The best soundbars to boost your TV audio in 2024

The best soundbars to boost your TV audio in 2024


The built-in speakers in most TVs aren’t enough to fill your living room with immersive sound that adequately showcases the finer details of movies and TV shows. Thankfully, you don’t have to splurge for a five-speaker (or more) surround-sound system to improve your audio experience. In most cases, a single soundbar and maybe a subwoofer can often drastically improve the quality of Dolby Atmos content. To assist with your home theater shopping, I’ve compiled a list of the best soundbars in premium, mid-range and budget price ranges, along with a summary of what sets them apart from the competition. Just know going in that the more you pay, the more you’re going to get — both in terms of features and performance.

When it comes to features, the more you pay the more you’re going to get. Most affordable options ($150 or less) will improve your television’s audio quality, but that’s about it. Step into the $300 to $400 range and you’ll find a smart soundbar with things like built-in voice control, wireless connectivity, Google Chromecast, AirPlay 2 and even Android TV. They’re all helpful when you want to avoid looking for the remote control, but the best sound quality is usually only in the top tier and the formats those premium soundbar systems support. I’m talking about things like Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and other high-resolution audio standards. These are what you’ll want to look for if truly immersive sound is what you crave for your living room setup. And not all Atmos soundbars are equal, so you’ll need to look at the finer details carefully before you break into the savings account.

Sony

This is a big one. A lot of the more affordable soundbars are limited when it comes to connectivity options. They either offer an optical port or one HDMI jack and, if you’re lucky, both. Things get slightly better in the mid-range section, but that’s not always the case. The Sonos Beam, for example, is $449, but only has a single HDMI port. If you want to connect your set-top box, gaming console and more directly to your soundbar for the best possible audio, you’ll likely want to look for an option with at least two HDMI (eARC) inputs. HDMI connections are essential for things like Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and other high-res and immersive audio formats. And with the HDMI 2.1 spec, soundbars can support HDR, 8K and 4K/120 passthrough to make these speaker systems an even better companion for a game console.

Another big thing you’ll want to pay attention to when looking for the best soundbar is channels. That’s the 2.1, 7.1.2 or other decimal number that companies include in product descriptions. The first figure corresponds to the number of channels. A two would just be left and right while a more robust Atmos system, especially one with rear satellite speakers, could be five or seven (left, right, center and upward). The second number refers to the subwoofer, so if your new soundbar comes with one or has them built in, you’ll see a one here. The third numeral is up-firing speakers, important for the immersive effect of Dolby Atmos. Not all Atmos-enabled units have them, but if they do, the third number will tell you how many are in play.

Sony HT-A7000 soundbar, SA-SW5 subwoofer, SA-SW3 subwoofer and SA-RS3S speakers.

Sony

Most soundbars these days offer either Bluetooth, WiFi or both. When it comes to WiFi, that connectivity affords you luxuries like voice control (either built-in or with a separate device), Chromecast, Spotify Connect and AirPlay 2. Depending on your preferences, you might be able to live without some of these. For me, AirPlay 2 and Chromecast are essentials, but the rest I can live without. Those two give me the ability to beam music and podcasts from my go-to apps without having to settle for — or struggle with — a Bluetooth connection.

This one might seem obvious but humor me for a minute. Nothing is more soul-crushing than getting a pricey soundbar in your living room only to discover you have to rearrange everything to find a spot for it. This was my plight when the Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar arrived at my door. Yes, that speaker is absurdly large (and heavy), and most soundbars aren’t nearly as big. I learned a valuable lesson: Make sure the space where you want to put a soundbar will accommodate the thing you’re about to spend hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on.

Basically, it all comes down to the TV you have (or are planning to get) and what the primary goal is for your living-room audio. Is it ease of use? Do you want the best possible sound from a single speaker or speaker/sub combo? Do you just want to be able to actually hear your TV better? Or do you want to turn your living room into an immersive home theater system with surround sound?

By paying attention to each of those areas, you should have a good idea of what to look for in a soundbar, soundbar/subwoofer combo or a more robust setup. With that said, we’ve put numerous products through their paces at Engadget and have a few favorites for best soundbar at various price points to get you started.

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SAMSUNG

Read our full review of the Samsung HW-Q990D

Samsung’s Q990D is my top pick mostly because of its impressive, immersive sound quality. But, I also put it ahead of the pack because it’s a complete home theater setup. For $2,000, you get the soundbar, subwoofer and rear speakers all in the same box. While that’s pricey, putting together a comparable bundle amongst the competition will cost the same, or in some cases more.

Across all of the various pieces, Samsung packs in 22 total drivers that create an 11.1.4-channel sound factory. The audio is crisp and detailed for Dolby Atmos content, making movies and TV shows as close to a theater experience as you’re likely to get out of a soundbar setup. The Q990D also has features like Private Rear Sound that only use the rear speakers when you need to listen at a much quieter level. This is a great option for music too, with the subwoofer providing booming bass when needed and elevating finer elements of tracks along the way.

Pros

  • HDMI 2.1
  • All-in-one surround setup
  • Excellent, immersive audio
  • Handy features
Cons

  • Pricey
  • Not a huge update over last year’s model

$1,648 at Amazon

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Sony

Sony has a long track record of excellent high-end soundbars and its latest is another great-sounding product. The A7000 is a robust Dolby Atmos soundbar, capable of immersive 7.1.2 audio thanks to Sony’s 360 Sound Mapping, Sound Field Optimization, vertical surround technology and S-Force Pro front surround. There’s a lot of tech at work here, and I haven’t even mentioned 360 Reality Audio or DSEE Extreme upscaling, both handy when it comes to listening to music. Speaking of audio, you’ll have the option of using Chromecast, Spotify Connect or Apple AirPlay 2 to send your tunes to the A7000.

Two HDMI eARC inputs mean you can hook up multiple streaming boxes or gaming consoles. And thanks to HDMI 2.1 support, you can expect 8K and 4K/120 passthrough to your television, so the A7000 is a great option for gamers. This soundbar is expensive at $1,198 and it doesn’t come with a separate subwoofer (though it does have one built in). However, Sony does give you multiple options for both a sub and rear satellite speakers. The SA-SW3 sub is $298 while the SA-SW5 is $699. For rear speakers, the SA-RS3S is $350 while the truly wireless (and much better looking) SA-RS5 set is $598. If you’re looking to save some money on the soundbar itself, Sony offers the HT-A5000 for $999 (although we’ve seen it on sale for $798 recently). It packs nearly all of the same bells and whistles as the A7000, only in a 5.1.2-channel configuration.

Pros

  • Supports Dolby Atmos and 360 Sound Mapping
  • Works with AirPlay 2
  • Includes two HDMI eARC ports
Cons

  • Expensive
  • Doesn’t include a separate subwoofer

$998 at Amazon

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Sennheiser Consumer Audio

Read our full review of the Sennheiser Ambeo Mini

While this is the most compact of Sennheiser’s Ambeo soundbars, the Mini remains in the premium category for two reasons. First, you’ll have to add a subwoofer to maximize its potential, which adds another $600. Secondly, the Mini is already $700, so a complete package puts you at a comparable place to flagship units from the competition. Once you have both though, the Ambeo Mini is truly impressive for a small soundbar.

The main feature is Sennheiser’s spatial Ambeo technology that first debuted on the massive Ambeo Soundbar Max in 2019. With it, the company provides more immersive sound with a mix of driver placement and 3D virtualization. On the Mini, the audio profile is more reliant on virtualization than the bigger Ambeo soundbars due fewer speakers inside. However, you’ll still get a virtualized 7.1.4-channel setup that works well for movies and music. That is, so long as you splurge for the Ambeo Sub too.

Pros

  • Compact design
  • Excellent clarity
  • Great bass
  • Easy setup
Cons

  • Expensive
  • No bundled sub
  • Ambeo effect is limited
  • One HDMI port

$700 at Amazon

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Engadget

Read our full review of the Sonos Beam

Solid sound quality? Check. Dolby Atmos? Yep. Compact and easy to set up? Uh huh. Compatible with other Sonos products for a more robust system? You betcha. The first-gen Sonos Beam has been one of our favorites since it arrived in 2018, but there was one thing it didn’t have: Dolby Atmos. That was the big addition to the 2021 model, though it’s a bit limited since the Beam doesn’t have any upward-firing speakers. Sonos manages to make things seem more directional by tweaking audio timing and frequency instead of adding more drivers. The new Beam still only has the one HDMI port which means you won’t be connecting a gaming console or set-top box directly to this. It also means that if you have an older TV with an optical jack, you’ll need an adapter.

Pros

  • Relatively compact design
  • Good sound for its size
  • Supports Dolby Atmos
Cons

  • One includes one HDMI port

$449 at Sonos

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Engadget

Read our full review of the Sonos Ray

Sonos’ latest bid for best soundbar may be its most affordable to date, but at $279, it’s not exactly a budget pick. Especially when you consider there are cheaper options that come with a subwoofer. Still, the compact design doesn’t command a lot of space in front of your TV or on your TV stand, making it a great option for smaller living spaces. The Ray is easy to set up and provides great sound quality for both TV and music. There are some trade-offs when it comes to the immersive nature of the audio, but it’s a good option for upgrading your TV sound with minimal fuss.

Pros

  • Very good sound quality for both TV and music Good bass performance for such a small speaker
  • Compact, unobtrusive design
  • Easy setup
  • Reasonable price
Cons

  • Sound isn’t as immersive as you get from larger models
  • People with big living rooms might want a louder speaker
  • No voice controls

$279 at Sonos

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VIZIO

If you’re looking for a way to improve your TV sound on a budget, Vizio has some high-quality options. With the V21t-J8, you get a 2.1-channel setup in a compact soundbar and 4.5-inch wireless sub combo for $160. This would be a great choice if you don’t want your add-on TV speaker to take up a lot of space. There’s no Wi-Fi connectivity, but that’s really the only sacrifice when it comes to the basics. HDMI ARC/eARC and optical connections link to your television while a 3.5mm aux jack and Bluetooth allow you to play music from your phone or another device. DTS Virtual:X compatibility offers some of the effect of surround sound without a bigger unit or additional speakers.

Pros

  • Compact design
  • Includes wireless subwoofer

$130 at Amazon



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