The Best Sound Bars of 2018
Last updated on Dec. 18, 2018.
One thing is true across the board: today’s TVs are incredibly
thin and beautiful — but with no room inside for a decent speaker, audio
suffers. Dialogue can be very difficult, sometimes even impossible, to hear.
Big sound effects (think "Star Wars") are tinny and unimpressive. And though just
about any sound bar provides a smart and relatively inexpensive way to
radically improve TV audio, the really good ones are extremely impressive – and
the great ones will give you goosebumps. And today, we’re going for great.
Last, if you’re serious about great sound and you really want to
do this right, check out our “Sound Bar Buying Guide.” It’s a
less-than-10-minute read, and covers everything you should know about sound bars before you buy.
And with that, off we go…
Best sound bars featured in this roundup: 1. Best Budget Sound Bar: Yamaha YAS-108 2. Best "Bang for Your Buck" Sound Bar: Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400 3. Most Innovative Sound Bar: JBL 5.1-Channel Sound Bar 4. Best All-in-One Sound Bar: Harman Kardon Enchant 1300 5. Best Wireless Sound Bar: Denon HEOS 6. Smartest Sound Bar: Sonos Beam 7. Smartest Sound Bar for Surround Sound: Bose Soundbar 700 8. Most Versatile Sound Bar: LG SK10Y 9. Best Premium Sound Bar: Sony HT-ST5000
1. The Best Budget Sound Bar.
Brand & model: Yamaha YAS-108 Sound Bar
Reg. Price: $199.95
Dimensions: 35" (W) x 2-1/8" (H) x 5-1/8" (D)
Key Features: Built-in subwoofers • Bluetooth capable • Works with Amazon Alexa-enabled devices • DTS: Virtual X • Dolby Digital, Pro Logic II, DTS Digital format support • Clear Voice technology • Digital optical, aux, and HDMI in/out with CEC connectivity
The YAS-108 from Yamaha may be one of the most unassuming-looking sound bars we’ve ever tested, but its rounded edges certainly give it a more modern, soft appeal. As a result, it should look like it belongs in any room, whatever your decor. And at only two inches high, it shouldn’t get in the way of your TV screen if you plan on resting it on top of a media cabinet instead of mounting it to the wall.
Inside: two three-inch cone subwoofers, along with a 1-inch tweeter residing on each side of the cabinet interior (left and right), dual 30-watt amps, and a 60-watt subwoofer amp. But the big story here is DTS: Virtual X, a new sound codec from the folks at DTS that essentially simulates what Dolby Atmos does: places certain sounds in the air above and around you, but without all the extra speakers and modules Dolby Atmos requires. The YAS-108 is among the very first sound bars to come with this technology, and it’s a big deal, especially when you experience it for the first time… and actually duck for cover when a Stars Wars Naboo N-1 fighter jet roars right over your head in your own living room.
No sound bar can replicate authentic 5.1 home theater surround sound, and no sound bar can replicate the effect of full-blown Dolby Atmos. BUT… Yamaha’s YAS-108 with DTS Virtual:X is an awesome cheat. (Yamaha has a tendency to "wow" us every now and again... just like they did with their self-playing piano — but we digress.)
In all, the YAS-108 belongs on your consideration set just for DTS Virtual:X alone, especially at its current price.
• Bluetooth connectivity allows you to stream music from your smartphone or tablet directly to the soundbar.
• The YAS-108 works with Alexa-enabled devices like the Echo Dot. Sync it to the soundbar for an instant voice control upgrade.
2. The Best "Bang for Your Buck" Sound Bar.
Brand & model: Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400
Reg. Price: $499.95
Dimensions: Sound bar: 38 5/8" (W) x 2 3/8" (H) x 4 3/8" (D) • Subwoofer: 7 1/8" (W) x 16 (H) 3/8" x 16" (D)
Key Features: Wi-Fi - Bluetooth • AirPlay and Spotify Connect compatible • Connects to Amazon Alexa-enabled devices • DTS Virtual:X - HDMI, optical, and aux connectivity • Multi-room capable with other MusicCast products
When it came time to determine our best “bang for your buck” winner, it didn’t take long for us to reach a unanimous decision: Yamaha’s MusicCast BAR 400. Not only does this sound bar come with a wireless 100-watt subwoofer that can be placed anywhere in the room, it also has built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, DTS Virtual:X surround sound, and multi-room capability — all for under $500.
With over 100 years of experience developing high-quality speakers and instruments for musicians around the world, Yamaha brings it with the MusicCast BAR 400. Part of Yamaha’s multi-room audio ecosystem, MusicCast, the BAR 400 is a go-to if high-fidelity is a must. Enjoy your favorite hi-res audio formats (including AIFF, FLAC, and WAC files) on speakers designed to do them justice. Perfectly paired amps feed 200 watts to a performance-tuned array of tweeters and low/midrange drivers. The wireless subwoofer’s 6.5-inch driver and 100-watt amp, coupled with Dolby Digital and DTS digital decoding, all work together to bring your soundtrack’s effects to life.
• All MusicCast products work with Amazon Alexa. Connect to any Alexa-enabled device, and control your BAR 400 with simple voice commands.
• Placement options are a-plenty: Mount the BAR 400 to the wall or place it in front of your TV, thanks to the bar's slim-profile design.
3. The Most Innovative Sound Bar.
Brand & Model: JBL 5.1-Channel 4K Ultra HD Sound Bar with True Wireless Surround Speakers and Wireless Subwoofer
Reg. Price: $840
Dimensions: Sound bar: 45" (W) x 2.3" (H) x 3.7” (D) • Subwoofer: 16" (W) x 12" (H) x 12” (D) • Surround speakers: 6.5" (W) x 2.3" (H) x 3.7” (D)
Key Features: Detachable Wireless Surround Speakers • 4K Connectivity with 3 HDMI In/ 1 HDMI Out • Bluetooth • Wireless Subwoofer • Dolby Digital / Dolby Pro Logic II • DTS
Sound bar makers aren’t pushing limits these days, they’re extending limits. And in JBL’s case, literally. This sound bar comes with two detachable, (rechargeable) battery-powered, wireless surround speakers — each with 10 hours of play time. If you have a room that's too small for a full 5.1 home theater system (which consists of 5 speakers and a subwoofer), this is a great workaround. On movie night, just detach the left and right speakers, place them further apart for greater separation (say maybe one on a fireplace mantel and the other on an end table) and boom: big time, cinema-like surround sound.
Inside JBL’s sound bar: 510 watts of power, which is more than enough muscle to power everything, including the accompanying 10-inch (bigger than most) subwoofer that comes with it.
All very JBL, very well priced, and with the two removable left and right speakers, very smart.
• Built-in Bluetooth lets you connect your smart device in seconds, so you can stream music from your computer, phone, or tablet.
• Comes with Dolby® Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS, and a variety of sound modes for switching between movies/TV shows and music.
• Inputs include: 3 HDMI Video (and one 1 HDMI video output with an audio return channel), HDMI HDCP Version 2.2, plus both optical and analog audio inputs.
• Also in the box: one HDMI cable, one AUX cable, and even an optical cable. Plus, a calibration microphone and a bracket kit for wall mounting. Very thoughtful.
4. The Best All-in-One Sound Bar.
Brand & model: Harman Kardon Enchant 1300 Soundbar
Reg. Price: $1,200
Dimensions: 44” (W) x 2.6” (H) x 4.9” (D)
Key Features: Supports 13 channels • Bluetooth capable • Multibeam surround sound • Google Chromecast built-in • Automatic Multibeam calibration • 4K HDMI ARC
Where do we even start with the Enchant 1300 sound bar from Harman Kardon? Top of the line. Loaded with features. Supports 13 different audio channels. Google Chromecast built-in. Side-firing tweeters. Bass port design.
But the main reason this sound bar is so exciting? The Enchant 1300 was built with Harman’s proprietary sound processor, “MultiBeam,” and side-firing transducers to simulate true surround sound by bouncing audio off the walls. The effect? An incredible 3D surround sound experience without the need for additional speakers, subwoofers, or wires. Clearly, Harman set out to create a single surround sound solution — as close to authentic 7.1 or 7.1.2 surround sound as humanly possible. If you can imagine invisible speakers hovering (and sometimes even moving around) in the air above and around you, that’s the net effect. Planes, birds, rustling leaves, bad guys in spaceships, prehistoric Pterosaurs — it’s amazing how much sound in our lives comes from above, and Harman’s Enchant 1300 puts it all right there in the correct spots, and the result is CRAZY good. (For an even more immersive experience: add the Enchant Subwoofer for extra heart-pounding punch.)
• The Enchant 1300 comes with Google Chromecast built-in, expenanding your hi-fi streaming library to over 200 online services.
• To make setup a breeze, our friends at Harman added an automatic calibrater to ensure you get the best audio for your room and layout.
• When you don't have your phone handy, preset controls on the Enchant 1300 make audio control possible with the touch of a button.
5. The Best Wireless Sound Bar.
Brand & Model: Denon HEOS Bar
Reg. Price: $899
Dimensions: 43.37” (W) x 2.87” (H) x 5.87” (D)
Key Features: HDMI and 4K UltraHD compatibility • 4 HDMI inputs • Bluetooth • Dolby True HD • DTS-HD Master Audio • 9 High-Performance Drivers
Think Sonos is the be-all and end-all when it comes to wireless? No. While Sonos makes some killer products (some of which are featured on this list), Denon gives them a run for the money – and then some – with the HEOS Bar with Bluetooth. (HEOS is what Denon calls their own wireless multi-room audio system, for which Denon offers lots of options.) Though the Denon Heos Bar doesn’t do Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, it can interpret Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio – the high-resolution audio codecs used on Blu-Ray discs and the best-possible home theater audio compression formats.
The HEOS sound bar can also be paired with the wireless HEOS subwoofer, which is a little smaller than most, but gets the job done. (And altogether, the HEOS Bar had no problem filling our large testing room with big cinematic sound.) What’s more, connectivity options are better than most, including Sonos — which basically means the sky's the limit when it comes to the movies/TV shows you watch and the music you listen to.
The HEOS Bar comes with four 4K-compatible inputs (nice), plus coaxial and optical inputs, a 3.5mm stereo input, a USB input, and an Ethernet port. It also comes with aptX Bluetooth (better than regular Bluetooth for streaming music). And if you add other HEOS speakers, the Bar will use the 5GHz band – not Wi-Fi – for better overall results.
Bottom line: The HEOS Bar's built-in support for streaming high-resolution music, Bluetooth connectivity, and YouTube support makes it the clear winner.
• You can build out your multi-room music system over time by adding HEOS-enabled AV receivers from Denon or Marantz, as well as more HEOS hi-res multi-room speakers. (P.S. HEOS works with Amazon Alexa.)
• Nice idea: Denon put IR flashers on the back of the HEOS Bar, so your TV remote still works even if the HEOS Bar blocks your TVs IR receptor.
• Denon recommends pairing the HEOS Bar with 50" TVs or wider, but that's purely based on cosmetics. At 43" wide, it's a beast — but it will work with any size TV.
6. The Smartest Sound Bar.
Brand & Model: Sonos Beam
Reg. Price: $399
Dimensions: 2.7” (H) x 3.94”(D) x 25.625”(W)
Colors: Black and White
Key Features: Amazon Alexa built-in • Five far-field microphones • Dialogue clarity speech enhancement • Wi-Fi • AirPlay 2 compatible (Google Assistant coming soon) • HDMI ARC • Sonos App
Had we included a “best design,” the Sonos Beam would have won that, too. Everything Sonos is elegant in an understated way — easily the most “Apple-esque” in the category. And had we included a “best (or easiest) to set up,” again Sonos would win. In all, Sonos just seems smarter in almost every respect, which is a good thing when dealing with multiple components, especially in a wireless multi-room streaming music and surround sound scenario.
The Sonos Beam neatly fills a niche: the growing desire among consumers for a smaller, more decor-friendly sound bar that, in spite of its smaller size, still offers all the great features typically found in today’s bigger streaming sound bars – including those with Amazon Alexa onboard.
With the Beam, Sonos pulls it all off with two major perks: 1) The Beam costs half as much as its equally talented, more expensive competitors, and 2) At only 2.7-inches high, 4-inches deep and 25.6-inches wide, the smaller Beam is far more decor-friendly (comes in black or white). And if you’re already building out a Sonos system, it’s an obvious choice. Down the road, spectacular is certainly attainable by adding a Sonos SUB and a couple Sonos One speakers to get a true 5.1 setup.
• Sonos replaced the optical cable used in the Playbar for an HDMI ARC connection, which makes some exciting new things possible. HDMI ARC acts like a speed-of-light translator and facilitator between components, with the goal of making everything smarter, yes, but easier, too. Components can send commands back and forth to each other, shuttle songs, and execute tasks like turning on your TV — all by voice control.
• The Beam / Alexa duo operates other smart home devices as well. (“Alexa, turn up the thermostat.” “Alexa, open the blinds.” “Alexa, turn on ESPN.”)
• The Beam is Apple AirPlay 2 compatible, so you can listen to any audio from your iPad, iPhone, Mac, etc. What’s more, Sonos is promising Google Assistant integration later down the road. Good stuff.
• A custom wall mount for the Beam is available here.
• Working with a bigger room that requires big-time sound? Check out the legacy Sonos PLAYBAR.
7. The Best Sound Bar for Surround Sound.
Brand & model: Bose Soundbar 700 (aka SB700)
Reg. Price: $799
Dimensions: 38.5” (W) x 2.25” (H) x 4.25” (D)
Colors: Black & White
Key Features: Amazon Alexa built-in • Eight-microphone array • HDMI and 4K Pass-Through • Dolby Digital • DTS • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity • 1 HDMI output with Audio Return Channel (ARC) • 1 HDMI input • 1 Optical Digital Audio Connection • Universal remote included
This one stopped us dead in our tracks, briefly causing us to A) reconsider our choice for “best premium sound bar,” and B) consider adding a “biggest sounding” category. Bose recently launched their brand new, very impressive line of smart wireless products — and the Soundbar 700 represents the very best from Bose, now with Amazon Alexa built-in. Just tell the SB700 what to do, and Alexa will get it done. Plus, access all of Alexa’s many skills — ask her for the weather, re-order that 12 pack of paper towel rolls, turn the lights on and off, and so on.
As for the techy good stuff, here’s what sets the SB700 apart from the rest: eight custom microphones in array with echo cancellation and near field detection, so they are designed to hear you, always – even when you’re playing Stevie Ray Vaughan on 10. (With decades of building microphones under their belt, Bose knows what they’re doing.) And in terms of sound, well, let’s just say this: We played a few scenes from "Tropic Thunder" (don’t ask) and found the ongoing dialogue in the jungle easy to hear and understand, all while bullets, bugs, and bombs flew overhead. A few times, we even turned to look at sounds that seemed to pop up behind us, which of course, isn’t possible. And when we moved around the room swapping seats, the surround sound effect was still present. (Freaky, but true.)
• Wi-Fi and Bluetooth provide easy connectivity to and from all of your devices. It also allows for wireless pairing to the rest of the new Bose family, like the Bass Module 700 and Surround Wireless Speakers.
• Control the SB700 with voice commands, the Universal Remote (comes included), or the new Bose Music app. As intuitive and smart as any other on the market, you get full control over all of your music sources (whether Spotify, Amazon Music, Internet radio stations), plus control over every other speaker in the family.
• You can read our full review of the SB700 here, or just hit the button below now to order now.
8. The Most Versatile Sound Bar.
Brand & model: LG SK10Y Sound Bar
Reg. Price: $1,099.99
Dimensions: Sound bar: 57.7" (W) x 2.4" (H) x 5.8" (D) • Subwoofer: 8.7" (W) x 15.4" (H) x 12.3" (D)
Key features: 5.1.2-channel sound bar • Dolby Atmos• High Resolution Audio support • Works with Google Assistant • Chromecast built-in
When LG sought out to create a new top-of-the-line series of Dolby Atmos sound bars, they brought in extra forces to ensure they met everyone's high expectations. So they combined forces with the British hi-fi sound engineers at Meridian Audio to really pack the SK8Y, SK9Y, and SK10Y with a powerful punch — and the result is one we’ll certainly tip our hats to.
The SK10Y is LG’s signature model in the lineup, and with support for the industry’s most popular surround sound format, hi-res audio certification, and built-in Google Assistant, this bar does it justice. Packed inside the SK10Y lies your left, right, and center channel speakers, as well as two top-mounted speakers, and side-firing channels. Unlike other sound bars that are engineered to bounce sound off the walls, this one uses LG’s Acoustic Phase Matching technology to create the illusion of surround sound — and it’s quite effective.
The wireless subwoofer that comes included rounds out the lower frequencies in a way that originally made the SK10Y a runner-up for our best premium sound bar. If both music and movies are your thing, you don’t need to look any further than the versatile SK10Y.
• As the largest sound bar in LG history (65-inches wide), we recommend measuring your media cabinet first if you don’t plan on mounting the bar to the wall. The sound bar’s Dolby upfiring speakers eliminate the option of placing it in a cabinet, too.
• The SK10Y is one you probably won’t have to crank to 11 — with a total output of 550W, this sound bar is big AND loud.
9. The Best Premium Sound Bar.
Brand & model: Sony HT-ST5000 Sound Bar
Reg. Price: $1,498
Dimensions: Sound Bar: 46.46" (W) x 3.15" (H) x 5.71" (D) • Subwoofer: 9.76" (W) x 15.87" (H) x 16.77" (D)
Key Features: High-Resolution Audio • Dolby Atmos • 3 HDMI Inputs • HDCP 2.2 • 7.1.2ch S-Force PRO Front Surround Technology • USB Port • S-Master HX Digital Amplifier • Digital Sound Enhancement Engine HX • Bluetooth • Wi-Fi
The HT-ST5000 is the 2nd most expensive sound bar on our list, and it represents Sony’s best. It also addresses the question, “just how close can we come to authentic 5.1.2 cinematic surround sound in a sound bar?” with a definitive “pretty damn close.”
To start, the HT-ST5000 comes with Dolby Atmos, which, as described above, doubles the surround sound experience by A) bouncing dedicated Atmos channels off the ceiling above, and then B) putting those sounds in specific areas in the air above. (Atmos = atmosphere.) The net effect is stunning. We only wish someone would re-master Hitchcock’s “The Birds” to include Dolby Atmos.
At almost 47 inches wide, the HT-ST5000 is a good mate for TVs 55-inches and larger. The bigger size allows room inside for nine drivers: three pairs of tweeters and woofers, plus the two Dolby Atmos units for beaming sound upwards. (Bigger is always better when it comes to audio.) The subwoofer included is huge compared to other sound bar / subwoofer combos, and it will definitely put a smile on your face. As for music, audiophiles will appreciate the HT-ST5000’s high dynamic range and high-resolution audio playback. Boston Pops, Bruno Mars, Rihanna — everything we listened to sounded fantastic.
In all, the HT-ST5000 is one big, very serious, very powerful sound machine that does movies and music equally well. And like everything else from Sony, it’s all very thoughtfully laid out.
• Bluetooth streaming: yes. Higher quality wireless music streaming (with three times the data transmitted): yes, thanks to Sony’s LDAC technology. Game mode: yes.
• The HT-ST5000 was our runner-up (by a hair) for “best premium sound bar,” just behind Yamaha’s YSP-5600 MusicCast sound bar. The only reason why it didn't make the cut: We didn’t see any way to add two rear speakers, in the event you want to expand the system for an even better surround sound experience.
• The HT-ST5000’s remote isn’t overly complicated and the unit is easy to set up. You will definitely want to take your time with that, and carefully calibrate everything to your room and your tastes for the best sound. Just follow the instructions in the guide provided, and you'll be golden. Trust us, it's worth it.
Still not sure? We got this.
Sound bars are tricky animals. So if you’re still not sure which is best for you and your room, give us a call or send us an email. Tell us about your room (dimensions would be very helpful), what kind of movies and TV shows you like, and your budget. We’d be more than happy to help you pick the ideal sound bar for you.
One more thing:
A last word of advice: buy your new sound bar from a trusted dealer. And the more experience and longer the track record, the better. A good dealer will take care of you in the event anything happens.
Speaking of trusted dealers...
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Plus, shopping with us means you get our guarantee, which includes perks like free shipping, 60-day returns, award-winning support, and service long after the sale — always. Hence our rule: "no one leaves unhappy."