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 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 plenty of other top choices tailored for any listening space and budget.
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. Like the Sonos Beam, it also sports built-in microphones and your choice of Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, 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+ (which use the compressed format) these days, 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. With great performance and tons of features, the Sonos Arc is the best soundbar you can buy.
As soundbars go, Samsung’s Q950A is about as insane as it gets. 22 drivers. 11.1.4-channel audio. Upfiring and side-firing drivers not only in the bar, but also in the wireless surround speakers. And enough Dolby Atmos immersion to make you question the need for discreet speaker systems at all. For a moment, anyway.
As noted in our review, no soundbar can deliver the full dynamics, resonance, and presence of a true multi-speaker home theater system. But the Q950A comes about as close as we’ve heard. Its reams of drivers combine for a thrilling Dolby Atmos (and DTS:X) experience that transforms your room into the “dome” of sound for excellent 3D audio.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for Samsung lately, the system also offers great musicality (Samsung has been acquiring major audio companies for a reason). While we’d still prefer a pair of good bookshelves for music, the Q950A does a number on our favorite tunes, especially when you let the system spin your stereo tracks into a surround sound cloud of instruments and vocals.
The Q950A also packs a great arsenal of features, including HDMI eARC (and dual HDMI inputs), high-resolution audio at up to 24bit/92kHz and support all major surround formats, 4K HDR passthrough, Wi-Fi connection with AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect, a well-loaded app for control, and Amazon Alexa on demand (though it leaves out both Google Assistant and Chromecast). The system is also intuitive to use and offers useful sound modes, including its Adaptive Sound mode to optimize all media content in real-time. That lets you (for the most part) set it and forget it.
So what’s the catch? At $1,800 MSRP, this is a massive investment that falls only a few hundred dollars short of a traditional home theater system (with all the frills). In addition, the visual display is puzzlingly set atop the bar rendering it mostly useless. You can use the app for almost all tuning, but it somehow doesn’t allow for channel control, meaning you’ll have to get up to adjust the levels there.
Luckily the price has dropped a fair bit online, making this bar more reasonable—especially for all you get. If you’re looking for the mother of all Atmos soundbars, and you have the money to invest, this monster is our top pick.
We’ve adored the compact-but-powerful Sonos Beam since it launched, and the Gen 2 upgrade brings even more to love. With this update, Sonos kept everything we liked about the original Beam—a minimalist form factor, powerfully tuned speakers, and versatile features—and added virtualized Dolby Atmos.
Despite lacking the upfiring drivers of the best Dolby Atmos soundbars we test, the Beam Gen 2 is surprisingly adept at creating an immersive soundstage. The sounds of cars screeching around corners or footfalls onto rainy pavement boast a convincing level of aural placement. The clarity that Dolby Atmos brings to just about every sound effect and musical swell is well worth the price of admission here, even if the bar struggles to create the full overhead impact you’ll get from bars with dedicated height speakers.
But the value really comes in the overall package. Like all Sonos products, you’ll get more than just a standalone speaker here: the Beam Gen 2 connects over the Sonos app for access to the full ecosystem, which integrates excellent Wi-Fi connectivity, Sonos Radio, Spotify Connect, AirPlay 2, and more. Tasks like adding additional Sonos speakers for surround sound, or syncing up multi-room audio are a snap. Admittedly, starting with the Beam Gen 2 alone and upgrading with additional Sonos products is an expensive task, but the built-in flexibility is still a big boon—especially if you’ve already got a Sonos One smart speaker or other components.
The Beam Gen 2 isn’t perfect. Like the Arc, it lacks a spare HDMI input, meaning it’ll hog your TV's HDMI ARC or HDMI eARC port and may introduce some format-based headaches on older TVs. But ultimately, the list of pros handily outweigh the cons, and the latest Beam stands out as one of the most fetching soundbar buys in its price range. It was a real triple-play even without Dolby Atmos compatibility: with it, it’s a home run.
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.
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.
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 mostly 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 , 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.
Speaking of eARC, most modern soundbars now offer HDMI eARC connection rather than the more common HDMI ARC port. This stands for "enhanced Audio Return Channel" and 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. As HDMI eARC is becoming more common, it’s important to note it’s most important functions: to allow for high-resolution audio to be passed down from any device plugged into your TV, as well as to quell any sync issues that may arise between the soundbar and TV.
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.
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.