By Brendan Hesse
The speakers in televisions today are far better than they were in years past, but for all that’s been done to improve TVaudio systems, they still pale in comparison to even the most basic soundbar you can buy.
Soundbars are the sleekest, least-obtrusive way to get sound that’s as impactful as the premium picture on your TV. The best soundbars offer minimalist style, surround sound support, and the ability to stream audio from your phone with no need to carve out room for a receiver or tower speakers. There are a variety of wireless connection options, especially for Wi-Fi bars, and multiple ways to play all your favorite music, movies, and TV shows. If you’re unsure where to start, try our guide to picking the right soundbar, or keep reading for our top soundbar picks.
Looking for a TV to go along with your newfangled soundbar? Lucky for you, we’ve rounded up the best TVs available.
Why you should buy it:You’ll get impressively powerful Dolby Atmos surround sound in a simple package.
Who’s it for:Those who want the thrill of true Dolby Atmos without remodeling the living room.
How much will it cost: $1,200
Why we picked the Samsung HW-K950:
There are many reasons we like the HW-K950 so well. It offers nothing less than heart-pounding, pupil dilating aural thrills. It’s also extremely easy to setup, requiring simple HDMI connection. But the major reason we picked this bar is for how well it handles virtual Dolby Atmos sound. Experiencing the surround sound of the HW-K950 is nothing short of entrancing. While there are some minor misgivings about the mid range sound, the HK-K950 does both subtlety and bombast equally well. Whispers, wind, and softer effects come across clear, while massive, booming bass-driven effects are downright chest-rattling. It also comes with wireless satellite speakers (though they must be plugged into an outlet for power), for true surround sound immersion. If there’s one thing about the HW-K950 that we aren’t keen on (apart from the high price), it’s the lack of DTS:X decoding. DTS:X just so happens to be the default Blu-Ray sound format. What this means is any DTS:X audio must be digitally faked, diminishing the experience. This isn’t surprising considering Samsung has gone with DTS’ competitor, Dolby, but it’s noteworthy. Regardless, Samsung’s HW-K950 sound bar offers a thrilling Atmos experience that really must be heard to appreciate. If you’ve got to have real Atmos surround sound in a small package and you don’t mind dumping authentic DTS:X the HW-K950 is a killer choice.
The best soundbar for looks and sound
Bose Soundtouch 300
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Why you should buy it:Not only does the Soundtouch 300 sound great, it’s one of the best looking soundbars, too.
Who’s it for: Those who want a high-end soundbar with pleasing aesthetics.
How much will it cost:$700
Why we picked the Bose Soundtouch 300:
The Bose Soundtouch 300 can pump out impressively powerful sound, especially in the low-end range thanks to the included subwoofer, yet keeps dialog clear and intelligible. You’ll also find that the soundstage is wide and immersive, and thanks to Dolby Atmos support, the Soundtouch 300 will get you a state-of-the art surround setup. In the interest of fairness, however, it’s worth pointing outdoesn’t perform too well as a purely music listening solution. Luckily, though, there are other recommendations on this list that can easily fill that gap. That said, for cinematic sound, the Soundtouch 300 is a great choice. If that all sounds like the qualities of a large, beefy device, you’ll be surprised to learn that the Soundtouch 300 is surprisingly svelt. While not a mini soundbar by any means, it nonetheless sports an unobtrusive profile, at about 38.5 inches wide, 2.25 inches tall, and 4.25 inches deep. You shouldn’t have trouble fitting this under a TV. Furthermore, while the overall design is tasteful and simple, the build quality is of note. The soundbar features a smooth and perforated metal grille, black glass top face, with minimal branding decals and recognizable yet simple icons with accompanied LEDs as an on-bar interface.
The best virtual surround soundbar
Why you should buy it:The Yamaha YSP-5600 is a big, powerful virtual soundbar that is well-equipped to give your home theater jaw-dropping 3D sound immersion.
Who’s it for:Those who want top notch virtual surround sound for both DTS and Dolby Atmos, and don’t want to clutter the house with a bunch of speakers and wires.
How much will it cost: $1,600
Why we picked the Yamaha YSP-5600:
A hulking presence that stands over 8 inches tall, the Yamaha Sound Projector 5600 (YSP-5600) isn’t your average soundbar and it isn’t supposed to be. Loaded into this behemoth are 44 beam drivers, including a 12-pack of them pointed right at the ceiling to deliver the sense of height required by Dolby Atmos and DTS:X technologies. The system is flush with inputs including four HDMI ins and an ARC-enabled HDMI out, one Coax and two Optical digital inputs, infrared in/out, RCA analog input, and a subwoofer out. Most importantly, though, Yamaha has loaded some truly brilliant sound performance into its magic box. The beam drivers use your walls to bounce sound at the listening position for strikingly realistic surround sound immersion. If you’re looking for a singular home sound solution without the need for all those extra wires, speakers, and mess, the 5600 is an enticing way to go big for your home theater. If you can get it rigged up right, Yamaha’s YSP-5600 is the simplest way to plunge into the ear-opening world of 3D surround sound.
The best minimalist soundbar
Samsung HW-MS650 Sound+
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Why you should buy it:The Samsung HW-MS650 Sound+ delivers big sound in a bar-only setup — no sub required.
Who’s it for: those who want the simplest possible setup.
How much will itcost:$430
Why we picked the Samsung HW-MS650 Sound +: While soundbars in general are simpler and smaller than a multi-speaker configuration, they generally involve multiple components. Whether that be a dedicated subwoofer or the rarer extra satellite speakers, soundbar setups are rarely justa soundbar, which can be frustrating for those who want the least intrusive package. Luckily, Samsung’s HW-MS650 Sound+ is exactly that — a sleek soundbar that doesn’t need extra components, but still packs auditory oomph to enhance your home theater. That design simplicity also extends to the minimalist remote, which is simple and intuitive to use, and the Smart Sound EQ system, which is one of the few push-button DSP features we think really does enhance the sound performance across formats and genres. There are tradeoffs for the MS650’s simplicity, such as diminished bass performance when compared to models with dedicated subs, and a lack of ability to fine-tune as much as we’d like due to the remote’s sparse controls. However, the HW-MS650 Sound+ is the perfect bar for those who want great sound from a simple setup, and no futzing about with remotes or peripherals.
The best soundbar for music
Why you should buy it:ThePioneer SP-SB23W is quick to setup, and provides a warm, organic, and detailed sound signature.
Who’s it for:Those looking for gorgeous sound for music and movies, without breaking the bank.
How much will itcost:$400
Why we picked the Pioneer SP-SB23W:
One of the best products ofPioneer’scollaboration with its former Chief Design Engineer Andrew Jones isthis potent and musical soundbar. The SP-SB23W is a fantasticsound err, “speaker” bar, founded on a six pack of individually amplified drivers and a very capable wireless subwoofer. The stubby, yethigh-ridingbar rests in a handsome MDFcabinet lined with wood grain ripples, complementing the cubed subwoofer with a smart design.The cabinet helps thesystem integrate beautifullywith a host of content,producing a smooth and natural sound signature built on creamy mids, musical bass, and richly-drawn dialog. The systemsets up in minutes, including analog, digitaloptical, and Bluetooth connection. This baby is getting up there in years, and doesn’t have fancy new features like the latest high-performance Bluetooth codecs, Wi-Fi connection, ARC, or other more modern features we expect from the latest soundbars. If you’re not mounting it, the tall design might get in the way of your TV’s IR sensor, too. So why is the SP-SB23W still occupying an honored slot on our list? The same reason it’s still being stocked on shelves four years after its debut: It really does sound that good.
The best budget soundbar
Why you should buy it:The Vizio SB3621 provides good sound at a crazy-low price.
Who’s it for:The budget home theater buyer looking for solid performance and minimalist design.
How much will it cost: $150-180
Why we picked the Vizio SB3621:
Vizio’s SB3621 soundbar boasts performance and features that rival other models that cost two or three times as much. It can decode basic DTS and Dolby formats, and offers easy connection for your components via Bluetooth, 3.5mm Aux in, USB, coaxial, and optical digital inputs. There is also a wireless subwoofer included — something you often don’t get with a soundbar under the $200 price point. Not everything is gravy here, of course,namely Vizio’s convoluted display on the side, which consists of a row of lights that change to indicate … well, something, but it can be difficult to discern what exactly. At just $150, though, that’s not an issue that should detract from the overall experience. Most importantly, you simply won’t find a better performing soundbar at this price point, period.
The best mini soundbar
Polk Magnifi Mini
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Why you should buy it: Small, sleek, and simple, this Mighty Mousesoundbar harbors a powerhouse of great sound within.
Who’s it for:Those who need something small and demure, or newcomers to the soundbar market who don’t want to spend a mint.
How much will it cost:$300
Why we picked the Polk Magnifi Mini:
No, really, this little guy is a soundbar. Despite its tinyframe and minimalist design, the Polk Magnifi Mini is a fully capable soundbar that won’t crowd your TV stand or your living room. Due to the size and angle of its six drivers, the Magnifi Mini produces a much bigger soundstage than its appearance would imply.We’re big fans of the included sub on this unit, too. Despite its lightweight design, it handles bass-heavy moments with power and musicality. All thisisn’t to say that this bar is a viablealternative to a fully capable 5.1 surround system — in fact, despite Polk claiming the Magnifi can deliver 5.1 surround, theexperience is much closer to a 3.1 setup. In addition, the midrange isn’t quite as clear or present as we’d likein quieter moments. However, don’t let these caveats turn you off to the Magnifi Mini — it’s an impressive piece of tiny tech that barely hits your wallet.
The best value soundbar
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Why you should buy it:The feature-laden YAS-207 offers excellent sound quality, Dolby and DTS decoding for an unreasonably low price.
Who’s it for: Those who seek the best sound and the most diverse feature set while saving some dough.
How much will it cost:$299
Why we picked the Yamaha YAS-207:
Yamaha’s YAS-207 is the total package, offering unmatched value in a soundbar. At less than $300, it’s the perfect complement to a reasonably-priced 4K television, featuring two dedicated virtual surround modes which emulate a taller, wider surround sound image, and plenty of other useful features. The bar itself measures nearly 37 inches across, and the included wireless subwoofer is about the size of a gasoline canister at about 17 inches tall and 16 inches deep. When it comes to actual sound quality, the YAS-207 is extremely impressive for the money, boasting clear treble and deep, growling bass with warm mids to boot. Throw on an action movie and the sound effects will fill your living room, or utilize the Clear Voice mode for slower, more dialogue-heavy affairs — it doesn’t matter, because this soundbar will perform excellently no matter what you throw its way.
The best no-fuss soundbar
Why you should buy it: The Sonos Playbar features and performance grow through firmware updates.
Who’s it for:Users who want simple setup, multiroom functionality, and great sound.
How much will it cost:$700
Why we picked the Sonos Playbar:
The Sonos Playbar might be a few years old, but it’s still one of the most well-rounded soundbars we’ve come across. It has an expansive sound field with big, loud sound output and minimal distortion. The bar also sets up easily, and includes several wireless features, including Wi-Fi setup, wireless music streaming from apps on smart devices, and can be controlled via a smartphone app instead of relying on a dedicated remote. The bar will also auto-update its firmware over Wi-Fi, which will keep it up to date and enable updated features and functionality. There is one major setback to the Playbar’s design, and that’s its inputs — or lack thereof. There is just a single digital input on the Playbar and no analog inputs, which limits its functionality. While this is unfortunate, since the Playbar sounds so good, if you’re comfortable with the single input, you’ll find a lot to love here. Plus, there is the silver lining that a single input reduces the installation time and number of cables needed, thereby streamlining your setup.
The best flexible soundbar
Why you should buy it: The LG SH7B offers flexible control and setup options.
Who’s it for:Users who want finite control over their settings, Wi-Fi connection, and good sound at a nice price.
How much will it cost:$300-$500
Why we picked the LG SH7B:
Most soundbars are great for cinematic sound, but only a select few are great for music, too. The LG SH7B is one of them. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg here. The LG SH7B supports a myriad of connection types including HDMI, digital optical, 3.5mm, and Bluetooth, so you can get great sound from your media off just about any device you may own. The included Ethernet and Wi-Fi connections also enable connection to your home network for music streaming, and for easy linking with other LG wireless speakers to create a multiroom sound setup using LG’s MusicFlow systemusing the MusicFlow app. Another welcome feature is the ability to manipulate the subwoofer, treble, and bass levels with the included remote for easy EQ fine-tuning.
How we test
After giving a soundbar a thorough break-in period, we put it through a rigorous testing process that includes playing all relevant sources of content, including the latest Blu-rays with the highest resolution codecs from the likes of Dolby and DTS, as well as audio straight from aTV via HDMI and/or Optical Toslink output, including streaming services, broadcast TV, and audio apps. When relevant, we test wireless connections for stability and audio quality. We also place a high degree of importance on the musicality of any speaker, so plenty of music is played to gauge its finer performance aspects. Finally, we compareeach soundbar withothers at, above, and below itsprice/features class, and with similarly priced alternative sound solutions.
Update: Expanded list to a full 10 soundbars.
Published at Fri, 11 May 2018 23:05:00 +0000