Surround sound, at home, is the goal. And while 5.1- or 7.1-channel home theater systems are ideal for replicating the movie-going experience sans the big screen, they’re not practical for everyone — expense and space being the biggest prohibitors. For most homes, a soundbar is a more realistic alternative, and a more-than-adequate one. Soundbars are simple to install, and though they can’t produce true surround sound, they come pretty damn close. Plus, the audio is a surefire upgrade from your TV’s crappy built-in speakers.
Panasonic Low Profile TV Sound Board SC-HTE80
Best Budget Soundbar: For those who simply want an upgrade for their TV’s built-in speakers, there’s the SC-HTE80 by Panasonic. It’s slim, no bigger than your cable box, and has dual integrated subwoofers to take your home theater to the next level. It’s also compatible with most devices via Bluetooth, so streaming Spotify from your smartphone isn’t a problem.
Best Soundbar for Action Movies: Klipsch is best known for their top-of-the-line home speaker systems, but they also make premium soundbars. Their R-4B produces vivid high-frequency audio (via two 3/4-inch dome tweeters), yet it’s affordable at less than $400. It comes with a 6.5-inch driver, which is plenty loud enough for Michael Bay’s explosions, and pairs with a subwoofer that connects wirelessly to the soundbar and is compatible with most Bluetooth-enabled devices.
Best-Value Soundbar: High-quality, crisp-sounding audio in an affordable soundbar — that’s the YAS-203. It has Yamaha’s Air Surround Xtreme technology, which helps replicate the surround sound of a multi-channel system. For deep bass, it comes with a powerful wireless subwoofer. And yes, it’s compatible with Bluetooth, so you can play music straight from your tablet or smartphone.
Definitive Technology W Studio
Best High-End Soundbar: The DT W Studio sounds as close to a dedicated 7.1 system as you’re going to find in a soundbar. It features six 3-inch woofers, three 1-inch tweeters and comes with a separate 200-watt subwoofer, perfect for deep, throbbing sound. Note, it’s not compatible with Bluetooth, but instead is compatible with Play-Fi, which is rare in a soundbar, and allows you to stream music in different rooms between several wireless speakers.
Best for Hi-Fi Aficionados: At nearly $800, the HT-NT5 is twice as much as most top-retailing soundbars. But its sound is superb. The soundbar has two mid-range drivers and two pairs of silk dome tweeters, so you can mount the HT-NT5 on the wall vertically or horizontally — whatever your aesthetic — and a set of drivers will still face listeners. Also cool: it comes with built-in Google Cast, allowing you to stream music from a number of apps, like Spotify.
Best Home System Starter: The Playbar is a high-quality soundbar that works great on its own, but it also pairs easily with Sonos’s other products, the Sonos Sub and two Play:3 speakers, creating a dynamic wireless 5.1 system for well under two grand.