For many people, sound bars are the best way to get better audio from a TV. They are easy to install without all the speakers and frustrating cables that come with a surround sound system. While most soundbars do not sound as good as separate speakers – especially in music – they are still far better than the built-in speakers on your TV.
Which soundbar should you buy? A good start is CNET's list of best sound bars. However, if you only want a quick recommendation, you can get started. All three are the best we tested at their price points in late 201
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If you want the maximum amount of The Vizio SB3621n-E8 is CNET's choice for editors in the budget category. It offers Bluetooth connectivity and a wireless subwoofer. It sounds great and does not look too shabby.
Read the report by CNET.
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In a competitive environment, the Yamaha YAS-209 turns out to be the best sound bar with Amazon Alexa on board. The Yamaha offers excellent sound quality and enough connectivity for most users.
Read our Yamaha YAS-209 test.
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Although there are more expensive, better-sounding Atmos soundbars, the excellent Vizio SB36512-F6 offers the best value in this category. It brings sophisticated atmospheric effects to a compact soundbar with rear speakers and a sub – all at a very affordable price.
Read our VIZIO SB36512-F6 review.
Want to know more? Here's a brief introduction on what features are most important to your needs and other things you should know.
What soundbar size do I need?
Soundbars come in all shapes and sizes: from under a foot long to wider than a big screen TV. While the larger soundbars sometimes offer more drivers and therefore a bigger sound, there are others for which you only pay for a longer box.
Note that the length of a soundbar does not directly match the screen size of your TV because TVs are measured diagonally. Of course, the soundbar does not necessarily have to match the width of your TV, even if both come from the same manufacturer. There are two options: The first is to check the width of your TV compared to the screen size. Try this handy table, or you can check the width of both models in the manufacturer's specifications before buying them.
If the exact fitting of the dimensions is not so important. Try the following instructions:
Soundbar lengths for TV screen sizes
|Speaker length (in inches)||Recommended TV screen size|
42 inches to 50 inches
|50||55 inches to 65 inches|
|60||70 inches and larger|
What connections do I want?
Many manufacturers still expect you to use your TV to switch between devices. For a long time, an optical output between the TV and the speaker was used. However, due to the increasing popularity of HDMI sound bars, you can choose between the two input types. The idea is that you connect all your home theater equipment directly to the TV and then connect the HDMIor the optical output of your TV to the sound bar. It's a simple overall design because you only have to switch inputs with your TV remote. (For more information, see .)
For ease of use, using the TV as a toggle switch is the way to go for most people. However, this configuration has some disadvantages. For one thing, you are limited by the number of inputs on your TV. If your TV has only three inputs, you can only connect three devices. You could handle this with an HDMI switch, but then increase the complexity you probably wanted to avoid by first installing a soundbar. Another problem is that most televisions downgrade incoming audio to stereo rather than a true surround sound signal. Most bars are only available in stereo, but surround-enabled bars work best with a surround input.
Many newer soundbars, usually starting at $ 200, contain multiple HDMI inputs, which you may need if you want to connect AV devices directly to the soundbar (rather than direct them through the TV). For future proofing, look for at least three inputs and make sure they can transmit– especially if you already own a 4K TV.
If the soundbar only has ainput, you can not connect a source directly to it. First, connect your set-top devices to the TV, and then connect a cable between the TV's HDMI ARC connector and the soundbar.
Do I need Bluetooth or Wi-Fi music?
While many features for soundbars are redundant, there is one main exception: wireless streaming. This can take one of two main forms: Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. With wireless streaming, you can play music from a variety of sources – such as Spotify on your phone or iTunes on your computer – from your sound bar.
Bluetooth is the easiest way to stream audio wirelessly from your phone or tablet. It works with the music stored on your device and any music app (for example Pandora or Spotify) as well as platform independent – virtually all iOS, Android and Windows phones and tablets have built-in Bluetooth. Similarly, almost every soundbar on the market is equipped with Bluetooth. If this is not the case, you can buy an adapter such asor .
Wi-Fi offers several upgrades for Bluetooth, including the ability to listen in multiple rooms and even control it with Google Assistant or Alexa. There are several competing "open" standards, including– not to mention proprietary manufacturers like Sonos – so it's well worth the .
The most cost-effective system today is Google's Chromecast, which also makes it possible to play and control in multiple rooms with the Google Assistant.
Do I need Alexa or Google Assistant?
In 2019, many soundbars offer integrated voice assistants from Amazon, Google, or both (in the case of). The argument is as follows: Why buy a and a soundbar if you can combine both in one device? This saves space and looks better, especially if you mount the speaker on the wall.
Buying a Voice Assistant speaker depends on how comfortable you can handle an always-on microphone in your home. If you already have one or two Echo Dot speakers, this makes perfect sense. With models such as theyou can also control the functions of the soundbar itself. You can also do cool things like turn off lights or ask for the weather.
If you find the idea unpleasant, imagine it as a web browser: the wizard just sits there waiting for you to say the word, then answers (the vocal equivalent of a web search). With the Voice Assistant apps, you can even read back what is being recorded if you have concerns about privacy. However, if this is too much, you can simply opt for a model without the feature.
It's also worth noting that with theyou can add any Alexa features to any soundbar with an analog input (most of them have them), but you'll need to turn to this input for it to hear answers (and music).
Do I need surround sound or Dolby Atmos?
In the past, two-channel sound bars between stereo and surround modes generally did not sound very different, but the advent of technologies like Dolby Virtual: X and wall-bouncing speakers has greatly improved the immersion from which they emanate , The sound of two particular models in 2019 impressed us:and . Both were able to produce surround-sound without the use of rear speakers.
Adding optional surrounds allows most bars to achieve better surround. Thepaired with the gives an enormous feeling of immersion when playing movies. This ability to add surround speakers to existing laths is now supported by many midrange brands including Polk, LG, and Samsung. Typically, they use Wi-Fi to connect to stand-alone wireless speakers, but as this can increase costs by $ 300 to $ 400, this can be an expensive option.
In recent years, the number of released Atmos soundbars has exploded, with the 2019 price finally dropping below $ 500.still outnumbers the number of titles with surround audio. It may be worth considering an Atmos bar for future testing, but it is still not a necessary purchase.
What is the difference between a soundbar and a soundbase?
The most common design for soundbars is literally a bar : it's a long, thin speaker that's often combined with a wireless subwoofer. The subwoofer can make a big difference. If you can choose between an "onboard" or a separate subwoofer, then opt for the discrete version. The soundbar can be mounted on the wall or placed more often on the stand in front of the TV. It's mostly a stress-free design, though there may be some drawbacks
including the ability to block the remote sensor on your TV.
Sound bases are even slimmer than the more traditional bar design: they serve as a pedestal for your TV and never block the television's remote control sensor. Zvox was a pioneer of this design, and despite great models such asthis style has unfortunately gone out of fashion. The main reason for this is that televisions have moved away from central pillars in favor of feet at both ends – mainly for safety reasons. This makes compact "sockets" virtually useless for large televisions, while smaller 40-inch televisions should still fit.
Apart from the limited availability, the other possible disadvantage of the pedestal construction is the bass or lack thereof. Sound bases usually lack a separate subwoofer and it is difficult to produce the same deep bass that traditional subwoofer sound bars can.
Do I have to use the remote control supplied with the soundbar?
While most soundbars come with a remote control, they're pretty lousy in quality, and most manufacturers allow you to use your TV's remote control instead.
Theoretically, it's not a bad idea: Nobody wants another remote to care about it. In practice it is sometimes more problematic. After disabling your TV's internal speakers, annoying status messages will be displayed on some TVs as soon as they receive volume control commands. This happens when you control your sound bar with the remote control of your TV. The easiest solution to this problem is to use the remote control of your cable box with a volume control or purchase a.
Do I need a soundbar with a front panel display?
A surprising number of soundbars do not have a true front panel display, so you will not get much (or no) visual feedback on how loud the volume is or what input you are using.
A front panel display is certainly nice – especially if it's well hidden, like the– but we do not think it's important. In general, you only adjust the volume to a comfortable level, and it does not matter if you're at "20" or "30". Some soundbars, and these are Vizio models, have a bewildering array of LEDs that are supposed to match the input you're in, but are almost worse than no display at all.
What else do I need to know?
That covers it. For more information, see our latest reviews of the best soundbars.