound without breaking the bank.
Vizio M-Series 5.1 soundbar (M51a-H6)
The best budget soundbar
Zvox AV157 TV Speaker
The best for dialog enhancement
- Small footprint
- Easy connections and setup
- Super-clear and adjustable dialog
- Expensive for a small speaker
- No wireless connections for music
Why should you buy it? With 12 levels of speech enhancement and enough oomph for movies, it’s an ideal TV companion.
Who’s it for? Those who normally find it difficult to hear voices on TV, especially those with hearing impairments.
Why we picked the Zvox AV157 TV Speaker:
Several Zvox speakers help with enhancing the clarity of TV dialog, but none possess the power and versatility of the AV157.
The AV157 packs six levels of Zvox’s AccuVoice technology for speech enhancement and an additional six levels of its SuperVoice tech for a huge range of assistance for those who are hearing-impaired or who just struggle to separate speech from other sounds.
For a deep dive into how the AV157 does its speech enhancement magic, check out this full explainer, but here’s what you need to know: The Zvox AV157 doesn’t just make things louder, it selectively increases the dynamic range of vocal sounds, while simultaneously decreasing all other types of soundtrack audio.
The 12 levels of AccuVoice and SuperVoice determine how pronounced this effect is. At its most powerful, the AV157 can deliver speech so clear and precise, it’s almost painful. But for those who suffer from hearing loss, it will be a pleasure.
But better dialog is only the beginning. The AV157 is also a surprisingly capable movie and music speaker too. Turn on the surround sound mode and it does a decent job with all kinds of immersive soundtracks.
Bass performance doesn’t quite measure up to full-size soundbars, but it’s solid and well-balanced. Should you want to get a bit more rumble, you can add an external wired subwoofer using the analog sub-woofer output.
Connections are modest: You can use an optical cable or an analog cable to connect the AV157 to your TV, and there’s no Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. But this keeps things simple and you won’t have to give up an HDMI port just to get better sound from your TV.
The included remote is also a simple but effective device, with large, easy-to-press, and clearly labeled buttons.
If you’re tired of relying on subtitles to understand what your favorite actors are saying, the Zvox AV157 is a perfect TV companion.
Zvox AV157 TV Speaker
The best for dialog enhancement
Research and buying tips
Why are soundbars so popular?
They offer a small footprint, they’re affordable and easy to set up, and they sound much better than the speakers built into most TVs.
Are soundbars any good?
Some of them are, some of them aren’t. That’s why we recommend reading reviews and best-of lists like this one.
How do soundbars work?
Virtually all modern soundbars connect to your TV via digital connection either with an optical or HDMI cable. The latter is generally preferred for TVs with HDMI ARC or eARC, as it allows for better sound and control of basic functionality with your TV remote. For Dolby Atmos, an HDMI connection is a prerequisite.
Can soundbars be controlled by a TV remote?
Some of them can be, yes. See the above for information about HDMI ARC.
Can soundbars be mounted on a wall?
Yes, many come with mounting brackets in the box, but almost all have optional wall-mount solutions you can buy later.
Can soundbars be mounted above a TV?
Technically yes, but we usually recommend mounting them below the TV. In general, we recommend you get them as close to ear level as possible for the best sound.
Are soundbars wireless?
Some are, but they generally come with brand restrictions. The TCL Alto R1, for instance, connects to TVs wirelessly, but it only works with Roku TVs. Sony’s HT-S400, HT-A5000, and HT-A7000 can do the same thing with select Sony Bravia TVs. All other kinds of TVs need a cable. The majority of soundbars connect via HDMI ARC/eARC or an optical cable.
What about Wi-Fi and Bluetooth?
Most new soundbars do have this sort of wireless functionality. This typically allows you to stream music from your smartphone or home network directly to the soundbar. If a soundbar is also a smart speaker (e.g. Sonos Arc, Bose Soundbar 700) it will be Wi-Fi equipped.
Wi-Fi is generally preferable to Bluetooth for music streaming as its higher bandwidth supports higher quality formats like lossless FLAC, ALAC, WAV, and others. See the above question for wireless functionality with your TV or receiver.
Do soundbars always have a separate subwoofer?
No, not always. Some are built without them purposefully to save space. If they contain built-in subwoofers they can still deliver surprisingly strong bass, but most rely on a wired (or wireless) subwoofer for low-frequency sound.
Do soundbars support Alexa? Google Assistant? Siri?
Yes, but in slightly different ways. Some soundbars can double as smart speakers. The Sonos and Bose family of soundbars give you a choice of Google Assistant or Alexa. Other brands/models (like the Yamaha YAS-209) only support one voice assistant. We aren’t aware of any soundbars that give you direct access to Siri.
Soundbars can also be voice assistant-compatible, which means that you’ll be able to use one or more voice assistants to control the soundbar if you already own a smart speaker or some other way to issue voice commands. Several soundbars can be added to Apple HomeKit, which lets you control them via Siri.
Still other soundbars, like Vizio’s family of products, have dedicated smart speaker inputs so you can wire a Google Nest Mini or Amazon Echo into the soundbar. This lets the soundbar understand when you are trying to talk to your assistant, and it can lower the speaker volume automatically while letting you hear the assistant via the higher-quality soundbar.
Does Apple make a soundbar?
No, but Apple’s HomePod mini (and discontinued HomePod) can act as soundbar replacements if you also own an Apple TV 4K. You can use a first-gen Apple TV 4K to hear streamed content through these speakers, while the second-gen Apple TV 4K (2021) adds HDMI ARC, which means a paired HomePod or HomePod mini can play your TV’s audio too.
How we test
After giving a soundbar a thorough break-in period, we put it through a rigorous testing process that includes playing all relevant sources of content, including the latest Blu-rays with the highest-resolution codecs from the likes of Dolby and DTS, as well as audio straight from a TV via HDMI and/or Optical output, including streaming services, broadcast TV, and audio apps. When relevant, we test wireless connections for stability and audio quality. We also place a high degree of importance on the musicality of any speaker, so plenty of music is played to gauge its finer performance aspects. Finally, we compare each soundbar with others at, above, and below its price/features class, and with similarly priced alternative sound solutions.
If you’re still in need of guidance after perusing all the above picks, check out our expert guide to picking the right soundbar.