Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
- A good soundbar enhances your audio experience, offering an upgrade over your TV's built-in speakers.
- Soundbars are available at many performance levels, from basic stereo to surround sound.
- With an affordable price and great audio, the Yamaha YAS-209 is the best soundbar for most needs.
A soundbar is the perfect solution for anyone who wants a space-saving and budget-friendly way to upgrade their TV audio experience. Even the best TVs on the market tend to have lackluster sound. After all, TVs are focused on picture quality, so built-in speakers are usually more of an afterthought than a priority.
A good soundbar can provide better audio with cleaner highs, richer mids, and deeper low frequencies. Soundbar models are available at all price points, including solid entry-level options with simple stereo playback and more expensive models with surround sound capabilities.
Some flagship soundbar systems even include support for advanced home theater formats like Dolby Atmos, enabling sound effects that come from all directions – even above your head. Voice control and wireless music streaming are also supported on some models.
Whether you just want a simple upgrade from your TV's wimpy speakers or you want a full home theater experience, we've selected the best soundbar options for a variety of needs.
Here are the best soundbars of 2021
- Best soundbar overall: Yamaha YAS-209
- Best budget soundbar: Vizio V-Series V21d-J8
- Best smart soundbar: Sonos Beam
- Best soundbar with Dolby Atmos: Vizio Elevate 5.1.4 Channel Soundbar
- Best media player soundbar: Roku Streambar
Yamaha’s YAS-209 delivers great sound and Amazon Alexa for a reasonable price.
Pros: Easy setup, Alexa support, room-filling sound, diverse connection options, sleek appearance, smartphone app makes fine-tuning a breeze
Cons: No onboard display, doesn’t support Dolby Vision passthrough
The YAS-209 soundbar offers the perfect blend of audio quality, features, ease of use, design, and price. This is the type of space-saving audio option that most people think of when shopping for a soundbar, and it makes for a great upgrade to most built-in TV speakers.
Despite being a modest two-piece kit, the YAS-209’s most impressive feat is its ability to fill a room with great audio. Though still a 2.1-channel design, the hardware pairs with audio-processing smarts like DTS Virtual:X for a simulated surround sound effect. It’s not as convincing as having actual rear speakers, but Yamaha’s processing does a solid job of creating an immersive experience.
The YAS-209’s specs include HDMI ARC, a technology that allows compatible TVs to control volume adjustments of connected devices, as well as an extra HDMI-in port that supports 4K HDR passthrough (but not Dolby Vision). A Toslink optical audio port is also featured for TVs without HDMI, and you can also wirelessly stream music from a mobile device via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
The YAS-209 even includes integrated support for Amazon Alexa thanks to built-in microphones, enabling digital assistant features and hands-free control for functions like volume.
The best budget soundbar
With a simple design and solid audio performance, Vizio’s V-Series soundbar is a great pick for budget buyers.
Pros: Affordable, easy to set up, ample sound for basic needs, Bluetooth, HDMI ARC port
Cons: Doesn’t support Wi-Fi, bass not as powerful as soundbar models with a separate subwoofer
Vizio got its start as a budget brand, so it’s no surprise the company still excels at affordable soundbars. This includes its entry-level V-Series V21d-J8, which serves as the successor to our previous pick in this category, the SB362An-F6.
Like its predecessor, the V21d-J8 is a convenient 2.1-channel bar with built-in woofers, meaning you’ll get two main channels for pure stereo sound and a little extra bass without the need for a separate subwoofer unit.
Standing out from the typical boxy design we see on most soundbars, this Vizio model has angled sides that slope down to create a hexagonal profile. Buttons for various controls rest on the side of the bar, including volume, source, Bluetooth audio, and the all-important power button.
Vizio employs audio technology from DTS and Dolby to enhance playback, including DTS Virtual:X. This feature can create a virtual soundfield from the device’s 2.1-channels, resulting in simulated surround and height effects. Processing like this is never as convincing as a genuine multi-speaker system, but it can provide an enhanced soundstage, especially for the price.
As a welcomed upgrade over the previous model, the V-Series now includes an HDMI ARC port for easy connection to modern smart TVs. You also get an optical audio port if your TV doesn’t have an HDMI connection, and you can hook other sources up directly with a 3.5mm auxiliary port.
For wireless playback, the soundbar also supports Bluetooth, making it easy to stream music from your smartphone. An included remote handles all your needs for adjusting volume, accessing basic equalizer options, and toggling various modes.
The best smart soundbar
With the Sonos Beam, your living room becomes the center of a blissful smart home.
Pros: Offers solid sound, your choice between Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, blends seamlessly into the Sonos family, AirPlay 2 support, compact build
Cons: Lacks Bluetooth audio streaming, no DTS support
The Sonos Beam is a bit different from other options on this list. While positioned as a home theater device, it can’t quite match the audio performance of bigger soundbars. It still sounds solid, but it’s really the Beam’s smart features and multi-room audio capabilities that make it so appealing.
The Beam can work with other Sonos products to facilitate a fully wireless multi-room audio setup. It syncs with other Sonos devices using a Bluetooth LE connection before letting Wi-Fi take over the data transmission duties. This means you can’t stream tunes via Bluetooth, but you can access many of your favorite services through the Sonos app to play music over a Wi-Fi connection.
The Sonos Beam’s other claim to fame is built-in support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. With five far-field microphones in play, you can choose which assistant you’d like to use to issue hands-free voice commands, manage music playback, control your smart home, and more. There’s also native AirPlay 2 support for Apple users, and the Beam even includes an Ethernet port for those times when Wi-Fi just isn’t cooperating.
Despite its lack of deep audio processing technologies (it supports standard PCM stereo and basic Dolby Digital sources), the Sonos Beam etches out a nice spot in its niche for those who want a simple all-in-one soundbar solution with wireless music playback, HDMI, and voice assistant capabilities.
The best soundbar with Dolby Atmos
Vizio’s Elevate soundbar offers a 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos experience with performance that rivals many full-fledged home theater systems.
Pros: Full 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos support, DTS:X capabilities, unique rotating speakers, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
Cons: No voice assistant built-in, separate satellites and larger subwoofer take up more space than typical soundbar systems
When it comes to Atmos-capable soundbar systems, few options are as immersive as Vizio’s Elevate soundbar. It’s pricier than standard soundbar packages, but it’s still one of the most affordable ways to enjoy a full 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos experience.
Dolby Atmos, if you aren’t aware, is an audio format that allows soundbars to produce height effects, adding an extra layer of immersion to movies. For instance, when rain falls from the sky or a helicopter flies overhead, you can actually hear the sound coming from above.
The Elevate offers left, center, and right channels in the soundbar itself, along with two upward firing channels that bounce sound off your ceiling to create overhead effects. Two separate rear speakers with their own upward firing drivers are also included, along with an 8-inch wireless subwoofer.
The front height speakers also feature a unique rotating mechanism that allows them to automatically tilt up or forward depending on what you’re listening to. When they’re up you can hear overhead effects. When they’re down, they help to create a wider front soundstage.
Unlike older Vizio soundbars, the Elevate even includes support for DTS:X. Like Atmos, DTS:X provides height effects on certain Blu-ray discs. DTS:X titles are less common than Dolby Atmos, but it’s still a nice option to have.
The Elevate‘s relatively large size and separate rear speakers make it less space-saving than most soundbar options, but the system provides audio performance that’s nearly on par with many genuine home theater packages.
The best media player soundbar
The Roku Streambar is a compact soundbar and streaming video player in one convenient device.
Pros: Affordable, solid stereo playback, compact design, 4K HDR video streaming, includes a voice remote
Cons: Audio performance isn’t as good as bigger soundbars, doesn’t include a separate subwoofer, no Dolby Vision support
If you happen to be in the market for a soundbar and a new streaming media player, then the Roku Streambar could be the convenient all-in-one device you’re looking for. Not only is the Streambar smaller than any other soundbar on our list, but it also includes integrated support for streaming all your favorite video apps.
When it comes to audio performance, the 2.0-channel soundbar features four 1.9-inch full range drivers for basic stereo playback. There are no fancy virtualization options for simulated surround sound, and there’s no included subwoofer for extra bass — but the Streambar sounds surprisingly engaging for a device its size.
To be clear, you won’t get the range or separation you’d get on a bigger soundbar model, but the Streambar still offers a nice upgrade over most built-in TV speakers. Its compact design also makes it an ideal fit for apartments, dorms, and bedrooms.
As a media player, the Streambar provides access to Roku’s extensive library of channels, including popular services like Netflix, Disney Plus, Prime Video, Hulu, and more. You also get support for up to 4K playback with high dynamic range using the standard HDR10 format.
Roku’s handy voice remote is included as well, enabling you to easily search for content. Though digital assistant functionality isn’t built-in, the bar is compatible with separate Alexa and Google Assistant devices.
There are other soundbars on the market with built-in video playback, but the Streambar‘s compact size, affordable price tag, and reliable Roku interface make it our favorite of the bunch.
What you should look for in a soundbar
When choosing a soundbar, there are several key factors you should pay close attention to.
In particular, it’s important to note how many audio playback channels a soundbar supports. Channels essentially refer to audio separation, letting you know how many directions sound can from with your device.
Channel specifications are listed as a string of up to three numbers separated by decimal points. The first number represents how many standard ear-level channels are included (left, right, center, surrounds). The second number indicates if the device includes a dedicated low-frequency channel or separate subwoofer for extra bass. The final number indicates how many height channels are included for Dolby Atmos support.
A few common channel configurations found on soundbars include:
- 2.0-channel: This kind of soundbar includes two channels for basic left and right stereo audio separation.
- 2.1-channel: Like the above but includes a built-in low-frequency channel or a separate subwoofer unit for dedicated bass.
- 3.1-channel: In addition to left, right, and low-frequency channels, a 3.1-channel soundbar also features a center channel for dialogue when watching movies.
- 5.1-channel: Soundbars with more than three channels step things up through the addition of surround sound. These extra channels can be simulated via special acoustic and virtualization techniques, or they can be physically added through separate satellite speakers meant to be placed behind or to the side of your listening position.
- 5.1.2-channel and above: Soundbars that have a third channel designation include support for Dolby Atmos and/or DTS:X audio. This means they feature special virtualization or upfiring speaker drivers designed to simulate the effect of sound coming from above. The final number in the sequence specifies how many overhead channels are included.
Buyers who just want a simple upgrade from their TV’s integrated audio will likely be satisfied with a compact 2.0 or 2.1 soundbar system. If you’re looking for a more complete home theater experience, however, you’ll want to opt for a 3.1 system or above.
Beyond channel support, connectivity is another key factor you should look at when buying a soundbar. Most include standard wired audio ports for connecting to a TV or other media device. The most common connections are Toslink optical and HDMI ARC.
Many soundbars also feature video passthrough capabilities via one or more additional HDMI ports. This allows you to connect a separate media device, like a Blu-ray player, to the soundbar via its HDMI in. The HDMI out connection from your soundbar to your TV then allows the media device’s video to appear on your display.
In addition to wired ports, most soundbars also now support wireless connectivity, including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. These features enable easy music streaming from a mobile device or music service like Spotify, Tidal, or Apple Music.
Some wireless soundbar models also support multi-room audio playback, enabling them to pair with other audio products throughout your home. Popular multi-room connectivity formats include Yamaha MusicCast, Apple AirPlay 2, DTS Play-Fi, Sonos, and more. In order to pair your soundbar with another multi-room audio product, both devices will need to include support for the same multi-room format.
Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant functionality are becoming more common as well, giving select soundbars integrated hands-free voice control and digital assistant support. This is an especially nice feature to have for buyers who don’t already own a smart speaker.
A few soundbar models even include integrated video streaming capabilities. Though a dedicated streaming stick or box will still offer the best performance, a media player soundbar can be a convenient purchase for people who don’t have a smart TV.
Check out our other speaker buying guides