Best Sound Bar of 2021
$799.00 at Amazon
|$800 List||$280 List|
$198.00 at Amazon
|$399 List||$400 List|
$399.95 at Amazon
|Pros||Great sound quality, crystal clear dialogue, useful sound customization features||Phenomenal music playback, seamless integration with Sonos ecosystem||Great sound for the price, bluetooth, external subwoofer||Compact design great for smaller rooms, seamlessly integrates with other Sonos products, excellent musical sound quality||Dialogue carries well, easy setup, compact footprint|
|Cons||Glass top shows a lot of smudges and dust, expensive, doesn't support Dolby Atmos or DTS Virtual X codecs||Huge, expensive, no Bluetooth||No wifi connection, no EQ controls||Not the loudest, Sonos app required for set up, no plug and play||Bass sounds lack definition and can be overpowering, limited audio customization|
|Bottom Line||This is high-end bar with high-end sound and features, making it an ideal choice for a home theater system and doubling as a smart speaker||This model sounds incredible while listening to music and provides a pretty immersive home theater experience||This is the best sounding entry-level soundbar, and the loudest model we tested||This a great sounding little bar that excels with musical content, and packs plenty of punch as part of a home theater system||This is a decent soundbar that doesn't quite live up to its high price tag|
|Rating Categories||Bose Smart Soundbar...||Sonos Arc||Sony HT-S350||Sonos Beam||JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam|
|Sound Quality (45%)|
|Ease Of Use (35%)|
|Style Design (5%)|
|Specs||Bose Smart Soundbar...||Sonos Arc||Sony HT-S350||Sonos Beam||JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam|
|Dimensions||2.25" x 38.5" x 4.25"||3.4" x 45" x 4.5"||Bar: 2.6" x 35.5" x 3.5"
Sub: 15.4" x 7.5" x 15.13"
|2.72" x 25.625" x 3.94"||2.3" x 27.9" x 3.9"|
|External Subwoofer||No (optional)||No (optional)||Yes||No (optional)||No (optional)|
|Inputs (wired)||Digital audio in (optical), HDMI (ARC), Ethernet, 3.5mm AUX IR, 3.5mm AUX Data, 3.5mm AUX Bass, 3.5mm AUX ADAPTIQ tuning||Digital audio in (optical), Ethernet, HDMI (ARC)||Digitcal audio in (optical), HDMI (ARC)||Digital audio in (optical), Ethernet, HDMI (ARC)||Digital audio in (optical), ethernet, HDMI (ARC), HDMI in, USB|
|Supported Audio File Formats||Dolby Digital, DTS||Dolmy Atmos||Dolby Digital, Dolby Dual mono, LPCM 2ch||Stereo PCM, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos (Dolby Digital Plus), Dolby Atmos*, Dolby TrueHD*, Dolby Atmos (True HD)*, Multichannel PCM*, Dolby Multichannel PCM*||Dolby Atmos, PCM|
|Voice Assistants||Alexa, Google Assistant||Alexa, Google Assistant||n/a||Alexa, Google Assistant||Alexa, Google Assistant|
|Syncs with:||Bose Simplesync enabled speakers||Sonos||None||Sonos||Chromecast Built-In and Alexa Multi-Room-Music enabled devices|
Best Overall Soundbar
Bose Smart Soundbar 700
Soundbars exist to make the immersive home theater experience easy to set up and enjoy, regardless of the layout of your living room or the limits of your tech savvy-ness. The Bose Smart Sound Bar 700 brings the simplicity of the soundbar design, adds Bose's signature top-of-the-line audio quality, and includes built-in support for Google Assistant and Alexa. This model is loaded with features, which are all very functional—no gimmicks here. Setup is somewhat involved since you need to wear an included headset that uses microphones to attune this soundbar to your room based on where you'll be sitting, but the Bose app walks you through the process with ease, making the whole experience frustration-free. The result is a wide, immersive sound stage that projects audio throughout your living room, making any audio format sound bigger and better.
This model is not without flaws, the main one being its lack of support for the Dolby Atmos or DTS Virtual:X codecs. While the Smart Soundbar 700 sounds more immersive than some models that support these modern immersive formats, this seems like a limiting factor in the long run as these codecs become more common. In terms of audio quality, it doesn't have the most powerful low-end, but it is well articulated and punchy, and Bose makes a compatible (and expensive) subwoofer if you desire more rumble. This minor gripes aside, this soundbar sounds incredible, and we feel it's the best single-unit home theater sound system out there.
Read review: Bose Smart Soundbar 700
Best Bang for Your Buck
Audio quality is the top consideration for us when evaluating soundbars, and among the entry-level models, the Sony HT-S350 emerges as a clear front runner. Its additional subwoofer adds power and a greater sense of immersion, while well-executed dialogue enhancement settings make important plot-driving lines perfectly audible over the chaotic soundscape of our favorite action flicks. This is a full-on plug-and-play device, and setup was a simple 5-minute process for our testers.
The flip side of this simplicity is a general lack of audio customization and limited connectivity for a modern soundbar. You can stream audio from your phone or tablet via Bluetooth, but the HT-S350 doesn't have a WiFi connection or smart speaker capabilities. While this model doesn't support Dolby Atmos or DTS Virtual:X, it sounds amazing for the price, and will absolutely boost your home cinema's audio capabilities.
Read review: Sony HT-S350
Best Cinematic Experience On a Tight Budget
Vizio V-Series 2.1 Home Theater Sound Bar V21-H8
While the very low price of the Vizio V-Series 2.1 Home Theater Sound Bar had us momentarily questioning our ears, we can assure you this soundbar sounds better than several more expensive competitors, while offering a dearth of useful features and presets. There is a powerful subwoofer that Vizio recommends placing next to or behind the audience, where increased proximity to the rumbly bass makes for an exciting experience. Dialogue enhancement and night mode also make for a great viewing experience at lower volumes.
Though this model is solid for its price point, it can't hold a candle to the higher-end model in terms of overall sound quality. While powerful, the bass can sound muddy and overwhelm the rest of the mix, and when we turn the bass down, the weak mids and sometimes harsh treble become more apparent. This isn't too much of a problem when watching action films at high volumes, but makes for a poor experience when using the soundbar to listen to music. Still, this soundbar is a monumental improvement over any built-in TV speakers, and if your bank account can't absorb a high-end sound system to pair with your newly acquired flat screen, the Vizio V-Series 2.1 Home Theater Sound Bar is a very solid option.
Read review: Vizio V-Series 2.1 Home Theater Sound Bar V21-H8
Best Home Theater/Music Speaker Combo
The Sonos Arc utilizes the field-leading sound separation of Dolby Atmos, 11 different drivers, and the ability to tune itself to any room to deliver a wonderfully immersive listening experience from a single speaker. 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 it super simple to expand the Arc into a fully-fledged multi-speaker surround system. When you want to rein in that power a bit, there is a mode to dampen the bass so you won't disturb the neighbors, or to enhance 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. Much of its power is derived from its size. This model is a whopping 45" long, meaning it's wider than all TVs that measure less than 55" on the diagonal (our 40" TV looked cartoonishly small in comparison). Some testers are irked that this model doesn't come with Bluetooth, too. 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. For home theater exclusively, only the Bose Smart Soundbar 700 performed better, but for music, the Arc reigns supreme and is the choice for any Sonos enthusiast.
Read review: Sonos Arc
Best for Small Spaces
If you want top-notch sound in a smaller footprint and at a nicer price than most high-end models, the Sonos Beam offers a nice compromise. 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 should you find yourself wanting more from your home theater sound system.
The Beam certainly isn't cheap, with its price landing between the premium models and the budget options. It also fails to mimic a true surround sound experience. Like most other Sonos products, there is no Bluetooth, though it supports Apple Airplay on iOS devices. It's still an excellent choice for those that don't mind making a considerable, but not too lavish, investment in making their TV sound great.
Read review: Sonos Beam
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, Matt Bento and Michelle Powell have reviewed consumer audio products for nearly four years. In that time, they've researched nearly 1000 headphones, speakers, and earbuds, purchasing and testing well over 150 of them. Michelle has designed tests and established comprehensive metrics for many of our speaker reviews, while Matt comes from a musical background, growing up in a household full of custom speakers, amplifiers, and sound systems designed and built by his father.
In completing this review, we researched more than 80 options before choosing the most promising models to bring into our testing lab. As always, we purchased them all at retail prices and did not accept any gifts or samples 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. Finally, we connected them to various mobile devices and adjusted all of the offered sound settings in order to uncover any potential user-friendliness issues. When all was said and done, we sunk more than 150 hours of testing into these products and came out with recommendations based wholly on our test results and in-person experiences.
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. Of course, these gadgets need to sound good to be worthy of the coveted shelf space below your TV, and there are plenty of different attributes that differentiate one model from another. Our scores are based on 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. They are also able to create a better "surround" sound effect with Dolby Atmos or DTS Virtual:X than the less expensive models that support those formats. WiFi connectivity and app support are also standard on the high-end units. However, there are still good deals to be found. For instance, the Sonos Beam costs nearly half as much as the Sonos Arc and only sounds slightly less remarkable.
Among the more budget-friendly options, there are several great options depending on your preferences and priorities. The Vizio V-series 2.1 Home Theater Sound Bar is the least expensive model we tested, but it offers better performance than several more expensive models from Yamaha, Samsung, and Soundcore, most notably in terms of its powerful subwoofer and effective dialogue enhancement settings. If you're looking for the best sound quality for the least amount of money, the Sony HT-S350 takes the cake, though it doesn't have much in the way of audio customization and lacks WiFi connectivity. It is, however, one of the loudest models we tested and certainly takes any home audio system to new heights far beyond what any built-in TV speakers can provide. Both of these budget recommendations come with a wireless subwoofer to add some cinema-like rumble to movie nights.
First and foremost, a soundbar needs to add depth to the at-home cinematic experience by making soundscapes feel more immersive. Ideally, it should also be able to crank out some jams if your gathering turns from a movie marathon to a dance party. Because sound quality most directly relates to a model's primary function, 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).
We also take dialogue enhancement settings and customization options into account. To add a solid dose of objectivity, we measured each soundbar's dynamic range. This is the difference between the loudest and quietest sounds each model can produce. A lower dynamic range means the audio will be more compressed, where whispers will be louder and explosions will sound quieter, and at a certain point, compression will degrade the audio quality noticeably. A soundbar with a greater dynamic range won't need to compress the audio, leading to higher quality signal. Dynamic audio can be a problem at times when you need to listen at lower volumes; fortunately, the best models have settings to enhance dialogue so you won't miss a line.
If you are most concerned with turning your living room into a theater, first consider the high-end models from Bose and Sonos. Both have slightly different strategies for creating a wide and dynamic soundstage, and both do a good job at tricking our ears into believing the sounds are coming from more than one direction.
The Bose Smarts Soundbar 700 is hands-down our favorite model for bringing depth and excitement to watching movies at home. Thanks to its upward-firing internal speakers and dedicated center channel, it successfully provides a deep sense of immersion, despite being a single unit that sits in front of the viewer. It includes a special headset equipped with microphones to calibrate itself to your living room based on where you sit while watching TV. The effect is mesmerizing, and on more than one occasion, our testers were checking their periphery, convinced there was someone standing out of their view due to this model's ability to bounce sound around the room. This model pairs with other Bose smart speakers for simultaneous playback, too.
The Sonos Arc takes a similar strategy, using Dolby Atmos and its proprietary Trueplay tuning (iOS device required to set up this feature) to bounce different sounds off of the walls in your living room, creating a surround-sound-esque experience. If you already own a Sonos speaker system, you can easily pair other Sonos speakers with the Arc for an even richer experience. The Bose Smart Soundbar 700 still gives a better performance as a stand-alone unit across a variety of audio formats, making the Arc a very close second.
The Sonos Beam also gives a respectable performance in the home theater field and is less expensive than the Arc while taking up a lot less space. For folks on a more modest budget, the Sony HT-S350 and the Vizio V-series 2.1 Home Theater Sound Bar have effective dialogue enhancement settings and both use an external subwoofer to create a deep and rumbly sense of immersion.
The JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam also earns high marks when considering the overall cinematic experience. It supports Dolby Atmos, and though the overall effect isn't quite as impressive as with the Sonos Arc, it's available at about half the price.
Reading off the list of each Soundbar's supported Audio formats can feel like a meaningless onslaught of acronyms, but there are a few key aspects to understand when considering a soundbar.
Dolby Atmos- This is an immersive "object-based" surround sound format. Instead of simply assigning sounds to a left or right channel, the Atmos can track up to 128 sound objects in a scene and assign them to different speakers. Soundbars that support Atmos use the object tracking information to beam sounds off different parts of the room to simulate more than one speaker. Currently, more streaming services support Atmos than DTS Virtual:X.
DTS Virtual:X- DTS is a rival format to Dolby that uses a higher bit rate and can handle more audio information. Virtual:X is their object-based surround sound format, which provides an impressive illusion of "height" from supported soundbars.
Dolby Digital- Dolby's 5.1 channel format includes 3 front channels and left and right surround channels (totaling "5" channels). The ".1" refers to an additional channel for the subwoofer.
Dolby Digital Plus- This format can support up to 7.1 channel surround sound systems, and it is backwards compatible, meaning audio in this format can still support a 5.1 channel soundbar.
For folks looking to double down and use a soundbar for home theater and as their primary speaker for music, the Sonos Arc edges out the Bose Smart Soundbar 700 in this respect (though the Smart 700 is still very impressive in this aspect). The Arc is the most well-balanced for music playback, and its built-in subwoofer sounds just as well-defined as the Bose while being a little more powerful. The Sonos Beam, JBL Bar, Bose TV Speaker, and Sony HT-S350 all crank out the jams with a similar level of quality, though nowhere near as awe-inspiring as the Arc.
Ease of Use
One of the significant advantages that soundbars have over fully-fledged surround sound systems is their simplicity. If a speaker is challenging to install or use, it loses much of its appeal. We also evaluate each model for its sound customization and connectivity options. We find with the top-performing models that it's possible for a soundbar to be easy to set up and operate while also having plenty of customizable features, WiFi, and Bluetooth capabilities.
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. WiFi connectivity, remote controls, and app support aided, and in some cases hindered, the setup process.
Purely along the lines of setup, the Soundcore Infini Pro is the easiest to plug in and start enjoying. If your TV has an HDMI or Optical Connection, then you can have this soundbar unboxed and be watching Raiders of the Lost Ark in under five minutes. The Infini Pro is inexpensive, but unfortunately, its accolades begin and end with how easy it is to set up. On the other end of the spectrum, the Bose Smart 700 is expensive and requires an app for setup and configuration. While the process is way more involved than the Infini Pro, it's not difficult by any stretch of the imagination, as the Bose app walks you step by step through the entire process, including Bose's ADAPTIQ technology, which involves configuring the soundbar to your room with a special headset. Both Sonos models require an app and a WiFi connection before you can use them, but the app is also fairly intuitive. In order to set up the Trueplay on the Sonos models, you will need an iPhone or iPad (no Android compatibility). For the Bose and the Sonos models, this configuration only happens once when you set it up, unless you move its location.
The JBL Bar, Vizio V-Series, Sony HT-S350, and the Bose TV Speaker have fairly short setup processes, and none of these bars require WiFi to work. Each is a nice option for folks who want a soundbar that's easy to use and aren't interested in deeper sound customization options.
Almost every product in our review has a standard HDMI connection, with the exception of the Samsung HW-A450/ZA 2.1 ch, and all of them have an optical connection or come with an adapter. Essentially, they are all very easy to connect to the modern flatscreen. What differentiates them in terms of connectivity is the inclusion of Bluetooth and WiFi.
The Bose Smart 700 again comes out on top, as it can connect to WiFi and Bluetooth. When connected to WiFi, it's a capable smart speaker for both Alex and Google Assistant, allowing you to access multiple streaming services with voice commands, directly from the speaker, and respond to your most pressing queries. It's also compatible with Apple Airplay 2. For folks who want to listen to music directly from their phone or tablet, the Bluetooth is fast and convenient, and you don't need to download any apps, you can just simply pair the device and start listening. The Polk Audio Signa S3, JBL bar, and the Yamaha YAS-109 all score decently for their connectivity, as they all have Bluetooth, WiFi, and limited smart speaker capabilities. Both the Sonos models have WiFi but unfortunately lack Bluetooth.
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. While every model in this review includes a few factory presets to optimize the soundbar according to what you're watching or listening to, a few allow for a deeper level of customization through an included remote or an app.
Once again, the Bose Smart 700 has a strong showing here. Its app and included remote allow us to independently adjust the treble and bass, as well as boost the center channel to increase dialogue clarity. The Smart 700 doesn't have many presets, but its dialogue mode is impressive and by no means subtle, as it boosts the dialogue and reduces the overall dynamic quality of the soundscape, making dialogue easy to hear, especially when you need to watch TV at lower volumes.
Lower on the price scale, the Vizio V-series 2.1 Home Theater Sound Bar offers a nice level of customization. You can adjust bass and treble, as well as the individual volume of the additional subwoofer. The Vizio also has many presets, including a night mode, dialogue enhancement, and movie, music, and game modes.
Both the Sonos models have individual settings for bass and treble, plus dialogue enhancement and night modes for lower-volume listening. They don't have a remote, so you'll need to use the app to access these features.
Volume is an important consideration if you're going to rely on a single soundbar to fill your living room (or entire home) with music. Even the "quietest" models still max out around 85 decibels, which is about as loud as a leaf blower.
If you're really looking for a soundbar to blow the roof off, then the Sony HT-S350 is the loudest model we tested, measuring 105 decibels on our meter, with the Bose Smart Soundbar 700 coming in at a close second. The Sony doesn't connect with any other speakers aside from its included subwoofer, so the added power makes sense. The Sonos models are the quietest, but they are built with the Sonos ecosystem in mind, so you can purchase additional speakers to spread the sound throughout your home.
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 somewhat subjectively, though durability and ease of cleaning are also considered. In our minds, the ideal soundbar would have a simple, well-constructed design without 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 standard, and this metric isn't heavily weighted.
The Bose TV Speaker, Sonos Arc, JBL Bar, and the Sony-HT-S350 have a combination of plastic and metal housing, making them sleek, durable, and easy to clean. Less expensive models like the Vizio V-Series use a cloth covering that tends to collect lint and could tear. We aren't wild about Bose's decision to put a glass top on the Smart Soundbar 700 as it invites smudges, and the glass tends to reflect the TV and can be distracting.
The built-in speakers on even the most expensive flatscreen leave much to be desired, and soundbars offer the easiest, most affordable way to compliment your giant HD flatscreen with a worthy sound system. Our experience has been encouraging, and we feel that the budget options we've tested have plenty of "wow factor" and are sure to inject some fun into a family movie night. On the other hand, if you're willing to spend the money, the higher-end models deliver an impressively immersive experience that will have you questioning how the speaker sitting in front of you sounds like it's coming from multiple directions. We hope this helps you determine the best soundbar for your home and budget.
— Michelle Powell and Matt Bento
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