Best Sound Bar of 2020
Best Overall Soundbar
The Sonos Arc is the clear choice for those looking for the most premium surround-sound experience you can get from a single speaker. This soundbar utilizes the field-leading sound separation of Dolby Atmos, 11 different drivers, and the ability to tune itself to any room to deliver the most immersive listening experience we've ever heard from a single speaker — only true multi-speaker surround sound systems have ever performed better in our tests. It manages to maintain impeccable sound quality throughout all this complexity. With mids and highs enjoying rich, articulate expression and the lows providing so much rumble, you won't believe there isn't a giant subwoofer hiding somewhere. However, you can easily add one if you like, as the Sonos ecosystem makes expanding the Arc into a fully-fledged multi-speaker surround system incredibly simple. When you want to reign in that power a bit, some modes dampen the bass to not disturb the neighbors, enhancing dialogue for easier understanding when listening at lower volumes.
All of this technology comes at a price — the Arc is one of the most expensive models on the market. It also derives much of its power from its size, measuring a whopping 45" long. This means the Arc is wider than all TVs that measure less than 55" on the diagonal (our 40" TV looked cartoonishly small in comparison). The surround sound effect is largely obtained by bouncing sound around the room, so the effectiveness is primarily dictated by your living room's architecture. In our testing, we used the Arc in a smaller room with the main seating directly against the back wall and a larger room with a vaulted ceiling and seating more or less in the center. While the surround sound effect was present in both situations, it was significantly diminished in the latter. However, the Sonos Arc offers the most impressive soundscape of any soundbar currently on the market, even in less than ideal conditions.
Read review: Sonos Arc
Best Soundbar for Most People
If you're shopping for a soundbar, chances are you're willing to spend a bit extra to make your TV sound better but don't want to spend absolute top-dollar. In our opinion, the Sonos Beam walks that line perfectly. It boasts impressive bass and exceptional clarity while costing much less than most of the premium models. In our testing, we were particularly impressed by its clarity and separation. When watching blockbuster action scenes, dialogue consistently cut through all of the explosions and mayhem. We appreciate the night and dialogue enhancement modes, which dampen loud noise and make it easier to understand dialogue when you need to turn the volume down. It accomplishes all this despite a relatively small and inconspicuous housing that easily fits on most TV stands. Plus, you can easily expand it with other Sonos speakers if you ever find yourself wanting more from your home theater sound system.
The Beam certainly isn't cheap, though it's much less expensive than top-of-the-line models. It also fails to mimic a true surround sound experience. However, it's still an excellent choice for those that don't mind making a considerable, but not excessive, investment in making their TV sound great.
Read review: Sonos Beam
Best Bang for the Buck
Good bass goes a long way towards creating full, immersive sound. Of all the models we tested, the Yamaha YAS-108 offers the most bass-punch-per-dollar. We think its bass quality is about even with that of many of the top-scoring models. This adds considerable depth to any film and will certainly make your next movie night more memorable. The simple Bluetooth connection also makes it easy to stream music from any mobile device without dealing with cables. All this for a reasonably low price adds up to an incredible deal.
The only real complaint you can levy against the YAS-108 is that its clarity is a bit lacking when compared to some of the higher-priced models. However, its clarity is still a considerable step up from that of built-in TV speakers. We think this small sacrifice will be well worth the cost savings for all but the pickiest of audiophiles.
Read review: Yamaha YAS-108
Best on a Tight Budget
Vizio 29" 2.0
Let's face it, the built-in speakers on even the nicest TVs are pretty terrible. Plus, they generally point backward, bouncing sound off the wall before it travels to the viewer. This makes TVs not placed directly against a flat wall sound even worse. Therefore, even a basic, no-frills soundbar can make your TV sound infinitely better. That is where the Vizio 29" 2.0 comes in. It can vastly improve the audio performance of almost any TV at a bargain-basement price. We were treated to much sharper and clearer dialogue in our testing, more rumbling sound effects, and a fuller overall listening experience. Plus, it is quite simple to both use and install.
While the Vizio 29" 2.0 will almost certainly sound better than your TV, it isn't going to win any sound quality awards when compared to most of the other soundbars on this list. You can certainly get better bass power, clarity, and separation by paying a bit more. However, the Vizio 29" 2.0 is the best option we've found for those who want to upgrade their TV's sound from meh to good while spending as little as possible.
Read review Vizio 29" 2.0
Why You Should Trust Us
To fine-tune our sound quality testing process, we consulted with sound recordist Palmer Taylor. Working as a location audio specialist since 2005, Palmer has recorded sound for the likes of ESPN, National Geographic, and The History Channel. Serving as lead authors and testers for this review, Max Mutter and Steven Tata have reviewed consumer audio products for nearly 4 years. In that time, they've researched nearly 1000 headphones, speakers, and earbuds and have bought and tested well over 100 of them. Both are also lifelong musicians and have been tinkering with sound since getting their first childhood drumset and guitar, respectively.
In completing this review, we researched more than 80 soundbars before choosing the 11 most promising to bring into our testing lab. As with all our products, we bought all of them at retail price and did not accept any gifts from manufacturers. We then settled in for a long movie marathon, quickly swapping between soundbars to assess, side-by-side, how each handled dialogue, movie scores, and cinematic sound effects. We followed that up with a similar side-by-side sound test with a focus on music. We then finished up by installing each bar to multiple TVs, connecting them to various mobile devices, and adjusting all of the offered sound settings, all to uncover any potential user-friendliness issues. When all was said and done, we sunk more than 150 hours of testing into these soundbars and came out with some recommendations you can trust.
Related: How We Tested Soundbars
Analysis and Test Results
Soundbars provide a simple, effective, and when compared to the cost of surround sound systems, a relatively inexpensive way to take your home theater rig to the next level. Obviously, these gadgets need to sound good to be worthy of the coveted shelf space below your TV. Still, there are plenty of different attributes that differentiate one model from another. Our scores are based on 10 hands-on tests that range from sound quality to ease of use and installation, all the way through to the design and styling.
Based on our testing, more expensive soundbars generally provide better sound quality (case in point: the Sonos Arc). However, there are still good deals to be found. For instance, the Sonos Beam costs nearly half as much as the Arc and only sounds slightly less remarkable. The relatively inexpensive Yamaha YAS-108 also delivers surprisingly good sound. At the low end of the price spectrum, the Vizio 29" 2.0 offers a decent upgrade from most built-in TV speakers.
First and foremost, a soundbar needs to add depth to an at-home cinematic experience by making soundscapes feel more immersive. Ideally, it should also be able to belt out a tune if your party turns from a movie marathon to a dancing disco. Therefore, we weighted the sound quality metric the heaviest and spent the bulk of our testing time making sure that it was accurately assessed. To do this, we spent hours comparing each model side-by-side through watching special effects-heavy movies, listening to Hans Zimmer soundtracks, and shamelessly dancing to embarrassing pop songs (all in the name of science, of course).
Far and away, the best-sounding model we tested is the Sonos Arc. This bar uses Dolby Atmos and its proprietary Trueplay tuning to bounce different sounds off of the walls in your living room, creating the most immersive surround-sound experiences we've ever experienced from a soundbar. It backs this up with extremely powerful bass, good detail through the mid ranges, and exceptional clarity in the high-end. In our opinion, the only thing better than this rig would be a high-end multi-speaker surround sound system. However, you can easily pair other Sonos speakers with the Arc if you feel like you want to go that direction.
The one caveat we'd like to mention is that the effectiveness of the Arc's surround-sound simulation largely depends on the specific design of your living room — high ceilings and a couch that isn't pressed against the back wall will make it harder for the Arc to bounce sound all around you. Additionally, you'll need an iOS device to tune this effect properly. Still, even in less than ideal spaces, the Arc sounds better and more immersive than most other models on the market.
Falling a noticeable step behind the Sonos Arc, but still providing exceptional sound, is the Sonos Beam. This model sounds fantastic and well-balanced in isolation but comes across as slightly less rotund or full-bodied in a side-by-side comparison with the Arc. However, we believe pretty much everyone will find that this bar offers a massive upgrade to their home theater system.
Also earning a 7 out of 10 is the Yamaha YAS-108. This reasonably priced model has good bass, good clarity that isn't too far off from the high-priced models, and an impressive dynamic range. All this combines to create a rich and full sound, though one that is noticeably less booming than what emanates from the likes of the Sonos Arc. Unless you're all about the low end, this model is going to satisfy.
Rounding out the 7 out of 10 group, the Samsung Sound+ Premium delivered well-balanced sound in our testing that flattered everything from movies to multiple music genres. That being said, both its bass power and clarity lag behind the top models, meaning it lacks some depth and nuance when compared to the frontrunners. Still, we think it would please all but the most discerning of listeners.
Earning an average score of 5 out of 10 in our sound quality metric was the Bose Solo 5. This relatively budget offering from the sound giant has all of the bass power people have come to expect from the brand, but this bass tends to sound more muffled and less defined than that of the higher scoring models. This is especially true when listening at higher volumes. Its clarity, while still good, is also a noticeable step down from the top-tier offerings. Though this bar is still a vast improvement over most televisions' built-in speakers, it doesn't offer the premium listening experience most people associate with the brand, in our opinion.
The Vizio 29" 2.0 earned a reasonably pedestrian 4 out of 10 in our sound quality testing. However, it by no means sounds terrible. In fact, it is much fuller and articulate than all of the built-in TV speakers we've encountered. It just lacks some of the bass boom and sharp clarity of the more expensive models on this list.
Ease of Use
One of the significant advantages that soundbars have over fully-fledged surround sound systems is their simplicity. If a soundbar is challenging to install or use, it loses much of its appeal. We connected and disconnected each soundbar to our testing TV more times during our testing than we can count, so we have an excellent idea of how easy they are to set up. We also played with all of their settings throughout our sound quality testing, so we know how user-friendly they are in day-to-day use.
After many rounds of setup, breakdown, and use, we determined the Yamaha YAS-108 to be the most user-friendly model we tested. Its slim body makes the bar easy to move around, and installation took us only 5 minutes. Our only real complaint is that the remote is a bit small, but it lets you cycle through settings fairly easily, and the LEDs on the body of the bar indicate what settings have been selected. There is also a set of controls on the bar in case you've misplaced the remote. Connecting via Bluetooth is also seamless, and the bar can also be controlled via an app.
One step down from the Yamaha, the Solo 5, and the SoundTouch 300, both earned a score of 8 out of 10. We had both of these models set up within 5 minutes of opening the box. Both have nice, intuitive remotes. However, neither offers any sort of controls on the bar itself. You have to use the remote, which prevented them from earning a top score. Also, only the SoundTouch 300 can be used with Bose's app; the Solo 5 cannot.
Thanks to its simplicity, the Vizio 29" 2.0 offers a good user experience, earning it an 8 out of 10. Just connect the bar to your TV via RCA, optical, coaxial, 3.5mm, or USB cables, or wirelessly through Bluetooth, and you're good to go. It also has a simple and intuitive remote control and a strip of LEDs that indicate volume level.
The Samsung Sound+ Premium earned a 7 out of 10. Its modest features are simple to learn, and the initial setup takes practically no time at all. However, the process may feel a bit clunky if you want to do more advanced things like stream music through WiFi.
Though high performers in most other aspects of our testing, the Sonos models receive a mediocre score of 6 out of 10 in our ease of use metric. These models are incredibly easy to use if you're just connecting to a TV. However, connecting wirelessly requires a WiFi network and using the Sonos App to send media to the bar. This feels like an unnecessarily complicated process. We wish they just had simple Bluetooth like most other models (the Beam is Airplay compatible, which is functionally like Bluetooth for Apple devices). Also, they do not have remote controls; you have to use the app.
If you're looking to buy a soundbar because you're not satisfied with the quality of your TV's built-in speakers, chances are you care enough about sound to want to tinker with EQ settings. Some of the models we tested provide full sound customization options so you can dial in the exact type of audio ecosystem that you're after. Surprisingly, some models only offer a few presets instead of endless customization. We scored each model based on the amount of sound adjustability that it provided. We should note that you can often adjust audio settings on whatever device you're connecting to your soundbar (TV, phone, tablet), but being able to adjust the settings on the bar itself ensures you'll always get your preferred sound, regardless of what you connect it to.
The top scorers in this metric were the Sonos Arc and the Sonos Beam. In addition to preset sound modes, the Sonos app includes treble, bass, and balance EQ controls. These models also offer dialogue enhancement, which keeps dialogue loud and clear and doesn't let it get drowned out by other sounds. These models can dampen the loudest noises with night mode, so your late-night movie watching doesn't wake anyone.
Several models, including the Yamaha YAS-108, scored 7 out of 10 in our sound customization testing. The Yamaha only offers adjustability of the bass level. As that's most likely the first thing people will adjust, this isn't a huge deal. However, it is limiting compared to models that offer a full EQ adjustment.
Also earning entry into our 7 out of 10 club was the Samsung Sound+ Premium. This model offers good, but not exceptional, sound adjustability. It doesn't allow for custom EQ adjustments but offers lots of preset sound modes.
The Vizio 29" 2.0 offers only basic bass and treble adjustments, which are somewhat hard to access because of the lack of a corresponding app. There is also a TruVolume mode meant to dampen loud noises, but we noticed little difference in our tests. The DTS mode is meant to better mimic a proper surround sound system, but we noticed little difference in our tests.
Earning a low score of 4 out of 10, the Bose Solo 5 has very little in the way of sound customization. You can adjust the bass level, and it also has a 'dialogue mode' that is supposed to boost the sound of voices. However, this mode sounds suspiciously similar to just having the bass on its lowest setting.
The ideal soundbar placement is directly below your TV, so it will inevitably occupy a conspicuous spot in your living room. Such a prominent place necessitates pleasing aesthetics. Design and style are inherently subjective, so we awarded scores in this metric, well, subjectively. In our minds, the ideal soundbar would have a simple design, look well-constructed, but not have an overbearing visual presence. We also prefer more basic colors like black that can somewhat blend into the background. Silver accents add some visual flair, but we'd rather keep our eyes focused on the movie than the speaker. We judged all of our models against that ideal.
The Samsung Sound+ Premium combines clean lines and a monochromatic aesthetic to blend into the background, making it friendly for almost any decor and earning it a top score of 9 out of 10.
The Sonos Arc is one of the best-looking soundbars around, in our opinion. The sleek lines and monochrome metal manage to balance a state-of-the-art aesthetic without being too conspicuous. Its size is the only reason it didn't earn top marks in this metric. At 45" long, it only looks proportional if your TV is at least 55". When we put it on a TV stand holding a 40" TV, it hung off the stand on both sides and made the TV look comically small.
A slew of six models shared the second step of the podium at the end of our design and style runway. All of these models look good, and we'd be happy to have any of them in our living room, but they just don't quite match the elegance of the Sonos. The Bose Solo 5 primarily benefits from its small form factor, making it the most inconspicuous of all the tested models. It also features an all-black body with clean lines, but again we'd prefer if its speaker coverings were cloth instead of plastic.
Like its bigger sibling, the Sonos Beam looks great but features plastic in place of metal in some areas.
The Vizio 29" 2.0 sports a simple square design with a classic black cloth covering. Depending on your aesthetic, the silver end caps add accents that are delightful or disappointingly conspicuous.
The Yamaha YAS-108 eschews right angles for subtle curves, creating a slightly more eye-catching design. This certainly will look nice in some living rooms but might disappoint those hoping for a more modest aesthetic.
Soundbars offer a no-fuss, simple way to vastly improve the sound that comes out of your TV. However, choosing the right one isn't necessarily as straightforward. We hope that our testing results have led you to a model that will fit your soundbar needs. If you're already loving your soundbar and think you might want to expand upon its stellar sound, you may want to take a look at some home wireless speakers.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata