From the best 4K/HDR TVs to our favorite affordable options, nearly all TVs have one thing in common: their built-in speakers are bad. Sure, any TV can handle basic audio, but most of them struggle mightily to preserve dynamic range and promote clear dialogue, especially during complex sequences.
That's where soundbars can save the day. Soundbars deliver vastly improved sound, as well as more ways to connect audio sources, more finely tuned sound modes, and they can even double as your favorite music streamer, all for a relatively low price. Our favorite soundbar under $200 right now is the Vizio V21-H8(available at Amazon for $189.99). However, after hours of testing dozens of bars, we've dug up several low-priced options that will fill your room with sound, and save you cash over other solutions.
These are the best soundbars under $200 we've tested, ranked in order:
Polk Audio Signa S2
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, Wi-Fi, 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 set up, letting you simply plug everything in and instantly upgrade your home theater situation. Adjusting volume and jumping between sound modes is simple with the accompanying remote, and Vizio's new, all-black aesthetic 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 similar 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.
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.
The Yamaha YAS-109 stands as one of the most practical options in this price range, especially if you want to save space without sacrificing performance. This all-in-one soundbar delivers good entry-level sound, an understated design, and a decent feature list, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 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 impressive. 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.
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.
Vizio’s M-Series All-in-One Soundbar caters to those who desire better sound in as simple (and affordable) a solution as possible. With six built-in drivers—including a pair of 3-inch subwoofers-the M-Series delivers 2.1-channel audio (without a separate subwoofer) that is suitable for most listeners while being remarkably easy to adjust.
The M-Series has plenty of connections (and cables) included to ensure a smooth setup process, including a spare HDMI input and HDMI ARC connection. The functional remote allows you to effortlessly tinker with treble and bass as well as toggle through preset EQ modes and turn on or off a DTS Virtual:X feature that’s quite effective for expanding the soundstage. The sound of the M-Series is pleasantly detailed, particularly with music, movies and TV shows that don’t require it to be overly dynamic.
Bass-centric content does suffer, however, at the hands of the M-Series’ built-in subwoofers, which aren’t physically capable of reproducing impactful low end in the same way as an external sub, evident in certain genres of music and action-filled movies. Dialogue tends to get lost in those big action scenes at times as well due to the lack of a dedicated center-channel driver and a lack of stereo separation.
Truthfully, if these are the biggest problems plaguing a soundbar at this affordable price point, Vizio certainly did a lot of things right. For most, the sound of the M-Series All-in-One will be enjoyable. The simplicity will be appreciated. The shortcomings will only be felt on occasion. And the low price will undoubtedly be a big factor in your decision to buy.
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, who have spent a sum total of decades reviewing audio products, and their work is backed up by science-based methods. That includes our rubric-based ranking system, which uses a variety of questions designed to suss out the performance and value of each model.
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.
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.
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.
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.