Have you ever spent hundreds of dollars on a flatscreen television only to realise that the sound is pretty flat too? If you have, then you are not alone. Even the most expensive and modern televisions have sub-par speakers built into them that deliver poor audio quality. Because many of us like to enjoy movies or programmes at home with friends, family, or ourselves, this is not good enough anymore.
What if I told you that there was a way to change that, a way to bring cinema-quality sound into your living room or bedroom. Let me introduce you to the soundbar. A soundbar is a compact speaker system that delivers high-quality sound from your television without the need for other speakers or cables. They are usually long and contain many speakers that can boast stereo or surround sound.
Are you intrigued? If so, this article looks to highlight some of the best soundbars on the market at a range of price points because nobody should feel like they cannot afford quality sound in their home.
Do I need a soundbar? Is it worth it?
That depends on you, and ultimately it comes down to whether or not you want to have a better sound experience when watching TV or listening to music. Even soundbars that cost $100 or less offer a much better sound quality than a television can. While there is nothing inherently wrong with television quality sound, there is also not much to celebrate about it either; the soundbar has changed the game in this respect.
Things to consider before buying
The size of your TV in comparison to the bar
Before you buy a soundbar, you should probably know what size your tv is because you want the soundbar to be proportionate. You don’t want the bar to be dwarfed by the television or much bigger than the tv. Similarly, check the height of the bar because while a tall bar may provide great sound, if it takes up some of the screen, it is solving one problem to create another.
There are a lot of aspects to consider here. Firstly, the speakers themselves should be of a high standard or quality. Ideally, the bar will work on Bluetooth and have wireless subwoofers and HDMI inputs that support Blu-ray movies and gaming. The features that you need will be dependant on what you intend to be viewing. If you are looking to make the shows on the TV sound better, then any soundbar will do fine. However, if you want to utilise Sky Cinema or Netflix or 4k streaming and gaming, consider something with a little more power.
This is once again dependant on the features that the soundbar has and what your budget is. Some soundbars (I’m looking at you, Bose) can cost hundreds or thousands, whereas others can cost less than $100. So the best fit for you will ultimately come down to what you need the bar for and what price you are willing to pay.
1. Sonos Beam
I did want to include the Sonos Arc in the list, but for half of the price, you get the Sonos Beam, which in my opinion, is just as good. With Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and Amazon Alexa built-in, you get brilliant sound and complete control over the bar.
With HDMI and Ethernet ports at the back and connectivity through Bluetooth or wi-fi, you need not worry about having connection trouble, and you can even wall-mount the bar if space is at a premium. Connect the bar to other Sonos speakers in your house with the “multi-room” function or leave it standalone; it works either way perfectly.
One of the few things that I love about the Beam is its connectivity with Apple; with Airplay 2, you can connect your apple devices and experience quality sound. The speech enhancement mode that omits from the bars 5 omnidirectional speakers enhances whispers or quieter scenes so that even the hardest to hear dialogues are not missed.
There is also an HDMI cable included which makes setup that little bit easier. Again, look to pay $400-450 for the Beam, but if compared to the Bose 700 below, it is $300 cheaper and is only marginally inferior.
2. Samsung HW-Q90R
Most technology websites cite that the only negative to this speaker is that it costs about $800. That should tell you a lot. Until the Q950T came along, this was Samsung’s flagship soundbar, and it still, in my opinion, is their best.
Supporting Dolby Atmos and DTS:X sound and containing wireless rear speakers and immersive sound settings that optimize the speaker for watching movies, videos, or gaming, the Q90R has you covered. The seventeen built-in speakers are custom engineered to provide incredible 7.1.4ch sound. When combined with the Harman Kardon engineered Dolby Atmos surround sound, it gives you a whole cinematic experience in your own home.
The remote that is included is set to work universally with your TV and your speaker. Still, with Alexa built-in (you will need an Echo Dot to connect), you can enjoy a hands-free visual and audio experience. The SmartThings application allows you to control your speaker and any other Samsung smart device from your mobile, too, another feature that makes the Q90R stand out.
Ultimately, if a small and essential upgrade is what you want, then the Q90R may not be what you need. However, if you want a state-of-the-art audio experience, I would strongly suggest considering what Samsung offers here.
3. Sony HT-SF150
If you are looking to buy a soundbar but are not too fussed about having the top of the range sound quality in your home, then the SF150 by Sony might well be the best option for you. At $120, it is by no means the most expensive soundbar, but it has a premium look and feel, and with it being a Sony product, you know that you are purchasing quality.
With HDMI ARC connections and optical input that supports Dolby Digital sound alongside Bluetooth 4.2, you can get high-quality sound from any device. Not only that, but the Sony S-Force front surround technology enhances the speakers’ acoustics even further to create a full sound. While not surround sound quality, it is a massive scale upwards from regular television speakers for the price.
The speaker does come with a remote and a wall bracket, which only enhances the value, but keep in mind that with a lower price comes a more melancholy sound quality in certain aspects. For example, the bass can be a little too much and muffle certain sounds on the higher end, and some sounds are not as clear as on other speakers.
Still, you are not buying the ridiculously low price tag for the ridiculously low price tag SF150, intending to look for razor-sharp sound. Nevertheless, the SF150 does its job very well and at a great price. The perfect entry soundbar for anyone looking to upgrade.
4. JBL Bar Studio
Fitted with JBL surround sound capabilities and Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity, the JBL Bar Studio is an excellent soundbar for anyone looking to spend a little money on increasing the sound quality in their home. At just 60cm long, it is one of the smaller bars on the list. That does impact the sound quality a little, and some reviews suggest that it is not the best speaker for playing music.
However, music is not where the JBL shines. Its surround sound technology is designed to replicate full 5.1 digital surround sound and does it very well. This is the perfect speaker setup for movies because it gives you a cinema-like feel.
On top of that, its dual bass port design will add an extra oomph to your home sound system and at just 1.6 kg, it is as light as it is small—an ideal choice for those who want a full-bodied upgrade without having to pay crazy prices. The JBL comes in at about $120-150
5. Roku Smart Soundbar
Because they are more traditionally known for their success in the streaming industry, Roku’s attempt at a soundbar may surprise many people. What’s more, the Roku streaming device is built into the remote that controls the speaker, so you can not only enjoy Netflix or Amazon Prime or your favorite tv shows with clear and crisp sound, but you can stream Roku with high-quality sound too.
Furthermore, the speaker is Bluetooth and connects to other Roku speakers, allowing you to build on your collection and enhance your sound experience from a single soundbar to a complete surround-sound system. In addition, the speaker is optimized for HD and 4k viewing and streaming and contains volume levelling for when loud commercials come on and even has a night mode that keeps the volume low when others are sleeping.
It is hard to bet against such value considering the price point of $130-150, its deep base and rich sounds, its Bluetooth compatibility, and its functionality.
6. Bose Soundbar 700
When the tagline for the soundbar upon its release is “designed to be the world’s best soundbar”, you know that it will be good. The Bose 700 soundbar is, in fact, very, very good! Compatible with wi-fi, Bluetooth, and Apple Airplay 2, the 700 does not pull any punches regarding connectivity.
It has a built-in voice assistant, a universal remote and state of the art ADAPTiQ technology that changes the acoustics of the bar to optimize the sound in the room it is in. The voice pickup system is advanced and will hear your voice clearly, even when there is loud music playing. Its distortion-free bass and crystal-clear mid-tones allow for precise and clear sound regardless of volume.
Its “phase bar” technology omits sounds in many directions, meaning that you will feel like sound is coming from other places around the room soundbar does not even occupy. In terms of quality and features that would make other soundbars jealous, the 700 leads the way in the market; however, at $800, it will set you back a pretty penny.