• Vizio V21-H8

  • How We Tested

  • What You Should Know About Soundbars

  • Other Soundbars We Tested

  • More Articles You Might Enjoy

Vizio-VSeries-1
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

This Vizio 2.1-channel soundbar/sub combo offers excellent sound for its price.

Best Overall
Vizio V21-H8

Vizio's 2.1-channel soundbar is an awesome choice if you want full-bodied sound and modern features without spending up. While a lot of entry-level soundbars don't provide satisfying bass, 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 for music, movies, and video games alike.

This Vizio 2.1 also offers plenty of features for the money. You'll get Bluetooth, WiFi, and HDMI (ARC) compatibility, making it easy to stream music from your phone and control the soundbar with your TV remote. It's easy to setup, letting you simply plug everything in and instantly upgrade your home theater situation. Adjusting volume and jumping between sound modes is easy, with the accompanying remote, and Vizio's new, all-black style looks sleeker than ever.

Premium, future-facing features like Dolby Atmos, eARC, or microphones for built-in voice assistant aren't included here, but that's reflected in the low-impact 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. And while it's identical in terms of features to a couple of other soundbar/sub combos on the list, it stands out where pure audio fidelity is concerned, making it an easy pick for the best in this price range right now.

Pros

  • Solid bass presence

  • Classic design

Cons

  • Not very forward compatible

How We Tested

How-We-Tested
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

The ideal soundbar blends right in with your TV; it's the unsung hero of movie night.

The Testers

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. We've got a long history studying headphone audio objectively via our in-house Head-and-Torso Simulator, and no shortage of movie- and music-lovers on staff hungering for the best living room audio experience. Our soundbar testing is spearheaded by Reviewed's experienced team of home theater and tech experts, and backed up by science.

The Tests

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.

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While the best soundbars all had different combinations of drivers, tweeters, woofers, and external subwoofers, generally, audio quality was respectable in most cases 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.

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 simply, to replace your TV's 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 an impermanent 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 make it work properly.

Speaking of eARC, some soundbars (often pricier ones) may have an 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. While eARC is becoming more common, there are really only two things you need to know when it comes to soundbar connection. First, eARC's "enhanced" features only work if both your sound system and TV support eARC. Second, in all other respects, HDMI eARC should work just like HDMI ARC.

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.

What About a Subwoofer?

Many soundbars offer what is known as a 2.1-channel configuration, meaning the sound is directed through left and right stereo channels with the addition of a separate subwoofer to handle lower frequencies (which makes up the ".1" of the equation). A 2.0-channel soundbar works fine for most content, and a soundbar without a subwoofer or one that has built-in woofers, rather than a separate cabinet, may even be preferred in smaller apartments.

That said, if you're looking for cinematic rumble—whether for movies, TV, or video games—you'll want to seriously consider a soundbar that includes a separate subwoofer. It cannot be underestimated how much this will enhance action scenes and other dramatic moments, while also helping thinner bars fill in some of the gaps their smaller drivers create in the frequency spectrum. There are only a few cases where low-frequency sound is well-handled without a subwoofer, such as in Sonos' Arc soundbar.

Surround Sound and Dolby Atmos/DTS:X

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 shows and movies, especially when the different channels are balanced properly. In some cases, satellite surround speakers can even be added on later.

Dolby Atmos- and DTS:X-enabled soundbars 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 even closer to what you'll experience in a high-quality theater. In addition, 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.


Other Soundbars We Tested

Polk Audio Signa S2

The Polk Audio Signa S2 presents a great value. This is a well-tuned soundbar and external subwoofer with handsome, glossy finishes and sturdy construction. The Signa doesn't look overly fancy, but it doesn't look cheap either, which is about all you can ask for at the base price.

As for features and functionality, the Signa S2 does just what most people need. You'll get Bluetooth streaming, naturally; different modes for movie, music, or night audio (the latter smooths over higher frequencies and reduces bass); alternate volume rockers for the soundbar and subwoofer; and three different "Clear Voice" settings for use with TV and movies.

While you won't get newer features like WiFi or virtual surround sound, at its low price, the combination of bar and subwoofer bring satisfying bass presence, smart audio modes, and solid performance all around, making the S2 a standout option even as it gets long in the tooth.

Pros

  • Great bass presence

  • Flexible feature set

  • Durable materials

Cons

  • Overall audio could be better

Yamaha YAS-109

The Yamaha YAS-109 stands as one of the most practical options in this price range, especially if you want to save space but not sacrifice speakers. This 2.1-channel soundbar delivers good entry-level sound, an understated design, and a decent feature list, including Bluetooth, WiFi, and Amazon Alexa compatibility. It's very (very) similar to the Yamaha SR-B20A below, but you're getting quite a few more features.

As sound quality goes, the YAS-109 is almost always a good decision, especially if you're not looking to spend too much. In its default "Movie" mode, the YAS-109 provided respectable, complementary audio for a wide range of sources during testing: movies, music, and video games all sounded great. You might miss out on the rumbling power of a subwoofer if you're used to having one, but if you're just upgrading from TV speakers, this will make a world of difference.

Because of its extra features, it often runs just a bit pricier than Yamaha's newer SR-B20A, but despite being a bit older the audio quality is no less salient. If you're looking to secure better movie night audio and you think you'd get a lot out of features like WiFi connectivity or Alexa integration, this is one of the best around.

Pros

  • Understated design

  • Good entry-level sound

  • Feature friendly

Cons

  • Lacks truly impressive power

  • Undifferentiated sound modes

Yamaha SR-B20A

Yamaha's SR-B20A all-in-one soundbar/subwoofer offers good sound and a compact design that seriously saves on space. The flat, handsomely dressed bar houses a two-channel speaker setup along with built in "subwoofer" capable of filling your living room with balanced, dialogue-friendly sound. And there are enough sound modes and smart extra features to help justify the price tag.

Starting around the same price as our current top pick, you're losing out on an external subwoofer and WiFi functionality here, which could make it the wrong choice for those looking for bigger cinematic thrills. While we don't think the SR-B20A is overpriced for its performance, it's really only the ideal choice if you absolutely don't have space for an external subwoofer.

Arriving in 2020, we also wish the soundbar offered modern features like WiFi or voice assistance built in, and you definitely get more punch from the higher-ranked options on our list. Still, the SR-B20A sounds good, looks good, and connects simply, making it worthy of consideration.

Pros

  • Compact

  • Good sound

Cons

  • No external subwoofer

Yamaha YAS-108

The Yamaha YAS-108 squeezes a lot of features and sound into a slim form factor. From an aesthetic perspective, it's not much to look at: a rounded, charcoal black chassis houses two 30-watt speakers and a built-in 60-watt subwoofer. If we're being honest, the YAS-108 kind of looks like what you'd expect to see if you looked up "soundbar" on Wikipedia. But so do most Yamaha soundbars, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The YAS-108 takes a no-nonsense approach to features, too. There are touch-responsive control buttons along the top, and a flat, simple remote that allows you to turn the soundbar on and off, control the speaker and subwoofer volume individually, mute, swap between stereo and surround modes, and so on. A mostly intuitive series of lights on the soundbar provide visual feedback, though understanding what they're indicating will take a bit of getting used to.

For what you're paying, nothing about the YAS-108's features help it stand out overmuch, but unless you have very specific needs you won't feel like anything is missing. You're getting separate treble and bass control, Bluetooth, Clear Voice, bass boost etc. Unlike the newer YAS-109, however, you won't get WiFi, which also excludes extras like a voice assistant. We'll be reviewing that bar shortly, and expect it to take a higher ranking on our list.

As for the sound, the 108's initial downside (if you're looking for an audiophile experience on a budget) is that it doesn't include an external subwoofer. We listened to movies, ambient noise on YouTube, and music (over Bluetooth) on Spotify to gut check the YAS-108's audio quality, and while it gets the job done, the internal woofer doesn't come without some issues. It certainly adds more bass presence than would be perceptible without it, but turning it up too much causes the soundbar to occasionally vibrate and sound a bit distorted.

All in all, the YAS-108 provides satisfactory audio and a baseline selection of features. It's enough for most size TVs, and is very easy to plug in and get going with. But we expect the YAS-109 to give it a good run for its money, and possibly even kick it off our list.

Pros

  • Affordable

  • Easy setup

Cons

  • Occasionally distorts audio

  • No sub-woofer

JBL Bar Studio

The JBL Bar Studio is one of the most affordable soundbars to make the list. While that might seem attractive, and the Bar Studio is a big upgrade compared to standard TV speakers, there are some reasons you might want to pay a little more.

For one, the four-driver speaker arrangement is not bad, but it's bested by most others on our list. While you're certainly getting more volume, the Bar Studio wasn't as robust and crisp as other bars we've tested in its price class, like the Polk Signa S2. It's a very compact and space-saving product, but at its size, it doesn't have room for the larger drivers required to produce a lot of high-quality sound. You can crank it up (with separate controls for tweeter and woofer volume), but the overall result is not jaw-dropping. It simply gets the job done.

Our biggest issue with the Bar Studio is actually the remote. It's a tiny, flat controller that's stuffed with buttons. All of the buttons have the same physical dimensions/travel and tactile sensation, and there are so many packed onto the surface of the tiny remote that it's tricky to figure out what does what at first. It also foregoes handy extras like WiFi connection, smart assistant, and other features you'll find on newer bars.

If you absolutely want to spend as little as possible, this one gets the job done at $119 . But if you want something that's less bare bones and more fleshed out, there are better options.

Pros

  • Compact and space efficient

Cons

  • So-so audio quality

  • Confusing remote

Meet the tester

Lee Neikirk

Lee Neikirk

Editor

@Koanshark

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.

See all of Lee Neikirk's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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