When it comes to our home theater, we all like big sound. Whether we’re revisiting Gandalf in the accompaniment of Howard Shore’s stunning orchestral arrangements in the “Lord of the Rings,” or checking in to see a musical guest on “The Tonight Show,” the best cheap soundbars offer enough power and dimensionality to revolutionize your home cinema audio.
Soundbars are multi-driver speaker arrays in one singular package. These long speakers are meant to be positioned centrally at the base of your television, and often include mid-range speakers, tweeters, bass, and sometimes directional audio. Cheap soundbars usually won’t include some of the directional sound that you’ll find in premium models, and rarely deliver premium bass. However, they’re still capable of great mid and high tones, which will lend dialogue and action far greater detail and clarity than most televisions natively provide.
Soundbars aren’t only here for our movies however; most double as home audio stations that are ready to connect to your musical streaming service via Bluetooth or WiFi. Many soundbars also connect to voice services like Alexa, and some come with their own native capabilities, such as enabling Roku TV. Whatever your needs, there’s a surprising amount of diversity in the soundbar market. Bring new dimensions to your home cinema audio for less with the best cheap soundbars.
— Best Overall: YAMAHA SR-B20A
— Best with Subwoofer: Hisense HS212F 2.1ch
— Best for Alexa: Polk Audio React Soundbar
— Best Premium: SAMSUNG HW-Q900A
— Best All-in-One: Sonos Beam (Gen 2)
— Best Budget: RIF6 Soundbar
How We Picked the Best Cheap Soundbars
Cheap price points largely rule out some premium soundbar features like Dolby Atmos. However, that doesn’t mean purchasing one will require you to skimp on quality. To pick the best low-cost soundbars, we used our experience as tech reviewers and audio enthusiasts to pour over the spec sheets on some of the industry’s leading brands and models, and sift the wheat from the chaff. We broke down some of the most important criterias we considered below.
Sound quality is hard to quantify. As a metric it can include such factors as bass delivery, detail, immersion, timing, and vocal crispness among others. Since there are so many factors in play in any soundbar’s sound quality, we highlighted whatever features make a soundbar stand out, be it exceptional detail and crispness at delivering dialogue, an included dedicated subwoofer that really delivers those booms, great inherent musicality, or achieving an illusion of surround-sound immersion.
Speaker number is a quantifiable factor in any soundbar. Many budget soundbars include just three or four audio channels inside their long frame. Others might include many more. High-end soundbars can sometimes contain ten or more. Audio channels in a soundbar are described by a set of numbers broken by periods. The first number describes audio channels dedicated to high and mid tones, the second number describes bass channels, and the third describes directional sound, such as ceiling directed, up-firing tweeters meant to give sound an immersive vertical element. A 6.1.2 system uses nine audio channels with mids, highs, bass, and immersion. A 3.1 system on the other hand delivers just mids, highs, and bass without directional audio. More channels usually denote better sound, but also usually cost more money. In the cheap soundbar category, there aren’t many options that hit all the bases.
Connectivity and special features can also make or break a soundbar. Many soundbars easily connect to your musical streaming service via WiFi or Bluetooth, but some go further and connect to your smartphone for total control, or they hook into Alexa for voice activation. Others might double as pathways for services, such as enabling Roku streaming for a non-“smart” television. We’re highlighting soundbars that do a great job with connectivity, as well as those that offer useful special features.
The Best Cheap Soundbars: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: YAMAHA SR-B20A
Why It Made The Cut: This bar packs the power. With left and right mid-range to high range cones, a subwoofer, and two passive radiators, it offers full spectrum virtual surround sound from one unit.
— Channels: 4.1 channels (including two passive radiators)
— Wattage: 100 watts
— Connectivity: Bluetooth, HDMI
— Size: 38 inches L x 7 inches W x 5.2 inches H
— Built-in DTS
— Virtual:X does a good job at simulating spatial audio
— Passive radiator design yields excellent bass for an all-in-one system
— Missing some of the connectivity options out there
The YAMAHA SR-B20A homes in on everything most users want from a soundbar and delivers it for a great price. This soundbar uses a built-in subwoofer that’s outfitted with two passive radiators (think the moving diaphragms you’ve seen on Bluetooth speakers) to deliver some really impressive bass for a device without a sizable, separate subwoofer unit. This bass, factoring with its left/right mid-to-high range speakers and virtual surround sound, means you’ve got a system that will feel like deep surround sound.
While it doesn’t have some of the connectivity and voice control options we see in other models (such as Alexa), this soundbar still enables Bluetooth connections between it and your smartphone, allowing you to use it for music as well as television. Overall, it packs all the features that most users need.
Best with Subwoofer: Hisense HS212F 2.1ch
Why It Made The Cut: With great mid-range, Dolby virtual surround sound, and an included bass subwoofer, this is a capable and crisp soundbar that’s worthy of Roku TVs.
— Channels: 2.1 channels
— Wattage: 120 watts
— Connectivity: HDMI, Bluetooth
— Size: 37.8 inches L x 3.1 inches W x 2 inches H
— Dolby digital delivers good surround sound sensation
— Controllable with your TV remote
— Impressive bass tone for the price
— No vertical sound
— Soundbar historically has an issue where it turns off automatically after being paused for ten minutes, requiring you to reset it and your television
If you’re looking for a system that packs bass and costs less, then the Hisense HS212F 2.1ch will give you everything you need. It’s a three-driver system, with two middle- through high-range speakers in the bar housing and a separate subwoofer that links into your system wirelessly.
This is a system that can get you those booms that make your favorite blockbusters pop. It doesn’t have true directional audio, though the Dolby processing will create some illusory space, but this isn’t too much of an issue at the true budget price point.
If your goal is bass for less, then look no further than this 2:1 channel system from Hisense.
Best for Alexa: Polk Audio React Soundbar
Why It Made The Cut: With voice control built right in, this Polk Audio soundbar is ready for Alexa-based, multi-room music, and upgradeable with wireless surround sound speakers that are ready to pair.
— Channels: 6 channels (including two passive radiators)
— Wattage: Undisclosed
— Connectivity: USB, HDMI, Bluetooth, wireless Alexa
— Size: 34.02 inches L x 4.76 inches W x 2.2 inches H
— Extra clear vocal treatment with dialogue enhancements
— Designed for Alexa, it’s completely voice controlled and links up with Amazon multi-room music
— Easily upgradeable with wirelessly connecting subwoofer and surround sound
— Requires constant WiFi connection for Alexa and will loudly announce its connection status
— Large bright LED on top can’t be turned off
— No wattage disclosed by manufacturer
Drama happens in dialogue, and the Polk Audio React is a soundbar meant for delivering great dialogue, and engaging in it, too. This is a soundbar with Alexa built right in from the bottom to the top. Not only is it fully voice controlled, allowing you to change the volume and sound modes vocally, but it will also sync with your Amazon multi-room playback, so that you can listen to Alexa-controlled music all throughout the house.
The dialogue enhancement mode is a great feature of this soundbar, which highlights vocals, giving an EQ boost that will make dialogue easier to understand within the mix. No doubt the six speaker channels in this soundbar help to achieve this remarkable vocal clarity. The speaker system does suffer somewhat in the low end, however, but it can be upgraded with a wireless subwoofer as well as wireless surround sound speakers. The sub can be bought with the soundbar as a package deal for those who need that low-end punch.
Sadly, this soundbar has a few issues. Alexa integration is such a native part of this system that without it the bar becomes hard to use. It prompts you again and again to connect, and works less reliably via controller than voice. It also includes an LED display on top that strobes and is impossible to turn off.
Best Premium: SAMSUNG HW-Q900A
Why It Made The Cut: While it’s certainly not cheap, this soundbar’s true Dolby Atmos 7.1.2 channel array and automatic pairing with SAMSUNG TV speakers makes it worth a look for any audiophiles considering a splurge.
— Channels: 7.1.2
— Wattage: 246
— Connectivity: HDMI, HDMI eARC, Optical Inputs, WiFi, Bluetooth, Q-Symphony, One Remote, Alexa (Built-in), SmartThings app
— Size: 48.5 x 2.75 x 5.45 inches, sub: 8.3 x 16 x 15 inches
— Ultimate sound quality with power and full spectrum detail
— Dolby Atmos enabled upward firing speakers for immersive illusion of true vertical and surround sound
— Q-Symphony pairs your soundbar with compatible Samsung TV speakers to add even more speakers to your system
A true premium soundbar belongs in any soundbar guide, and the SAMSUNG HW-Q900A delivers everything you could want in a premium system. This system works magic. A 7.1.2 channel Dolby Atmos-ready soundbar system, this bar comes with immersive detailed ear level speakers, a powerful subwoofer, and the vertically oriented speakers meant to bounce sound off your ceiling that make Atmos happen. One of its coolest features is its “Q-Symphony” function that pairs it with certain compatible Samsung TVs, to add all of that television’s speakers to the mix. However, the Q-Symphony features only work with specific Samsung models such as the Crystal UHD AU8000 Series, so if this is a selling point for you, be sure your television (or future television) is compatible.
While this is an expensive system, you’ll appreciate its performance immediately. Unlike some budget systems that are primed for TV only, this system will impress you as a home audio centerpiece as well, one that’s ready for HiFi recordings of the London Philharmonic or seat bouncing blockbusters.
Best All-In-One: Sonos Beam (Gen 2)
Why It Made The Cut: This all-in-one soundbar does some amazing things for its price point, including Dolby Atmos delivery.
— Channels: 8 (three radiators)
— Wattage: Undisclosed
— Connectivity: HDMI, HDMI eARC, WiFi, optical, Alexa, Google assistant
— Size: 25.63 inches L x 2.72 inches W x 3.9 inches H
— Creates a decent sensation of virtual surround sound for such a small soundbar
— Can be paired with other Sonos devices within the ecosystem
— Voice controllable
— Moderately expensive
— Not a lot of deep bass
— Can’t pair via Bluetooth
Sonos is one of those brands that has name recognition even outside of audio gear circles, and the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) justifies this reputation. It delivers crisp solid audio out of five speakers which have some vertical Atmos delivery. As a companion to a television or computer in a small room, the Beam makes for an immersive sonic experience that enfolds you in ways you wouldn’t expect without edging closer to top price point gear. However, it does lack some bottom-end bass, which won’t be accessible without spending quite a lot more on a separate Sonos subwoofer.
While the Sonos app and Sonos ecosystem are among this device’s strongest selling points for many users, some others might be turned off. Unlike some soundbars, the Beam will require you to use the Sonos app for much of its functionality. While this comes with many benefits such as pairing with other Sonos products in other rooms, it does require you to give up some personal details, a requirement some privacy buffs might not wish to disclose to a speaker company. Another issue with the soundbar is its lack of Bluetooth connectivity, which means you can’t simply pair it to your guests’ smartphones when they want to DJ your dinner parties.
Best Budget: RIF6 Soundbar
Why It Made The Cut: With two bass woofers included in its frame, this cheap soundbar is truly booming.
— Channels: 2.2 channels
— Wattage: 80 watts
— Connectivity: RCA, Bluetooth, Auxiliary, USB, HDMI
— Size: 35.43 inches L x 3.07 inches W x 2.75 inches H
— Good bass treatment for such a slim form factor
— Bluetooth connections allow you to stream music from your smartphone
— Not as loud as some might want; true peak wattage might not achieve what the unit advertises
If you’re looking for a simple step up from your TV speakers, then you can do no wrong with the RIF6 Soundbar. This cheap, all-in-one unit includes two subwoofers in its thin frame, for a full-spectrum soundbar that does surprisingly well with bass and booms. It gets louder than your TV will, if not drastically so. As far as connectivity goes, the device is well equipped; it can link with your phone via Bluetooth, and offers a few ways to sync with your television.
While the sound is a step up from most TVs, this isn’t an audiophile’s system. It doesn’t do a great job with detailed dialogue that’s easy to hear, suffering in quality somewhat in the mid and high ranges. The advertised wattage might also be a little exaggerated. For true top volume you’ll find yourself cranking the bass and disturbing the balance of the overall sound of the mix. Still, this is a bar that will give your movies a significant extra punch-factor which will be enough for many to justify the low price.
Things To Consider Before You Buy a Cheap Soundbar
While it’s certainly possible to land a very powerful soundbar for not a lot of money, certain premium features aren’t available without spending a little more. This is why it’s important to consider a few needs and wants before you buy.
Surround Sound: Virtual or not, surround sound always costs you more. True Dolby Atmos surround-sound systems with vertical firing speakers generally cost more than a month of rent in San Francisco. Consider whether you really need virtual surround sound before you buy. It’s also worth considering whether you’d rather invest in a high-end virtual surround sound system or a more budget true surround-sound system with wired or wireless speakers around your room.
Music or Movies Only: If you’re buying a soundbar for movies only, it’s worth looking for one that prioritizes certain features that target film audiences over music listeners. Some soundbars prioritize features such as dialogue sharpening, and may not come with as many ways to hook into your music streaming services. If you’re deeply into music, it’s worth ensuring that your soundbar allows for Bluetooth connection to your phone or computer, or hooks in via an Aux cable.
Space Matters: Soundbars are usually meant to sit below a television or computer screen and use their array of speakers to project a wide field of sound. Some pair with separate subwoofers. Before you buy it’s important to judge the space in which you’re installing your soundbar to evaluate whether it will fit into the space, and what configuration of soundbar the space justifies. If you’ve got a larger room and you mean to sit further away, it will be important to get a soundbar that can fill this space.
Q: Are cheap soundbars good?
Many cheap soundbars still deliver excellent performance in spite of their low price point. Unless you’re looking for expensive premium features, you can usually get good sound without spending tons of money on a soundbar.
Q: Do soundbars work with any TV?
For the most part, all soundbars work with any television so long as it includes the right jacks to connect it. The vast majority of contemporary TVs use HDMI, and most soundbars do as well. Some premium features may or may not work with all TVs, however.
Q: Is virtual surround sound worse than surround sound?
Many soundbars offer virtual surround sound. Usually this employs multiple speakers which bounce sound off walls and use special EQ settings to create an illusion of audio immersion. This can create a sonic environment that’s more impressive than a true surround sound system. However, whether one or the other is better entirely depends on the components of your system and your taste.
Soundbars offer excellent solutions to maximize the sonic power of your home entertainment system. The best cheap soundbars still pack enough punch to wow, and they can immerse you in rich detailed audio that will improve your experience with films and music. Premium systems create virtual surround sound that will enfold you, while value options still deliver enough breadth to your audio to give you the feeling that you’ve fully leveled up from your television’s performance.
For a cheap soundbar with a separate subwoofer that will give blockbuster movies the punch they deserve, consider the Hisense HS212F 2.1ch. For bare-bones affordability that will still give your movies a big sound upgrade, we recommend the RIF6 Soundbar. On the other hand, the YAMAHA SR-B20A is our favorite overall pick for its full-spectrum good sound and no nonsense Bluetooth connection to your phone or laptop.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.