Best Soundbar 2020 | Reviews by Wirecutter
We’ve tested a number of soundbars over the course of several years—too many to list them all here. The following is a list of some of the newer and more noteworthy models we’ve tested or considered:
Anker’s two-channel Soundcore Infini Pro performs well for its size and price, with good dynamics and a generally full, balanced sound. However, in our tests the remote often failed to execute power and sound-mode commands (the Soundcore app proved more reliable), and having the indicator lights on the top panel instead of on the front made it hard for us to see the feedback we needed.
For a basic 2.0-channel soundbar, the Denon DHT-S216 is pricey, and although vocals, dialogue, and music sounded decent, it didn’t have enough bass to balance out the sound.
We strongly considered making the Atmos-equipped JBL Bar 9.1 our top pick because it sounded so good—better than the Vizio SB46514-F6, and at least as good as the Vizio Elevate. Like the Bar 2.1, the Bar 9.1 had surprisingly natural vocal clarity, and its 10-inch subwoofer’s ample bass blended well with the midrange and treble from the soundbar. But the detachable, wireless surround speakers didn’t hold a charge for long, and it was a huge pain to have to keep recharging them. If JBL can address this issue, we might reconsider.
The LG SN9YG is a feature-packed soundbar-and-subwoofer system with Atmos and DTS:X support (surround speakers are optional), as well as built-in Google Assistant and Chromecast. Unfortunately, the sample we received had numerous problems, including Bluetooth and HDMI connection difficulties, a very low playback level for Spotify music streams, and a rather edgy and fatiguing sound.
Nakamichi’s Shockwafe Ultra 9.2 is less a soundbar option and more a home theater system that omits the separate AV receiver. The package includes four wired surround speakers and two 10-inch wireless subwoofers—that’s more gear than the typical soundbar shopper probably wants, so this system is best suited for the home theater enthusiast who wants a fully immersive audio experience but doesn’t want to buy all the pieces separately. In our tests, its dynamic output was fantastic for larger rooms, its low-end presence was great, and its midrange was a bit fuller than the Vizio SB46514-F6’s. High frequencies were a little muted—not quite as crisp, clear, and airy—so this system didn’t perform as well on music. But we think movie lovers would love it.
Nakamichi’s Shockwafe Elite 7.2 is the more direct competitor, price-wise, to the Vizio SB46514-F6. With two surrounds and two 8-inch subs, this Nakamichi system’s surround coverage should be similar to the Vizio’s, but the smaller woofers mean it may not handle the deepest bass as effectively.
Polk’s Command Bar is a former pick for the best smart soundbar with Alexa. We think the similarly priced Yamaha YAS-209 sounds a little better, with more midrange and bass presence and a bit less emphasis on the high frequencies. Plus, the Yamaha soundbar has a more traditional shape, a more responsive remote, and a good control app.
The Polk MagniFi 2 is a powerful, Chromecast-equipped, 4.1-channel soundbar with a 3D mode that’s intended to simulate Atmos, but we found that it had a weird, echoey sound that didn’t work well for movies. Even with 3D mode off, it tended to sound echoey and weirdly swishy when playing music.
The Polk Signa S3 comes pretty close to the JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass in performance, with powerful bass, clear vocals and dialogue, and a dialogue enhancement adjustment that makes voices a little easier to distinguish. But it doesn’t sound quite as natural as the Bar 2.1, and its bass comes across as relatively boomy.
Although the Roku TV Wireless Speakers target the same audience as a budget soundbar, they’re compatible only with Roku-branded TVs, such as the TCL sets we recommend in our guide to 4K TVs on a budget. Check out our separate post about these speakers to learn more.
The Roku Smart Soundbar is a larger version of the newer Streambar, with much the same features and expandability. It plays louder than the Streambar, but a lack of lower midrange leaves voices sounding somewhat edgy, and the sound isn’t as natural and balanced as that of the Streambar.
Samsung’s HW-Q800T is a feature-packed, Atmos-equipped, 3.1-channel soundbar. It sounded pretty good with music in our tests, but movie dialogue sounded a little coarse and thin, and it didn’t play as loud as some similarly priced competitors.
The Samsung HW-S60T 2.0-channel soundbar has side-firing horn speakers plus Alexa built in, but in our tests it lent an edgy, harsh sound to dialogue and distorted badly with deep bass effects from movies.
Basically a smaller version of the newer Sonos Arc, the Sonos Beam has the same pros and cons, though without Dolby Atmos. It doesn’t play quite as loud as the Arc or sound as full and enveloping, but it’s a good choice if you like the Arc’s feature set but would prefer to spend much less.
Sony’s HT-Z9F 3.1-channel soundbar system is a former runner-up. In our tests, it produced a big, spacious, dynamic sound that we liked with movies—but compared with our top pick, its subwoofer was smaller, its high end was a little harsher, and it didn’t sound as good with music. You can add optional wireless surrounds for about $300, but the result is more complicated to set up and use than many soundbars.
We liked the affordable Sony HT-S350 2.1-channel soundbar—just not quite enough to make it a pick. We found it easy to set up and use (with HDMI ARC, optical digital, and Bluetooth), it had good dynamic capability, the 6.3-inch subwoofer produced solid (and solidly controlled) bass, and dialogue clarity was good. However, it could sound harsh when we pushed the volume.
Sony’s HT-ST5000 is a true Atmos-capable soundbar with up-firing drivers and a comprehensive list of features. We liked its performance a little more than that of the HT-Z9F because it sounded a bit smoother with music. However, you can’t add rear speakers to this soundbar at all, which hinders its surround/Atmos performance.
TCL’s Alto 7+ is a low-priced 2.1-channel system with a wireless subwoofer. It’s a solid performer, but other 2.1 models offer superior build quality, dynamic capability, and bass/midrange performance—and you can’t adjust the sub and dialogue levels, which makes it harder to tailor to your room and hearing needs.
The unusual trapezoidal shape of the Vizio M21d-H8 one-piece soundbar caught our attention, but it sounded rather spacey and disembodied, and it produced barely any bass.
The two-channel Vizio SB362An-F6 offered pretty good dynamics for its size and price, with clean dialogue and a nice, enveloping sound with movies. However, it had very little bass and no HDMI.
The Vizio SB46514-F6 Atmos soundbar is our previous top pick. Although the Elevate replaced it, Vizio told us the SB46514-F6 would likely be available through the 2020 holiday season. We like the Elevate a lot better because of its extra features and more user-friendly remote, but the SB46514-F6 comes pretty close to the Elevate’s performance, so it might be a good choice if you find it at an irresistible price.
For such a compact and affordable 2.1 soundbar, Vizio’s V21-H8 sounds pretty good, and we love its auto-detecting input feature, which lets it work like an Alexa speaker when connected to an Amazon Echo Dot. But movie dialogue in our tests sometimes sounded coarse and rough, and its tiny subwoofer, though good for its size, failed to come close to the power of those that accompanied the JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass and Polk Signa S3.
The Vizio V51-H6 carries an amazingly low price for a 5.1 soundbar, and it had excellent dialogue reproduction and a big, enveloping sound in our tests. But because it uses basically the same tiny subwoofer as the V21-H8, the crossover frequency between the soundbar and the subwoofer is very high. And because the rear surround speakers had to be connected to the subwoofer, we needed to position the subwoofer in the back of the room—as a result, we heard bass and lower midrange notes coming from behind us, which drove us crazy.
If you’re just looking for a simple option to deal with dialogue clarity and don’t need all the bells and whistles of a full-fledged soundbar, Zvox’s AccuVoice TV speakers are a good choice, as they use hearing-aid technology to improve dialogue clarity. We tested the AV203 and the SB380, both of which have six preset AccuVoice levels. With both, we found the tech to be more effective than the “voice” modes on most soundbars at rendering dialogue clearly—but the more you step up the AccuVoice effect, the less natural everything else sounds.