By Broadry Newsroom
Whether you’re a soundbar aficionado or wondering why in the world you need an extra thingamajig to watch TV, we hear you. Basically, soundbars are less expensive, more convenient alternatives to surround-sound systems—and they provide much better audio quality than most (meh) built-in TV speakers. Offering clear, immersive audio, myriad sound modes and features like voice control, enhanced dialogue, built-in Amazon Alexa, and adjusting acoustically to individual rooms, the endless soundbar options available can be overwhelming.
When buying a soundbar, David Dritsas, Technology Expert for Brad’s Deals, says to consider three things: size, power, and connectivity (tip: the site also regularly picks the best soundbar deals). Here’s more on how to buy like a pro:
Consider Soundbar Size
While any soundbar will work with just about any size TV, it’s probably best to match the size of the soundbar closely to the size of the TV if you desire an aesthetic look that is proportional. Size may also determine how many speaker drivers there are in the soundbar. The more drivers are built-in, the more precise the sound will theoretically be. For example, a two-channel system will give you basic stereo, but a three-channel system might have a driver dedicated for dialog in movies and shows.
Tip: Subwoofers add bass (the lower tones in audio), which can be difficult for soundbars to deliver effectively, due to their small driver sizes. If you want good bass, get a system with an external subwoofer.
Check Soundbar Power
Soundbar systems are rated by “Total Watts.” The more the Watts, the louder it can get before the audio starts distorting. Unfortunately, how companies represent this number is often unreliable. Two different soundbars from two different brands can have the same number but very different results. And if a subwoofer is added, that can make the total number look higher that it really is for the main soundbar. It’s a confusing mess but a way around it is to look at other features sets, such as Dolby Audio, DTS, or virtual surround sound. The more third-party audio specifications the soundbar supports, the better the amplifier has to be to meet those standards.
Tip: If you go to a store to listen to the floor model, take note of the size of the room. A soundbar that could be perfectly powerful enough for your living room might sound lesser in a large big box store compared to another model. Some stores offer listen rooms that help combat this problem.
HDMI Soundbar Connectivity
At this point, we don’t recommend any soundbar that does not have HDMI connectivity. Having HDMI in and out ports means you have better flexibility in connecting your TV and other A/V devices, thus ensuring good audio and video quality. If you know you are going to be using more than one device to watch your entertainment (eg. a cable box and a media streaming device) you will definitely want a soundbar that has both in and out connections. Also, if you do not already have a method of streaming audio wirelessly to your home A/V system, get a model with built-in Bluetooth, though most models offer that feature, these days.
Tip: If you have a 4K TV and you are using a 4K media streamer such as an Apple TV, make sure your soundbar supports 4K Passthrough over HDMI.
Now that you’ve learned about what makes a great soundbar, ready to shop? To help you narrow your selection, here are six of the top…for all-around use, small spaces, movie watching, etc. Sounds good, right?
This option is for those looking for clear sound for smaller TVs (and desktop-gaming systems) in compact spaces—without spending a lot of dough. For the price of about a week’s worth of fancy lattes and muffins, this soundbar includes HDMI connectivity and comes with a separate subwoofer. It has excellent bass and a variety of modes, i.e., it’s pitch-perfect for watching everything from concerts to movies and, of course, your favorite Netflix shows.
For Alexa Addicts
Polk React, $249
Can’t live without dear Alexa and want quality, room-filling virtual surround sound sans extra speakers? Polk Audio’s low-profile, slim soundbar—with Amazon’s voice assistant built in—has your name all over it. Designed to work with any TV and remote, React allows you to use your voice to do just about everything: set up the TV, control volume and change preset sound modes to optimize whatever you’re listening to. You can also sync your contacts with the app and make free calls, and group multiple Alexa-ified smart home devices together to control heat, for example, or stream music from your phone.
A Tiny Footprint
Sonos Beam, $399
Small size, big sound! With a compact design, this popular standalone smart soundbar from Sonos is a wonderful option for those who don’t have much space or eschew clunky devices. Its claim to fame? It was tuned by Oscar-winning sound engineers to emphasize the human voice. Along with a five-speaker/five- amplifier design delivering high-def stereo soundstage performance, standout features we love include: voice control, audio reproduction corrections based on specific room acoustics, adjustable treble and bass for customizable sound by individual room, and built-in Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
The Samsung HW-Q950T, $1800
Part of Samsung’s top-of-the-line Q series, this premium soundbar, which comes with a long bar, wireless subwoofer and two satellite speakers, offers engulfing 3D True Surround from every corner of the room. Using the various sound presets or by tweaking yourself (with a graphic EQ), the HW-Q950T is excellent for pretty much everything. The bar’s neutral, balanced sound—without any notable boxy qualities— is especially great for movie- and TV-watching. Listening to audiobooks is also crisp thanks to a dialogue-enhancing feature. Even better, the soundbar supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X technology, which presents the immersive-iest of surround-sound around.
Listen and Stream
Roku Smart Soundbar, $180
Give your TV a double upgrade with this smart soundbar-cum-streaming device from Roku. The single device with four speakers serves up clear audio that will instantly up your TV volume—and overall sound quality. Throw in the fact that the streaming experience is topnotch with infinite apps, includes Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay 2, and pairs with various devices to play audio, and there’s no doubt that this one’s a keeper (and buyer).
Major Movie Star
JBL Bar 9.1, $1000
What makes this JBL offering one of the best soundbars for mixed use? Its powerful, premium audio, a separate subwoofer and an ingenious design that allows its two small wireless, detachable speakers to charge via the main bar. Adding to its A-list status is the built-in Dolby Atmos providing a well-balanced and thunderous sound profile. Our favorite thing, though, is that it’s especially revelatory when watching movies—the sound effects in action flicks are amazing. Listening to music or audiobooks is crisp and clean, too, thanks to a dedicated mode designed for voice clarity.
This article is by Broadry Newsroom and features tips from our members who may get commission from sales. Additional research by Gail Goldberg.