Relying on the expertise we've gained in testing 130 audio products in the last 4 years, we bought the 8 best soundbars of 2020 for some hands-on testing. We then spent more than 3 weeks listening to all those soundbars side-by-side, assessing their auditory proficiencies with everything from action blockbusters to acoustic concerts. We also connected each model to multiple TVs, streamed music to them from mobile devices via Bluetooth connections and over WiFi, and adjusted their EQs, all to assess their general ease of use. In the end, we've found the perfect soundbar from every person, from those seeking audio excellence, to people that just want something better than the tinny speakers that come built-in to TVs.
The Best Soundbars of 2020
Best Overall Soundbar
For those seeking the best, hair-bristling sound they can get from their TV, the Sonos Playbar is a clear choice. Its incredible clarity and relatively deep, rumbling bass allow it to add poignancy to movie dialogue and add punch to blockbuster action sequences. The Sonos ecosystem makes it easy to add things like subwoofers and satellite speakers to create a fully fledged surround sound system down the road. This is great for those that are on the fence between getting a soundbar or investing in a big surround system.
The clear drawback to the Playbar is its price. It is one of the most expensive models in the field, but well worth the extra cost if you're looking for the best possible sound. Some people also don't like the Sonos music management system, which forgoes a simple Bluetooth connection for an app that controls WiFi streaming directly to the speaker. This works great for streaming music from places like Pandora and Spotify, but isn't as versatile as a Bluetooth connection (for example, YouTube Music is currently not compatible with the Sonos app).
Read review: Sonos Playbar
Best Bang for the Buck
Good bass goes a long way towards creating full, immersive sound, and the Yamaha YAS-108 offers the most bass-punch-per-dollar of all the models we tested. In fact, its bass quality is about even with that of the top scoring Sonos Playbar. This adds considerable depth to movie watching, 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 fairly 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 that of higher priced models. However, the clarity is still a huge step up from that of built-in TV speakers, and that small sacrifice will be well worth the cost savings for all but the pickiest of audiophiles.
Read review: Yamaha YAS-108
Best Buy on a Tight Budget
AmazonBasics 2.1 Channel
If the thin, tinny sound of your TV's speakers is driving you nuts, but you really don't want to spend a lot to fix it, the AmazonBasics 2.1 Channel is for you. This soundbar offers sound that is orders of magnitude better than what is likely emanating from your TV's built-in speakers for a relatively small investment. Bluetooth capability also makes it a nice speaker for streaming music, and it can be set up in a flash.
Sure, this bar can't really compare to the sound quality of the more expensive speakers. In fact, if you can spare a little more cash the YAS-108 offers a significant step up in sound quality. But if you're just looking for a shoestring budget solution to lousy TV speakers, you can't go wrong with the AmazonBasics
Read review: AmazonBasics 2.1 Channel
Best Buy: Mid-Range Budget
For those that are willing to spend more for better sound quality, but the PlayBar's price tag still sounds like a bit too much, the Sonos Beam is the perfect midpoint. In fact, it is probably the best value per dollar of all the models we tested. For a middle-of-the-road price, you get sound quality that is only a notch or two below that of the top-scoring Playbar. You also get Alexa built right into the bar, allowing you to control your music and even many TVs with your voice. The Beam is also Airplay compatible, so Apple users can stream any audio content from their devices directly to the Beam.
Other than being just slightly less melodious than the most expensive models, the only real shortcoming of the Sonos Beam is the fact that it lacks a Bluetooth connection. This won't matter to many users, but if you like to stream music from YouTubeyou'll have to jump through some hoops with 3rd party apps (unless you have an Apple device or a smart TV).
Read review: Sonos Beam
Why You Should Trust Us
In order 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 been reviewing 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 so we could 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, but instead focusing 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 find any potential user-friendliness issues. With all was said and done we sunk more than 150 hours of testing into these soundbars, and came out with some strong recommendations.
Related: How We Tested Soundbars
Analysis and Test Results
Soundbars provide a simple, effective, and when compared to the cost of surround sound systems, 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, but there are a number 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 the design and style.
Based on our testing, soundbars certainly provide better and better sound quality the more you spend (case in point: the Sonos Playbar). However, there are still good deals to be found. For instance, the Sonos Beam costs nearly half as much as the Playbar and only sounds slightly less amazing. The relatively inexpensive Yamaha YAS-108 also delivers surprisingly good sound. At the low end of the price spectrum, the AmazonBasics 2.1 Channel offers a decent upgrade from 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 in case your party turns from movie marathon to dancing disco. Thus we weighted our sound quality metric most heavily and spent the bulk of our testing time making certain that it was accurately quantified. 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).
The Sonos Playbar was a clear standout in our testing, providing the most immersive and captivating soundscape we've ever experienced from a single-speaker system. It combines superb clarity with resonant and well-balanced bass that elevates everything from quiet scenes of dialogue to epic space battles. Sure, bass lovers may be disappointed that the Playbar doesn't rumble quite as much as models that opt for bulky external subwoofers, but the sheer wall of sound this device can create makes it the best single-piece home theater audio option around.
Falling a noticeable step behind the Playbar but still providing exceptional sound, are the Bose SoundTouch 300 and the Sonos Beam. Both of these models sound fantastic and well-balanced in isolation but come across as slightly less rotund and full-bodied in a side-by-side comparison with the Playbar. However, we think pretty much everyone will find these bars to offer a huge upgrade to their home theater system, even if they can't quite reach Playbar levels of auditory delight.
Also earning a 7 out of 10 was the Yamaha YAS-108. This reasonably priced model has good bass, good clarity that isn't too far off from that of the high-priced models, and quite good 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 Playbar. Unless you're all about the low end, this model is definitely going to impress.
Rounding out the 7 out of 10 group, the Samsung Sound+ Premium delivered a well-balanced sound in our testing that flattered everything from music to multiple genres of music. That being said, both its bass power and clarity lag behind the top models, making it lack some depth and nuance when compared to those frontrunners. Still, we think it would please all but the most discerning of listeners.
Leading off the groups of average scorers, the VIZIO SB2821-D6 earned a 6 out of 10 in this metric, largely thanks to its powerful bass. Its external subwoofer can produce impressively full and clear low end, rivaling that of models that cost more than 3 times as much. However, you can notice some distortion in the treble range, and even more at higher registers. It still beats built-in TV speakers in this regard, but its clarity falls lags behind that of most of the other models in this review.
Earning an average score of 5 out of 10 in our sound quality metric was the Bose Solo 5. This relative budget offering from the sound giant has all of the bass power people have come to expect from the brand, but that bass tends to sound a bit 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 the built-in speakers of most televisions, in our opinion it doesn't offer the premium listening experience the brand name suggests.
At the bottom of our sound quality scoresheet with a score of 2 out of 10 was the AmazonBasics 2.1 Channel. In short, it just failed to impress us in any way. When we first set it up in our testing home theater we thought we'd messed up the connection and were just listening to the TV's built-in speakers, but alas, we were in fact listening to the AmazonBasics. Without any discernible improvement over default TV speakers this soundbar has little added value.
Ease of Use
One of the major advantages that soundbars have over fully fledged surround sound systems is their simplicity, so if a soundbar is difficult to install and use it loses much of its appeal. During our testing we connected and disconnected each soundbar to our testing TV more times than we can count, so we have a very good idea of how easy they are to set up. We also played with all of their settings throughout our sound quality testing, so we likewise 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. The slim body makes the bar easy to move around and installation took us only 5 minutes. Our only real complaint was 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 clearly 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 was also seamless, and the bar can also be controlled via an app.
One step down from the Yamaha were both Bose models we tested, the Solo 5 and the SoundTouch 300. Both of these models earned a score of 8 out of 10. We had both of these models all set up within 5 minutes of opening the box. Both also have nice, intuitive remotes. However, neither have 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.
The AmazonBasics 2.1 Channel took us only 5 minutes to set up, easily paired with Bluetooth devices, and has on body controls for when you can't find the remote. However, the AmazonBasics' remote was very basic (no pun intended) with few sound customization options, and it felt a bit flimsy. These flaws bumped the ease of use score of this otherwise user friendly model to 7 out of 10.
Also earning a 7 out of 10, the Samsung Sound+ Premium's basic features are simple and straightforward, with initial setup taking almost no time at all. However, if you want to do more advanced things, like stream music via Wi-Fi, the process can feel a bit clunky.
Though high performers in most other aspects of our testing, the Sonos models we tested both received a relatively 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 felt like an unnecessarily complicated step, we wish they just had simple Bluetooth like most of the 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.
The final model to earn a 6 out of 10 in our user friendliness testing, the VIZIO SB2821-D6 is simple to setup and use, but lacks any sort of bells and whistles. We especially like how quickly and painlessly the Bluetooth external subwoofer pairs with the main unit. However, if you're looking to stream things over Wi-Fi or access any smart features, you're out of luck.
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'd like. Surprisingly, some models only offer a few presets instead of endless customization. We scored each model based on the amount of sound adjustability offered by each model. 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 Playbar 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, and night mode, which dampens the loudest noises so you late-night movie watching doesn't wake anyone up.
A number of models, including the Yamaha YAS-108, the Bose SoundTouch 300, and the AmazonBasics 2.1 Channel, scored 7 out of 10 in our sound customization testing. The Yamaha only offers adjustability of the bass level. This isn't a huge deal as that's most likely the first thing most people adjust, but it is limiting compared to models that offer a full EQ adjustment. The Bose SoundTouch 300, when used in conjunction with the SoundTouch App, offers a number of audio adjustments. However, we found the app hard to navigate and feel most users won't bother using it. The AmazonBasics only offers a few basic (sorry, that pun never gets old) preset sound modes.
Also earning entry into our 7 out of 10 club were the Samsung Sound+ Premium and the VIZIO SB2821-D6, with both models offering good but not exceptional sound adjustability. The VIZIO SB2821-D6 offers easy EQ adjustments but only has very few preset EQ sound modes. On the flip side, the Samsung Sound+ Premiumdoesn't allow for custom EQ adjustments but offers a number of preset sound modes.
The Bose Solo 5 has very little in the way of sound customization, so much so that it earned a low score of 4. 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 the TV, so it will inevitably occupy a conspicuous spot in your living room. Such prominent placement 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 rather than the speaker. We judged all of our models against that ideal.
One of our favorite models from a design perspective was the Editors' Choice Award winning Sonos Playbar. Its solid metal chassis and mesh speaker have a classic look that oozes a sense of quality. The sleek lines allow it to blend into any living room, whether it's sitting on top of a media stand or mounted to the wall. If we're being really nitpicky, we could do without the dark grey accent along the front of the bar, but it's subdued enough that it doesn't annoy us too much.
Also earning a top score of 9 out of 10, the Samsung Sound+ Premium combines clean lines and a monochromatic aesthetic to blend into the background, making it friendly for almost any decor.
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 largely benefits from its small form factor, making it the most inconspicuous of all the models we tested. It also features an all-black body with clean lines, but again we'd prefer if its speaker coverings were cloth instead of plastic. The Bose SoundTouch 300 is possibly the most elegant of all the models we tested, with a monochrome black body and simple lines. However, its glossy finish tended to show dust and fingerprints, so may require some extra cleaning. The Sonos Beam looks great like its bigger sibling, but does use plastic in place of metal in some places.
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 subtler aesthetic.
The VIZIO SB2821-D6 keeps the design simple with all right angles, but accents the ends of both the bar and subwoofer with brushed metal. We like this modern look, but it is a bit more flashy and offers more of an opportunity for clashing with a more classic living room look.
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 quite as simple. We hope that our testing results have led you to a model that will fit your needs. If you're already loving your soundbar and think you might want to expand upon it stellar sound you might want to take a look at some home wireless speakers.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata