The Best Soundbars of 2017
Need better sound for your movie sessions? We scrutinized 40 soundbar models before buying the 9 best and putting them through 100 hours of testing. We conducted 11 side-by-side tests to determine how easy these speakers are to use, how easy they are to set up and, most importantly, how good they sound. Whether you want the best sound that one of these convenient audio systems can provide or just want an inexpensive way to escape the limitations of your TV's built-in speakers, we've found the best soundbar for any situation.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Soundbar
Sonos has been building a reputation for great sound, and the Playbar is no exception. It produced engrossing sound in our testing that truly made movie watching feel like a full on theatrical experience. It is also very easy to setup when connecting it to a TV. Plus, the Playbar is available with a subwoofer and can be paired with other Sonos speakers to create a full fledged surround sound system. This makes a great choice if you're on the fence between getting a simple soundbar or going all out with a more complicated sound system. Our only complaint: connecting wirelessly requires using the Sonos app, making it a bit more difficult for your visitors to take over DJ duty.
Useful sound modes
Initial setup of the Sonos App can be finicky
Read full review: Sonos Playbar
Best Bang for the Buck
Deep, powerful bass can really make a speaker sound robust and full bodied. Somehow, despite costing only $200, the Yamaha YAS-106 delivered some of the most powerful bass we experienced from a model without an external subwoofer. It combined that bass with clear treble, creating a well rounded sound that made us think we were listening to a much more expensive device. On top of all this we found the YAS-106 to be incredibly easy to use, and we had it out of the box and pumping music within 5 minutes. If you don't want to spend much but can't stand mediocre sound anymore get the YAS-106, you won't be disappointed.
Easy to use
Read full review: Yamaha YAS-106
Top Pick for Deep Bass
If you tend to crank the bass to full on every audio device you buy, the Klipsch R-20B is for you. Its subwoofer was able to shake our entire home theater testing room, while still keeping that low end sounding clear and defined without any muddiness. It backs up the baritone with solid treble and good dynamic range. Its user interface wasn't our favorite and it was the heaviest model we tested, so installation and dialing in your preferred settings may take a little extra effort than other models, but once you get it set up you'll be rewarded with cinematic scores that blow your hair back and space battles that you'll be able to feel as well as hear. Bonus: we've recently seen the Klipsch selling at sites like Amazon for more than half off. There's no telling how long these prices will last, so you may want to snag one up now, you won't be disappointed.
Good overall sound
Expensive if not on sale
Bluetooth connection is sensitive to other nearby wireless networks
Read full review: Klipsch R-20B
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 off of 10 hands on tests that range from sound quality to ease of use and installation, all the way through the design and style.
First and foremast 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 integrated subwoofer models. Though its bass wasn't the most powerful, its clarity and wide dynamic range was still able to create a well rounded sound with impressive depth.
The Sonos Playbar was truly in a league of its own sound wise, but the Klipsch R-20B and the Bose SoundTouch 300 were able to come somewhat close, both earning an 8 out of 10 in our sound quality testing. The Klipsch largely shines because its powerful yet supple external subwoofer can vibrate every fiber of your being with the bassline of a dramatic score while still keeping said baseline clear, defined, and punchy. The Bose SoundTouch 300 had the best bass of the integrated subwoofer models we tested, but still couldn't come close to matching the power of the Klipsch. It did, however, have better treble, with its high end clarity falling between that of the Klipsch and the top scoring Sonos.
Falling just short of our sound quality podium 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.
Two models, the Best Buy Award winning Samsung HW-K450 2.1 Channel and the Yamaha YAS-106 scored 6 out of 10 in our sound quality metric. Both of these models have fairly average bass and treble quality and dynamic range. However, all of these aspects are mixed together well enough that you end up with a rounded, full bodied sound. While you likely won't be amazed by the booming bass in explosion laden action movies or the high notes in movie musicals, the overall soundscape provided by these models will definitely enrich your movie watching experience.
Coming it 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 Samsung HW-J250 performed very similarly to the Solo 5 but had slightly weaker bass, and thus earned a score of 4.
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.
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-106 to be the most user friendly. 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.
One step down from the Yamaha were the Samsung HW-K450 2.1 Channel and both Bose models we tested, the Solo 5 and the SoundTouch 300. All three of these models earned an ease of use score of 8 out of 10. The Samsung has a nice remote and a convenient LED display that lets you know which device it is currently paired with, but setup is slightly complicated by needing to pair and find a place for the external subwoofer. All in all, setup still only took us 10 minutes. Both Bose models were easy to set up (both taking 5 minutes) but neither had any controls on the actual bar, so you need a remote or app to change settings.
Both the AmazonBasics 2.1 Channel and the Samsung HW-J250 took us only 5 minutes to set up, easily paired with Bluetooth devices, and have 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 felt flimsy. The Samsung HW-J250's on bar controls weren't very responsive, and we often found ourselves pushing a button over and over to try and make something happen. These flaws bumped the ease of use scores of both these otherwise user friendly models to 7 out of 10.
Though high performers in most other aspects of our testing, the Klipsch R-20B and the Sonos Playbar both received relatively mediocre scores of 6 out of 10 in our ease of use metric. The Klipsch mostly lost favor due to the added step of finding a place for the subwoofer, and its remote felt basic, small, and easy to lose. The Sonos Playbar 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, the Sonos does not have a remote control, you have to use the app.
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.
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 Samsung HW-K450, both earning 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 Samsung HW-K450 offers a similar number of presets along with full EQ adjustments, letting you tinker away to your heart's content.
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.
Three different models, the Yamaha YAS-106, 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 more full EG 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 lowest scorers in our sound customization metric had only very few customization options. The Samsung HW-J250 only allows adjustment of the bass. It also has a few preset sound modes accessible using the 'sound effect' button on the remote, but we found selecting one of these modes to be difficult and clunky. The Klipsch R-20B only has a dial on the actual subwoofer that adjusts the bass, and offers no other audio adjustments. The Bose Solo 5 offers a dialogue mode that is meant to highlight the words spoken in movies and make them easier to understand, but doesn't offer much customization beyond that.
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 flare, 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 looks 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 four 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 Samsung HW-K450 2.1 Channel features simple right angles and an all black design in both the bar and the subwoofer. The speaker coverings are plastic and look fairly nice, but cloth covering would definitely up the looks factor a bit. 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 Klipsch R-20B features all black styling with speaker covers that just barely show the cones inside, giving them a slightly retro look that is nice but not too in your face. The external subwoofer is quite large, so it may take some trickery to get it to blend into your decor. 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.
We didn't like the Samsung HW-J250 quite as much as the top scorers, but it was close. We liked the all black color and right angles, but its more cubic shape tended to look a bit odd under some TVs. The Yamaha YAS-106 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.
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.
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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