In a world driven by convenience, the drive to fit a rack of amplification and speakers into a sleek, shiny shell has produced the modern soundbar. Not everyone wants or needs a dedicated listening space filled with equipment, but an improvement over TV speakers remains a priority. That's where soundbars come in, for a few hundred bucks you can hugely improve upon the built-in sound of most TVs and for a grand you can immerse yourself in Dolby Atmos and DTS:X sound.

Soundbars now come in a wide variety of sizes and styles to match TV size, decor, and the installation type. Compared to other AV systems, soundbars are both convenient and unobtrusive. Whether you use one in the living room, AV room or bedroom, improving on the quality of TV audio is easier and more affordable than ever. In addition to size and price, there are other things to consider: Do you want an all-in-one design, or a soundbar that includes a separate subwoofer? Is it a complete kit or modular? Can you add rear speakers? Moreover,  since most soundbars are self-powered with built in electronics, what kind of CODEC processing does it offer?

There are many models of soundbars to choose from, but for the living room you want a soundbar that looks good and can fill a larger room with clear sound. Another consideration is whether you should buy a soundbar that's the same brand as your TV. This can be beneficial when the TV and soundbar are designed to recognize each other, further simplifying setup and operation. In many cases you'll find that same-brand soundbar and TV combos are more of an aesthetic match. Soundbars from Samsung, Sony, LG and Vizio are available at most major retailers.

When it comes to audio fidelity, physical limitations in driver size and positioning prevent soundbars from achieving the dynamics of full-sized systems. However, at moderate volume levels they can provide a surprisingly satisfying listening experience to AV enthusiasts. These days, some soundbars even handle music well. Furthermore, some of the most recent soundbar offerings include voice search and built-in streaming capability—super handy for the living room when you don't want to go find a remote.

Let's look at some soundbar options suitable for living room TVs...

1. Yamaha YAS 108

On the cheaper end of things, the Yamaha YAS is a solid contender with a host of nice features for the price. It's a good width for use with 55" TVs,  costs very little, and allows you to add your own subwoofer (unlike many soundbars). Yamaha has many years of experience designing soundbars and the reviews of this model indicate that they got it right. It even includes DTS Virtual:X to give you a taste of 3D immersive sound.

Despite the affordable price, this soundbar offers both an HDMI input and a ARC-compatible HDMI output. It also has a digital optical input, so it should be able to connect to just about any TV.

Quick stats:
  • Length: 35”
  • Decoding: DTS Virtual:X
  • Subwoofer: Built-in 3” woofer, subwoofer output
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, HDMI 4k pass-through, Optical, Auxiliary, Amazon Alexa
  • Wi-Fi: No
  • Mountable: Yes
  • Drivers: Two 2-⅛” woofers, 3” subwoofer, two 1” tweeters

2.  Yamaha YAS 207

If you are able to stretch your budget slightly more, the YAS 207 offers all of the same features of the YAS 108, but adds an external subwoofer and shakes things up with a different driver configuration.

Quick stats:
  • Length: 36-⅝”
  • Subwoofer: External Wireless6-¼” Subwoofer
  • Drivers: Two 1” tweeters, Four 1-¾” drivers

3.  Polk MagniFi Mini

At the same price point of the YAS 207, comes Polk’s unique offering the MagniFi Mini. What makes this particular product so unique is it’s incredibly small form factor. At only 13.4” wide, it has opened up the possibility to add a soundbar to even the most confined spaces. The Magnifi Mini touts simulated 5.1 surround, however most agree that it sounds, more realistically, like a 3.1 setup.

Quick stats:
  • Length: 13.4”
  • Decoding:  5.1 Dolby Digital
  • Subwoofer: External Wireless 6.5” subwoofer
  • Connectivity: HDMI, Optical, Auxiliary, Google Cast, Bluetooth
  • Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Mountable: No
  • Drivers: Two ½” tweeters, four 2-½” drivers

4.  Sonos Beam  

As a brand, Sonos has a massive following. If you’ve already got a Sonos system going, adding the soundbar to your network may be a no brainer. You can even pair it with the subwoofer and two other sonos speakers as rears for a full 5.1 setup. In this setup, the beam handles the left, center, and right channels. That being said, Sonos products come at a price. For example, the proprietary subwoofer costs $650. If you haven’t begun developing a Sonos system, you could either think of the Beam as a great jumping off point into developing a Sonos system, or if you never intend to expand it, potentially throwing good money at something that will not be fully utilized.

There are a few things that I believe are worth noting about the Beam. Not only is it Alexa compatible but Alexa is built in. The Beam includes 5 microphones to take Alexa commands directly, though there is no messaging or calling functionality. Another point I would like to add, is that if you are a movie buff, the lack of codec support may be a big deal. Most others on the list support more cinematically appealing codecs while the Sonos is quite limited in that regard, going along with their stubborn/proprietary ways.

Quick stats:
  • Length: 25.6”
  • Decoding: N/A
  • Subwoofer: Not Included, proprietary, no sub-out
  • Connectivity: Alexa built-in, Airplay, other Sonos speakers over Wi-Fi, HDMI, Optical
  • Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Mountable: With optional kit
  • Drivers: 4 Woofers, 1 Tweeter, 3 passive radiators powered by 5 class D amps
  • Note: Sonos is cryptic with specs, so the size of the drivers is unclear

5.  Samsung HW-N650 Panoramic Soundbar

Samsung's dedication to soundbars has produced some excellent options. The HW-N650 stands out for offering excellent features for the money. First and foremost is the soundbar's Acoustic beam technology that allows it to project a soundfield much larger than you'd expect from a single soundbar. This model is gamer-friendly and features a dedicated Game Mode that enhances your ability to hear which direction sounds come from.

Quick stats:
  • Length: 36”
  • Decoding: Dolby Atmos, DTS Virtual:X
  • Subwoofer: Wireless 6”
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, HDMI, SPDIF Optical, Auxiliary, Chromecast, Google Assistant, USB for Wav playback
  • Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Mountable: Yes
  • Drivers: Front: x2, Top: x2, Rear: x2 Subwoofer: 6” Wireless

6.  Vizio 36” SB36512-F6  5.1.2 Dolby Atmos Soundbar

For those looking for Atmos products, it would be hard not to take a second look at this price. This offering is a 5.1.2 Atmos setup with a 36” bar, a wireless subwoofer, and two rear surrounds. While many models offer wireless surrounds as well, to keep costs down Vizio decided to make the rear surrounds wired to the wireless subwoofer. This may make positioning tricky for some, but at this price you can expect to take some hits in functionality.

Quick stats:
  • Length: 43.3"
  • Decoding: Dolby Digital/Dolby 5.1ch/DTS Digital Surround
  • Subwoofer: Wireless 
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, HDMI, SPDIF Optical, Auxiliary, USB 
  • Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Mountable: Yes
  • Drivers: 8 total plus subwoofer, Acoustic Beam tweeters

7.  LG SK9Y 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos Soundbar

As we continue on, the Atmos-enabled soundbar prices shoot up quickly, but considering the technology offered, it still remains budget comparatively. As for packaged contents, you will only be receiving a soundbar and wireless 6” subwoofer. There are dedicated wireless rear surround speakers available for this soundbar, however they are not included.

Quick stats:
  • Length: 47.2”
  • Decoding: Dolby Atmos, hi-res files up to 24bit/192khz
  • Subwoofer: Wireless 200W
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, HDMI, Optical, Auxiliary, Chromecast, Google Assistant
  • Wi-Fi: Yes
  • Mountable: Yes
  • Drivers: Front: x2 43W, Center: 1x 43W, Top: 2x 43W, Wireless 200W Subwoofer
  • Note: LG does not spec their drivers in sizes, but rather wattage

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