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Best soundbars 2021: Budget options, Dolby Atmos, Smart home compatible, and more

Best soundbars 2021: Budget options, Dolby Atmos, Smart homes and more.
(Image credit: Samsung)

The best soundbars are the ideal way to boost your TV’s audio output without needing to outfit your living room with a bulky and cumbersome surround sound system. Soundbars slot neatly underneath your TV and offer high quality audio that far outperforms what you’d get from your TVs speakers. If you’re a movie buff or gamer then you’re going to want a soundbar in your life to take your entertainment center to the next level.

OK, so why do you need the best soundbars? Your TV has speakers right? Well the problem is that modern TVs are super thin, which means there isn’t much room or depth for a proper speaker system. Some TVs have clever solutions to this issue, like the weird vibrating screen in the Sony A9G (no, we’re serious), but for most TVs, you’re going to want a soundbar to get the most out of your viewing experience.

There are plenty of options to choose from though, so what should you be looking for in the best soundbars? Well, that depends on your budget and expectations. There are some excellent cheap soundbars out there like the Majority K2 that offer a serious boost in audio quality for under $100. But, if you’re willing to crank that price bracket up a few notches, you can get some truly phenomenal soundbars that will almost convince you you’re sat in the cinema. Prices start as low as $30 and go all the way up to $1500+. A solid bit of advice is to balance the cost of your soundbar against the cost of your TV.

Many modern soundbars have Alexa or Google Home integration and can connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth, so they can also serve the same role as the best smart speakers letting you blast music out of them via Spotify on your phone.  

1. Samsung HW-Q90R: Best overall

Samsung HW-Q90R is the best overall soundbar we tested.

Samsung HW-Q90R: Best overall (Image credit: Samsung)

Samsung HW-Q90R

Best overall soundbar

SPECIFICATIONS

Dimensions: 1226 x 83 x 136mm (W x H x D) | Speaker configuration: 7.1.4 | Power: 512W | Connections: 2 x HDMI inputs, 1 x HDMI output with eARC, optical digital audio input, USB (service only), Bluetooth and WiFi

Reasons to Buy

Fantastic audio quality
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X

Reasons to Avoid

Expensive

The Samsung HW-Q90R tops our list of the best soundbars because it’s audio quality is simply unmatched – yes, it’s pricey, but if you’re looking to bring brilliant audio fidelity to your home cinema setup, this is the soundbar to go for. 

With Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, this soundbar comes with rear and upward-firing speakers, to produce a truly immersive sound, that works just as well for music streaming as it does for movies.  

In terms of connectivity you get two HDMI inputs, one HDMI output with eARC, and optical digital audio input, and USB, as well the options for WiFi and Bluetooth, so you can easily play music from your smartphone or tablet through the soundbar.

Got an Amazon Echo speaker at home? The Q90R works with Alexa, so you can use your voice to control it via your smart speaker – note that this isn’t built-in integration, so you can’t control your smart home devices with the soundbar alone.

The Samsung HW-Q90R is expensive, and it’s worth bearing in mind that cheaper soundbars are out there; however, as it has been out for a few months now, you might find that some retailers are selling it at a reduced price.

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2. Majority K2 Soundbar - Best cheap soundbar

Majority K2 soundbar

(Image credit: Majority)

Majority K2 Soundbar

The king of cheap soundbars

SPECIFICATIONS

Dimensions: 30 x 2.1 x 2.7 inches | Speaker configuration: Stereo | Power: 12V ~ 1A | Connections: Optical, RCA, HDMI

Reasons to Buy

Great sound quality
Cheap
Bluetooth and Alexa capable

Reasons to Avoid

Weak bass

If you’re on the fence about picking up a soundbar, then a budget option like the Majority K2 might be the best choice for you to test the waters. This fantastic soundbars costs just $80, but it packs some serious audio chops that will drastically improve the sound quality of your TV. You get clean, crisp audio and booming explosions and action scenes from this soundbar.

It’s also packed full of the latest smart tech including Alexa functionality and Bluetooth connectivity so you can hook up your smartphone or tablet to play music through it. It also looks great too, with a sleek monocolor aesthetic that comes in either black or white - it’s sure to blend into your home entertainment setup no problem.

The bass is a little weak, especially considering the size of the subwoofer that the K2 comes with, but it’s still going to outperform your TV speakers on that front and it’s basically the only issue with this soundbar. Considering that it costs less than $100, we think this soundbar is an absolute steal.


3. Polk Audio Command Bar: Best value

Polk Audio Command Bar is the best value soundbar we tested

Polk Audio Command Bar (Image credit: Future)

Polk Audio Command Bar

The best value for a great all-rounder.

SPECIFICATIONS

Dimensions: 43 x 14.5 x 14.4 inches (W x H x D) | Speaker configuration: N/A | Power: N/A | Connections: 1 x SPDIDF, 1 x HDMI, 1 x TOSLINK, 1 x micro-USB connection, 1 x HDMI output with Audio Return Channel (ARC), Bluetooth

Reasons to Buy

Built-in voice assistant
Great for dialogue

Reasons to Avoid

Bass could be better
Virtual surround sound is lacking

Don’t want to spend upwards of $1,000? The Polk Audio Command Bar is a great choice, with lots of connectivity options and an easy setup process – all for less than $250. 

This super-smart soundbar comes with Alexa built into it directly, which means you can ask it questions, get it to read you the news, control your smart home gadgets, and much, much more – pretty much anything an Amazon Echo can do.

Furthering its integration into the Amazon ecosystem, the Polk Audio Command Bar is designed to work with the Amazon Fire TV devices, with a dedicated HDMI input for your TV streaming device to slot into. Other inputs include one SPDIDF, one TOSLINK optical input, and a micro-USB port. 

As well as voice control, the Command Bar has one of the best physical remotes we’ve tested, with separate volume, subwoofer, and dialogue controls, so you can fine-tune the sound depending on what you’re listening to. 

Dialogue is particularly good, although serious audiophiles may feel the bass is lacking somewhat – still, at this price, you’ll struggle to find any serious issues with this clever soundbar. 

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4. Sony HT-X8500 Soundbar: Dolby Atmos on a budget

Sony HT-X8500 Soundbar is the best way to get Dolby Atmos on a budget.

Sony HT-X8500 Soundbar (Image credit: Sony)

Sony HT-X8500 Soundbar

Dolby Atmos on a budget.

SPECIFICATIONS

Dimensions: 890 x 64 x 96 mm | Speaker configuration: 2.1 | Power: N/A | Connections: 1 HDMI input, 1 HDMI Out (ARC), analogue audio in/out, Ethernet, optical audio in, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi

Reasons to Buy

Integrated subwoofer
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X

Reasons to Avoid

No upfiring drivers

If you’re an audiophile on a budget, you need to check out the Sony HT-X8500 Soundbar; coming with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X virtual surround sound, as well as an integrated subwoofer to boost that bass, it’s also great value at just under $300. 

The cost is particularly impressive when you consider that Dolby Atmos soundbars are usually double the price – and with a slick build, it looks more expensive than it really is. 

It’s worth bearing in mind that, with no upward drivers, this HT-X8500 only creates an illusion of surround sound, using Sony’s own Vertical Sound Engine technology. If you’re looking for the real deal you might have to spend a little more, but the immersive audio on offer here is very impressive nonetheless.

The inclusion of an integrated subwoofer means that it could easily soundtrack your parties, as well as your movie nights; in terms of connectivity it’s very flexible with one HDMI input, one HDMI output, an analogue audio in/out, Ethernet, an optical audio input, Bluetooth, and WiFi.

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5. Q Acoustics M4 Soundbar: Best for music

Q Acoustics M4 Soundbar is the best soundbar for music lovers.

Q Acoustics M4 Soundbar (Image credit: Q Acoustics)

Q Acoustics M4 Soundbar

The best soundbar for music lovers

SPECIFICATIONS

Dimensions: 1,000 x 90 x 142mm | Speaker configuration: 2.1 | Power: 100W | Connections: 1 x HDMI, 1 x digital optical, 1 x 3.5mm, Bluetooth

Reasons to Buy

Great audio fidelity
Easy to use

Reasons to Avoid

No surround sound
No HDMI input

It’s not the prettiest soundbar we’ve seen, but it may be one of the best-sounding models out there; particularly if you’re going to use your soundbar for music just as often as you will for movies and TV.

The Q Acoustics M4 sounds truly brilliant, with high-level audio fidelity that will allow you to hear details in your music that you haven’t noticed before. Its wide, open soundstage is bolstered by well-balanced bass frequencies that don’t overpower the mid-high notes. 

Movies sound just as good, with clear dialogue and bone-shaking bass rumbles that add more excitement to those blockbuster explosions. 

There’s no surround sound here though; this is a purely stereo setup, so anyone looking for true immersive audio will want to look for Dolby Atmos-enabled models. There’s no HDMI input either, so you’ll need to rely on the soundbar’s optical input to hook it up to your TV. Otherwise, you have Bluetooth connectivity and 3.5mm audio inputs and analogue RCA inputs in case you want to hook it up directly to a

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6. Sonos Beam: Best for smart homes

Sonos Beam is best soundbar for smart homes

Sonos Beam (Image credit: Sonos)

Sonos Beam

The best soundbar for smart homes

SPECIFICATIONS

Dimensions: 68.5 x 651 x 100 mm | Speaker configuration: 3.1 | Power: N/A | Connections: 1 x Digital Optical-In, 1 x HDMI-in

Reasons to Buy

Alexa and Google Assistant built-in
Compact design

Reasons to Avoid

No Dolby Atmos

The Sonos Beam is one of the cutest soundbars we’ve tested, with a compact design that makes it ideal for smaller homes – and smaller TVs. 

Sonos is well known for its audio prowess, and the Beam is no exception; it has a stunningly accurate and detailed soundstage that will fill your living room with ease. In fact, the Sonos app allows you to tune the soundbar to dimensions of your room, so you should find that it sounds great no matter where you place it.

You don’t get a subwoofer included, so bass-heads may want to buy the Sonos Sub to boost those lower frequencies. There’s also no Dolby Atmos for the surround sound experience, but at less than $400, that’s not a huge surprise.

One of the big selling points of the Sonos Beam is the fact that Alexa and Google Assistant come built-in; that means you can control your soundbar hands-free no matter which smart ecosystem you prefer.

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7. Vizio SB3621n-E8M: Best budget

Vizio SB3621n-E8M is the best budget soundbar

Vizio SB3621n-E8M (Image credit: Vizio)

Vizio SB3621n-E8M

The best budget soundbar

SPECIFICATIONS

Dimensions: 36 x 3.2 x 2.2 inches | Speaker configuration: 2.1 | Power: 100W | Connections: 1 x USB, 1 x audio line-in, 1 xdigital audio input (coaxial), 1 x digital audio input (optical), Bluetooth

Reasons to Buy

Very affordable
Clear dialogue

Reasons to Avoid

No HDMI ports
Lackluster virtual surround sound

The Vizio SB3621n-E8M is one of the best soundbars if you're on a strict budget. Coming in at less than $100, it's a great option for anyone who wants to try out the world of soundbars before committing to a more expensive model, without simping on sound quality. 

With a 2.1 configuration you won't get the immersive surround sound that sounbars with more speakers provide, but it comes with a 5.4-inch wireless subwoofer to boost those all-important bass frequencies – that's pretty good value if you ask us. 

It might not fill a huge living room, but if your place is on the smaller side, this soundbar will have no problem with volume. It is missing a couple of the more important connections though, such as HDMI ports and Wi-Fi connectivity. However, it has an auxiliary input, USB port and Bluetooth connectivity – and for the price, this is a small price to pay.

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8. Yamaha YAS-207: Best for small rooms

Yamaha YAS-207 is the best soundbar for small rooms

Yamaha YAS-207 (Image credit: Yamaha)

Yamaha YAS-207

A great soundbar for smaller rooms

SPECIFICATIONS

Dimensions: 930 x 60 x 108 mm | Speaker configuration: 2.1 | Power: 100W | Connections: 1 x HDMI input, 1 x HDMI output, 1 x Digital optical, 1 x Analog Audio, Bluetooth

Reasons to Buy

Compact
Great virtual surround sound

Reasons to Avoid

No Wi-Fi
No voice assistant

If you need to fit your new soundbar into a small space, the Yamaha YAS-207 is a fantastic options. Despite its compact frame, its packing six speakers in the sound bar itself and comes with a 6.25-inch wireless subwoofer.

As well as this, the YAS-207 sports DTS Virtual:X, which provides an immersive sound that's as tall as it is wide. 

When we tested this soundbar, we were impressed by the clarity of the Clear Voice settings, which boosts the dialogue in your films and TV shows – when you combine clear dialogue and immersive surround sound with a price of less than $300, it is hard to justify using your TV’s built-in speakers. 

While it doesn't come with creature comforts like built-in voice assistants or WiFi connectivity, you get most of the connectivity options you need, including HDMI ports, a 3.5mm auxiliary input and Bluetooth.

The HDMI connections support 4K and HDR video pass-through, so the YAS-207 doesn’t degrade the video quality of content you play through your stream box or UHD Blu-ray player if you connect them directly to it. 

There's also Bluetooth for wireless streaming from your smartphone, tablet, or laptop, so you can use it for music, radio, and podcasts, as well as TV. 

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9. Sennheiser Ambeo 3D Soundbar: Best for 3D audio

Sennheiser Ambeo 3D Soundbar is the best soundbar for 3D audio.

Sennheiser Ambeo 3D Soundbar (Image credit: Sennheiser)

8. Sennheiser Ambeo 3D Soundbar

The best soundbar for 3D audio

SPECIFICATIONS

Dimensions: 1265 x 135 x 171 mm | Speaker configuration: 5.1.4 | Power: 500W | Connections: Digital coaxial in, Digital optical in, HDMI 2.1 output (eARC), 3 HDMI 2.0a In, Audio in 3.5 mm jack, Bluetooth

Reasons to Buy

Dolby Atmos
Brilliant audio

Reasons to Avoid

Very expensive
Big and heavy

If money is no object, the Sennheiser Ambeo 3D soundbar is the one to buy. With no less than 13 separate drivers, this powerful soundbar is packed with immersive audio technologies, including Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and Sennheiser's proprietary Ambeo 'virtual 3D' sound system. 

WiFi and Bluetooth means that it can easily double up as a music player, as well as a speaker to boost your home cinema setup – which it will do easily, thanks to its incredible audio fidelity. 

It's worth noting that, despite its $2,500 price tag, the Ambeo 3D Soundbar doesn't support aptX for Bluetooth, and streaming over WiFi is only possible via Google Home. 

Still, if you're primarily interested in sheer audio prowess, and that price doesn't make you balk, this Sennheiser soundbar could be a brilliant investment to boost your TVs inbuilt speakers.

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10. Denon HEOS Bar: Best for connectivity

Denon HEOS Bar is the best soundbar for connectivity.

Denon HEOS Bar (Image credit: Denon)

Denon HEOS Bar

The best soundbar for connectivity

SPECIFICATIONS

Dimensions: 72 x 1100 x 148 mm | Speaker configuration: 3.0 | Power: N/A | Connections: 4 x 4K HDMI Input, 1 x HDMI Output, 1 x Coaxial input, 1 x Optical input, 1 x Ethernet, 3.5mm audio input, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi

Reasons to Buy

Lots of connection options
Great sound

Reasons to Avoid

Some switching delay

If you're all about flexibility, the Denon HEOS bar could be for you. Multiple HDMI ports mean that this soundbar can act as a HDMI switching hub, so you can attach everything from a streaming box to your PS4, all in one go. 

Plus, all of those HDMI inputs are 2.0a, which means you can switch 4K and Dolby Vision sources, setting you up to play just about any format you can think of – including lossless audio.

Nine drivers and a virtual surround sound mode makes for a powerful, immersive soundstage, negating the need for a physical 5.1 speaker setup. You may find a slight delay when you're switching between inputs, but it's not a huge problem – especially when the sound quality is this good. 

The Denon HEOS bar doesn't come cheap, as you probably guessed; you're looking at a $799 price tag for that superb sound quality.

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11. LG SJ8: Best for virtual surround sound

LG SJ8 offers fantastic virtual surround sound.

LG SJ8 (Image credit: LG)

LG SJ8

Fantastic virtual surround sound

SPECIFICATIONS

Dimensions: 1220 x 38 x 105 mm | Speaker configuration: 4.1 | Power: 300W | Connections: 1 x 4K HDMI Input, 1 x 4K HDMI Output, 1 x Optical input, 1 x Ethernet, 1 x USB, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi

Reasons to Buy

Dolby Atmos
Google Chromecast built-in

Reasons to Avoid

Disappointing subwoofer

This 4.1 channel soundbar comes with Dolby Atmos and 4K passthrough, making it a great option if you want to future-proof your home cinema setup. 

Dolby Atmos virtual surround sound means that your films and TV shows should sound super immersive, and if you stream your shows in Ultra HD, those 4K HDMI inputs/outputs will ensure you don't lose any quality. 

The LG SJ8 also comes with Google Chromecast built-in, so you can send video and audio from any supported app at a higher quality than you can with a Bluetooth connection.

Sound quality is generally very good, although the wireless subwoofer could be more powerful; still, it should boost the bass of your shows and songs enough to make an impact.

The LG SJ8 is available to buy for less than $350, so it's a good mid-range model for anyone who wants tons of connectivity options and virtual surround sound without paying a huge price.

HDMI ARC: the best connection option for soundbars 

If your TV was manufactured after 2009, it most likely has an HDMI ARC connection. The ARC portion of that protocol stands for Audio Return Channel, and it allows for two-way communication between the soundbar and TV with a single HDMI cable. Connecting your soundbar to your TV with an HDMI ARC connection lets you control the volume with your TV remote and automatically turns the sound bar on when the TV is on. You can also use the HDMI ARC connection to send sound from your TV to an AV receiver if you have a traditional surround sound setup.

Wireless connectivity

There are two wireless connection options available on soundbars. Some have Bluetooth, others have WiFi and the best have both. We asked Robert Goedken, the general manager of Yamaha’s AV division, what the best way to wirelessly stream high-fidelity content is, and he responded, “WiFi offers greater range, better stability and supports transmission of higher-resolution audio content. Most people already have WiFi in their homes, so it makes sense to use it to stream content to their soundbar.” We prefer sound bars with WiFi connectivity for high-fidelity audio and Bluetooth connectivity for ease of use.

If you want theater-quality audio, a subwoofer is an important component as it will deliver a much deeper bass response. Most of the soundbars we tested come with a wireless subwoofer, with all connecting automatically that makes them easy to set up. In addition, you may want to consider a soundbar that has separate volume controls for the subwoofer if you live in an apartment or house with thin walls. This way, you can turn the bass down to keep your neighbors happy. 

Soundbar vs Soundbase

A sub-section of soundbars are soundbases. They have the same easy setup and connectivity options, but there are a few significant design differences between the two. 

Instead of sitting below and in front of a TV like a soundbar, soundbases sit directly under the TV. For that reason, soundbases have a weight rating that typically ranges between 50-150 pounds. Because soundbases are designed to hold heavy televisions, the enclosure is also very heavy and isn't suited for flimsy furniture.

A soundbase houses larger speakers and more of them. A higher number of speakers doesn’t necessarily equate to better audio performance though, but larger speakers move more air, which makes bass-heavy sound effects more impactful. As we’ve mentioned, most soundbar packages on test come with wireless, external subwoofers, but our favorite soundbases have subwoofers built in, which saves floor space in a small entertainment room. 

Soundbases bridge the gap between soundbars and a more complicated home audio system built around an AV receiver, but there’s not quite the same breadth of choice.

Preset audio modes: What’s the difference? 

All the soundbars we tested have at least a couple options for preset audio modes to maximize the EQ and, in some cases, volume settings for a specific type of content. We talked to John Crisco, Director of Engineering for Sound United, about what those settings are and how to best utilize them.

John told us that the music mode preset is “the most natural audio preset.” Music mode doesn’t significantly boost or cut bass or treble frequencies, which makes it a good setting for most dialogue-based television shows too. This setting is optimized for conventional two-channel stereo – the format for most music recordings. If you use your sound bar mostly for listening to music and watching TV, the music mode is the best audio preset option.

The movie mode preset offers the most dynamic range of all the audio modes. This setting boosts bass response and dialogue volume and has the widest soundstage of all the audio modes. Sound effects don’t get compressed, so explosions and other loud effects are startlingly loud and impactful, just as the sound engineers intended. To take full advantage of movie mode, connect the soundbar to your television through the HDMI ARC port instead of using the optical input (if it’s supported).

Night mode is the newest and most helpful audio mode on our favorite sound bars, like the Polk Audio Command Bar and the Sonos Beam. Night mode is the perfect setting for watching movies and TV while you fall asleep. The dialogue frequencies are boosted, but the dynamic range is reduced. Compression is more evident, so the loudest sounds, like sound effects, are less startling and the quietest sounds, like whispering dialogue, get pushed to the forefront.