The Best Soundbars Under $500 of 2019By Lee Neikirk, March 13, 2019, Updated March 15, 2019
I've been reviewing TVs for almost seven years, and I've found that no matter how fancy they are, they all share one common trait: their audio sucks. Unless they're specifically designed to house better or bigger speakers than the average TV, modern LED and OLED TVs are simply too thin/narrow to house speakers/drivers of adequate size to produce good quality sound.
Most TVs have two 10-watt speakers, giving them a total audio "power" of 20 watts. For comparison, most smartphones have about 1.2 watts of power. But with TVs delivering bigger and fancier screen sizes every year (55 inches has become the average TV size in the US), the need for big sound to match big screens has only grown. That's where soundbars—compact audio devices that deliver hundreds of watts of sound—come in.
If you've got a mid-range or even a high-end TV, spending a few hundred on a soundbar can truly make the difference between a good movie night, and one that knocks your socks off. If you just want to grab the best soundbar we tested under $500, check out the Sonos Beam (available at Amazon for $399.00). However, we checked out over a dozen of the most widely praised and well-reviewed soundbars on the market right now and found sound quality and features for every budget.
Here are the best soundbars under $500 we tested ranked, in order:
- Sonos Beam
- JBL Bar 2.1
- Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400
- Vizio SB36512-F6
- Samsung HW-N550
- LG SK8Y
- Polk Audio Signa S2
- Polk Audio MagniFi Mini
- Razer Leviathan
- Vizio SB3651-E6
- Yamaha YAS-108
- Polk Audio Command Bar
- JBL Bar Studio
Updated March 15, 2019
Sonos BeamBest Overall
• Cost: $399
• Audio Output: Four woofers, one tweeter
• Connectivity: HDMI (arc), optical audio
The Sonos Beam is one of the most popular soundbars around (with good reason). At $400, the Beam isn't cheap, but it's made with Sonos' signature attention to detail and sweeping penchant for minimalism.
The first thing I noticed about the Beam is that it takes an altogether different approach than many of the other soundbars we tested. For one, there's no included external subwoofer. There's also no Bluetooth functionality—casting music wirelessly to the Beam requires interfacing with it through the Sonos app and using WiFi. The Beam withdraws some avenues of accessibility for the sake of consistent streaming quality (and, probably, a feeling of exclusivity and security). Rather than feeling like an oversight, it feels like Sonos' expression of confidence that the Beam is a product that's worth a less open system.
If this feels like a bit of an analog to the philosophical differences behind Apple and Windows computers, that has been my takeaway as well. But beyond the feeling of well-crafted design and a more "closed" streaming atmosphere, the Beam is our favorite soundbar because its audio quality is really spectacular. Whether you're watching a movie or listening to music, the Beam just sounds great, delivering good frequency presence from bass to treble. It's easy to adjust for various musical genres, and despite that there's no external subwoofer, there's plenty of bass presence for such a compact bar.
While I'd give a vote of confidence to the Beam and its accolades just based on its software/hardware design and audio quality, it's also one of the only bars we tested to integrate Amazon Alexa in a sensible way. But if there are two things Sonos seems to have a great grasp on, it's sound quality and fostering a tight functionality ecosystem, and that shines through with the Beam. It doesn't have the most features nor the highest driver/speaker count from amongst all the soundbars I tested, but it just does everything with an undeniable polish and delivery, which makes it our Best Overall in the under $500 category.
However, while we think the Beam is the best option for most people, it isn't the best option for everyone. If you want to spend less, want something with a more robust surround presence via additional tweeters or an external subwoofer, or especially if having Bluetooth is important to you, I can understand where the Beam may seem too pared down and sleek for some users. Fortunately, I think most everyone will find what they're looking for amongst our picks for Best Value and the other great soundbars below.
JBL Bar 2.1
JBL Bar 2.1Best Value
• Cost: $300
• Audio Output: 300 watts (4 x racetrack drivers, 2 x tweeters), external subwoofer
• Connectivity: 1 x HDMI (arc), 1 x optical, 1 x analog (3.5 mm), USB
The JBL Bar 2.1 starts at $300 and is widely available for $250 online, though in my estimation it's not overpriced at full price. While this JBL soundbar doesn't stand out in any particular way, I discovered during use and testing that it simply delivers the best combination of sound quality, usability, and ease of use out of all the soundbars under $300we tested.
First of all, the form factor, while not overly fancy, is traditional and functional. The bar and its included wireless subwoofer are dressed in unassuming black/charcoal chassis, designed to take up minimal space within your living room or home theater and not draw attention to themselves. The soundbar itself features a small array of buttons along the top, though once you've set it up (either on your TV's tabletop stand or mounted below it on the wall), you're going to be using the remote first and foremost.
The included remote stands out from the pack a bit because it isn't small and compact, like most other soundbars. It's a full-sized, TV remote-style controller, which gives it ample surface space for buttons. While you can set up the Bar 2.1 to be controllable via your TV remote, you're probably going to want to keep its proprietary remote handy. One of my favorite things about this soundbar is the considerate range of features it offers via the remote, such as a Night Mode which automatically trims the louder frequencies, and an LED indicator dimmer for when you're watching in a dim/dark room.
Beyond the simple design and intuitive features, though, the Bar 2.1 stands in as "Best Overall" chiefly on its merits in sound production. Its range of four drivers and two tweeters (in the bar) and subwoofer provide ample, balanced volume, with good clarity for dialogue during movies and satisfying bass from the paired down-firing subwoofer. The various sound modes (selected via the remote) provide good differentiation for different types of content, though the Bar 2.1's starting settings provide clear midrange emphasis and satisfying trebles, and the subwoofer gets the job done where bass presence is concerned.
Overall, while it doesn't have satellite speakers, built-in streaming or Alexa, or anything quirky or fancy, for the price the Bar 2.1 delivers the most consistent and convenient soundbar experience, and that's why it's our Best Overall in this price range.
How We Tested
Hello. I'm Lee Neikirk, an ISF-certified AV calibrator as well as a musician and music-lover. I love listening to music almost as much as I love making it, and have enough experience mixing on studio monitors and fussing over built-in TV speakers that I find soundbars and consumer sound systems to be fascinating to work with. While the sound quality is a chief consideration in these reviews, in lower price brackets we're just as focused on practicality and usability.
We compared thirteen standalone soundbar and soundbar/subwoofer combinations (and a few with satellite speakers) with prices ranging from around $150 to around $500. Testing involved using them as any consumer would: using each bar as an audio substitute for a TV (via either HDMI ARC or optical), testing its streaming and Bluetooth functions, and analyzing its sound modes, voice-boosting modes, and individual proprietary features.
Where listening and frequency analysis is concerned, I didn't use any special equipment, just back-to-back analysis of sources like Netflix/Blu-ray movies (using a 55-inch Vizio M-Series 2018 TV), Spotify over Bluetooth (or Chromecast, where allowed), and occasionally, 3.5mm aux sources and USB.
What I discovered is that, while the soundbars all had different combinations of drivers, tweeters, woofers, and external subwoofers, generally, audio quality was respectable in most cases. What really tends to set soundbars apart in this price range are usability pain points, design aesthetic, and responsiveness.
What You Should Know About Soundbars Under $500
In short, the point of a soundbar is to replace your TV's built-in speakers with something that actually sounds good. Because audio speaker (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 option for doing so. If you live in an apartment or smaller space, rent, or simply don't want to shell out the considerable funds it requires to install full-on in-wall speakers or a surround system in your home, a soundbar is a non-permanent way to easily up your TV audio experience.
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, object-oriented 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 sub-woofers refer to speakers (drivers) assigned to the midrange or bass/sub-bass frequencies of the audio spectrum.
Other Soundbars Under $500 We Tested
Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400
Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400
• Cost: $499
• Audio Output: 200 watts (100 watt woofers/tweeters, 100 watt subwoofer)
• Connectivity: HDMI in, HDMI out, digital (optical), analog
Yamaha's MusicCast Bar 400 starts at $500, and it's kind of a side of beef. By that I mean, this is not the soundbar to buy if you're looking for pruned elegance or high-tech features, but it is the one to get if you just want to be satisfied by robust audio and simple, effective features.
Like the more affordable YAS-108 (which I looked at first), the 408 has all the feature fixings that we want from most soundbars: easy Bluetooth, a "clear voice" setting, dimmable LED indicators, and various audio modes for movie sounds, music, and so on. What makes the pricier 408 stand out is its audio delivery: it provides a solid 200 watts of audio. The hefty included subwoofer is half of that, and the other half is split across four woofers and two tweeters within the bar itself.
While this setup and audio power is not highly unique or unusual, it's a time-tested array that works to deliver content audio and music in a way that complements the full frequency range. The way the BAR 400 is set up, you do have the option to add other Yamaha room speakers to the array for a more integrated surround sound experience, and that integration is one of the things paying for here, too.
All in all, while this isn't the highest value bar and it isn't the very best, the MusicCast 400 is robust, reliable, and easy to set up and use. It's got options for HDMI, optical, aux (3.5mm) connection, Bluetooth, Dolby/DTS pass-thru, and can be integrated with Amazon Echo devices for voice control. This one's only drawback is that it feels a little "plain" for the high $500 price tag, but overall it's worth it at the end of the day.
Where To BuyClick for price Amazon Buy $498.00 Walmart Buy $399.99 Best Buy Buy $449.00 Sam's Club Buy
• Cost: $499
• Audio Output: 5.1.2 channel (8 speaker) array
• Connectivity: HDMI in, HDMI out (ARC), USB (WAV compatible), 3.5mm aux input, optical, RCA
Where sheer speaker count goes, this Vizio product is actually much more than just a soundbar: it's an entire home theater sound system. While that gives it something of an unfair advantage against the standalone soundbars and bar/sub combos here, the fact that you can get this whole system for $500 (and, in some instances, $400) is a pretty incredible situation.
The 36512-F6 gives you a 36-inch soundbar, subwoofer, and two satellite speakers. All told it's an eight-speaker array that deftly covers the sub-bass, bass, midrange, upper middle, and treble frequencies of the audio spectrum. And with full room setup, this Vizio sound system delivers very robust sound. It takes a little bit more work and syncing to set up than a lot of the contenders in this roundup, but the payoff is the closest authentic surround sound system in this price range (leastways, that I am aware of in this price range).
This is also one of the only true Dolby Atmos-compatible systems. The soundbar itself allows for both traditional stereo (left/right channel) and upward firing speakers, and they sound excellent. Combining with the treble presence of the satellites and bass presence of the subwoofer, it's not quite the same as a full-on theater setup, but it's leagues and leagues beyond the average TV, and even well beyond the standard soundbar.
The reason this product isn't "Best Overall" is simply one of classification. This is a great value where Surround Sound or Atmos systems are concerned, but you're paying more for the robust selection of speakers (and placement/install flexibility) than you are for the most volume/sound quality within a soundbar itself. Even still, there's no doubt in my mind that the Vizio 36512-F6 is one of the most valuable products I'll test in 2019.
• Cost: $399
• Audio Output: 340 watts (2-channel, external subwoofer)
Connectivity: HDMI (in/out), optical, USB
Starting at $400 but available for $330, the Samsung HW-N550 is a solid choice for the price. There's nothing about this one that supremely stands out, however. I streamed music over Bluetooth, watched movies, cycled sound modes, and everything worked as it should have.
The brushed metal of the bar's chassis and the heavy, solidly built subwoofer are definitely satisfying set-pieces. At 340 watts of total audio power, the HW-N550 is definitely one of the loudest soundbar/subwoofer combos I tested, and it's built to withstand all the rumbling of the drivers and speakers, allowing it to elucidate sound with a lot of clarity.
However, the NW-550's biggest advantage (after its considerable volume) seems to be how sveltely it works with Samsung TVs: you can Bluetooth to them easily and reliably, making for a wireless setup that's sure to appeal to fans of minimalism and decluttered AV spaces. Its general suite of functionality—not to mention its responsiveness, LED indicator status, and all the little nitty-gritty details—are otherwise fairly average, which isn't a bad thing at all.
This is a simple, easy-to-set-up product (especially if you have a Samsung TV) that has a dedicated center channel (giving it better mid-range support, i.e. for voices). While nothing about it puts it head and shoulders above some of the other $400 soundbars here if you can find it for $300 it's a lot more robust than most in that price range.
• Cost: $499
• Audio Output: 360 watts (2-channel, external subwoofer)
• Connectivity: HDMI in, HDMI out, optical, 3.5mm aux
The LG SK8Y is another of the pricier soundbars on our list, with its primary ability lying in providing a whopping 360 watts of sound. It's a 2.1-channel soundbar and subwoofer combo like so many others on the list and delivers the usual fixings: a remote, Bluetooth compatibility, sound modes, easy pairing, Chromecast compatibility, and so on. But it also achieves so-called "high resolution" audio, able to upscale lower bitrate streamed music. And it's Dolby Atmos compatible, to boot.
For what you're paying, the SK8Y delivers a very robust feature set, though like a lot of soundbars in this price range it isn't fully HDMI 2.2/4K pass-thru ready. However, it does function with Google Assistant, can be set up with WiFi (or even Ethernet, which is weird but I'm not going to knock it). However, the major draw here is the two 80-watt speakers in the hefty soundbar itself and the whopping 200-watt subwoofer.
If you were going to guess that the SK8Y delivers huge sound and a ton of bass, you'd be right on the money. This is one of the most aurally powerful soundbars I've ever experienced. While I don't think pure output power alone is what makes for a great soundbar experienced—some may strive more for clarity, for speech preservation, for better crossover—it's definitely a selling point for this soundbar. It can easily fill a large room and has the aural power to match well with TVs in the 65- and 70-inch range.
Polk Audio Signa S2
Polk Audio Signa S2
• Cost: $149 ($199 MSRP)
• Audio Output: 2 x midrange drivers, 2 x tweeters (bar), external subwoofer
• Connectivity: 1 x HDMI, 1 x optical, 3.5mm aux
Originally priced at $200 but widely available for $150, the Polk Audio Signa S2 presents a great value. On paper, you're getting a well-tuned soundbar and external subwoofer with handsome, glossy finishes and reliable-feeling construction. The Signa doesn't look fancy, but it doesn't look cheap either. Either way, in this price range, looks aren't usually a chief concern.
As for features and functionality, however, the Signa S2 checks off a lot of the right boxes. The soundbar and sub come pre-paired right out of the box, and you're getting a slew of common but useful functions: Bluetooth, naturally; different modes for movie, music, or night audio (the latter masks high, sibilant frequencies and reduces bass); alternate volume rockers for the soundbar and subwoofer; and three different "Clear Voice" settings for use with TV/movie programming.
Where audio quality is concerned, the Signa S2 does a knockout job, especially where bass presence is concerned. During one sampling period, I started streaming music from Spotify to the soundbar via Bluetooth and had to re-pair the subwoofer after checking if it was synced. Once the sub kicked back in, I immediately felt the familiar shaking warmth of bass presence filling the space, robust and distortion-free.
Unlike some entry-level soundbars, cranking up the volume on the S2 doesn't introduce distortion or imbalanced frequencies. While there's no bass extension, the S2's frequency crossover sounds very well balanced and even compressed streaming Bluetooth audio sounds very crisp. While this richness can cause movie soundtracks to overpower movie dialogue at times, the Clear Voice functions (which adjust the bar's frequency response to emphasize the mid tones where male and female voices exist) work to stem any muddiness.
While it's not a full surround-sound system, for around $150 (or even $200), the Signa S2 stands out. You're not getting satellite speakers, but the combination of bar and subwoofer, satisfying bass presence, smart audio modes, and "Clear Voice" option (very helpful for streaming content or DVDs with diminished speech audio) makes the S2 the best value in this price range.
Polk Audio MagniFi Mini
Polk Audio MagniFi Mini
• Cost: $300
• Audio Output: 2 x tweeters, 4 x midrange drivers
• Connectivity: HDMI, optical, 3.5mm aux
Polk Audio's MagniFi Mini is a compact little soundbar and subwoofer combo for $300, though you can find it around $250 online pretty easily.
The MagniFi Mini really nails the "mini" part of it: while the subwoofer is pretty big, the bar itself is only about a foot long, making it one of the better space-saving options in the bunch. While this also means it isn't quite as loud as some of the beefier soundbars we tested, it still filled the Home Theater lab without much trouble.
I really enjoyed how intuitive the MagniFi Mini was. The subwoofer and soundbar were already paired out of the box, and it was very easy to select sound modes (Movie, Music, Sports) using the included remote control. While my Galaxy S8 had a little trouble pairing with the Mini at first after I cycled my phone's Bluetooth a couple of times I was listening to Spotify in no time.
Overall, the Mini is a very good option. My only complaint about it is that there wasn't quite as much bass as I would have liked. I found myself walking over to the subwoofer to check that it was working at first. The sub fires into the floor (which might not be great for second or third story apartments), but it's also pretty subtle. There are separate volume controls for voice and bass on the remote, intuitively placed on either side of the main volume control. The ability to up voice frequencies and reduce rumblings from explosions makes it easy to set up TV and movies perfectly, but the general inability to boost bass overmuch makes the Mini feel less fun for music. This is especially surprising because it's one of the only ones I tested in this bracket that has four mid-range drivers.
It still beats the pants off TV speakers, however. You're getting all the standard necessary connections here (HDMI, optical, and auxiliary), and a pretty good basic soundbar with a subtler-than-usual subwoofer. On the plus side, this could easily work in a more multi-media centric desk/PC setup, and the pairing, remote functions, and various features don't just work as advertised, they're very intuitive. If you're looking to enhance TV and movies without investing in something that takes up a ton of space, the Mini is a great choice.
• Cost: $200
• Audio Output: 2 x midrange drivers, 2 x tweeters, external subwoofer
• Connectivity: 1 x 3.5mm aux, 1 x optical
We first enjoyed Razer's PC gaming-focused Leviathan soundbar during our roundup of the Best Soundbars Under $250, finding its general audio quality to be superior to the other 'bars we sampled.
While the Leviathan (and its hefty external sub) certainly sound great, there are some trade-offs you're making when considering it as a TV/Home Theater stand-in.
First, the design/aesthetic doesn't complement a TV/viewing environment perfectly because it isn't meant for one. The bar itself is very short/compact (around 17-inches), which will match the general width of a computer monitor stand but won't look as "natural" with a mid-size or large TV as a more traditional soundbar: it's not as long, and it's a little tall considering how low a lot of TVs sit on a tabletop. Further, Razer's branding—the green three-headed snake insignia—may not entirely fit the vibe of your finely appointed home theater space. And finally, you aren't getting an HDMI (ARC) port here or a remote, which limits its convenience when it's across the room under the TV.
If you aren't bothered by the slight eccentricities that result from Razer intending the Leviathan for PC gaming, you're going to love how it sounds. The Leviathan delivers crisp treble and midrange frequencies, and the wireless subwoofer adds plenty of bass. In our first-ever soundbar survey for the under $250 bracket, most listeners preferred the Leviathan's sound, and it's true that while its shape breaks away from the traditional soundbar form factor, the different chassis does seem to allow for better sound. Another round of listening tests (Bluetooth music and TV via optical) saw the Leviathan still sounding excellent.
Controlling the bar (selecting volume, changing between music/movie/game sound modes, and adjusting the subwoofer's bass presence) is easy enough to do via the on-set controls, but if you like to make a lot of alterations and adjustments for different kinds of content you may find yourself wishing you had a remote control. The Leviathan offers a unique aesthetic and solid sound performance, but it's also not the most convenient out of the sub-$200 class bars we tested.
• Cost: $200 (MSRP $250)
• Audio Output: 1 x soundbar (center channel), 1 x wireless subwoofer, 2 x satellite speakers
• Connectivity: 3.5mm input, optical, RCA, HDMI, USB (for WAV audio)
While it started at $250 in 2017, this Vizio soundbar is widely available for less than $200, and you're getting a lot of cheddar for that bread (what?).
The SB3651-E6—so named because it's a 36-inch bar with a 5.1 channel audio setup—comes closer to a home-theater-in-a-box situation than any other soundbar we tested and is probably the closest you're going to get to that in this price range. You're essentially getting the soundbar as a center channel, two satellite speakers on the left/right, and a wireless subwoofer, providing a healthy amount of aural space for bass, mid tone, and treble frequencies to sound properly.
The SB3651-E6 is also one of the most feature-filled and flexible soundbars under $200 that we checked out. This surround system naturally allows for a wide range of listening options, including being one of the only soundbars in this price range we tested that has built-in streaming (via a Chromecast function for apps like Spotify and Pandora). It's also Bluetooth compatible and works with Google Assistant, and is one of the only 'bars in this roundup that allows for lossless.WAV playback via USB.
This Vizio soundbar sounds excellent and delivers a more cohesive surround experience than the others we tested in this price range (even though it technically is not always in this price range). If you can find it for less than $200, it's a steal. But it's also a 2017 model, and is becoming increasingly more difficult to find, which is why it didn't take the top spot. Still, shop around for it. If you want the most robust sound system you can get for the least money, this one should be on your radar.
• Cost: $199
• Audio Output: 120 watts (2 x 30-watt speakers, 60-watt built-in sub)
• Connectivity: 1 HDMI in, 1 HDMI out, 1 optical, 1 digital
For $200 (or less), 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 I'm being honest, the YAS-108 kind of looks like what you'd expect to see if you looked up "soundbar" on Wikipedia. But I kind of like that about it.
The YAS-108 takes a no-nonsense approach to features, too. There are touch-responsive control buttons along the top, but most people are going to be using the included remote to control it. It's a flat, simple controller 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—that's plenty.
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. I 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.
The 120 watts of power here is considerably better than what's coming out of your TV, but the combined treble/mid tone/bass in a single chassis gets occasionally muddy if you crank up the volume a lot. Despite that, maxing out the volume can fill a medium-sized room, but the YAS-108 doesn't get terribly loud. It'll be enough for most people's TV viewing needs, but it might not be enough as background music for a noisy party or gathering.
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. You're getting pretty good value for $200, especially if you just want a simple, single-body audio solution at home.
Polk Audio Command Bar
Polk Audio Command Bar
• Cost: $300
• Audio Output: 260 watts – 2 mid/woofers, 2 tweeters
• Connectivity: Alexa (voice), HDMI (arc), optical
Originally priced at $300 but widely available for $200, the Polk Audio Command Bar is almost a specialty item because its major focus is on Alexa compatibility.
On the surface, this is a 2.1-channel bar/subwoofer combo like so many others on the list. But when you boot it up, it immediately becomes something else: the familiar ring seen on Amazon devices like the Echo begins to circle on top of the bar, and Alexa—whose voice is probably familiar to any tech-friendly readers—instructed me to set up the Command Bar via the Polk Audio app.
So, if you were looking for an easy-to-set-up soundbar, the Command Bar ain't it. You'll have to download the Polk Connect app, be connected to WiFi, create an account, and so on. However, once you get through all this rigmarole, the Command Bar is connected to your network, and all is well. Or so I thought.
I didn't have any other Alexa or smart home devices on hand in the lab while I was checking things out, but the ability to integrate Alexa commands into Spotify certainly seemed like a cool idea. However, my initial experience was a little frustrating. I shouted "Alexa! Hey Alexa!" across the room for a bit, with no response. I stood directly over the bar and shouted, "Alexa! Hey Alexa,"—nothing.
The Polk Connect app appeared to be connected to the bar, and upon prompting it to open Spotify, it informed me that a Spotify Premium subscription was required to use Spotify that way. Fortunately, I have one of those. Then I discovered to use the bar at all, I had to sign into a separate instance of the app on my phone. Finally, the bar woke up. Then it immediately started an update.
Once the update finished, the bar restarted, and Alexa finally working. I said, "Hey Alexa, play Spotify" and was informed that I needed to link my premium account using the Alexa app. Finally, the Command Bar showed up in the list of devices on the Spotify app on my phone, but at what cost? At what cost?
Granted, regular Alexa or Polk app users (do those exist?) might have a much simpler time with this whole process, but I'm just not sure it's worth it. It also seems like most of what you're paying for with the Command Bar is its Alexa-integration and all the hardware tuning that requires (such as far-field microphones that can hear you over a 260-watt soundbar). The Command Bar doesn't sound bad, but it's not the most impressive or convenient in this price range. Still, if you love Alexa, you may just love this soundbar.
JBL Bar Studio
JBL Bar Studio
• Cost: $149
• Audio Output: 30-watt (2 x tweeters, 2 x woofers)
• Connectivity: 1 x HDMI (arc), 1 x optical, 1 x analog
While it retails for $149, you can find the JBL Bar Studio for as low as $119 online, making it 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 not the best-sounding 'bar I listened to. While you're certainly getting more volume, the Bar Studio wasn't as robust and crisp as other bars, like the Polk Signa S2 or Leviathan. 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.
My 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's not a major gripe, but it's one of those little things that make the Bar Studio feel less valuable than some of its competition.
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.