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The best soundbars 2021: Which should you buy?

If you’re on the hunt for the best soundbar, you’re in luck. There continues to be a plethora of excellent options. The trick is figuring out which is the best soundbar for you — and which soundbar has the best deals.

With any luck, you’ll be able to score a deal on our favorite soundbar overall, the Sonos Arc.

Some soundbars come with lots of extra speakers. Some are terrific for music. Still others manage to get the job done on a shoestring budget. But when it comes to sheer versatility and performance, the Sonos Arc is the whole package.

It’s compatible with Dolby Atmos, it has room-filling sound, it’s expandable, and there’s nothing like it on this list when it comes to multiroom audio. It’s certainly not the cheapest soundbar you’ll find, but once you consider its many strengths, it’s hard to deny the value Sonos provides with the Arc.

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 into the areas in which they excel, so you’ll have plenty of options to find the right soundbar for your setup and preferred media.

The best soundbars at a glance

The best soundbar: Sonos Arc

Sonos Arc Dolby Atmos soundbar.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Why should you buy it? It’s a thrilling combination of Sonos functionality and impeccable Dolby Atmos sound.

Who’s it for? Anyone looking for premium home theater sound wrapped in Sonos’ signature simplicity.

Why we picked the Sonos Arc:

Editor’s note: Sonos recently raised the prices on many of its products, including the Sonos Arc, but we still feel it represents the best pick, even at $100 more than its previous price.

At the risk of sounding too sensational, the Sonos Arc embodies everything Sonos is about. It’s incredibly easy to set up and use, it provides great sound, and it seamlessly incorporates itself into your larger network of whole-home Sonos sound. With all of that packed in, it would have been easy for Dolby Atmos to be an afterthought.

Quite the contrary, as it turns out. The Arc uses up-firing drivers to re-create Dolby Atmos sound, and while it doesn’t completely blow you away, the execution is incredibly effective. The Arc adds a solid sense of 3D space to action-oriented films like Avengers: Endgame and Ford v Ferrari, bringing the sounds of roaring cars and interplanetary battles to life in stunning form.

Like the Sonos Playbar before it, you can easily expand the Arc’s home theater capabilities by adding other Sonos speakers as surround satellites, and its magnificent — if very expensive — Sonos Sub to fill in the low end.

It’s also a smart speaker, with your choice of Alexa or Google Assistant to help out with tasks like, “Alexa, turn on the TV,” or “Hey Google, turn up the volume.”

But what really pushes the Arc to the top of our list is how versatile it is for non-TV listening. The Sonos app gives you an incredible amount of control over the Arc (and any other Sonos speakers in your home), as well as streaming music sources. Whether it’s a playlist from Spotify or a track buried deep in your personal music collection, the universal search feature makes it a snap to find.

Did we mention the Arc is also an AirPlay 2-enabled speaker? For Apple users, this is a much better option than Bluetooth, as it preserves more of the sound quality.

It’s worth noting that unlike some soundbars on this list, the Arc does not have any HDMI inputs. So when you connect it to your TV’s HDMI ARC port, you will be losing an HDMI input on your TV. For those with only one or two video sources, this isn’t a problem, but others may have to make some tough choices — or buy an HDMI switch.

If having an HDMI input is important to you, we highly recommend spending an extra $100 on the Sony HT-A5000. It might not have the Arc’s multiroom and music streaming chops, but it has superb sound quality, with even better bass than the Arc thanks to its built-in subwoofer.

Right now, the Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is probably the closest competitor to the Sonos Arc. With an almost identical feature set and price, it’s an excellent alternative.

Read our in-depth Sonos Arc review

The best value soundbar: Yamaha YAS-209

Yamaha YAS-209 soundbar.
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 only supports 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. While these modes aren’t quite as immersive as Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, they still provide 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 use 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 Yamaha YAS-209’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.

Want another excellent option at the same price? JBL’s Bar 5.0 Multibeam is a compact, single-speaker soundbar that can do virtual Dolby Atmos. It doesn’t have a dedicated subwoofer or the YAS-209’s voice assistant option, but its HDMI input supports 4K/Dolby Vision passthrough, and it works with AirPlay, Chromecast, and Alexa for a superb choice of connections.

Read our in-depth Yamaha YAS-209 review

The best single-speaker soundbar for Dolby Atmos: Sennheiser Ambeo

Sennheiser Ambeo soundbar.
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 Dolby Atmos, future-proofing, and high-end audio performance.

Why we picked the Sennheiser Ambeo:

Sennheiser’s massive monstrosity of a bar 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 an A/V receiver replacement, 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 if you use the legs or stand your TV came with, so you’ll want to wall-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 drivers and impressive interface (including a loaded app) make for a luxurious experience.

As of April 2021, the Ambeo is also compatible with Sony’s immersive 360 Reality Audio format, via Chromecast.

For a less expensive single-bar Dolby Atmos option, consider the superb Sony HT-A7000. It can’t quite match the Sennheiser Ambeo‘s sonic chops, but it comes close and costs a lot less.

Read our in-depth Sennheiser Ambeo soundbar review

The best small soundbar for Dolby Atmos: Sonos Beam (Gen 2)

Sonos Beam Gen 2.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Why should you buy it? It delivers immersive surround sound and smart speaker capabilities in a compact and elegant package.

Who’s it for? Those with small to medium-sized rooms who want a single speaker that does it all.

Why we picked the Sonos Beam (Gen 2):

The first Sonos Beam was one of the best small-sized soundbars you could buy, thanks to its great audio quality, simple setup, voice assistant compatibility, and Sonos’ excellent multiroom audio software. With the recently released second-gen Beam, Sonos has kept that proven formula, but improved what the Beam can do by giving it virtual Dolby Atmos.

What does that mean? Thanks to a more powerful processor, the Beam (Gen 2) can use software to deliver much more immersive sound from the same internal audio components as its predecessor. That sounds like hype, but it’s not — when you connect the Beam (Gen 2) to a Dolby Atmos-capable TV, the soundstage has a much greater sense of width, depth, and even height. Of course, you’ll need a source of Dolby Atmos content, but that’s getting easier all of the time as streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and Apple TV+ have all embraced it.

Sonos plans to add support for Dolby Atmos Music via streaming services like Amazon Music Unlimited, which will give owners of Atmos-capable Sonos speakers like the Sonos Arc and Beam (Gen 2) the chance to hear a more immersive version of new songs and old classics. The same clever virtualized surround sound also helps non-Atmos content sound bigger and deeper.

Sonos has also given the new Beam a slightly new appearance. Now the gently curved speaker, which is available in black or white, features a grille made of plastic instead of fabric. Some folks may prefer the older design, but the new grille matches the rest of the Sonos speaker lineup and it’s way easier to keep clean.

The only downside to the new Beam (other than its $50 price increase over the original) is its single HDMI eARC port. Sonos likes to keep things simple, which is why it made this decision on the Arc as well, but we wish there was at least one HDMI input, which would give folks more flexibility in terms of connecting devices.

Still, with AirPlay 2, your choice of Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, and compatibility with just about every music streaming service on the planet, it’s easy to recommend the Beam (Gen 2) if you want great TV sound in a small and elegant speaker.

Read our hands-on review of the Sonos Beam (Gen 2)

The best soundbar for music:

Sony HT-A5000

Sony HT-A5000.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Why should you buy it? It’s the Swiss Army knife of soundbars, with support for every kind of music format and connection.

Who is it for? Those who want a soundbar that can handle any music format you can throw at it.

Why we picked the Sony HT-A5000:

When it comes to music management and multispeaker playback, you really can’t beat Sonos. The company’s software is without equal. But, there’s more to listening to music than managing playlists and searching for songs. So if you’re looking for a soundbar that can do a terrific job with advanced music playback (in addition to movie and TV audio), we think the Sony HT-A5000 is the speaker to beat.

It starts with a very well-appointed (if somewhat plainly styled) soundbar, that packs its own built-in subwoofer. That driver is powerful enough that unless you’re looking to shake your fillings loose, you probably don’t need a dedicated sub. Sony’s virtual surround technology does a very good job creating an immersive sound field when listening to Dolby Atmos or DTS:X content, but it does a surprisingly good job upscaling regular two-channel content too. But the A5000’s secret sauce lies in its connections and audio compatibility.

With Wi-Fi, AirPlay 2, Chromecast built-in, and Bluetooth (send and receive), it doesn’t matter what kind of device you’re holding in your hand — you’ll be able to stream its audio content in the highest possible quality to the A5000. Better yet, Sony has included support for a huge variety of audio formats and qualities, from the lowliest MP3 files all the way up to hi-res 24-bit/96kHz FLAC and DSD tracks. You can play these files from a USB storage device, your home network, or virtually any streaming service that supports HD audio like Tidal, Amazon Music, or Apple Music. Want to explore the worlds of Dolby Atmos Music and Sony 360 Reality Audio (360RA)? The A5000 has you covered there too.

Even Bluetooth — normally the lowest quality wireless audio link — has received an upgrade in the form of LDAC codec support. When connected to an LDAC-capable phone (mostly Android handsets), you’ll get audio fidelity that almost rivals Wi-Fi.

That support for high-quality audio extends to the A5000’s HDMI input. It can passthrough 8K, Dolby Vision, and 4K at 120Hz, which is awesome for future-proofing, but it’s even better news for those whose TVs don’t support HDMI eARC: You’ll still be able to get the very best, lossless version of Dolby Atmos by plugging your Blu-ray player or Nvidia Shield TV into the soundbar directly, thereby avoiding the down-conversion that some older TVs will do to Dolby Atmos content.

Add to this Sony’s excellent on-screen menus and setup process, auto-room calibration, and tight integration with Sony Bravia TVs and you’ve got a soundbar that easily justifies its admittedly pricey $1,000. The only thing we wish Sony had included is the ability to adjust the HT-A5000‘s sound EQ parameters.

Read our in-depth Sony HT-A5000 review

The best soundbar with Alexa/Google Assistant: Bose Smart Soundbar 300

Bose Smart Soundbar 300.
Bose

Why should you buy it? It gives your TV far better sound, handles music like a champ, and offers Alexa users hands-free control over their cable box.

Who’s it for? Folks who want a simple, small speaker that delivers amazing sound in small-to-midsize rooms.

Why we picked the Bose Smart Soundbar 300:

Given that the new Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is the same price as the Bose Smart Soundbar 300, and that the two speakers share many of the same capabilities, you might wonder why both appear on this list instead of just one. For us, it comes down to what you want or need a small soundbar to do. If maximizing your sense of immersion is key, the Beam (Gen 2) is arguably the better product, but here’s why we still love the Bose:

First, it offers a clearer, brighter sound. We love the warmth and resonance of the Beam, but it has a tendency to enhance lower registers, which isn’t always ideal when it comes to TV dialogue. The Bose, despite not being an Atmos-capable speaker, nonetheless does an excellent job at creating the feeling of immersion, particularly in rooms where it can bounce sound off the side walls.

Second, you can pair a set of Bose Bluetooth headphones with the Smart Soundbar 300 for totally private listening. Whether you simply want a more intimate sound experience or you need to keep from disturbing others while you watch TV, it’s a very handy feature — especially for bedrooms.

Third, when you choose Alexa as your voice assistant (Google Assistant is also an option), Bose extends Alexa’s capabilities by giving her access to your cable box as well as your TV. Once it’s set up, you can ask Alexa for a specific channel, something we’ve only seen on the Fire TV Cube.

Like the Sonos Beam, you can turn the Smart Soundbar 300’s three-channel system into a full-fledged 5.1 surround sound system through Bose’s optional wireless subwoofers and surround speakers, and you can do so more affordably than with Sonos.

The Bose Music app controls the show and gives you in-app access to many streaming music services like Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Deezer, but it’s still a shadow of what Sonos can do with its app. Rounding out its music chops are Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay 2, and Spotify Connect, which make for a very good set of wireless connectivity options.

We also really like that the Bose Smart Soundbar 300 can connect to your TV via HDMI or optical — no adapter required — so it’s fully compatible with older and newer TVs. Toss in a small, simple remote control and you’ve got everything you need for great TV sound.

Read our in-depth Bose Smart Soundbar 300 review

The best budget soundbar: Vizio M-Series M51a-H6 5.1 Soundbar

Vizio M-Series 5.1 soundbar.
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Why should you buy it? The Vizio M-Series delivers immersive surround sound at a shockingly low price.

Who’s it for? Those with smaller rooms who want the best sound quality for the lowest possible price.

Why we picked the Vizio M-Series M51a-H6:

Our previous pick for this category was another Vizio TV model — the V-Series V51-H6. And while we’re still bullish on that soundbar, Vizio’s M-Series packs even more features and better sound for just $50 more. And as far as we’re concerned, that’s $50 very well spent.

The M-Series looks like a typical soundbar at 36-inch in length, and its 6-inch wireless subwoofer looks like many others. But what helps this model stand apart is its versatility.

If you have a medium-to-large room, you can place the subwoofer toward the rear of the space which lets you position the wired surround modules behind the viewing area. But if you’ve got a smaller space, you can put the sub near the front, and the surround speakers can be used from the front too — the M-Series will automatically calibrate the system to give you the best sound possible.

Our reviewer noted that one of the M-Series’ strengths is its ability to process lower-frequency sounds, like a deep, gravelly-voiced announcer, without having it sound like they’re being generated by the subwoofer — something that cheaper systems typically do.

With support for both virtualized Dolby Atmos and DTS Virtual:X, you may not get quite the jaw-dropping overhead sounds that you’ll find with up-firing soundbars like the Arc or the Ambeo, but it’s a much more immersive experience than a traditional 5.1 setup.

The M-Series also benefits from an HDMI eARC port — a rarity at this price — which means that it can support much higher bandwidth, lossless hi-res audio when connected to a compatible TV. An extra HDMI input means that you’re not forced to give up an input on your TV.

Its auxiliary port is ideal for plugging in an Alexa or Google smart speaker. When you do, they can play any requested content through the soundbar and reduce the volume of your TV sound when they answer your question, bringing it back up when they’re done.

There’s also the usual complement of connections, including Bluetooth, optical in, and a USB port for removable drive-based audio files.

All of the M-Series’ settings — of which there are many — can be controlled from the included remote, which has an embedded LCD to help you navigate the myriad options.

The only real caveat with the M-Series (which we noted about the V-Series too) is the lack of Wi-Fi. This means you can’t stream music to it via AirPlay or Chromecast. But that one aspect notwithstanding, the  Vizio M-Series is an outstanding choice for anyone who wants fun, room-filling surround sound without breaking the bank.

Read our in-depth Vizio M-Series M51a-H6 soundbar review

The best soundbar for dialogue: Zvox AV157 TV Speaker

Zvox AccuVoice AV157 TV Speaker.
Zvox

Why should you buy it? With 12 levels of speech enhancement and enough oomph for movies, it’s an ideal TV companion.

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 AV157 TV Speaker:

Several Zvox speakers help with enhancing the clarity of TV dialog, but none possess the power and versatility of the AV157.

The AV157 packs six levels of Zvox’s AccuVoice technology for speech enhancement and an additional six levels of its SuperVoice tech for a huge range of assistance for those who are hearing-impaired or who just struggle to separate speech from other sounds.

For a deep dive into how the AV157 does its speech enhancement magic, check out this full explainer, but here’s what you need to know: The Zvox AV157 doesn’t just make things louder, it selectively increases the dynamic range of vocal sounds, while simultaneously decreasing all other types of soundtrack audio.

The 12 levels of AccuVoice and SuperVoice determine how pronounced this effect is. At its most powerful, the AV157 can deliver speech so clear and precise, it’s almost painful. But for those who suffer from hearing loss, it will be a pleasure.

But better dialog is only the beginning. The AV157 is also a surprisingly capable movie and music speaker too. Turn on the surround sound mode and it does a decent job with all kinds of immersive soundtracks.

Bass performance doesn’t quite measure up to full-size soundbars, but it’s solid and well-balanced. Should you want to get a bit more rumble, you can add an external wired subwoofer using the analog sub-woofer output.

Connections are modest: You can use an optical cable or an analog cable to connect the AV157 to your TV, and there’s no Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. But this keeps things simple and you won’t have to give up an HDMI port just to get better sound from your TV.

The included remote is also a simple but effective device, with large, easy-to-press, and clearly labeled buttons.

If you’re tired of relying on subtitles to understand what your favorite actors are saying, the Zvox AV157 is a perfect TV companion.

Read our in-depth Zvox AV157 TV Speaker review

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 the speakers built into most TVs.

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 to your TV via digital connection either with an optical or HDMI cable. The latter is generally preferred for TVs with HDMI ARC or eARC, as it allows for better sound and control of basic functionality with your TV remote. For Dolby Atmos, an HDMI connection is a prerequisite.

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, many come with mounting brackets in the box, but almost all have optional wall-mount solutions you can buy later.

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 TCL Alto R1, for instance, connects to TVs wirelessly, but it only works with Roku TVs. Sony’s HT-A5000 and HT-A7000 can do the same thing with select Sony Bravia TVs.  All other kinds of TVs need a cable. The majority of soundbars connect via HDMI ARC/eARC or an optical cable.

What about Wi-Fi and Bluetooth?

Most new soundbars do have this sort of wireless functionality. This typically allows you to stream music from your smartphone or home network directly to the soundbar. If a soundbar is also a smart speaker (e.g. Sonos Arc, Bose Soundbar 700) it will be Wi-Fi equipped.

Wi-Fi is generally preferable to Bluetooth for music streaming as its higher bandwidth supports higher quality formats like lossless FLAC, ALAC, WAV, and others. See the above question for wireless functionality with your TV or receiver.

Do soundbars always have a separate subwoofer?

No, not always. Some are built without them purposefully to save space. If they contain built-in subwoofers they can still deliver surprisingly strong bass, but most rely on a wired (or wireless) subwoofer for low-frequency sound.

Do soundbars support Alexa? Google Assistant? Siri?

Yes, but in slightly different ways. Some soundbars can double as smart speakers. The Sonos and Bose family of soundbars give you a choice of Google Assistant or Alexa. Other brands/models (like the Yamaha YAS-209) only support one voice assistant. We aren’t aware of any soundbars that give you direct access to Siri.

Soundbars can also be voice assistant-compatible, which means that you’ll be able to use one or more voice assistants to control the soundbar if you already own a smart speaker or some other way to issue voice commands. Several soundbars can be added to Apple HomeKit, which lets you control them via Siri.

Still other soundbars, like Vizio’s family of products, have dedicated smart speaker inputs so you can wire a Google Nest Mini or Amazon Echo into the soundbar. This lets the soundbar understand when you are trying to talk to your assistant, and it can lower the speaker volume automatically while letting you hear the assistant via the higher-quality soundbar.

Does Apple make a soundbar?

No, but Apple’s HomePod mini (and discontinued HomePod) can act as soundbar replacements if you also own an Apple TV 4K. You can use a first-gen Apple TV 4K to hear streamed content through these speakers, while the second-gen Apple TV 4K adds HDMI ARC, which means a paired HomePod or HomePod mini can play your TV’s audio too.

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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