The first generation of soundbars was just that—a bar of sorts that you attached to your TV. You’d mount it on top of your TV, put the TV on its side and then hook it up to your sound system. These days, soundbars are built into the back of the couch and offer a full vertical transition from TV to sound, with the soundbar itself replacing your TV’s speakers. Best Soundbars of 2019
As the TV industry has grown, so has the demand for awesome soundbars. The reason? TV and sound are constantly being upgraded, and soundbars can allow you to have the latest TV experience without spending a fortune on a newer model, and can also help you get all the best features from your TV. In addition to that, the sound capabilities offered by soundbars can be so diverse that there is an option to suit everyone’s needs.
The television is not dead. It’s still one of the most popular devices, especially among young people, who are also the biggest buyers of UHD, 4K and HDR TVs. Unfortunately, the TV market is facing a number of difficulties and the traditional television sets are not yet the best way to enjoy a good movie anymore.
Picture quality improves when TVs shrink down, but built-in audio continues to degrade. That’s why, as we mention in our best TVs guide, pairing your TV — even a brand-new one — with a soundbar makes sense.
You could certainly connect a few different speakers around the room. The all-in-one solution of a soundbar, on the other hand, is the most straightforward method to improve your audio experience. Plus, they can compete with surround-sound systems in terms of output, and you don’t have to pay a huge amount to acquire a good soundbar.
We put 14 soundbars to the test against TV programs, movies, and a ton of audio material over the course of many months. Finally, we discovered two soundbars that stood out from the crowd.
Soundbar of the Year
While the sound quality of the Streambar Pro wasn’t the greatest of the soundbars we tested, you’d have to pay more than twice as much to get something that was more than marginally better.
The upgrade option is
The Sonos Arc, which costs $799, outperforms all other soundbars in terms of pure audio performance, and can even compete with most home theater systems.
The Smart Soundbar has been replaced by Roku’s Streambar Pro.
There’s no question Roku has solidified its place as one of the top streaming device makers around. But another area in which Roku continues to shine is with its audio lineup. In 2020, the Roku Smart Soundbar was our top pick for best soundbar. And in 2021, the Streambar Pro picks up right where the Soundbar left off, once again earning our top nod.
When compared to the Smart Soundbar, the Streambar Pro doesn’t seem to raise the bar (pardon the pun), but that’s by design. Roku is simplifying its product lines and has introduced the Streambar Pro, which is just a slightly improved Smart Soundbar. Consider the Streambar Pro to be a Smart Soundbar 1.5 with a new moniker.
You can also purchase a 2-in-1 soundbar that works with Roku’s streaming platform for the same $179.99. That means you’ll have access to a variety of streaming services (including Disney+, Netflix, HBO Max, and Peacock, among others) as well as Roku’s own Channels portfolio, which includes free programs and movies. For example, we’re watching “Cast Away,” a classic, for free right now as we write this.
So, apart from the name, what has changed? The Streambar Pro now includes an updated Voice Remote as well as a set of wired earphones that may be used with the new remote to listen to your program discreetly and silently while a roommate or loved one sleeps nearby. Two AA batteries for the remote, a power cable, an HDMI cable, and an optical cable are all included in the package. The box has everything you could possible need, with the exception of a television.
Overall, it was very simple to set up. All you have to do now is power up the Streambar Pro and connect it to your TV. If your TV has an HDMI eARC connection, you should connect the Streambar Pro to it. This enables you to use the accompanying Roku remote to manage the volume levels and the power status of your TV.
The Streambar Pro’s plastic construction, which is encased in soft mesh on the front, lacks style. However, we liked this since, unlike some of the other flashier soundbars we tried, the Streambar Pro does not compete for attention. And the tiny size (32 inches long, little under 3 inches tall) is ideal; it’s never overshadowed by TVs that are 60 inches or larger, and it doesn’t overpower smaller TVs.
Four 2.5-inch full-range drivers are tucked under the fabric front cover to blast out the sound, and they’ll definitely grab your attention. Those tiny but powerful speakers deftly handle low, mid, and high tones, bringing life to a TV’s often flat sound. We sat 10 feet away from the TV and Streambar Pro setup while testing. It seemed as though the discussions were taking place right next us, whether we were watching the Olympics or “Ted Lasso.”
The Streambar Pro amplifies reactive noises, such as applauding from the audience or awws from the audience, to bring them to life. It’s also well-balanced, with a strong emphasis on correct spatial positioning. We heard Captain America’s shield move from left to right and Iron Man’s shield fly from right to left while watching “Avengers: Endgame.”
Bass isn’t the Roku Streambar Pro’s strong suit when it comes to what’s missing. It’s present, but it’s not as noticeable as it is on other soundbars we tried. Again, this isn’t so much a criticism of the Roku since the sound was well-balanced and didn’t leave us wishing for more bass. (If you like bassy sound, the Vizio V-Series 5.1 is a good choice, but it loses clarity when used with only the soundbar.) We were able to more clearly distinguish the finer nuances in whatever we were viewing as a consequence of that balanced approach, such as background dialogues in a movie, street noise during a racing scene, or environmental sounds in a nature documentary.
You can use the Roku OS interface (the same setup as on Roku streaming devices) to make adjustments to the sound. Roku has a speech clarity setting that increases vocals in TV shows and movies, which essentially lowers other tones in the mix so that you can hear the important dialogue even when using the soundbar at lower volumes.
The Smart Soundbar now has a Virtual Surround 5.1 capability thanks to Roku OS 10. It’s a Sound Settings option that you’ll need to activate, and we didn’t notice much of a change whether it was turned on or off. There is a small shift in the sound’s direction, but it wasn’t enough to wow us.
But, returning to the speech clarity function for a moment, it has a significant positive effect. The Streambar Pro deliberately boosted both the host’s and guest’s voices while reducing crowd responses when we viewed an episode of “Conan” with vocal enhancement switched on. There’s also a night option that mutes loud noises like explosions or racing engines so that others aren’t disturbed. However, a separate equalization for modifying low, mid, and high tones is absent, which would allow for more sound customisation and is something that many other soundbars provide.
Despite this, the Roku Streambar Pro is a straightforward method to enhance your TV’s sound and functionality. The Roku Streambar Pro is a no-brainer for less than $200 and with performance comparable to many more expensive versions.
While the Sonos Arc is expensive, it is a full solution that outperforms all other soundbars we tested in terms of sound quality — and even most home theater systems.
The Sonos Arc is bigger than the Roku Soundbar, at 45 inches in length. However, given the 11 speakers crammed within, the larger design makes sense. While the Sonos Arc doesn’t have as many speakers as the Vizio Elevate (which has 18), it is unrivaled in terms of audio quality, constantly delivering crisp, detail-filled music that was significantly clearer than the TV’s built-in speakers.
But it was how effectively it positioned sounds around you for a complete 360-degree audio experience that set it apart from all the other soundbars we tried. TruePlay, a function that uses built-in smarts to adapt the audio mix for the area it’s in, is the Arc’s secret sauce. The TruePlay process will be prompted during setup in the Sonos app (available for both Android and iOS), during which the Arc will play a series of pulsating tones while the app instructs you to stand in certain positions away from the speaker — all the while the microphone on your smartphone is listening for the tone and how it sounds, collecting data from around the room where the A is installed. It’s about listening to see how the tone comes through, at what level it’s the clearest, and if there are any echoes to avoid. As a consequence, rather of projecting a wall of sound directly at you, this tailored audio mix enables the angled speakers (pointing left, right, up, and down) to push sound into the nooks and crannies of your area, immersing the room in sound for a genuine surround-sound experience.
Whatever level (and it can reach wall-buckling loud) or how thunderous the bass the Arc can generate, that unique mix’s clarity is never obliterated. While the Roku does a good job with spatial sound, the Arc is unmatched in this department, transporting us back to the theater in a manner that no TV or soundbar could. You can actually feel the sound around you; if a vehicle is speeding across the screen from left to right, it seems like it’s flying right past you.
Reality TV, game shows, serials, news, and documentaries, for example, sound richer and more detailed, enabling you to hear everything to the greatest degree possible. When you watch “Planet Earth,” for example, major tones like the narrative and background track come through clearly while also presenting noises that are usually overlooked, such as distant animal cries or the pitter-patter of them moving. Because the Arc is Dolby Atmos compatible, it will maintain Dolby content’s audio mix faithful to the creator’s purpose rather than reducing it to fit via TVs’ built-in speakers.
The Arc’s intelligence isn’t limited to sound mixing. Because the Arc is part of the Sonos ecosystem, it can be used in conjunction with other connected speakers to create a coordinated audio experience. The Arc also has far-field microphones, making it a very big smart speaker. This is also available on Bose soundbars, although many of the others we tested did not have the smart assistant feature built in. Sonos gives you the option of using Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. If you’re an Apple user, AirPlay 2 is a fantastic option since it allows you to cast content to the Arc directly from your smartphone.
The Sonos Arc is not inexpensive, at $799, and it belongs in the top tier of soundbars. However, for the money, you’re getting a soundbar with audiophile-quality sound.
We chose our testing pool of 14 soundbars after reading editorial evaluations, user reviews, and spec sheets.
From the time the package came, we paid careful attention to each soundbar, observing how well the soundbar and accessories were secured. We kept track of how long it took to set up and how clear the instructions were. In addition, we paid careful attention to the contents of the package. And, if an app was available, we put it through its paces on a variety of devices.
To guarantee compatibility across models, each soundbar was tested with a variety of TV models, including the Hisense ULED, LG CX, Samsung Sero, Sony X800H, Sony X900H, Sony X950H, Sony A8H, TCL 5-Series, TCL 6-Series, TCL 8-Series, Vizio V-Series, Vizio M-Series, Vizio P-Series, and Vizio OLED.
When it came to sound quality, we experimented with a wide range of material, including TV programs, movies, and music from many genres. “Avengers: Endgame”; “The Mandalorian”; “WandaVision”; “Hamilton”; “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”; “Frozen II”; “Wreck-It Ralph”; “Space Force”; “The Bold Type”; “Below Deck”; “90 Day Fiancé”; CNN and CNN International; “The Love Guru”; Austin Powers, James Bond, and Iron Man movies; “Batman We used a histogram to evaluate the sound and measured the volume that the soundbar could generate.
We observed if the soundbar itself was swaying or rattling when it was in operation. We investigated to see what the microphone on the soundbar might be used for. We tried casting technologies like Google Cast and Apple AirPlay 2 in addition to conventional connections like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Finally, we paid careful attention to each soundbar’s warranty and what it covered, as we usually do.
Soundbar Bose 700 ($799; bose.com)
The Bose 700 Soundbar is the company’s top-of-the-line product. The 700 soundbar costs the same as our champion, the Sonos Arc, at $799.95. It boasts one of the most visually pleasing designs of any soundbar we’ve examined, with a mix of glass and metal in black or white.
A center tweeter and four drivers power the audio experience, resulting in a well-balanced sound right out of the box. The bass is powerful, yet it isn’t bouncing or overly accentuated in the mix. Mids, highs, and treble all come through loud and clear. It’s a distortion-free experience that prioritizes clarity and enough space to hear each tone. It sounded fantastic, but it couldn’t match the Sonos Arc’s volume or detail.
Microphones are included, and you may choose between Amazon Alexa and Google Helper as your personal assistant. The Bose Music app for Android or iOS lets you manage the experience, but it’s not as smooth as the Sonos ecosystem. In reality, during our testing, the app made things a little more difficult, with sluggish connectivity and certain functions that didn’t always operate.
Enclave CineHome II ($998.98; amazon.com) is a home theater system by Enclave.
The Enclave CineHome II is a powerful package that functions more like a home theater system than a soundbar. A white glove — yes, a white glove — is included in each package to protect your fingerprints off of each speaker and component. The fact that the CineHome II is entirely wireless is one of our favorite features (well, other than the power cables). The six speakers, on the other hand, may be placed anywhere they fit in your space without having to worry about cables.
They’re all connected to a central control box, and you can modify and fine-tune the system using the Enclave app on your phone. You don’t need to utilize the app since the CineHome II connects to your TV’s eARC HDMI connection, allowing it to adjust its volume using your TV’s volume controls. It’s also one of the first sound systems to be Roku TV Ready, which means you can use Roku’s UI to set up and fine-tune Enclave.
The CineHome II’s overall sound quality is excellent, with a wide soundstage while streaming daily programs like Discovery’s “Gold Rush,” YouTube videos, or Disney+’s “Soul.”
The CineHome II fell short for us due to the general lack of bass and the need of watching programs at high volume to really appreciate the sound quality. It’s a great sound system, no question, but it’s best suited to someone who enjoys watching movies with the volume turned all the way up.
Roku Streambar ($99.99; roku.com; originally $129.99)
The Roku Streambar is a more compact and smaller version of the Roku Soundbar. But don’t be fooled by its size: it’s almost as competent. Perhaps even more significantly, it’s just $129! You get a small soundbar with decent sound quality as well as a full-fledged Roku streaming device for that price. That means you can connect the Streambar to your TV and watch all of your favorite programs across your favorite streaming providers – in 4K, no less — just by connecting it to your TV.
The Streambar is half the size of the Soundbar, and its tiny footprint looks odd under larger TVs (think 65-inch or larger). The Streambar’s front and sides are wrapped in fabric, giving it the same appearance as the Soundbar.
The sound quality of the Streambar was good, but it fell short of its larger brother. The center channel was noticeably deafeningly quiet, allowing the left and right channels to take up the slack and fill the space. While it performed a decent job, you can spend a little more money and have a better sound experience with the Smart Soundbar.
Samsung Q800T (samsung.com; $899.99)
The Q800T is one of Samsung’s most modern soundbar and subwoofer combos. It’s intended to work with the brand’s QLED TVs, as the name implies. The Q800T has a large subwoofer and a soundbar with speakers angled in various directions.
The subwoofer was our favorite part of the Q800T. It not only helped to anchor the mix by taking care of the deep and bass frequencies, but it also enabled us to broaden the sound spectrum. It’s a wireless subwoofer, so it can be set up a little farther away from the bar. The Q800T takes care of the mids and highs, while this subwoofer takes care of the lows. To put it another way, they work well together.
Audio is sent upward and forward via a set of speakers within the soundbar. It enables music to be broadcast both above and immediately in front of you. It will even function in conjunction with the TV’s inbuilt speakers if connected with a Samsung QLED. However, the audio quality wasn’t quite up to pace with the Sonos Arc.
Sonos Beam ($399; sonos.com) is a wireless speaker from Sonos.
The Sonos Beam is a fantastic soundbar that dominated the market when it initially came out. However, the Roku Smart Soundbar, which is much less expensive, is comparable to the Sonos Beam.
They were very close in scoring, with just a few points separating them. The Beam has a little more bass and could be a little louder. However, we do not believe the gadget is worth several hundred dollars more at its current pricing. Many of the same audio settings were available on the Roku Streambear Pro, including dialogue enhancement and the ability to minimize loud sounds. But Sonos did have a leg up on the competition thanks to its adjustable EQ.
The Sony HT-S350 ($278; amazon.com) is a high-definition television.
The Sony HT-S350 combines a soundbar and a wireless subwoofer in a single box. Many audio mixing standards are supported, including Dolby Atmos and DTSX, however smart connection features are limited.
In our tests, the sound quality was quite average. Sony used the subwoofer to combine clarity and additional details with loudness and sharp bass. Sony’s virtualization technology is front and center, with the goal of recreating a surround sound experience using just the bar’s internals. Many of Sony’s soundbars don’t come with satellite speakers; instead, it smartly blends with a front-facing sound experience. In the end, it falls short of the Roku Streambear Pro’s standard.
HT-G700 ($598; amazon.com) by Sony
The Sony HT-G700 is a step up from the HT-S350, focusing mostly on virtualization technologies. It’s a conventional soundbar with a woofer that focuses on a front-facing mix. However, it is much better on this model than on the HT-S350. We felt the sound all around us with only the soundbar and the subwoofer.
Even with this virtualization, it has Dolby Atmos compatibility. The subwoofer is wireless and connects to the soundbar automatically. It also has a single-plug HDMI connection to the TV. The soundbar’s speaker location helps with conversation clarity as well. However, in terms of pricing, it’s a little in the center of the pack.
The Sony HT-Z9F ($898; amazon.com) is a high-definition television.
The Sony HT-Z9F matched the HT-performance G700’s extremely closely. While it didn’t win the top position, it does combine great virtualization technology with the intelligence that is lacking in the less expensive versions. The Sony HT-Z9F is compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
But that’s the main difference compared with the lower models. In terms of sound, we felt Sony was able to provide a mix that felt like a true surround sound setup without the need for additional satellite speakers. Audio was punchy, both from the soundbar and the subwoofer, along with vibrant pops when needed. We especially liked it, as we did with the Sonos Arc, for superhero and epic action movies. The immersion was evident, but the Sonos Arc delivered a better package at the same core price.
The Sony HT-ST5000 ($1,498; amazon.com) is a high-definition television.
Sony’s HT-ST5000 soundbar was the most costly of the soundbars we tested, but it ultimately provided a middle-of-the-road sound quality. In fact, of all the Sony soundbars we examined, we favor the Sony HT-G700. The Sonos Arc outperforms the competition and demonstrates that less is more, both financially and in terms of hardware.
The music, which was generated by a soundbar and a wireless subwoofer, wasn’t as detailed or bright as the Sonos Arc, and it lacked quality and clarity. It had simulated surround sound, much like the other Sony products, but it was muddier and lacked the soundstage that we observed in cheaper versions and other brands.
The Vizio V-Series 5.1 ($249.99; bestbuy.com) is a high-definition television.
The V-Series 5.1, which comes with a soundbar, two satellite speakers, and a subwoofer, is comparable to the Roku Streambear Pro and adds a little more bass at a higher price range.
The soundbar itself has three speakers that serve as the mix’s focal point. It provides you more volume on its own, but speech may be washed out due to other sounds in the mix. A satellite speaker and a small subwoofer are also included in the V-Series 5.1. When it’s all connected, you’ll get a surround sound experience that puts you right in the middle of the action. With Dolby Atmos material, the V-Series interprets the instructions intelligently for a superior mix.
This gadget is a great home theater setup for the money, but we believe Roku’s Smart Soundbar is a superior value all around for the money and simplicity.
Soundbar Vizio M-Series ($196.99; amazon.com)
The M-Series soundbar is even more entry-level than Vizio’s V-Series. It’s a bare-bones soundbar system that delivers a basic sound that’s louder than what’s integrated into your TV but falls short in terms of clarity and bass.
The M-Series seems to be a straightforward soundbar with a slanted front. It’s also very slim for a soundbar, which made us wonder whether there was enough room within for sound to be pushed out from the six speakers. At this price, that’s an amazing amount of speakers in a soundbar, and they work well to boost total loudness. It’s a significant upgrade over TV speakers, although the clarity of voices and bass are only somewhat improved.
Amazon.com: Vizio Elevate ($850.09, originally $999.99)
The Vizio Elevate is equipped with 18 speakers. The soundbar’s left and right ends may swivel up to be upward-firing or remain forward-facing for a broad soundstage. It’s very remarkable, and it offers us a glimpse into the future of home entertainment audio.
But it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. The Elevate soundbar comes with two satellite speakers and a small subwoofer. And you’ll need to set everything up for a really memorable encounter.
It also lacks several important connection points, while supporting HDMI eARC for simple setup. Although Google Cast is supported, Apple AirPlay 2 is not. There are also no microphones on board.
More from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing may be found here:
The newest wave of soundbars is here and it’s pretty impressive. In fact, our reviews of the best soundbars in 2018, as well as the best soundbars of 2019, show that the soundbar industry has really come along in the last couple of years. The biggest thing missing from this latest round of soundbars is wireless, but they’re still very impressive.. Read more about best soundbar 2021 australia and let us know what you think.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which sound bar is the best?
Thats a tough one. There are so many sound bars on the market today, its hard to say which is the best. If youre looking for something that has a lot of features and can be used with multiple devices, then I would recommend the Sony HT-ST5000 5.1 Channel Sound Bar System.
Who makes the best soundbar for the money?
The best soundbar for the money is the Sony HT-CT150. It has a powerful bass, and its easy to set up.
What soundbar has the best bass?
The best soundbar for bass is the Sony HT-ST5000.
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