Nothing pairs with a great TV like an equally awesome sound system, but not everyone has time to set up a full home theater. If you’re looking for an improvement over your TV’s speaker and don’t want to deal with the hassle of wires and components, a soundbar may be your savior. Not only are they great for dialogue clarity, they can also vastly improve cinematic sound, bringing everything you watch (or play) to life. The best of them offer powerful punch, dazzling features like Dolby Atmos, and wireless music streaming in a simplified package.
We’ve spent hundreds of hours over the years evaluating soundbars, and right now the Sonos Arc (available at Best Buy for $899.99) is our favorite thanks to stellar performance, versatile features (including Dolby Atmos), simple operation, and slick design. If the Arc doesn't strike your fancy, though, we’ve corralled the very best options we've tested in one place to match any listening space and budget.
Connections: HDMI eARC/ARC, digital optical (adapter), Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2
Sonos’ first-ever Dolby Atmos soundbar, the Sonos Arc, is more than just a pretty (and tubular) face. This powerful hunk of well-fashioned plastic is the embodiment of the soundbar ethos, offering a ton of cinematic juice in a simple, singular device.
The Arc is loaded with 11 individually powered drivers, including dual speakers pointed upward to bounce sound off your ceiling, creating an impressively potent example of the hemispheric immersion for which Dolby’s Atmos sound format is so highly praised. Dolby Atmos isn’t the only trick up the Arc’s sleeve. Its well-tuned drivers offer a rich and smooth sound signature that’s fantastic for anything you play, from sitcoms to streaming music. And it also comes with a host of other features that make it among the most versatile soundbars on the market.
Like all Sonos speakers, the Arc offers Wi-Fi connection, along with the ability to connect with other Sonos speakers, either in a group, or as part of a surround sound setup via the Sonos S2 app. You can add dual surround speakers and a Sonos subwoofer if you want, though the Arc offers impressive bass response even without one. It also sports built-in microphones and your choice of Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa virtual assistants, making it both a soundbar and a powerful smart speaker.
The drawback of all these features is, of course, the price, which puts the bar beyond the average budget. In addition, while the bar includes an HDMI eARC port for seamless connection to your TV it doesn’t offer a secondary HDMI input for outboard devices like streamers and game consoles. This could limit its usability for older TVs (those without HDMI ARC) and it won't be the best choice for those who play a lot of physical media.
Since most folks get their Dolby Atmos from streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ these days (which use the compressed format), those issues may not matter much. Moreover, this bar sounds fantastic with just about any content, and its many features and loaded app make it an intuitive and versatile way to step into Dolby Atmos sound. See our full Sonos Arc review for more info.
Dimensions (HxWxD, inches): 2.7 x 48.5 x 5.4 (soundbar), 16.3 x 8.7 x 16.1 (subwoofer), 7.9 x 5.1 x 5.5 (surrounds)
Speaker configuration: 22 speakers total; 15 in the bar, three in each surround speaker, one 8-inch subwoofer cone
Connections: HDMI eARC/ARC, HDMI in (x2), digital optical in, Wi-Fi, Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2, Bluetooth
Like its predecessor, the HW-Q950A, Samsung’s HW-Q990B is a fully decked-out Atmos solution, offering 22 drivers, multiple components, and 11.1.4-channel audio for incredibly immersive sound. The system slots upfiring and side-firing drivers not only in the bar, but also in the wireless surround speakers for room-filling Dolby Atmos (and DTS:X) expansion.
The latest flagship bar from Samsung continues the tradition of its older sibling, offering a one-stop solution that is easier to use and set up than a traditional surround system, and comes about as close as we’ve heard when it comes to surround sound performance. The system also offers impressive musicality for such a thin device. While we’d still take a pair of good bookshelves for music over any soundbar, the Q990B does a great job as a centerpiece for your favorite tunes.
As you’d expect for the price, it also packs great features, including HDMI eARC and dual HDMI inputs with 4K HDR passthrough for your Atmos-ready devices. It supports high-resolution audio at up to 24bit/92kHz and all major surround formats, AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect, and built-in Amazon Alexa. There are also a few Samsung-only features, like wireless Dolby Atmos support, but that only works if you’ve got one of a few newer Samsung TVs (2021/2022).
We did note a few quirks with Samsung’s SmartThings app. While it’s easy to use and offers impressive control over settings like channel levels and a 7-band EQ, it sometimes takes a while to connect to Wi-Fi, and Spotify Connect is a little clunky. The Q990B also leaves out HDMI 2.1 features, meaning it won’t support next-gen gaming at 120Hz (not a huge deal for most). As noted, it’s a very pricey device, though its cost comes in lower per component than options like Sony’s HT-A7000, which charges a high markup to add a subwoofer and surrounds.
If you’re looking for the mother of all Atmos soundbars, and you have the money to invest, Samsung's latest monster flagship is the pick of the litter. See our full Samsung HW-Q990B review for more info.
Speaker configuration: Five speakers; two side-firing, one center, two upfiring
Connections: HDMI eARC/ARC, digital optical in, subwoofer out, Wi-Fi, Apple AirPlay 2, Chromcast, Bluetooth v4.2
Don’t be fooled by the size of the Bose Smart Soundbar 600. This bar packs a punch, with plenty of oomph to fill a moderate-sized space and room to spare. It also has upfiring speakers for Atmos, a distinct advantage over our previous favorite—the Sonos Beam Gen 2.
The 600 has a wider and higher soundstage than the Beam, lending it a more immersive experience as helicopters and debris from explosions encircle the TV with accurate placement. Dialogue is clear at all times. Even with more difficult movie mixes where vocals can sound buried beneath the action, the words ride along top so you never miss the story.
The excellent Bose Music app makes setup fast and easy—even with the app download it takes less than 15 minutes. With the app you can incorporate Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant (the bar includes a built-in Alexa speaker), or even wirelessly pair headphones for late-night viewing without disturbing housemates or neighbors. In addition to the HDMI eARC for a wired connection, the Bose supports Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay 2, Chromecast, and Wi-Fi with music streaming apps available in the app.
While it has respectable low-end, the Soundbar 600 could benefit from the rumble of an additional subwoofer. It’s also missing any room correction software to fine-tune it to your space, or an HDMI input for sources other than a TV. Still, at just under $500, Bose has created the best Dolby Atmos experience we’ve heard for the price. There isn’t a better standalone soundbar choice out there. See our full Bose Smart Soundbar 600 review for more info.
Dimensions (HxWxD, inches): 2.9 x 39.9 x 3.4 (soundbar), 11.9 x 16.1 x 16.1 (subwoofer)
Speaker configuration: Two 3-inch midrange woofers, two 1-inch tweeters, one 8-inch ported sub
Connections: HDMI ARC, digital optical in, 3.5mm analog in, subwoofer out, Bluetooth
Klipsch’s Cinema 400 has accomplished the deceptively tough task of doing a lot with a little. Dressed in a unique design representing a generous nod to Klipsch’s popular home theater speakers, this 2.1-channel system delivers impressive sound for the admittedly limited number of drivers that it’s equipped with. That's why it's our favorite soundbar under $300.
It’s quality, not quantity with Klipsch’s construction and approach to this bar’s sound. A pair of 3-inch midrange woofers flanked by 1-inch horn tweeters work together to create wonderfully detailed sound that avoids the harsh higher frequencies that some bars introduce. The 8-inch ported subwoofer is the real star of the show, producing resonating low frequencies to outdo most other soundbar subwoofers in this class.
With a modest price, concessions had to be made somewhere along the way. For the Cinema 400, it’s in the features department. The bar does not have Wi-Fi or voice assistant support to speak of, nor does it have support for sought-after audio formats like Dolby Atmos or an expansive equalizer to tune its sound to your personal taste (though that’s not surprising at this price). Additionally, as pleasant as the overall sound of the Cinema 400 is, the lack of a dedicated center channel driver is noticeable when watching TV and movies with heavy effects that may mask dialogue a bit.
That being said, if a lack of features seems like a fair tradeoff for remarkable stereo audio quality, the Klipsch Cinema 400 makes for a very compelling option. It really is a suitable bar for anyone who wants great sound, but doesn’t need extras like Wi-Fi and virtual assistants. Of course, if you would prefer those kinds of features and don't want to lose out on sound quality, you can spend a little more money on the excellent Yamaha YAS-209.
The Cinema 400 sidesteps those perks, however, delivering an old-school rendition of a new-age product. In other words, it looks classic and sounds stellar, making it our favorite option at $300 or less. See our full Klipsch Cinema 400 review for more info.
Dimensions (HxWxD, inches): 2.28 x 36 x 3.2 (soundbar)
Speaker configuration: Two drivers in the soundbar, one 5-inch woofer in the sub
Connections: HDMI ARC, digital optical in, 3.5mm analog in, USB in, Wi-Fi, Spotify Connect, Chromecast, Bluetooth 5.0
Vizio's V-series 2.1-channel soundbar is a great choice if you want full-bodied sound and modern features without shelling out a ton of money.
While a lot of entry-level soundbars don't offer up satisfying bass performance, we were very impressed with how deep and robust the V21-H8's wireless subwoofer is, delivering a balanced, blended soundscape that really ups the audio ante where movies, music, and video games are concerned. That's why it's our favorite soundbar under $200.
This Vizio combo also checks off a lot of the right boxes for features. You're getting Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and HDMI ARC compatibility, making it easy to stream music from your phone and control the soundbar with your TV remote. Like most combo bars, the wireless sub and soundbar pair quickly and automatically, making it easy to just plug everything in and instantly upgrade your home theater situation. Adjusting volume and jumping between sound modes is easy, too: in fact, the simplicity of this product is one of its primary strengths.
Premium, future-facing features like Dolby Atmos, HDMI eARC, or microphones for built-in voice assistant control are not a part of this package, but that's reflected in the easily digestible price point. If you just need a quick and effective audio upgrade, this entry-level Vizio combo is one of the most value-packed options around. See our full Vizio V-series 2.1-channel soundbar review for more info.
Reviewed staff have spent years evaluating soundbars—everything from simple 2.1-channel value models to the huskiest Dolby Atmos 'bars—in order to narrow down the picks and find the best soundbars for every buyer. Our soundbar testing is spearheaded by Reviewed's experienced team of home theater and tech experts, and backed up by a rigorous rubric of testing data to ensure accuracy.
For years now, Reviewed has listened to, loved, and argued over standalone soundbars, soundbar/sub combos, and a few home-theater-in-a-box products to find the best soundbars you can buy.
Testing involves using them as any consumer would, using each bar as an audio substitute for a TV (via either HDMI ARC or optical connection), testing its streaming and Bluetooth functions, and analyzing its sound modes, voice-boosting modes, and individual proprietary features. We also conduct back-to-back analyses of sources like Netflix/Blu-ray movies and streaming services, surround sound and Dolby Atmos demo discs, Spotify over Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi, and occasionally, 3.5mm aux sources and USB audio. And since many of us have professional audio setups, we compare the bars to top-notch audio systems as well.
While the best soundbars all have different combinations of drivers, tweeters, woofers, and external subwoofers, generally, audio quality is paramount to our top choices across genres and sources. Apart from performance features like surround sound speakers and Dolby Atmos/DTS:X speakers, what often tends to set soundbars from major brands apart in like price ranges are usability pain points, design aesthetics, and overall responsiveness—where the day-to-day rubber meets the road, so to speak. We test all of that too, over several days, to make sure the bars we pick will function properly.
What You Should Know About Soundbars
In short, the point of a soundbar is to either replace a home theater speaker system with a less obtrusive device or, more often, to replace your TV's terrible built-in speakers with something that actually sounds good. Because speaker (or driver) clarity depends so much on the vibration of moving parts within a confined space, modern super-thin LED and OLED TVs generally don't have very good sound. You might think your TV sounds fine, but when you hear your favorite movies, TV shows, or music through a good soundbar, your opinion will change.
Soundbars aren't your only option for improving your living room/home theater audio, but they're by far the most affordable and convenient. If you live in an apartment or smaller space, or simply don't want to shell out the considerable funds it requires to install a surround system or mounted speakers in your home, a soundbar is a way to greatly improve your TV audio experience.
HDMI ARC And HDMI eARC Connection Explained
HDMI ARC or HDMI eARC are the preferred soundbar connection options, not only because these connections allow for newer TVs (around 2017 and later) to pass advanced audio formats like Dolby Atmos, but also because they usually allow you to control the soundbar's power and volume with your TV remote—without the need to program said remote. (To do this, you may need to turn on HDMI CEC in your TV's settings.)
The optical audio connection that also comes standard on virtually all soundbars can carry 2.1-and 5.1-channel surround sound, but that's where it tops out. If you have a more advanced soundbar with Dolby Atmos (which usually includes upfiring speakers), you'll have to use HDMI ARC or eARC to pass Dolby Atmos content from your TV.
Most modern soundbars now offer HDMI eARC (enhanced Audio Return Channel) connection rather than the more common HDMI ARC port. It is designed to provide high-quality, uncompressed audio from your TV (including top-quality Dolby Atmos) as well as address any sync issues between on-screen video and the soundbar's audio.
What To Look For In A Soundbar
The major things to look for when shopping for a soundbar are price, audio output, and connectivity, the latter two usually being directly related to the first. If you're on a tight budget, you likely aren't going to get extras like Dolby Atmos, satellite surround speakers, or a huge range of decoding/pass-thru options for advanced or lossless audio modes. However, you can expect to get multiple speaker drivers comprising at least a stereo (left/right) setup, and usually an external subwoofer.
Tweeters refer to smaller speakers (drivers) assigned to the high-mid and high (treble) frequencies of the audio spectrum. Woofers and subwoofers refer to speakers (drivers) assigned to the midrange and bass/sub-bass frequencies of the audio spectrum respectively.
More often, when you spend a few hundred dollars are more, you'll also find options like the ability to connect with other speakers in your home for a multi-room audio setup. Sonos, Bose, and other brands offer such features, but they're almost always proprietary in connection—meaning you'll need to stick with the brand of your bar to connect to other speakers. Also more common in recent years are standalone bars, which don't come with wireless surround speakers or a subwoofer, but offer the ability to add those components later for a fee—again, almost always confined to like-branded models.
What About a Subwoofer?
Soundbars that offer what is known as a 2.1-channel configuration or higher usually include a separate subwoofer to handle lower frequencies (which makes up the ".1" of the equation). Others may simply have a dedicated subwoofer “channel” with larger speakers built into the bar itself to handle low frequencies. The latter is, in almost all cases, not as effective as a separate subwoofer. But a soundbar without a subwoofer or one that has built-in woofers, rather than a separate cabinet, may even be preferred in smaller spaces and apartments.
That said, if you're looking for powerful cinematic rumble—whether for movies, TV, or video games—you'll want to seriously consider a soundbar that includes a separate subwoofer. This will greatly enhance action scenes and other dramatic moments, while also helping thinner bars fill in some of the gaps in the frequency spectrum created by their smaller drivers. There are a few cases where low-frequency sound is well-handled without a subwoofer, such as in Sonos' Arc soundbar or Sony’s HT-A7000, but for the most part, a subwoofer is preferred for cinematic punch down low.
Dolby Atmos/DTS:X and Surround Sound
Some soundbars also offer separate surround sound speakers that can be set behind you in a multi-channel configuration. When fed content mixed in surround sound, these soundbars better immerse you in your favorite format-supported shows and movies, especially when the different channels are balanced properly. In some cases, satellite surround speakers can be added on later.
Soundbars with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support take things even further, usually adding upfiring speakers (either 2 or 4), which can bounce sound off the ceiling so that it appears to be coming from above, immersing you in a hemispheric globe of sound. While only effective with Dolby Atmos and/or DTS:X-supported content, these soundbars offer the most immersive experience available, bringing you closer to what you'll experience in a high-quality theater. Some soundbars are only Dolby Atmos or DTS:X compatible, with the sound being virtualized with digital signal processing or even wave-guide technology to varying degrees of efficacy.
Either way, you will pay a premium for this technology, and you may also have more speakers to spread around your TV room, so these concessions must be considered before making your choice.
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
John is the A/V Editor for Reviewed. He is an ISF Level III-certified calibrator with bylines at ProjectorCentral, Wirecutter, IGN, Home Theater Review, T3, Sound & Vision, and Home Theater Magazine. When away from the Reviewed office, he is a sound editor for film and musician, and loves to play games with his son.
Hailing originally from Montana, Ryan parlayed his time working as a musician and audio engineer into a career in digital media in 2012. Since then he's had extensive experience as a writer and editor, including everything from op-eds and features to reviews on TVs, audio gear, smart home devices, and more.
Nick Woodard is a tech journalist specializing in all things related to home theater and A/V. His background includes a solid foundation as a sports writer for multiple daily newspapers, and he enjoys hiking and mountain biking in his spare time.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.