The Best Soundbars of 2018

Does your new big screen TV need some big sound to go along with it? We bought and tested 9 of the most well regarded soundbars on the market, all to find which one will make your pre-Infinity War Marvel movie marathon sound the best. Soundbars can offer great, cinematic sound without all of the complexity, hassle, or cost of a full surround sound system. However, they vary widely both in price and quality, making finding the right one no easy task. Our side-by-side tests have revealed the best models in every price range, so you can find the perfect way to elevate your next movie night no matter what your budget.

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Test Results and Ratings

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Awards  Editors' Choice Award      Best Buy Award   
Price $700 List
$699.00 at Amazon
$700 List
$699.00 at Amazon
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$399.99 at Amazon
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$199.95 at Amazon
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$249.00 at Amazon
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Pros Great sound, stylish, useful sound modesGreat sound, easy to use, nice designGood sound, lots of availbale sound customizationInexpensive, good sound, easy to useInexpensive, easy to use
Cons Initial setup of the Sonos App can be finicky, expensiveExpensiveQuite large, works best with 50"+ TVsFlimsy remoteComparatively mediocre sound
Bottom Line The perfect choice for those looking for the best possible sound qualityA great sounding speaker with impressive bass for an integrated subwoofer modelA good choice if you can find it on saleA great choice for those looking for a better sound experience on a budgetA decent, inexpensive speaker, but not the best budget option
Ratings by Category Playbar SoundTouch 300 SB500 YAS-107 Solo 5
Sound Quality - 40%
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Ease Of Use - 30%
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Sound Customization - 15%
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Style Design - 15%
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Specs Playbar SoundTouch 300 SB500 YAS-107 Solo 5
Dimensions 35.4" x 3.4" x 5.5" 38.5" x 2.3" x 4.3" 43.9" x 3.3" x 5.7" 35" x 2.2" x 5.2" 2.6" x 21.6" x 3.4"
External Subwoofer No (optional) No No No No
Inputs (wired) Digital audio in (optical), Ethernet ports (2) Digital audio in (optical), HDMI Analog stereo input, 2 x Optical digital input Digital audio in (optical), AUX 3.5mm, HDMI Digital audio in (optical), Coaxial

Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:
Max Mutter and Steven Tata

Last Updated:
Sunday
May 6, 2018

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Updated May 2018
This month we added the ZVOX SB500 and the Q Acoustics M4 into our testing lineup.
While both of these models performed quite admirably in our testing given their respective prices, neither was enough of a standout to earn an award. We still think the Yamaha YAS-107 offers teh best value for those seeking a good deal, and that the Sonos Playbar is the best choice for those willing to spend extra for high end sound.

Best Overall Soundbar


Sonos Playbar


Editors' Choice Award

$699.00
at Amazon
See It

Dimensions: 35.4" x 3.4" x 5.5" | External Subwoofer: No (available for $700)

Great sound
Stylish
Useful sound modes
Initial setup of the Sonos App can be finicky
Expensive
If you want the kind of sound that will make your hair bristle as the Millenium Falcon's engines start to rumble, the Sonos Playbar is for you. The combination of crisp, clear sound along with deep, rumbling bass created a rich and full soundscape that completely immersed us in whatever we were watching. And if you find that booming bass a little lacking, you can get the Playbar with an external subwoofer. You can even pair the Playbar with multiple other Sonos speakers to create a fully fledged surround sound system. This makes it a perfect choice if you're on the fence between the simplicity of a soundbar and the true immersion of a full surround sound system. In terms of streaming music, the Sonos pulls everything off of the wifi network and is controlled via an app on your phone, rather than a simple Bluetooth connection. This keeps the music playing, even if you get a phone call, but it also makes it harder for any guests to play their music through the speaker.

Read review: Sonos Playbar

Best Bang for the Buck


Yamaha YAS-107


Best Buy Award

$199.95
at Amazon
See It

Dimensions: 35" x 2.2" x 5.2" | External Subwoofer: No

Inexpensive
Good sound
Easy to use
Flimsy remote
Usually when you drop from high-end down to more budget-friendly soundbars, the first sacrifice you make is bass quality. That's not the case with the Yamaha YAS-107, which pounded out an impressively powerful low-end in our testing. In fact, its bass was about on par with that of the top scoring Sonos Playbar. Its high-end and overall clarity are both a bit stunted when compared to the much more expensive models, but that bass lends a full and well rounded quality to the sound, making this speaker sound so much better than its $200 price tag implies. For those that want a significant upgrade from their TV's built-in speakers but don't want to break the bank, the YAS-107 is a great choice.

Read review: Yamaha YAS-107

Best Buy on a Tight Budget


TaoTronics TT-SK15


Best Buy Award

$59.99
at Amazon
See It

Dimensions: 34" x 3.4" x 2.6" | External Subwoofer: No

Inexpensive
Good sound quality considering the price
No sound customization available
If you want to improve the sound coming out of your TV, but don't have much of a budget for doing so, the TaoTronics TT-SK15 is your best bet. Its bass power and level of clarity are both clear steps up when compared to any almost any TV speakers. Plus it is currently available online for less than $100. If you can spare a little extra cash the Yamaha YAS-107 is a better value overall, but if you're on a shoestring budget we're sure you'll be happy with the TaoTronics TT-SK15.

Read review: TaoTronics TT-SK15

select up to 5 products
Score Product Price Our Take
84
$700
Editors' Choice Award
Top notch sound quality in a simple, self-contained package
79
$700
The best bass you'll get from a model without an external subwoofer
78
$500
Decent all-around performance, but only a good deal if it is on sale
72
$200
Best Buy Award
Delivers far more performance than you would expect considering its low price
62
$250
A fairly good and inexpensive speaker, but there are better budget options out there
61
$500
Probably the cheapest surround sound you can get, but noticeably inferior to a true surround sound system
55
$140
Best Buy Award
Perfect if you're looking to improve your TV's sound quality on a shoestring budget
51
$350
No matter your needs or budget, there is a better option available
46
$100
Sound quality poor enough that most users will experience buyer's remorse

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.

Value


The above chart compares each model's price to its overall performance in our testing (you can see product names by hovering your cursor over each dot). As you can see the Yamaha YAS-107 offers impressively good performance for quite a low price, making it the best choice for those looking to get the most out of what they spend. From there you can either spend a lot more on the likes of the Sonos Playbar and Bose SoundTouch 300 to get top of the line performance, or sacrifice a good bit of quality to enjoy the rock bottom price of the TaoTronics TT-SK15, our top pick for those wanting to upgrade their TV's sound on a tight budget.

Our sound quality testing involved LOTS of listening intently while we watched movies. The TaoTronics  pictured here  fared quite well in that testing.
Our sound quality testing involved LOTS of listening intently while we watched movies. The TaoTronics, pictured here, fared quite well in that testing.

Sound Quality


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).


Perhaps unsurprisingly to fans of the brand, the Sonos Playbar was the top dog in our sound quality testing, earning a perfect 10 out of 10. This device produced incredibly rich and clear sound, seemingly upping the stakes of every Hollywood car chase sequence and space shuttle launch that we watched. It couldn't quite match the bass power of models with external subwoofers but had great punch when compared to other integrated subwoofer models. Though its bass wasn't the most powerful, its clarity and wide dynamic range still created a well-rounded sound with impressive depth.

The Sonos Playbar was truly in a league of its own sound wise, but the Bose SoundTouch 300 was able to come somewhat close, earning an 8 out of 10 in our sound quality testing. Living up to Bose's reputation of creating great bass, its bass was deep and crisper than any of the models we tested (excluding those that use an external subwoofer). It also had quite impressive clarity in our testing, falling just short of the Sonos Playbar in that regard.

The ZVOX created powerful bass in our testing  especially considering the fact that it doesn't have an external subwoofer.
The ZVOX created powerful bass in our testing, especially considering the fact that it doesn't have an external subwoofer.

Falling just short of the top scorers was the Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1 Channel which scored a 7 out of 10. While it is advertised as a soundbar, it really is more of a surround sound system as the bar is accompanied by an external subwoofer and two rear satellite speakers. We were able to notice more surround sound type effects with this setup, but we also noticed a clear drop off in sound quality compared to the top scorers. Its bass was very powerful, but lacked clarity and often sounded muddled. The treble was noticeably more crisp than the bass but still fell short of the top scoring models.

The ZVOX SB500 was also just behind the top scorers in this metric with a score of 7 out of 10. Its bass is quite powerful and fairly crisp, though it can get a bit muddled when the volume gets high. Overall its clarity is around average, still much better than most TV speakers, but noticeably inferior to the high end models.

The Best Buy Award winning Yamaha YAS-107 scored 6 out of 10 in our sound quality metric. This model doesn't excel in any particular avenue, but it combines reasonably deep bass, wide dynamic range, and good clarity to great a full bodied and well balanced sound. It doesn't have the blow-you-away quality of the top models, but it still represents a
huge step up from most built-in TV speakers.

The Sonos Playbar produced the best overall sound in our tests.
The Sonos Playbar produced the best overall sound in our tests.

Coming in at just about average was the Bose Solo 5, which earned a 5 out of 10. Its bass is impressively powerful given its tiny size but tended to sound very muffled, especially at higher volumes. It also lacked some clarity in the upper register, and its dynamic range was a bit stunted compared to other models. Overall this bar will still be a big upgrade over most TVs' built-in speakers, but probably not as much of a step up as you'd expect for $250. The TaoTronics TT-SK15 performed very similarly to the Solo 5in our testing. If anything its bass was just slightly weaker, but its clarity just slightly better. It also can be found for online for less than $100, making its performance much more impressive.

The Q Acoustics M4 was just below average in all of our sound quality tests, earning it a score of 4 out of 10. Its bass is just slightly on the weak side, the dynamic range is slightly stunted, and the treble clarity leaves a little bit to be desired. This bar doesn't sound bad, it's just not as good as the majority of its competitors.

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 discernable improvement over default TV speakers this soundbar has little added value.

The ZVOX's user friendly remote. A nice remote can make changing inputs and sound settings much easier.
The ZVOX's user friendly remote. A nice remote can make changing inputs and sound settings much easier.

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-107 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 ZVOX SB500 was also just behind the leader with a score of 8 out of 10. It sets up very quickly, has a nicely designed remote, has controls on the bar itself, and easily connects to Bluetooth devices. The only thing it lacks is any sort of app that can be used as a control.

The ZVOX has a nice remote with well spaced buttons.
The ZVOX has a nice remote with well spaced buttons.

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. The TaoTronics TT-SK15 also ended up with a score of 7 out of 10 as well, due to a very easy setup process but a remote that felt a bit flimsy and lackluster. It aslo has on-bar controls, a nice option for those times when you lose the remote.

Though high performers in most other aspects of our testing, the Sonos Playbar received a relatively mediocre score of 6 out of 10 in our ease of use metric. It is 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 it just had simple Bluetooth like most of the other models. Also, it does not have a remote control, you have to use the app.

The Q Acoustics M4 also received a score of 6 out of 10. Like most models its setup process was quick and easy, and it has both a remote control and controls on the bar itself. However, both the remote and on-device controls are limited to volume and input, and don't allow for any sound customization. It also does not have a compatible app.

We liked models like the Bose SoundTouch 300 that give some indication of what input is selected.
We liked models like the Bose SoundTouch 300 that give some indication of what input is selected.

At the bottom of our ease of use barrel was the Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1 Channel, with a score of 4 out of 10. This low score was mostly due to complications with setting up the external subwoofer and tweeters that pushed the initial setup time out to 25 minutes. Also, the LED indicators on the bar were somewhat difficult to understand and we weren't always totally sure what settings we had dialed in.

Many models have different sound modes  like the bass extension and clear voice modes on the Yamaha YAS-107.
Many models have different sound modes, like the bass extension and clear voice modes on the Yamaha YAS-107.

Sound Customization


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 setting 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 Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1Ch and the ZVOX SB500, both of which earned a 9 out of 10. The Nakamichi's large remote lets you easily cycle through 9 surround sound modes, adjust bass, treble, and balance, and reduce the subwoofer's power to 50% or just completely shut it off in case you get any complaints from the neighbors. The ZVOX has lots of EQ adjustability, plus a number of different sound modes that boost voices, dim loud noises, and even change surround sound effects.

Closely following the top contenders with a score of 8 out of 10 was the Sonos Playbar. In addition to preset sound modes, the Sonos app includes treble, bass, and balance EQ controls. It also offers 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.

Many models  like the Yamaha YAS-107  require using an app to access EQ adjustments.
Many models, like the Yamaha YAS-107, require using an app to access EQ adjustments.

Three different models, the Yamaha YAS-107, 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.

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 TaoTronics TT-SK15 and the Q Acoustics M4 were the worst scorers in this metric, both earning a paltry 2 out of 10. Neither of these models offer any kind of EQ adjustments or any programmed sound modes, outside of volume. If you want to customize their sound you'll have to hope the device you're using them with has some sound customization options.

We tended to like inconspicuous designs with clean lines  like the ZVOX pictured here.
We tended to like inconspicuous designs with clean lines, like the ZVOX pictured here.

Style/Design


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 and elegant design, look solid and 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.


Our favorite model 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.

A slew of five 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 ZVOX SB500 features simple right angles and an all black design. The speaker coverings are cloth and look fairly nice. The Bose Solo 5 largely benefits from its small form factor, making it the most inconspicuous of all the models we tested. Its 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 dark grey accents on the Sonos Playbar are subtle enough that we don't really mind them.
The dark grey accents on the Sonos Playbar are subtle enough that we don't really mind them.

The Yamaha YAS-107 opts for a curvier design. This looks nice and certainly would fit into some living rooms, but doesn't quite have the universal appeal of some of the more simple designs. The TaoTronics TT-SK15 has a fairly simple, all black design that is interrupted by one light grey accent right in the middle. We kind of wish that accent wasn't there, but it's still a fairly nice design. We like the all black design and nice cloth speaker coverings of the Q Acoustics M4. However, it is a bit bulkier and less sleek than some of the other models.

Our least favorite models in terms of style were the Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1Ch and the AmazonBasics 2.1 Channel. The Nakamichi is well built, but we weren't fans of its silver accents, which could clash with some living room decor. The AmazonBasics has a plastic body that makes it look and feel a bit flimsy.


Conclusion


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 still a bit confused, take a look at our buying advice article. It offers some additional information about what to consider when upgrading your home cinema sound system.
Max Mutter and Steven Tata

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Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.

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