Your TV’s sound just isn’t good enough, but you don’t have any interest in shelling out multiple thousands of dollars for a full surround sound system? This is the exact problem the best soundbars were created to solve.
For a handful of cash you can significantly improve your at-home TV and movie viewing experience by completely changing the sound quality.
Let’s dig into the best options available to you with my soundbar reviews.
Table of Contents
- 1 Best Soundbars 2018
- 2 Sonos Playbar TV – Editor’s Choice #1
- 3 Sony HT-MT300/B Mini Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer
- 4 Bose SoundTouch 300 Soundbar
- 5 Bose Solo 5 TV Sound System – Editor’s Choice #2
- 6 Yamaha YAS-207BL Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer
- 7 ZVOX AccuVoice AV200 – Best Budget Soundbar
- 8 Vizio SB3851-CO 5.1 Channel Soundbar
- 9 Polk Audio MagniFi Mini System
- 10 Klipsch R-10B with Wireless Subwoofer
- 11 Samsung HW-M450/ZA 2.1 Channel Sound System
- 12 Soundbars Buyer’s Guide
Best Soundbars 2018
|Soundbars||Separate Subwoofer||Audio Channels||Price||Rating||Availability|
|Sonos Playbar TV|
(Editor's Choice #1)
|Sony HT-MT300/B||Yes||2.1||$||Check Price|
|Bose SoundTouch 300||No||3.0||$$$||Check Price|
|Bose Solo 5|
(Editor's Choice #2)
|Yamaha YAS-207BL||Yes||2.1||$||Check Price|
|ZVOX AccuVoice AV200||No||2.0||$||Check Price|
|Vizio SB3851-CO||Yes||5.1||$$||Check Price|
|Polk Audio MagniFi Mini||Yes||2.1||$||Check Price|
|Klipsch R-10B||Yes||2.1||$$||Check Price|
|Samsung HW-M450/ZA||Yes||2.1||$||Check Price|
Sonos Playbar TV – Editor’s Choice #1
It’s nice to start the soundbar reviews with a winner, and with its Playbar, Sonos wants to be your go to choice for a high quality soundbar that delivers the best possible sonic experience in a small package.
The device can be paired with speakers and a subwoofer for a full surround sound experience or you can buy it solo and enjoy vastly superior sound over your TV. If you have a generous budget and you won’t settle for anything but the best, this might be the right choice for you.
Sonos is a well-respected consumer electronics company founded in 2002 and based out of Santa Barbara with offices around the world.
Since launching they’ve competed in the high end of the speaker market and have earned the confidence of consumers through excellent design and a dedication to great sound.
The Playbar is among the best soundbars money can buy and it’s built for those of you unwilling to compromise on sound. The speakers that ship with new TVs simply don’t get the job done because there isn’t enough space (thin TVs mean sub optimal speakers). A soundbar like the Playbar could be the answer to your problems.
What You Need to Know About the Playbar
- Compatible with Amazon Alexa – you can connect your Playbar with any Alexa-enabled device and control it with your voice. It’s more fun than you might think and it makes playing your favorite music while working around the house a breeze.
- Expand to a 5.1 Surround System – you can add a Sonos subwoofer and two speakers to create a 5.1 surround sound system with ease. It’s expensive, but it’s hard to find a home entertainment sound setup that provides a higher quality listening experience.
- Wirelessly Syncs with Other Sonos Speakers – this is really only useful if you have other Sonos speakers in your house, but it’s great if you do. You don’t have to do any work and your whole home will be connected.
- Night Sound Mode – save your family and/or neighbors from loud noises at night. Speech is clarified and the loud booms of action and explosion are reduced when you turn this mode on.
- Compatible with Over 30 Music Streaming Services – the well-designed Sonos app gives you excellent control over your soundbar and is compatible with more than 30 music streaming services, making it easy to play whatever you want, whenever you want it.
The Good Stuff
- Great Sound – this is kind of obvious, but it needs to be mentioned that the Playbar soundbar produces better sound than most of its competition. It’s light years better than your TV speakers.
- Sonos App is Terrific – Sonos has gone to great lengths to create a top notch app for controlling your soundbar experience. It really comes to life when you have multiple speakers throughout the house, but the ability to completely customize your music experience alone is worth it.
- Dialogue Enhancement – Sonos includes a speech enhancement feature that makes it a great deal easier to hear what’s being said in your favorite TV shows and movies.
- Trueplay Software – to ensure the best sound experience possible, the Trueplay software measures your room and configures the speakers to accommodate. You end up getting a much better listening experience because of it.
The Less Than Good Stuff
- Single Optical Input – this is becoming less of an issue with modern TVs, but it’s still the cast that many televisions won’t pass Dolby Digital 5.1 surround from HDMI. That can result in you being unable to enjoy 5.1 surround if you upgrade the setup, so make sure your TV is what it needs to be.
- Expensive – there’s no getting around the high price. The soundbar alone is pricey and if you upgrade to the full 5.1 package (a subwoofer and two additional speakers) it feels very expensive.
- Limited Bass with Just the Soundbar – disappointing bass is a problem with many soundbars, but it feels more problematic when the price is this high and they’re offering a subwoofer upgrade for quite a bit more money.
Ultimately, the Sonos Playbar is a great choice for music lovers with a big budget that want to upgrade their basic TV and movie watching experience. You’ll be disappointed if you’re in it for the bass and you don’t have the budget to upgrade to the full 5.1 system. If you want great music, a terrific app to control everything, and a sleek design this might be a perfect choice.
- Simple setup with just two cords
- App is fantastic
- Great for streaming music from almost any source
- Can be upgraded to full 5.1 surround setup
- Great sound
- Expensive, especially if you upgrade
- Limited bass
- Can only play 5.1 surround if your TV will pass it through
Sony HT-MT300/B Mini Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer
It’s small, it’s affordable, and thanks to the included subwoofer the Sony HT-MT300 provides plenty of bang for the buck. This might be a perfect choice for those of you that want minimal clutter in your house and that crave a little extra bass with your sound system (and a poor choice if you’re living above someone as they will hate your guts).
Sony is one of the world’s largest electronics companies (along with numerous other business endeavors) and they’ve delivered one of the best soundbars on the lower end of the cost spectrum.
The Japanese company has a wide range of soundbar offerings, but this is the only one to feature a decidedly compact design.
The Sony HT-MT300 will work for anyone, but it’s a good choice for those of you with limited space or a decidedly minimalistic approach to home decorating. It’s safe to assume they were thinking of people in cramped apartments (think New York City or Tokyo) or people looking for a small sound system for the bedroom, etc. You put the soundbar in front of your TV and slip the subwoofer under your couch or bed and enjoy the results.
What Sets This Soundbar Apart from the Rest
- It’s Small – yup, I’ve mentioned this a few times already, but it’s the big selling point here so it’s going on the list. Check out a few pictures on the Amazon page and you can see for yourself that this thing is nice and small. The subwoofer is actually a little bigger than I thought it would be, but it’s not really possible to build a quality subwoofer in a little package.
- Easy Setup – Sony clearly designed the HT-MT300 to be as simple as possible to set up. You connect it to your TV with the supplied optical cable, plug in the power cords, and connect the subwoofer and soundbar with the touch of a button and you’re done.
- Multiple Sound Settings – to start, there are different settings for music and movies to ensure the best listening experience possible. The Clear Audio feature is designed to automatically change the settings to make any music track sound its best. I was particularly pleased with the Night mode, which makes it easier to hear dialogue in TV shows and movies while keeping the volume down.
- Sofa Mode for the Subwoofer – the subwoofer can stand upright or you can switch it to sofa mode and slide it under your couch or bed. It’s a lovely design trick that works well for cramped spaces.
- Connectivity Options – you can connect via Bluetooth with NFC, the aforementioned optical cable, or a USB port.
The Glorious and Good About This Mini Soundbar
- Compact Size Married to Great Sound – yup, I’m doing this one more time. I hate to keep hammering this point, but the whole point of the Sony HT-MT300 is that it’s compact. The fact that they gave us a small design while maintaining excellent sound is an achievement to be celebrated.
- Love Night Mode – whether you’re an apartment dweller or a late night TV/movie watcher that doesn’t want to disturb anyone, night mode is perfect. You can hear everything without having to scramble for the remote anytime there’s action.
- Easy to Stream Music – it was a breeze to connect my phone and stream music through the soundbar.
- Super Simple Setup – there’s something so nice about plugging it in and everything working without any issues, and that’s exactly how it worked with the Sony HT-MT300.
It’s Not All Perfect – The Cons
- Virtual Surround Sound Doesn’t Do Much – the claims of virtual surround sound produced by the soundbar are overblown. There’s a minor difference, but it’s nothing to write home about.
- No Display of Soundbar Levels – there’s no way of knowing the levels of the soundbar thanks to a lack of a display. You’re left to guess, which is a tad annoying.
- Lack of Bass – the subwoofer is nice, but it doesn’t back a great deal of bass. You may be left wanting.
It seems that the idea behind the Sony HT-MT300 was to create a compact soundbar and subwoofer setup that could fit in any room, no matter how small or cramped. There’s no question they met those goals and along the way have delivered excellent sound, a plethora of options for customizing your sound experience, and all at an excellent price. If you’re seeking something small and powerful, the Sony HT-MT300 could be a great option for you.
- Compact design fits anywhere
- Easy setup
- Multiple sound settings to enhance your experience
- Connect with Bluetooth, optical cable, and USB
- Virtual surround sound is lacking
- Bass can be weak
Bose SoundTouch 300 Soundbar
Renowned audio company Bose is, unsurprisingly, in the high end of the soundbar game with their SoundTouch 300. With a beautiful design, a wide sound field, and a few features that set this device apart from its competitors, this might be the choice for those of you with a big budget and a lust for great sound with minimal living room invasion.
You’ve almost certainly heard of Bose at this point as they’ve long been an industry leader (and they spend plenty of money on advertising). What’s important to you, the consumer, is that the company’s focus has always been on innovation and the development of new technologies to benefit the consumer. That’s why they’ve produced one of the best soundbars in the business.
The Bose SoundTouch 300 is for the consumer that values high quality audio and doesn’t mind paying for the privilege. Your favorite TV shows and movies will sound better than ever and music streaming is offered via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
The Good Stuff Bose Packed into Their Soundbar
Bose has packed their soundbar with features to give you the best listening experience possible. Give the price, I’m thrilled they did. Let’s go over the most important features:
- PhaseGuide Technology – one of the most remarkable things about the Bose SoundTouch 300 is its ability to fill the room with sound. The “wall bounce” is real and without the effort to set up a surround system it will feel like you have one in your living room.
- Wi-Fi Music System – Bose has included the ability to stream music from your favorite apps through their soundbar. You can play through Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, etc, without any loss in quality. You can also connect via Bluetooth.
- Multiple Ports – the SoundTouch 300 includes a 4K pass through that lets you maintain exceedingly high sound quality. You’ll also find one each of HDMI, optical digital, and 3.5mm subwoofer out ports on the device.
- Easy Control of the Soundbar – the SoundTouch app integrates easily with the soundbar and lets you stream music from a variety of apps or from your personal library. If you have multiple SoundTouch speakers around your home you can control all of them from the app. The included remote is better than most that come with a soundbar.
- Alexa Compatible – it’s as simple as saying “Alexa, ask Bose to” followed by whatever you’d like it to do. You can play a specific song, turn up the volume, etc. Whatever you want is at your voice-activated command.
All the Stuff They Knocked Out of the Park
- The Sound is Amazing – Bose is at the top of their game with the SoundTouch 300. It produces better sound than most of its competitors at the same price point. As long as your walls aren’t too cluttered it also does an amazing job of producing “wall bounce” effects where it feels like the sound is coming from behind you and from your left and right.
- Easy Set Up – you don’t need any particular skill with electronics to get this bad boy set up. Follow the simple directions in the manual and you’ll be ready to go in less than 30 minutes.
- Beautifully Designed – the SoundTouch 300 looks beautiful when you pull it out of the box. It looks beautiful sitting in front of the television. It’s sleekly, smartly designed and unlike some soundbars it will be a visually pleasing addition to your home.
- AdaptIQ Optimizes Sound – installing the soundbar includes running the AdaptIQ program to optimize the sound output for your specific space. Put this thing to work and it will produce the best experience possible.
Where They Came Up a Little Short
- Lack of Bass – the soundbar’s most significant shortcoming is its inability to produce top notch bass. It falls behind some of its competitors in this regard. It’s not a problem for everyone, but if you’re a big fan of bass you’ll have to buy the subwoofer they offer (which is expensive).
- No Volume Buttons on the Soundbar – this is only a problem if you lose the remote or it breaks. Then it becomes a significant issue.
- No Equalizer – you’re not offered the ability to change the bass and treble levels on your own, which can be frustrating if you have a specific sound experience you crave.
Bose deserves high marks for the SoundTouch 300, as many soundbar reviews have noted. It’s exceptionally easy to install, the technology inside ensures a great sound experience with little to no work on your part, and it’s beautifully designed and will look great in your living room. If you want a great sound experience and have the budget, this might be a great choice.
- Quick and simple setup
- Sound fills the room
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity to listen to music
- Pairs easily with Bose subwoofer and speakers for a fuller sound
- 4K pass through
- Bass can be disappointing
- Very expensive if you add subwoofer and wireless speakers
- No EQ
Bose Solo 5 TV Sound System – Editor’s Choice #2
Even soundbars, which are designed to be less expensive than a home theater-style setup, can cost over $1,000 or require adding a subwoofer and speakers. If you’re looking for something simpler the Bose Solo 5 might be the right choice.
Designed to improve your television’s sound – especially the clarity of dialogue – it offers a lower cost option that still offers a much better experience than your TV speakers.
Though Bose is known as a high-end audio company and purveyor of pricey products, they’re sensitive to the needs of all potential customers. This is their attempt to upgrade your television watching experience without breaking the bank while still benefiting from their relentless dedication to research and development.
With the Solo 5 TV Sound System, Bose is aiming for those of you that want something compact that provides better sound and enhances the dialogue of your favorite TV shows and movies.
If you have trouble making out the dialogue, if you live in an apartment and don’t want to disturb your neighbors with a booming subwoofer, or if you just don’t want to spend a fortune, this might be the right product for you.
Let’s Learn About the Solo 5
- Dialogue Mode – by pressing the dialogue button on the remote you activate a feature that automatically enhances speech in movies and television. You’re not alone if you’re having trouble clearly understanding what people are saying on TV and the Solo 5 solves that problem.
- Compact Design – at just over 21 inches long 2.6 inches high, the Solo 5 has one of the smallest footprints of any soundbar I reviewed. It can be mounted on the wall with ease or sit unobtrusively in front of the TV with little risk of it blocking your remote sensor.
- Absurdly Simple Setup – setting this bad boy up is as simple as connecting one cord. You can choose between optical coaxial or analogue and plug one in. Then you’re done and it’s working.
- Bluetooth Connectivity – connect to the Solo 5 through your favorite device and stream music effortlessly. The soundbar is an excellent way to enhance a typical listening experience.
- Universal Remote Included – the included remote can be configured to work with your television and also controls the soundbar, Bluetooth connections, dialogue mode, and the bass feature.
Where the Solo 5 Excels
The Solo 5 has a lot going for it, especially if you’re a relative newbie to audio technology or you have no interest in fumbling with a complicated system:
- Audio Really is Clearer – you needn’t be skeptical about the Solo 5’s ability to provide clearer dialogue and sound effects. It actually works. I couldn’t begin to describe the technology, but I don’t need to. What’s important is that this piece of technology solves an actual problem. If you have trouble making out the dialogue in shows or the sound is a little too muddy for your taste Bose almost certainly has the solution.
- Major Improvement Over TV Speakers – for a good price you’re getting a huge bump in sound quality over your television’s speakers. This is doubly true if you bought a low-cost TV set.
- Great Entry Level Soundbar – ultimately, the Bose Solo 5 is probably best for those of you that don’t have much experience with or use for advanced audio tech. The setup is as simple as one cord and you’re good to go. You don’t have to figure anything out or end up in any sort of frustration.
Where it Comes up a Little Short
It’s not all perfect (though nothing is) of course, so let’s talk about some of the Solo 5’s shortcomings:
- Dialogue Mode Turns Off – if you’re buying the Solo 5 for the dialogue mode (making it easier to hear what’s being said on TV) it’s going to be really annoying that it turns off every time you go more than an hour away from your TV. Bose has said they may change this with a firmware update, but nothing has happened as of yet.
- Bass is Subpar – this is the case with almost every soundbar that doesn’t also come with a subwoofer, but it’s worth pointing out that you shouldn’t spring for this if you’re specifically looking for a better bass experience.
- Narrow Sound Field – some soundbars are designed to attempt a reproduction of surround sound. The Solo 5 is not built for that, even though Bose has the technology in other soundbars it sells. The result is a fairly narrow sound field, though for most people shopping in this price range it won’t make a big difference.
Ultimately, the Bose Solo 5 does one thing really well – make it easier to hear dialogue in TV shows and movies. Side benefits include the excellent build quality the company is known for and a significant improvement in sound over what your television provides. The design is compact and setup is literally as simple as it could possibly be. If all of that appeals to you and the price works for your budget, this might be the right choice.
- Improves dialogue sound quality
- Better sound than TV speakers
- Simple setup
- Compact design
- Included universal remote works well
- No wall mount kit included
- Bass is lacking
- Narrow sound field
Yamaha YAS-207BL Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer
The budget end of the soundbar market is getting fiercely competitive and the Yamaha YAS-207 brings a whole lot to the table for a low price.
It has the distinction of being the first soundbar with DTS Virtual:X, a codec designed to create 3D surround sound. The added subwoofer means this might be a great choice for anyone seeking great sound on a budget.
Yamaha is a massive company that produces everything from instruments to audio/visual equipment to motors. Their size hasn’t prevented them from making effective soundbars as they’re producers of some of the most popular models on the lower end of the budgetary scale.
As you’d probably discovered, you can empty the bank or shop on the low end of the price scale when it comes to the best soundbars. The Yamaha YAS-207 might be a good choice for buyers seeking a wireless subwoofer and a soundbar that provides clear audio and offers a little extra with the virtual 3D surround sound provided by DTS Virtual:X.
The Important Stuff in This Yamaha Soundbar
- DTS Virtual:X Surround Sound – this isn’t true surround sound – you need extra speakers for that – but it’s a pretty close second. The codec from DTS is built to generate what feels like surround sound from the soundbar alone.
- Clear Voice Mode – activate this mode and dialogue is much easier to hear.
Big Bass – A soundbar alone cannot deliver great bass. Throw in a wireless subwoofer and you’ve got what you need.
- Control Your Soundbar with the App – with the well-designed app you gain finer control over your sound experience. You can change modes and fine tune your sound settings in a way the remote doesn’t allow.
- Supports 4K Technologies – the YAS-207 supports 4K Ultra HD pass through and HDCP 2.2, so if you have the latest and greatest TV or if you’re planning on buying one in the future you’ll be covered.
All the Reasons to Buy
- Virtual Surround is Pretty Good – there is no replacement for a genuine surround sound setup, but those tend to be really expensive. What they’ve done with the DTS Virtual:X codec is fairly remarkable. If you haven’t yet experienced in-home surround sound it will sound especially good.
- Bass is Big – the subwoofer is big and provides plenty of punch, making this an obvious choice over smaller packages in the same price range.
- Sound Quality is Best in Class – compared to other systems in the same budget range, the Yamaha YAS-207 offers superior sound quality, making it a good choice if that’s your primary selection criteria.
- LED Readout on the Bar – so many soundbars neglect to offer any sort of readout, making it hard to know what settings are on. The 207 has one, though it’s small enough that you won’t be able to read it from far away. It’s still handy though.
- Handles Music Well – sometimes budget soundbars fall way short when it comes to music. That’s not the case here, as most music sounds terrific on it.
Just a Few Shortcomings
- No Wi-Fi Support – it would be nice to be able to stream music just a little bit easier with Chromecast, etc. It also makes updating the firmware a pain as you have to transfer the update with a USB stick.
- Design Could be Better Looking – this is nit picking a little bit, but this thing is going to be in your living room for a long time and it doesn’t look great compared to many of the other soundbars reviewed here.
- Bass Can be Too Big – I know it’s weird putting this in the pros and cons, but sometimes the bass is actually too big and it’s off putting. Even at the lowest setting some movies are just exhausting to watch with it turned on.
There’s very little to complain about with the Yamaha YAS-207 as it offers almost everything that’s been promised and does so at a low price. You get a great soundbar, a subwoofer, and a codec that produces convincing virtual surround sound. If those features appeal to you and you like the price, this might be the right choice.
- Virtual surround sound
- Clear voice feature enhances dialogue
- App is helpful and easy to use
- Quick and simple setup
- Great price
- Basic design
- No Wi-Fi
- No on screen display of modes
ZVOX AccuVoice AV200 – Best Budget Soundbar
There’s something to be said for knowing your market, and with the AccuVoice AV200 soundbar ZVOX is very clearly going for people with hearing difficulties.
They wouldn’t brag about including “hearing aid technology” if that wasn’t the case. Given that, this might be a perfect choice for you if you’re seeking a soundbar to solve the very specific problem of having trouble hearing dialogue clearly when you watch TV and movies at home.
Founded in 2003, ZVOX quickly made a name for itself with the 315, one of the first soundbars to make a sales impact in the market. In 2012 they introduced their AccuVoice feature, which was engineered specifically to help the growing segment of the population that had difficulty hearing dialogue on television. Though not a household name, the company has established a strong reputation as an innovator in its field.
As mentioned above, the AccuVoice AV200 is designed specifically for those of you that have trouble hearing dialogue on TV. That can be due to hearing loss or because too many shows are poorly mixed and make it impossible to make out the sound as well as you’d like. It’s also made for the budget-minded as they keep the price fairly low compared to their competitors.
Clear Dialogue and So Much More: The Features
Though the AccuVoice AV200’s most important feature is its ability to make dialogue louder and clearer, there are other reasons to buy.
- AccuVoice Technology – developed in house, this proprietary technology isolates the voices in TV and movies and enhances them for greater clarity and volume, if necessary. It works even when the sound is poorly mixed.
- Compact Design and Simple Install – in their effort to make the AccuVoice AV200 as simple and unobtrusive as possible, it’s been designed with a small footprint (it’s only 17 inches wide) and setting it up is limited to connecting one wire to your TV and plugging in the power cord.
- Volume Leveling – we’ve all had the unpleasant experience of the volume between a TV show and a commercial being vastly different. It’s always annoying and the AccuVoice AV200 solves that problem by leveling out the volume. Now you no longer have to reach for the remote.
- Virtual Surround Sound – ZVOX attempts to provide something akin to surround sound with their PhaseCue technology that effectively bounces the sound off your walls to try and create the desired effect.
- Program Your Remote to Work with It – most remote controls can be programmed to control the AccuVoice AV200. They include a remote as well, but you won’t need it if yours is compatible.
Standout Reasons to Buy this Soundbar
- Small – the compact design makes it easy to use the AccuVoice AV200 with almost any setup. Plus, there’s no risk of it blocking your remote sensor.
- Dialogue is Definitely Clearer – what I often end up doing is turning the volume up during dialogue scenes and down during any kind of action. This soundbar solves that problem by making the dialogue louder and clearer and I imagine that if you had hearing issues it would be even more beneficial.
- Stupidly Easy Installation – there will be no need to pay someone to install this. One plug is all it takes. Almost anyone can figure that out.
- Works with My Remote – I like that I can use my remote to control the AccuVoice AV200 instead of having to keep yet another remote around.
A Handful of Small Issues
- Surround Sound Isn’t Great – I like that they tried to include a surround sound feature, but it doesn’t work all that well. This is especially true if you have an open floor plan or lots of stuff on your walls.
- Sound Quality Is Just Okay – Ultimately, this bar is made for people with hearing loss issues. The sound isn’t great because it’s low cost and designed with a very specific purpose in mind.
- No Bluetooth Capability – No connectivity via Bluebooth means you won’t be streaming your music through the speaker. Music wouldn’t sound particularly good on it anyway.
ZVOX has created a compact soundbar with the hearing-impaired in mind and they’ve done a wonderful job of that. The AccuVoice AV200 works wonders if you have difficulty making out the dialogue in shows (even if it’s just British shows). If that’s your primary issue this might be the perfect choice for you.
- Makes hearing dialogue easier
- Setup is a breeze
- Most remotes work with it
- Sturdy construction
- Good price
- No Bluetooth connectivity
- Sound isn’t as good as the competition
- Surround sound feature doesn’t do much
Vizio SB3851-CO 5.1 Channel Soundbar
It’s difficult to find a true 5.1 channel surround sound system at a relatively low price, but that’s what Vizio offers with the SB3851-CO soundbar with subwoofer and satellite speakers. The included Dolby Digital and DTS Surround decoding only improve the audio experience and can upgrade your home viewing of TV and movies for surprisingly little money.
Founded in 2002, Vizio made its name manufacturing televisions and consistently undercutting their competition when it came to pricing (it’s also worth noting they were found to be spying on their customers through their televisions and selling the data). The company now produces aggressively priced soundbars and claims to be “America’s #1 Sound Bar Company.”
It’s hard to ignore the fact that you’re getting a genuine 5.1 channel surround sound setup when you buy the SB3851-CO and that you’re not paying anywhere near what the higher end competitors in the space would charge. Ultimately, this product might be the right choice for those of you looking for that 5.1 sound while shopping on a budget.
What You’re Getting When You Buy
- Soundbar, Wireless Subwoofer and Speakers – the 38” soundbar features a sturdy, attractive design. The subwoofer and are wireless and the speakers are wired to it, allowing you to design your setup as you see fit.
- Bluetooth Connectivity – connect your streaming music device with ease and enjoy your favorite songs in beautiful 5.1 surround sound.
- Dolby and DTS Compatibility – your home theater experience will be enhanced thanks to Vizio’s smart decision to include compatibility.
- Lots of Bass – the included wireless subwoofer pumps out tons of bass (this may or may not be a good thing, depending on your preference).
What Makes This is a Great Soundbar
- 5.1 Surround Sound on a Budget – I can’t say this enough: the price of this unit is mind-blowing compared to higher end surround sound setups. That means the audio quality isn’t as good as those higher end units, but the price is so much lower.
- Versatile Sound – the SB3851-CO can handle just about anything you throw at it, which can’t be said about competitors in the same price range. The sound isn’t perfect, but it’s good across the board.
- Easy Setup – it’s a little more complicated than when you’re plugging in just one cord, but Vizio made the setup easy and I had no issues. I was done in less than 10 minutes.
Where It Comes Up Short
- Sound Quality is Okay – I don’t want to go too hard on this, but the sound quality is large what you’d expect when you’re paying such a low price for a 5.1 surround system. You get what you’re paying for, in other words.
- Some Popping at Higher Volumes – I experienced some popping from the back speakers when the action got loud.
- Not Great for Music – while the SB3851-CO does a good job with movies and TV shows, it comes up short with music. The surround sound in particular ends up being detrimental to music listening.
You’re not going to find a better 5.1 surround sound system at this price. The SB3851-CO might be the perfect choice if you’re looking to upgrade your home theater experience on a budget. If you’re an audiophile looking for the best sound regardless of price, search elsewhere.
- Great price
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Nice design
- Handles movies and TV well
- Wireless subwoofer is nice
- Music doesn’t sound great in the 5.1 surround
- Rear speakers are not wireless
- Limited EQ options
Polk Audio MagniFi Mini System
It comes with a great name (MagniFi Mini sounds awesome) and packs quality sound into a tiny package, including a wireless subwoofer.
Setup is as simple as plugging in one cable and with the click of a button you can adjust the sound to ideally suit whatever you’re watching (sports, movies, TV and even music). For someone that wants tons of features on a budget, this might be the right choice.
Found in 1972 by a group of friends from Johns Hopkins University, Polk Audio quickly grew into a renowned audio company that specialized in home and car speakers. They continue to aggressively pursue new breakthroughs in the field and have earned their strong reputation among audiophiles and as producers of some of the best soundbars on the market.
Polk has done something fairly amazing with the MagniFi Mini in that they’ve managed to produce a soundbar that should please most people outside of the wealthy audiophiles that will spend anything to get the perfect experience. As long as you’re not dead set on a 5.1 surround sound system (it does not achieve that, despite claims to the contrary) you’ll likely be pleased with this soundbar.
What This Mini Soundbar Offers
- Big Sound in a Small Package – the MagniFi Mini is only 13.4 inches wide, making it one of the smallest I’ve looked at. Despite its diminutive stature there’s a whole lot of power packed into it. Six speakers and the wireless subwoofer produce sound that’s on par with far larger and more expensive soundbars.
- Quick and Easy Setup – all necessary cables are included and you just have to plug them into your TV and you’re off. The directions are easy to follow. The wireless subwoofer pairs automatically with the soundbar.
- A Quartet of Listening Modes – depending on what you’re watching (or listening to) you can adjust the mode to create different sound experiences. Put it in movie mode and you get deeper bass. Sports mode makes the dialogue crisper. Night mode turns down the loudness of the bass and ups the dialogue so you can still enjoy movies without disturbing your neighbors/sleeping family members. Music mode is designed to be a full experience.
- Wireless Streaming – compatibility with Bluetooth and Google Home makes wireless streaming of music a breeze.
Good Reasons to Go Mini
- Night Mode – the MagniFi Mini makes it easy to enjoy great sound at night without disturbing neighbors and family. Without it I’d have to disconnect the soundbar. With it I can continue to enjoy a superior experience minus the house-shaking explosion sounds.
- Incredible Sound for the Price – what Polk has included in this package for the price is really what sets it apart. You’re getting incredible sound thanks to the six speaker soundbar and subwoofer and you’re paying a fraction of what other brands charge.
- Great Remote – seems like a simple thing, but having a really great remote is atypical of soundbars. This one is intuitive and gives full control, which is good since I like to switch between the listening modes frequently.
- Great Bass – you can’t underestimate the difference a good subwoofer makes. Many at this price range are subpar, but Polk has provided genuine quality here.
A Few Concerns to Make Note Of
- Not Really Surround Sound – the claim is “massive surround sound” but it’s not really true. It’s a 2.1 channel system with a subwoofer and it sounds like it.
- Voice Adjust and Music Don’t Play Well – the Voice Adjust technology, which is supposed to make it so you can hear dialogue in TV shows, is not at all useful for music, where it compromises the sound.
- No Ability to Dig Into Settings – the MagniFi Mini limits your ability to adjust the settings to your exact needs. You can pick from the four listening modes and either turn the bass up/down and the voice up/down.
It’s really hard to argue with what Polk has provided with their MagniFi Mini at this price point. You’re getting an incredible bargain and as long as you’re not in need of surround sound you’re going to love what you’re getting here. If you’re searching for good sound and a wireless subwoofer at a low price point, this might be the right choice.
- Multiple nicely tuned listening modes
- Great price
- Easy setup
- Easy to use remote
- Built-in compatibility with Bluetooth and Google Home/Chromecast
- Limited EQ control
- Surround sound claims are untrue
- Limited to one HDMI input
- Lack of mobile app limits customizability
Klipsch R-10B with Wireless Subwoofer
When it launched, the Klipsch R-10B was priced at a few hundred dollars and garnered positive reviews for its high-end sound and was thought of as one of the best soundbars available. Now it’s less than half the cost and the sound is still excellent, and when paired with a subwoofer it offers a remarkable audio experience for a very reasonable price. If you want quality on a fairly tight budget, this might be a great choice.
Founded in 1946 by Paul W. Klipsch, audio technology company Klipsch has been in the speaker manufacturing business for longer than most companies. They’ve maintained a strong reputation over the course of several decades and continue to produce beloved speakers, including their soundbars. They largely operate on the higher end of the market.
It’s rare to get access to a soundbar that was universally thought of as high-end while paying a price that decidedly falls on the lower end of the spectrum. That’s why the Klipsch R-10B might be a terrific choice for those of you that want high quality and know how to recognize a bargain.
What You Get with the R-10B from Klipsch
- Easy Setup – use the digital optical cable to plug the Klipsch R-10B into your TV and then plug in the power cord and you’re done. The soundbar will do everything else for you. The wireless subwoofer works automatically.
- Subwoofer with a Wooden Cabinet – the Klipsch R-10B comes with a wireless subwoofer that looks beautiful in its excellently constructed wooden cabinet and provides fantastic bass.
- Bluetooth Connectivity with aptX Support – if your device has aptX support music streaming will sound much better.
- 3D Mode for Virtual Surround Sound – in lieu of true surround sound and the extra speakers that are necessary to achieve it, Klipsch offers a 3D mode that attempts to replicate the experience.
Everything They Did Right
- Big Sound at a Good Price – you likely won’t come across a soundbar at this price that provides sound of this quality. Combined with the subwoofer, you get a big, crystal clear sound experience that blows away almost anything in its price category.
- aptX Support Makes Music Better – this only applies if your phone/music device has aptX support as well (Apple phones don’t, for instance) but many of the issues with Bluetooth music streaming are solved.
- Big Bass That Won’t Overwhelm – some subwoofers just try to blow you away with bass. The Klipsch R-10B brings big ass without being unpleasant or annoying in any way.
Just a Few Concerns to Check Out
- No HDMI Support – as TV technology improves this will be more annoying. The inability to even attempt any sort of HDMI pass through is a letdown, but also likely a result of the soundbar being almost five years old.
- Subwoofer Control on the Unit – the only way to change the subwoofer level is turning the knob on the unit, which will be a real pain if it’s not near where you sit.
- No Bass or Treble Controls – these simply aren’t included. Many other soundbars in the same price range and lower include them, which makes it a significant oversight.
Because it’s an older model and because competition in the soundbar space has increased so significantly you can get your hands on the Klipsch R-10B for less than half of its original cost. Combine that with the truly excellent sound quality and the wireless subwoofer and this might be a perfect choice for almost anyone seeking better sound. The early soundbar reviews that glowingly praised this model were right.
- Great price
- Terrific sound
- Nice construction
- Subwoofer provides big bass
- Bluetooth streaming with aptX support
- aptX is worthless without your device also having support
- No HDMI input
- No bass or treble controls
- 3D surround mode doesn’t support DTS
Samsung HW-M450/ZA 2.1 Channel Sound System
A low price and high quality sound don’t usually go together, but Samsung has managed that combination with their HW-M450 2.1 channel soundbar with an included wireless subwoofer. As a relatively new release, you benefit from the latest technology in a budget-minded package, meaning this might be a great choice if you want good sound without breaking the bank.
South Korean electronics company Samsung was founded in 1938 and has never been more successful. They account for roughly a fifth of South Korea’s exports, after all. Their soundbar selection runs the gamut from super expensive to budget-priced and the one thing they all share in common is uncommonly high quality sound.
Chances are good you had a budget in mind when you began your soundbar shopping experience along with a sense of what you wanted. If you have a small budget and a desire to have both a high quality soundbar and a subwoofer, the Samsung HW-M450 might be the perfect choice for you.
What Samsung Offers with Their Soundbar and Subwoofer
- Expandable for Wireless Surround Sound – the HW-M450 doesn’t come standard with a surround sound setup, but you can easily add a set of wireless speakers.
- Bluetooth Connectivity for Music Streaming – connecting is easy and you’ll be streaming your favorite tunes in moments.
- HDMI Connection – if you have a Samsung TV you can connect it to the soundbar via Bluetooth. If not, you can use the provided HDMI cable for the best sound experience.
- Samsung Audio Remote App – through the app you can control power, volume, and customize your experience through the equalizer.
What Made Me Fall in Love
- Sound and Subwoofer at a Bargain Price – you can’t expect perfect sound at this budget price, but Samsung manages to deliver more than they need to. The sound is better than what you’re paying for, in other words.
- Clear Voice Feature – sometimes the best reason to get a soundbar like the HW-M450 is to make dialogue easier to hear. This feature does that and I love it.
- Integrates Well with Samsung TVs – this is a pro and a con, I suppose, but as an owner of a Samsung TV I really like that everything integrates well and it can all be controlled from the app or the remote.
- Easy Setup and Pairing – you connect it to the TV, you plug in the power, and you’re done. It pairs instantly and flawlessly.
A Few Things I Liked Less
- Not Ideal for Larger Rooms – because it’s a budget-minded product, the sound isn’t quite large enough to fill a big room. That won’t be a problem for most people, but this might be ideal for smaller apartments or when you want a soundbar for a bedroom/second room.
- Bluetooth to TV Struggles – don’t bother connecting it to your Samsung TV via Bluetooth. The tech just isn’t good enough and I experienced some lag.
- Sound Differs Depending on the Connection – it was strange that depending on how it was connected to my TV the soundbar produced wildly varying sound volume and even quality.
In the increasingly crowded budget end of the soundbar market, the Samsung HW-M450 is a fierce competitor. They offer a strong setup with the soundbar and subwoofer and you can easily (and fairly cheaply) expand it to full surround sound by adding two wireless speakers. For those reasons, this might be a terrific choice for those of you shopping on a budget.
- Quick and easy setup
- App allows greater control
- Nice bass
- Expandable to full surround sound
- Not ideal for big rooms
- Budget sound
- Clear voice technology doesn’t always work well
Soundbars Buyer’s Guide
The soundbar market has exploded in the past handful of years, leading many to the following questions:
How the hell do I know which soundbar is right for me? What do I need to consider before buying?
Don’t worry, dear readers, for I’m here to help you answer those questions.
You can spend a small fortune on a soundbar (or on a subwoofer and speakers to upgrade that soundbar) or you can be kind to your wallet and spend far less while still experiencing game-changing sound. I’ll help you decide where you want to end up on the spectrum.
Increasing demand for TVs to be thinner and lighter has led directly to the rise in popularity of soundbars. The reason is simple: The thinner your TV is the worse the speakers are going to be. They need space to operate!
Thus, the soundbar solves a genuine problem. The difficulty for you, the potential buyer, is there are so many choices out there it can be overwhelming. With dozens of good options from a range of well-known manufacturers it’s enough to drive a good person insane.
In this soundbar buyer’s guide my aim is to help you make the tough decision. I’ll help you figure out what you want and then help you decide which of the potential options will best fit your needs.
What’s Your Budget?
This applies to almost any buying experience, but before you go shopping for a soundbar you need to know how much you’re willing to spend. A general range will do. You can easily spend over $1,000 on a soundbar or you can find something for less than $200. Where you fall on the spectrum?
What Sound Experience Are You Looking For?
Keep in mind that you generally get what you pay for when it comes to soundbars. There are variations, but if you pay $1,000 it’s going to sound a great deal better than the $200 model. So, how important is sound to you?
People make bad buying decisions when they don’t do much thinking beforehand. That’s how you get bamboozled by a greedy salesperson or distracted by something shiny looking. Here are some things to consider:
- Subwoofer or Not – some soundbars come with a subwoofer that provides extra bass. Is that something you want? Some will let you add a subwoofer, but that’s an extra cost.
- Trouble Hearing Dialogue – many people have difficulty hearing the dialogue in their favorite TV shows and movies. Certain soundbars are designed specifically to help with that issue.
- Size of Your Room – if you have a big room you’re going to need a soundbar with bigger sound (read: more expensive). If it’s a small room, a bedroom, etc, you don’t need to go high end.
- Surround Sound Expansion – some soundbars offer the option to purchase surround sound speakers and upgrade to a 5.1 experience. If you’re thinking about that or might want to do so in the future, keep that in mind.
How Big Should Your Soundbar Be?
Generally people want a soundbar that’s a little smaller than their TV, width wise. Luckily, they come in a variety of sizes and it should be easy enough to get something that won’t look colossally stupid in front of your television.
Remember, your TV is measured diagonally, so if you have a 42 inch television it’s not 42 inches wide.
Check the width before you buy your soundbar. You may have heard bad things about compact or mini soundbars, but the market is mature enough now that you can get great sound from a small package.
What about All the Connections?
You’ll find that most soundbars are designed to have a single output to your television, which you then use as your switching device. Everything else gets plugged into the TV, in other words.
This will get the job done for most setups, though you will be limited by the number of inputs on your TV.
The exception is if you’re buying a surround sound capable bar.
Then you’ll want to plug directly into the soundbar because you TV will likely be downgrading the incoming sound, thereby negating the capabilities of the soundbar you just bought.
Will You Use Your Soundbar for Music?
Almost every soundbar comes with built-in Bluetooth connectivity, making it easy to stream music from your favorite device. It’s worth checking just to make sure, because you shouldn’t be buying a soundbar if it doesn’t have Bluetooth.
The more important consideration is how important quality music streaming is to your soundbar purchase. Some bars are better than others at music compared to television, so it’s important to keep that in mind as you’re reading reviews and browsing product pages.
Luckily, it’s never been easier to get a great deal on a soundbar that can vastly improve your TV viewing and music listening experience. You can spend big if you want, but you can also upgrade your home sound for a bargain and there are numerous high quality options from well-respected manufacturers.
It’s important to have a sense of what you need before you commit to a purchase of one of the best soundbars on the market. Hopefully my soundbar reviews will educate and inform you and lead to a confident decision and a vastly improved home theater experience.