Home Theater

The best soundbars for 2020

Of the countless soundbars we’ve reviewed, the Yamaha YAS-209 is the best all-rounder. Why? Because it’s well-rounded, with superb sound, a diverse feature set (including Amazon Alexa), and a price tag that won’t force you to sell a kidney on the black market — making it the ideal companion for an audio-inept, affordable 4K TV.

That’s not to say it’s the only soundbar out there worth your hard-earned cash, though. Far from it, in fact. We’ve stocked this list with multiple other recommendations for you to check out, separated by the areas in which they best excel, so you’ll have plenty of options to find the right soundbar for your setup and preferred media.

Best soundbars at a glance

The best soundbar: Yamaha YAS-209

Yamaha YAS-209
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Why should you buy it? The YAS-209 offers excellent sound quality and tons of features for an unbelievably low price.

Who’s it for? Those who want the best sound and diverse features, including voice assistance, for a very reasonable price.

Why we picked the Yamaha YAS-209:

It’s hard to beat a bar as versatile and feature-packed as Yamaha’s YAS-207 — it really is the total package. But Yamaha added some impressive upgrades for its latest model, the 209, including Amazon Alexa built-in. These improvements, along with all of the other features we loved about Yamaha’s value-leading soundbar, make it the perfect complement to a reasonably priced 4K television. In fact, one of the only features this bar doesn’t have that we wish it did is Dolby Vision HDR pass-through for its extra HDMI input. It supports only HDR10, but at this price, that’s not unexpected.

When it comes to sound quality, the YAS-209 is just like the 207: Extremely impressive for the money. The bar boasts clear treble and deep, growling bass, with a warm midrange to boot. It also features two dedicated virtual surround modes that emulate taller, wider surround sound images. That means a bigger, more comprehensive surround sound experience from a simple soundbar setup.

Throw on an action movie and the sound effects will fill your living room, or utilize the Clear Voice mode for slower, more dialogue-heavy scenes — it doesn’t matter, because this soundbar will deliver solid performance no matter what you send its way. The bar supports both Dolby Digital and DTS Virtual:X (though the latter tends to add an icy touch to the sound). It can also double as a Bluetooth speaker for streaming music from your smartphone, or get even better sound over Wi-Fi with features like Spotify Connect.

The YAS-200’s big sound profile comes from surprisingly compact components, with the soundbar itself easily disappearing on your TV console. In fact, most people probably won’t notice the soundbar at all. The included wireless subwoofer is equally demure, allowing you to tuck it away behind your screen. Yamaha’s YAS-209 is an excellent upgrade, offering more features in a stylish-yet-subtle device that will provide a handy and handsome accent to your setup.

Read our full Yamaha YAS-209 review

The best soundbar for Dolby Atmos: Vizio SB36514-G6 5.1.4-channel soundbar

Why should you buy it? You’ll get detailed and powerful Dolby Atmos surround sound at an incredible bargain.

Who’s it for? Those who want the thrill of true Dolby Atmos without remodeling the living room — or emptying their bank account.

Why we picked the Vizio SB36514-G6 soundbar 

Samsung has long ruled our category for best Dolby Atmos soundbar, and while the brand’s latest Q90R is still a performance master, it also commands a whole lot of coin. For a price that falls well under $1,000, Vizio’s 36-inch Atmos creation is the bar to buy for most users looking to get into Dolby Atmos sound, whether that be for gaming, movies, or TV shows.

The SB36514-F6 (you gotta love those model numbers) spins full, 5.1.4-channel Dolby Atmos sound with impressive command, making it an excellent way to upgrade your sound to the latest format on a budget. Another great reason to get this bar is that it allows you to fully immerse yourself in the hemispheric sound created by Dolby Atmos’ height channels without taking up a ton of space in your living room. Slim and succinct in all four of its components (bar, subwoofer, and satellite speakers), Vizio’s 36-inch bar is one of the slimmest you can buy.

Apart from Atmos, the SB36514-G6 also offers plenty of other features, including Wi-Fi music streaming over Vizio’s SmartCast system, and even multiroom connection to other Google speakers. It also offers Bluetooth streaming, of course, for multiple ways to play your tunes. One thing this bar doesn’t offer is DTS:X decoding, offering only DTS Digital Surround and DTS-HD. That said, we’re seeing far fewer DTS:X mixes these days (as in, almost none), and it does a fine job virtualizing DTS:X. What’s more, the system will pass through both Dolby Vision and HDR10 from its HDMI 2.0a input, letting you connect your desired streaming box or Blu-ray player directly for full HDR performance.

With manual calibration and wires connecting the satellite speakers to the sub, it’s a bit more work to set up than pricier bars with wireless satellites. But thanks to the wireless subwoofer, you’ve still got plenty of freedom when it comes to connection (and you don’t need to find a power outlet for the satellites, either). If you’re looking for all the Atmos without spending all the money, this is the soundbar for you.

Read our full Vizio SB36514-G6 soundbar review

The best soundbar for virtual Dolby Atmos: Sennheiser Ambeo

Sennheiser Ambeo soundbar review
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Why should you buy it? It delivers powerful Dolby Atmos surround sound and high-end audio from a single (massive) bar.

Who’s it for? Those with plenty to spend who are looking for virtual Atmos, future-proofing, and high-end audio performance.

Why we picked the Sennheiser Ambeo:

Sitting at the exact opposite of the spectrum from Vizio’s SB36514-G6 is Sennheiser’s massive monstrosity of a bar, which offers incredible performance at a price to match. Sure, it’s got a crazy price tag, but if you’ve got to have the latest in home theater technology — and you want a thrilling Atmos experience without all the speakers and wires — the Ambeo is your new bar of choice.

Using Sennheiser’s acorn-to-oak Ambeo technology, the soundbar creates a vibrant swell of Atmos sound (along with multiple other 3D audio formats) right from your TV console. This isn’t just a bar, it’s a whole-home sound solution, offering three HDMI inputs bearing the latest in eARC technology and supporting all major HDR formats for a future-proofed way to match that marquee TV with a marquee sound unit. One warning — this bar will cover up your TV screen, so you’ll want to mount at least your TV.

When it comes to performance, the Ambeo is an incredible experience for cinematic audio, TV, and music, while auto-calibration and a slick and intuitive interface help you run the show with very few hangups. The system does depend on your room itself for its surround immersion, bouncing sound off walls as well as ceilings, so it’s difficult to hear sound fully behind you in many setups. Still, what this bar does with virtual surround is near-magical, while its high-end speakers and impressive interface (including a loaded app) make for a luxurious experience.

Read our full Sennheiser Ambeo soundbar review

The best soundbar with Alexa/Google Assistant: Sonos Beam

Sonos Beam sound bar deal

Why should you buy it? The Sonos Beam does everything a smart soundbar should, and it sounds pretty good, too.

Who’s it for? Users who want good sound, voice assistance, and hands-free control of basic TV functions in a singular package.

Why we picked the Sonos Beam:

This is our leading pick in a segment we think is going to be monstrous in the coming years. Sonos Beam easily gets the win for smart soundbars, not just because it’s one of the first in its class, but also because — as we’ve come to expect from Sonos — it does “smart” right, straight out of the gate. Working directly with Alexa and Google Assistant — and potentially others in future updates — the Beam combines your favorite voice assistant with ARC HDMI and CEC control, allowing you to control smart home devices and basic TV functions with your voice. But the Beam does much more than just that.

As part of the Sonos line, Beam is controllable via Sonos’ intuitive app, which lets you integrate the soundbar with virtually any streaming service, as well as with any other speakers in the Sonos lineup or even the new Sonos Amp device, to create an intuitive, multiroom sound solution. The bar looks great on the mantle, and even without an accompanying subwoofer, it sounds pretty good, too. The sound is a little boxier than we’d like when it comes to music, but it’s still no slouch there, and the Beam does a fine job with cinema and TV sound, offering powerful bass for its size to go along with crystal-clear dialogue.

Read our full Sonos Beam review

The best budget soundbar: Vizio SB3621

Vizio SB3621n-GB review
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Why should you buy it? The Vizio SB3621 provides good sound at a crazy-low price.

Who’s it for? The budget home theater buyer looking for solid performance and minimalist design.

Why we picked the Vizio SB3621:

We’re all for finding the perfect balance between features, performance, and price when shopping for a soundbar. Despite our enthusiasm for pricier models, we also know it’s easy to find a great soundbar that doesn’t break the bank, and for us, there’s none better than the Vizio SB3621 in this category.

Vizio’s SB3621 soundbar boasts performance and features that rival — and, in some cases, exceed — those of other, more expensive models. First off, it can decode basic DTS and Dolby surround sound formats, which means you’ll be able to get the best possible audio experience from a large swath of media. There is also a wireless subwoofer included — something you often don’t get with a soundbar at this price point. It also offers easy connections for your components via Bluetooth, 3.5mm Aux-in, USB, and optical digital inputs, so just about any other devices you own will be compatible with the Vizio SB3621. Frankly, you’d be hard-pressed to find such a long list of supported formats and devices on other soundbars that cost much more than the Vizio SB3621.

Not everything is gravy here, of course. Vizio’s convoluted display on the side consists of a row of lights that change to indicate … well, something, but it can be difficult to discern what exactly. Even though it can sometimes feel confusing, the idiosyncratic LED display doesn’t affect the sound performance and is not an issue that should detract from the overall experience. You simply won’t find a better-performing soundbar at this price, period.

Read our full Vizio SB3621n-G8 review

The best soundbar for dialogue: ZVOX AV200

ZVOX's AccuVoice AV205
ZVOX Audio

Why should you buy it? The ZVOX AV200 is specifically designed to make voices clearer.

Who’s it for? Those who normally find it difficult to hear voices on TV, especially those with hearing impairments.

Why we picked the ZVOX AV200:

The ZVOX AV200 takes this category for a simple reason: It’s designed to help you hear dialogue better. Sure, some soundbars flaunt their dialogue modes or adjustable EQs that supposedly make voices easier to hear, but the ZVOX AV200 is the only one we’ve come across that specifically targets hearing-impaired listeners.

ZVOX’s patented AccuVoice technology is able to take spoken dialogue from a scene you’re watching, manipulate the digital signal to enhance the voices, and make it easier to hear — all without affecting the background sound. That’s the key difference: Other soundbars have dialogue-boosting options, but most of them do so by changing the entire sound mix. The ZVOX AV200 doesn’t, and it makes a huge difference — even those without hearing impairments will notice an improvement in voice clarity. It’s so effective that ZVOX even offers hearing aids and headphones equipped with AccuVoice.

Admittedly, the ZVOX AV200 is a pretty simple soundbar beyond the inclusion of AccuVoice modes. It’s on the smaller side at just 17 inches across and 2.9 inches tall, and doesn’t ship with extra speakers or giant external subwoofer. You won’t get big sound, but the setup should be a breeze. The AV200 is also lighter on the connection inputs, with only a single optical audio input and one 3.5mm Aux jack, so your options are pretty limited. These limitations make it hard to recommend the AV200 beyond this category, but until AccuVoice or similar tech makes its way onto more full-featured devices, it’s the best you’ll find.

Read more about the AccuVoice and the ZVOX AV200

Research and buying tips

Why are soundbars so popular?

They offer a small footprint, they’re affordable and easy to set up, and they sound much better than TVs alone.

Are soundbars any good?

Some of them are, some of them aren’t. That’s why we recommend reading reviews and best-of lists like this one.

How do soundbars work?

Virtually all modern soundbars connect via digital connection either with an Optical cable or HDMI ARC. The latter is generally preferred for TVs with HDMI ARC, as it often allows for better sound and control of basic functionality with your TV remote.

Can soundbars be controlled by a TV remote?

Some of them can be, yes. See the above for information about HDMI ARC.

Can soundbars be mounted on a wall?

Yes, most come with mounting brackets.

Can soundbars be mounted above a tv?

Technically yes, but we usually recommend mounting them below the TV. In general, we recommend you get them as close to ear level as possible for the best sound.

Are soundbars wireless?

Some are, but they generally come with brand restrictions. The vast majority connect via HDMI or Optical input.

Do soundbars always have a subwoofer?

No, not always. Some are built without them purposefully to save space, but most rely on a subwoofer for low-frequency sound.

Do soundbars support Alexa? Google Assistant? Siri?

None support Siri that we’re aware of. The Sonos Beam supports Google Assistant and Alexa, while other brands/models offer general support of the latter two assistants sparingly.

How we test

After giving a soundbar a thorough break-in period, we put it through a rigorous testing process that includes playing all relevant sources of content, including the latest Blu-rays with the highest-resolution codecs from the likes of Dolby and DTS, as well as audio straight from a TV via HDMI and/or Optical output, including streaming services, broadcast TV, and audio apps. When relevant, we test wireless connections for stability and audio quality. We also place a high degree of importance on the musicality of any speaker, so plenty of music is played to gauge its finer performance aspects. Finally, we compare each soundbar with others at, above, and below its price/features class, and with similarly priced alternative sound solutions.

If you’re still in need of guidance after perusing all the above picks, check out our expert guide to picking the right soundbar.

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