We've been reviewing TVs for well over a decade, and in that time we've discovered that no matter how fancy they are, nearly all of them share one common attribute: their speakers just are not good enough. TVs get bigger every year, and the need for big sound to match those big screens has only grown—yet the ability to balance things like movie scores, dialogue, and commercial volume hasn't kept up with the advances in display tech.
That's where soundbars come in. If you've got a TV, no matter how expensive it was—and you're not interested in a full-blown surround system—investing in a good soundbar can truly make all the difference between a ho-hum movie night and one that really knocks your socks off. If you just want to grab the best soundbar under $500 we tested, check out the Vizio M512a-H6(available at Amazon). However, we continually update this list with the newest and best soundbars around to ensure there's something for every listener (and budget).
Here are the best soundbars under $500 we tested:
Klipsch Cinema 400
Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400
Polk Audio MagniFi 2
Anyone who thinks affordable Dolby Atmos can’t be achieved, clearly hasn’t been following Vizio over the last few years. The latest prime example from the folks at Vizio is the M-Series 5.1.2 soundbar.
The fact of the matter is, no competing brand is offering a more complete Dolby Atmos package for under $500 than Vizio. Better yet, the performance Vizio managed to fit into this relatively affordable soundbar setup is impressive. You get a full front soundstage (including a clear center channel for dialogue) complemented by rear speakers and a subwoofer that produces solid audio quality for music, movies, and TV shows alike. With the addition of upfiring drivers inside the bar, Vizio supplies an added layer of immersion when watching Dolby Atmos-supported content that you won’t find anywhere else for this cheap.
The M-Series 5.1.2 also incorporates HDMI eARC and DTS:X, two future-looking features that the bar’s predecessor, the SB36512-F6, lacked. It does so at the cost of WiFi connection, meaning you’ll only be able to stream music over Bluetooth, and there’s also no built-in smart assistant (a plus or a minus depending on your stance). If features like WiFi and multi-room audio are among your top demands, you’ll want to look at the Vizio SB36512-F6 instead (while it’s still available).
As with other Vizio surround soundbars, including the pricier Vizio Elevate, the M-series 5.1.2 does require you to wire the rear speakers into your subwoofer for connection, which can limit where you can place them depending on your living room. Luckily, Vizio offers plenty of length in the connection wires for most setups.
Those digressions aside, the overwhelming value that the Vizio M-Series 5.1.2 represents can’t be overlooked. Vizio yet again delivers great sound quality for Dolby Atmos content, 5.1 content, and just about anything else you’ll play, all at a price that undercuts the majority of the competition. It may not be the best Dolby Atmos soundbar available on the market. But if you don’t have thousands to spend on audio, no other soundbar is going to provide a better bang for your buck.
Vizio's 2.1-channel soundbar/subwoofer combo is an awesome 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 a robust the V21-H8's subwoofer is, and found that overall it delivered a balanced, blended soundscape that really upped the audio ante where movies, music, and video games were concerned.
This Vizio combo also offers an impressive feature set that includes both Bluetooth and WiFi streaming, HDMI (ARC) connection, and multiple EQ modes. Like most combo bars, the wireless sub and soundbar are pre-paired out of the box, 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; the system excels at simplicity.
Premium, future-facing features like Dolby Atmos, eARC, or microphones for built-in voice assistant control are not a part of this package, but that's reflected in the very accessible 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.
The Razer Leviathan is designed specifically to be used while gaming, even intended for use with a big gaming monitor. That said, you can still pair it with a TV for use with music and movies. It sounds good for most kinds of audio, but it's especially well-suited for the footfalls, explosions, and mixed soundscapes of video games.
There are some drawbacks when comparing it to a traditional soundbar that interested buyers should be aware of. First and foremost, there's no remote. That means you wouldn't want to use it with a TV set across the room. This bar is made to sit close and provide powerful sound while you sit at your preferred gaming setup. The design also won't blend into most setups: decorated by Razer's green snakes insignia, it may not integrate very subtly into your living room decor.
If you're looking for something to enhance movie dialogue or to boost your favorite TV shows, a more traditional bar will suit you better. But if you're looking for a powerful solution to raise your gaming to the next level, this compact soundbar/subwoofer combo is an excellent choice.
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.
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 really tends to set soundbars 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. And because the vast majority of soundbars can read your TV remote for volume and power over HDMI ARC connection, it's often a seamless transition.
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, 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.
What About a Subwoofer?
Many soundbars offer what is known as a 2-channel or 2.1-channel configuration, meaning the sound is directed through left and right stereo channels with the possible addition of a separate subwoofer to handle lower frequencies (which makes up the ".1" of the equation). A 2-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.
Surround Sound and Dolby Atmos/DTS:X
Some soundbars also take things even further, offering separate surround sound speakers that can be set behind you in a 5.1-channel configuration (including center, left, right up front and rear left and right channels). 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.
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X-enabled soundbars take things even further, 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, Atmos-enabled soundbars offer the most immersive experience available, bringing you even closer to what you'll experience in a high-quality theater. That said, you will pay a premium for this technology, and you'll also have more speakers to spread around your TV room, so these concessions must be considered before making your choice.
Other Soundbars We Tested
Yamaha’s YAS-209 is one of our favorite soundbars in this price range for three basic reasons: it sounds great for the money, it’s easy to set up and use, and it’s absolutely loaded with features.
While the YAS-209 doesn't offer Dolby Atmos (for that you'll want to move one slot down), it offers everything you need at a great price, including a spare HDMI input for your favorite gaming console or streaming box, virtual surround sound, WiFI streaming, Amazon Alexa voice assistant, and more. Don’t love Alexa? It's easy to mute the microphones atop the bar and use the YAS-209 as a traditional soundbar. And that’s where this sound bar shines.
While the 209's sound performance can’t match up with expensive, audiophile systems or bars with multiple upfiring drivers for Dolby Atmos immersion, it brings it for its price point. Detail is impressive, bass response from the wireless sub is smooth and powerful, and dialogue is easy to make out thanks to the Clear Voice EQ feature. On that note, the bar offers multiple sound modes (including DTS:X Virtual Surround to expand the soundstage), making it easy to adjust the EQ to taste.
You can also stream your favorite music or podcast over your choice of WiFi (including Spotify Connect) or Bluetooth. While you can certainly get more if you spend up, it’s hard to find much fault with this simple-yet-potent sound system.
If you're looking for a great-sounding, affordable soundbar that’s chock-full of features, Yamaha’s YAS-209 is the best in the business right now.
The Sonos Beam is one of the most popular soundbars around (for good reason). The Beam isn't cheap for a soundbar without a subwoofer, but it's made with Sonos' signature attention to detail and sweeping penchant for minimalism, which makes it an excellent choice. And for those heavily invested in Sonos' multiroom speakers, which can easily be added to the system for around $200, it's probably the best on the list.
The first thing you'll notice about the Beam is that it takes a different approach than many of the other soundbars we've tested. As mentioned above, there's no included external subwoofer. There's also no Bluetooth functionality—streaming music wirelessly to the Beam requires interfacing with it through the Sonos app over WiFi, or using protocols like Spotify Connect or AirPlay 2. The Beam withdraws some avenues of accessibility for the sake of consistent streaming quality (and, probably, a feeling of exclusivity and security).
The Beam’s audio quality, hardware, and design are all impressive, and unlike a lot of soundbars, it integrates Amazon Alexa in a sensible way, making it easy to use voice commands for basic smart controls.
Sonos is perhaps best know for the functionality of its multiroom audio ecosystem, and that shines through brilliantly with the Beam, making it easy to integrate the bar with other Sonos speakers to fill your home with sound or create a surround sound system. However, it isn't the best option for everyone. If you want to spend less, need something with a more robust cinematic presence via additional drivers or an external subwoofer, or especially if Bluetooth is important to you, the Beam may be too pared down at its relatively stiff price.
That said, while the Beam may not have the most features or the highest driver/speaker count on our list, it does everything with impressive polish. For those interested in diving further into Sonos' popular audio ecosystem, it's a great choice.
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 take issue with in entry-level lines of Klipsch speakers. The 8-inch ported subwoofer is the real star of the show, producing resonating low end unlike 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 WiFi 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 dialogue-heavy content.
That being said, if a lack of features seems like a fair tradeoff for remarkable stereo audio quality to you, the Klipsch Cinema 400 makes for a compelling option. It really is a suitable bar for anyone who wants great sound, but doesn’t need the creature comforts of WiFi 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 send a little more money on the excellent Yamaha YAS-209.
The Cinema 400 side steps those perks, however, delivering an old-school rendition of a new-age product. In other words, it looks classic and sounds stellar. There’s really not that much else to this bar, and for many, there doesn’t need to be: that's what makes the Cinema 400 such an excellent pick.
Take Vizio’s solid 2.1-channel Home Theater Soundbar (the V21-H8), add two little matching surround speakers, and you’ve got the V51-H6: a full-bodied, 5.1-channel system that has no business sounding as good as it does for what you’re paying.
Like most of Vizio’s soundbar/subwoofer combos, the V51-H6 keeps things relatively simple where features and design go. The plain, charcoal-colored chasses that decorate the soundbar, wireless subwoofer, and wired surround speakers aren’t going to liven up your living room, but they do a good job of allowing this range of speakers to hide around your TV stand and couch—you know, heard but not seen. This isn’t a bare-bones product, though. You’re still getting the standard range of connectivity options here, including Bluetooth, WiFi, Spotify Connect, and Chromecast functionality, making it easy to use the system with a range of source devices.
Other than how good it sounds for the price, though, the V51-H6 has one more subtle boon on offer: the included remote utilizes an LCD display, a little screen that makes navigating the V51-H6’s various functions and sound modes much easier than it would be otherwise. This also allows for a deep level of customization, from adjusting the balance of individual speakers to telling the system where the surround speakers are located in your living room.
If the V51-H6 has a drawback, it’s that the full surround effect here isn’t as powerful as you’d get with a pricier system. While Vizio’s subwoofer provides ample bass (really, more than enough), the surround speakers can be a bit muddy at times, failing to fully capture the treble crispness of the center soundbar as it passes certain frequencies into the surrounds. However, that’s an occasional problem that will only bother experienced listeners. If you’ve been hankering for the surround experience of the movies, but would rather not pay a bundle to have it at home, the V51-H6 is an excellent 5.1-channel system for the price.
Yamaha's MusicCast Bar 400 is a beefy hunk of sound. 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.
The 400 has all the base features: Bluetooth streaming, a Clear Voice setting for dialogue, dimmable LED indicators, and various audio modes for movies, music, and so on. What makes the 400 stand out is its audio punch: 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 not unique, it's a time-tested array that works to deliver TV audio and music in a way that complements the full frequency range.
The way the BAR 400's MusicCast support also allows it to be integrated with other MusicCast speakers for a whole-home sound solution (similar to Sonos speakers), and that integration is one of the things you're paying for here, too. If you're not interested in MusicCast it may make more sense to go with Yamaha's YAS-209.
All in all, while this isn't the highest value bar, 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. The biggest drawback is that it feels a little "plain" for the price tag, and as time goes by, you can continue to get more for your money.
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.
Polk’s Magnifi line has long been known for engineering powerful and relatively balanced sound out of a compact setup and the Magnifi 2 certainly does that (though the subwoofer is pretty sizeable). Adding some modern updates like WiFi streaming as well as a slew of HDMI inputs (three in all) to the Magnifi One, this bar offers plenty of cinematic might in a slim form factor (not including its tubby subwoofer, that is).
Where the bar goes a bit astray is in Polk’s implementation of surround sound features, or rather a lack thereof. While Sony’s HW-GT700 supports a slew of surround sound formats and high-tech virtualization of 3D sound formats like Dolby Atmos for $100 more (when it's not on sale), the Magnifi 2 comes up short in comparison. There’s no 3D surround sound support, and only basic DTS and Dolby decoding, which limits how much this bar can do with the signals it receives.
Further, as a 2.1 soundbar, this is one of the few modern examples in the Magnifi 2’s price class without a center channel, which is instrumental in providing clarity in the center of the sound for movies and TV, especially when it comes to dialogue. As such, the Magnifi 2 occasionally offers muffled sound and less presence than we’d like in the midrange. You can correct for this with the bar’s Voice Adjust feature, but it often comes at a price when it comes to balancing other frequencies.
On the bright side, unlike the GT700, the Magnifi 2 offers WiFi streaming (via built-in Chromecast), and its three HDMI inputs mean you’ll be able to connect a ton of outboard devices without using up all your TV’s ports. Like virtually every bar on our list, it’s also upgraded from the Magnifi One’s optical connection to HDMI ARC to easily use most TV remotes to control it—but it doesn’t offer the latest HDMI eARC connection, which allows for uncompressed audio and adjust for sync issues between the bar and eARC ready TVs.
In the end, while the Magnifi 2 is definitely an upgrade in comparison to its previous version, its lack of surround sound hardware and software make it a big ask at its base price. If you can find it on sale, however, it may well be worth consideration.
Yamaha's SR-B20A all-in-one soundbar/subwoofer has a lot going for it: high value, good sound, and a compact design that seriously saves on space. The flat, handsomely dressed bar houses a 2.1-style speaker setup 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 already decent price tag.
The real issue with the SR-B20A is simply that it's got stiff competition. Starting around the same price as our current best value pick, you're losing out on an external subwoofer and WiFi functionality here, which isn't really reflected in the price tag. 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.
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 2013. 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.
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.