Life has changed around the world because of coronavirus and the movie industry will never be the same. With Disney releasing Frozen 3 months ahead of schedule and Universal Studios taking movies currently in theaters and making them available on demand, the new reality is that we will see more movies released without a theatrical premiere.
Add to that the lack of sports, and it looks like we are in for a period where TV shows, movies and video games will provide the at-home distraction that is necessary to maintain sanity!
If you’re you’re going to be leaning heavily on the likes of Netflix, Apple, Vudu and Amazon on-demand content to pass spare time, or you plan on delving into your favorite video games, you don’t want to be stuck with the built-in audio on your TV. These days, doesn’t take too much money to add a surprisingly good surround sound system to TV using a soundbar.
1. Best Dedicated Gaming Soundbar: Sound BlasterX Katana
It almost went without saying that our pick for gamers would be the Sound BlasterX Katana. The Katana is designed to sound great with games and look equally awesome doing so. Its award winning multi-core audio DSP, combined with its specific design to fit under your computer monitor (billed as being an Under Monitor Audio System), the Katana is simply great. As an added few bonuses, the Sound BlasterX Katana features 24-bit high resolution DAC to make your music sound great, and also features a string of programmable LED lights to add a bit of flair to your desk or TV stand.
The Sound BlasterX Katana features two upfiring 2.5” midbass drivers, two 1.3” tweeters, and a 5.25” subwoofer. Connect to the Sound BlasterX Katana via an optical-in or Bluetooth. The Sound BlasterX Katana also features a USB flash drive port to play music from as well.
2. Best All-Purpose Gaming Soundbar: Samsung HW-N650
The Samsung HW-N650 soundbar features Samsung’s Acoustic Beam technology, which gives TV viewers great panoramic sound that brings action to life. The Samsung HW-N650 is also great for gaming with its auto-optimization features. Plus, if you’re looking for a soundbar that plays music, this Samsung also acts as a powerful Bluetooth speaker. Additionally, the soundbar comes with a separate wireless subwoofer to provide extra rumble that brings your movies and music to life.
Samsung HW-N650 Panoramic Soundbar features eight individually amplified drivers, as well as an HDMI input, an HDMI out, an optical input, USB port for music playback, and both an analog and digital audio input.
3. Best Home Theater Gaming Soundbar: Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1
The Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro will bring your games to life, and not just because it’s a great soundbar. The Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro features two surround speakers and a subwoofer that, when combined, will truly immerse you in the experience.
The Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro comes with an 8″ subwoofer, two surrounds that feature a 1″ tweeter and 3″ full range drivers, and a soundbar with three tweeters. The Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro features four HDMI ports, a USB in for music and firmware updates, an aux in, a coaxial in, and an optical in.
4. Best Affordable Gaming Soundbar: Yamaha YAS-108
The YAS-108 is an all-in-one soundbar. It features built-in “subwoofer” functionality, DTS Virtual:X output for excellent 3D sound, Bluetooth streaming capabilities that allows you to connect up to two devices, and features Amazon Alexa compatibility.
The Yamaha YAS-108 features an HDMI port, a digital optical out, an analog audio port, a subwoofer output, and feature 4K passthrough.
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.
- Length: 36-⅝”
- Subwoofer: External Wireless 6-¼” Subwoofer
- Drivers: Two 1” tweeters, Four 1-¾” drivers
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.
- 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
7. 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.
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.
- 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
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.
- 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
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.
- 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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