Looking for the best budget sound bar? Some people want an improvement from the basic, sometimes tinny sound that comes from their TV. Others want a soundbar that enhances their entertainment center in ten different ways.
The rest of us want to split the difference between a fully functional IMAX theater and speakers that do more than just the bare minimum. If you fall into this category, you want good sound quality at a good price.
This guide walks you through six of the best budget sound bars, exploring the winning attributes and drawbacks of each one. Based on this information we rank the soundbars, working our way to the model with the best price to performance ratio.
Our quest for the best budget sound bar
To figure out whether you’re getting value for your money, let’s see if each soundbar checks most or all of the following boxes:
- Enough input ports to connect to different types of devices at the same time
- Support for many audio formats
- Bluetooth playback
- WiFi connectivity
- Ability to act as a hub for a home entertainment setup
- Ease of use
- Smart capability
- Sound quality
Sound quality has different aspects to it. At its most basic, a speaker or soundbar should be able to produce quality stereo sound. A good audio system should also be able to produce surround, preferably with height simulation. Good audio should also be clear and balanced, with the ability to put dialog in the foreground during both action and dialog scenes.
Apart from producing defined sound, soundbars should have range, both in terms of volume as well as sound frequency. The ideal sound system should have the ability to render the deepest bass as well as high treble. If the sound system also produces clear, undistorted sound at high volume then you have yourself a winner.
This is the lens we’ll use to rank the best budget sound bar, starting with:
This 32-inch soundbar is arguably the most affordable of all the speakers on the list. It’s a no-frills device that offers an upgrade to your television’s internal speakers. Four LED indicators help you to navigate and control the soundbar. A user manual guides you through the process of executing different tasks using the remote.
Inputs and connectivity
The TaoTronics Three only comes with an optical input and a 3.5mm auxiliary port. It also has a Bluetooth connection that allows you to play music from a paired device.
This TaoTronics soundbar performs better than most TV speakers. It can hold its own in a fairly noisy room and does a good job of enhancing dialog. The bass levels of a soundbar can never match those of an audio rig with subwoofers. That said, the TaoTronics Three makes a good effort of executing sound effects and passable bass. It takes six place on our best budget sound bar list.
You’re watching a climactic scene with revelatory dialog and you turn up the volume so you can catch every word. Then the dialog explodes into a fight scene and a wall of sound blasts out your TV, causing your heart to miss a few beats. Angry yells from the other room jolt you into action and you scramble to turn the volume back down to sane levels.
That’s the reason why Bose created a soundbar that tries to balance the need for clear dialog with powerful bass that adds even more meaning to epic scenes. Hence the Bose 5 Solo 21-inch soundbar.
The two main selling points of the Bose 5 Solo are a compact design and crystal-clear dialog in every setting. Does this soundbar come as advertised?
Bose 5 Solo, at a glance
As 21 inches long and 2.6 inches high, this standalone soundbar can sit right below the TV without obstructing your line of sight to the IR sensor. However, this compact form is also a drawback, as you’ll see later on. So, why did this make our best budget sound bar list?
The Bose 5 Solo has a solid build, with housing made of black plastic and metallic mesh that covers the front and sides. This model lacks even the most basic of controls, but it does have an allowance for wall mounting.
If you’re looking for a soundbar with a digital display, the Bose 5 Solo isn’t it. You’ll have to settle for LEDs that indicate status and input source.
Inputs, connectivity and setup
The Bose 5 Solo is a standalone soundbar. Its no-frills design translates into few features and even fewer ports, which you’ll find on the right end of the back panel. You can use the optical audio input to channel surround sound. There is also a coaxial port for older devices and a 3.5mm analog jack. The internal subwoofer of the Bose 5 Solo terminates in a port on the left side of the back panel.
You can also play audio from your mobile device or PC via the sound bar’s Bluetooth.
Setup is as simple as connecting the soundbar to power and the TV. Once you power it, the soundbar should automatically channel sound from the TV. The large manual that ships with the device is actually for the remote.
Universal remote and smart capabilities
What this no-frills Bose soundbar lacks in features, it makes up with a versatile remote. Use the manual to program the remote and control whatever devices you have installed.
Apart from Bluetooth playback, the Bose 5 Solo has no modern features. The limited ports on the soundbar prevent you from using it as a hub. The lack of WiFi connectivity means that the Bose 5 Solo lacks smart home capability. This means no Chromecast, no Apple airplay and no interoperability with smart speakers like Echo.
The Bose 5 Solo has two drivers located at the center of the device, behind the logo. The two drivers face away from each other, at an angle. They create a virtual forward-facing speaker that acts as a third (center) speaker. Acting as a pair of left and right channels, the speakers create a sound stage that is about the length of the soundbar.
The physical area that the Bose 5 Solo covers may be small, but the sound that comes out of the soundbar is accurate and precise. This means the distortion that often happens with bigger devices is non-existent. However, there are limitations to the size of the Bose 5 Solo.
- Lack of surround sound: This soundbar is too small to render true surround sound. It downgrades an input signal with surround sound to stereo
- No digital/electronic sound enhancement: This soundbar lacks basic electronic enhancement features like adjustment options for bass, treble, volume, room correction or dialog enhancement
- Maximum volume: The Bose solo 5 reaches a maximum volume of 87dB. At his level, you will notice a loss of definition in the bass components of your audio
- Barely-there bass: Because the Bose Solo 5 lacks an external woofer, its ability to produce roaring, thumping bass is limited. Still, the soundbar tries its best
- Sound formats: The Bose 5 Solo lacks an HDMI port and by extension, an audio return channel. This means a lack of support for Dolby or DTS. Simply put, this is just a plug and play speaker
That being said, the soundbar does a good job in one important respect.
No audio distortion at maximum volume: This is one area where the soundbar does well. Except for some compression of bass elements in audio, you won’t notice any audio distortion, even when you turn the volume all the way up. It’s enough to get this soundbar 5th place on our best budget sound bar list.
Pros and cons
|Compact design||A lack of audio presets|
|Versatile (universal) remote||Limited inputs and controls and limited support for varied sound formats|
|This Plug and play device is easy to set up and use||The display only consists of two LEDs|
|No audio distortion at high volume||The maximum volume is not high enough to serve a loud or crowded room|
|The soundbar produces clear, defined treble||Limited bass capability|
|Which allows it to do a good job of enhancing dialog||This translates into underwhelming sound effects as you watch your favorite shows and movies|
|Sounds better than the internal speakers of most TV sets||You can find a soundbar with better performance at a similar price point|
When all is said and done, the Bose 5 Solo does a passable job at upgrading the sound that comes out of your TV. Can you find a soundbar that does better for a similar price, or do you have to fork out a little more cash?
Still, in the vein of a standalone soundbar, we now take a look at the Sonos Playbar. Unlike the Bose 5 Solo, this soundbar has a small suite of features. You can pair the Playbar with a Sonos Subwoofer for a more complete setup.
If you lay it on its widest surface, the Sonos Playbar measures 35.5 inches long, 5.4 inches deep and 3.3 inches high. There’s a chance that the soundbar will obstruct the IR sensor on the TV, however you place it. You’ll find a wall mounting pattern on the bottom surface of the device.
Inputs, connectivity and smart capabilities
The only way to connect your TV to the Sonos Playbar is via an optical output, which makes the soundbar incompatible with any TV without an optical port.
In addition to the Playbar’s optical port, you have a pair of Ethernet ports. You can use these to connect to the home network or to connect to the internet via the Sonos network. The power jack is the last of the physical inputs on this device.
The IR sensor in the Sonos Playbar allows you to adjust the volume with your TV remote. It gets better: The soundbar’s IR repeater can forward a command to the TV, even when it blocks the television’s IR sensor. All it takes is a little programming, which you can do with the help of the user manual or online instructions.
The Playbar also has wireless connectivity that allows it to connect to the home WiFi for wireless playback. It is possible to access and control a Sonos device from a compatible smart home hub. This means that you can link the Playbar to an Alexa device to control it with your voice.
On the physical end, you only need to power the soundbar and connect it to the TV with an optical cable. You can choose to mount the Playbar or leave it on your TV stand.
Sonos creates apps that make it easy for you to set up, operate and upgrade their audio devices through a graphical interface. The apps work for iOS, some Amazon devices and Android. Once you install the app it guides you through setup, such that your device becomes the sound bar’s digital display.
The Sonos Playbar has nine internal speakers. Six of them are forward-firing stereo speakers that direct sound forward and outward. Two of them are located on the sides of the soundbar. These side-firing speakers widen the sound stage from the 37 inches (the length of the soundbar) to the width of a home theater setup with tower speakers.
The ninth speaker sits right in the middle of the forward-firing stereo drivers. This is the dedicated center speaker and its job is to render clear speech in every kind of scene; be it a quiet dialog scene or a loud action sequence.
Here is how the soundbar performs in other metrics:
- Surround sound: Being a standalone soundbar with stereo drivers, there’s only so much the Sonos Playbar can do to render surround sound. You can add a Sonos subwoofer to your setup to improve the overall sound
- Defined, blended sound: The Playbar does more than create a wide soundstage. It produces blended sound with distinct components that seem to originate from different points in the sound stage
- Good (not amazing) bass levels: The soundbar can produce frequencies of up to 15KHz on the treble side and as low as 55Hz on bass. That’s enough bass to produce a nice loud thump or a sizable blast. 55Hz is not low enough to render the deep rumble of the earth as it opens to reveal a river of magma
- Audio format support: The Sonos Playbar only supports optical Dolby Digital on its optical audio channel. Because it lacks an HDMI port, it cannot support ARC-dependent formats
- The soundbar works great, even in a loud room: With a maximum volume of 93 dB, the Playbar is loud enough to power through an animated gathering or even a party
No audio distortion at maximum volume: Lesser soundbars would distort the bass or treble frequencies at high volume. Not the Playbar.
Digital sound enhancement features: Apart from an equalizer, the Playbar has all of them: Room correction, dialog enhancement and automatic volume adjustment.
Pros, cons and verdict
For a standalone soundbar, the Sonos Playbar works well. Its sound reproduction rivals that of bigger devices. If you’re going to spend money on a high-quality soundbar, you could do worse than the Playbar, just so long as your TV has an optical audio output. Time to explore the top three devices that made our best budget sound bar list.
Standalone soundbars can only do so much to create surround sound, so we move on to soundbars that ship with subwoofers. This brings us to the Polk Signa S2, a soundbar that promises excellent surround sound for under $200.
The soundbar itself is 25 inches long, with an angular front and rounded edges that create a sleek aesthetic that’s rare to see on a budget device. You’ll appreciate how the top and bottom surfaces taper towards each other to form a back end that’s narrower than the front.
Because the soundbar is only 2.1 inches high, it can sit in front of the TV without blocking the IR sensor. The subwoofer is only a foot high, making it compact enough to fit in even the smallest of nooks.
You’ll find a few ports at the back of the soundbar, in an inset on the left side of the back panel.
Most budget soundbars have cryptic displays that force you to read the mind of the soundbar. The Signa S2 isn’t much different. All you have to guide you is a row of LEDs that light up from behind the mesh fabric that covers the soundbar.
Controls inputs and connectivity
The top surface of the soundbar has five controls: Power on/off, optical input, Bluetooth and two volume buttons.
Being a budget sound bar, the Polk Signa S2 only has an optical input, an HDMI ARC port and an auxiliary port. The soundbar also has a USB port for control and maintenance.
Lastly, the soundbar supports Bluetooth playback.
Setup and smart features
Setup is as easy as connecting the soundbar and the TV. Once you power the Signa 2, the TV will automatically channel sound through whatever port the soundbar is connected to.
The main unit of the Signa S2 has four drivers: One woofer at each end of the sound bar and two tweeters in between. Because the S2 is only two inches high, the internal speakers are oval; making them wider and lower than your average driver. This has implications on sound quality.
The size and shape of the speakers mean that when you raise the volume to the maximum, the sound that comes out of them will lose clarity and definition. Here is how the Polk Signa S2 performs based on other metrics.and why it made out best budget sound bar list:
- Sound stage and volume: Audio from the Polk Signa S2 seems to come from many places at the same time, thanks to the subwoofer. The subwoofer adds depth to the sound stage with its forward-facing 5-inch speaker that directs sound towards whichever direction you choose
- Height simulation: Neither the soundbar or the woofer has upward-firing speakers, so there’s no way to simulate sound that comes from above your head. If you’re watching a scene with aerial bombing, this soundbar won’t have you ducking for cover
- Surround sound: The subwoofer tries to reproduce good surround sound. It S2 does an OK job
- Bass levels: With a peak frequency of 15KHz and a base frequency of 45Hz, the Signa can produce a fairly wide range of sound. It makes an effort to reproduce the subterranean rumble from a monster’s belly as it prepares to attack. The Signa can create the kind of sound effects that make explosions, roars and crashes that much more impactful
- Enhanced dialog: The Signa S2 has Polk’s proprietary voice adjust technology that provides three presets to bring speech to the forefront while pushing bass and other ‘ambient’ sound to the background
- Sound enhancement: For starters, the Signa S2 has a music mode and a movie mode, which is nice. The soundbar also has audio presets that you can activate by pressing a corresponding preset button on the remote. Night mode and voice adjust technology allows you to bring speech to the forefront choosing a bass level of your liking
- Support for audio formats: The HDMI ARC port allows the soundbar to support a variety of Dolby formats
Pros and cons
|Solid performance at this price point||Lack of a display and indicators makes it hard to navigate and operate the soundbar|
|HDMI port with ARC capability||Audio loses definition at high volume|
|Bass that works pretty well|
|Sound presets that make it easy to enhance your user experience|
|You can use the TV remote to control the soundbar, thanks to the CEC capability of the HDMI port|
You could do a lot worse than the Polk Signa S2.
Samsung has a reputation for high-end, high-performance electronics, and they work hard to keep their good name. It would have been a surprise if one of their offerings didn’t make its way on our best budget sound bar list. Every soundbar rig we’ve reviewed so far has a common drawback: Limited bass levels.
The Samsung HW-550 is one of the more expensive budget soundbars on this list. Does that mean that it does a better job of producing deep, detailed bass?
At 2.1 inches high, the Samsung HW-R550 will not block the TV or its infrared sensor. The soundbar itself has a sleek, understated design, with a back surface that narrows towards the bottom. The front surface has a metallic mesh cover while the rest of the soundbar is housed in durable charcoal-grey plastic.
The right side of the R550 has a couple of buttons that control power on/off, input source and volume. You’ll have a hard time finding the inputs of this soundbar, which are hidden in two insets at the back.
The foot-high subwoofer is a charcoal-black wooden cabinet with mesh fabric covering the front. Samsung chose to place the power port of the subwoofer right at the bottom, allowing you to hide or manage the power cable.
IO and connectivity
The sound bar has two insets that cleverly hide the side-facing ports. The left inset holds an optical port a 5V USB port, and a 3.5mm auxiliary port; all which are left-facing. Then there’s the right inset, which houses a pair of r HDMI ports and a power port. As budget soundbars go the R550 has an adequate selection of ports.
You can also enjoy Bluetooth playback, but the lack of WiFi connectivity rules out Chromecast, Apple airplay or interaction with a smart device. The only other device that the sound bar integrates with is a Samsung TV.
Setup and ease of use
After you connect the sound bar and the TV, it should appear on the list of audio devices on your TV settings. More likely than not, the TV will detect the sound bar and send audio to the device without any effort on your part.
Using this soundbar is easy, thanks to an LED display that shines through the metal mesh that covers the front face of the soundbar. You can also work the soundbar using the TV as a graphical display.
The total sound output of the soundbar and subwoofer is 320W, which is enough sound to fill a large, crowded room at full volume. The soundbar itself has two 80-watt speakers while the subwoofer has a 6.5” 160W driver. Here is how this setup performs:
A sound stage that’s wide enough, but without a center speaker: The 80W speakers are positioned at the ends of the soundbar. In between are some tweeters which (try to) execute detail in the treble frequencies of your audio. There is no center driver and the two main speakers simulate a virtual one.
Because the main speakers face forwards, they don’t widen the sound stage by directing sound to the side. Other than that, the sound bar does a good job of sound reproduction, as you’ll see below.
A good effort at creating surround sound: The subwoofer adds an extra dimension to the sound stage of the R550. Although it sounds nothing like a 5.1 setup, the R550 still manages to deliver convincing surround sound.
Deep, detailed bass: A minimum bass frequency level of 47.6Hz allows the Samsung HW-R550 soundbar to compete with higher-end models. The soundbar takes advantage of this bass range to render a level of detail that is not possible with the sound bars we’ve looked at so far.
Treble that has less detail: When you listen to music on the R550, you’ll hear every component of sound that falls in the bass range. The treble components do not have the same sharp definition and they tend to flatten. So that guitar riff on your favorite song may not stand out like it should.
Powerful sound: 320 watts is a lot of power and in the R550, this translates to a maximum volume of 92dB. Combine this with powerful bass and you get to watch movies with powerful sound effects. You will experience the impact of an explosion as if you had the misfortune of being at the scene. The roar of a lion in the savannah will liquefy your insides, just like it’s supposed to in real life.
Virtually no distortion at full volume: Audio playback tends to lose definition at high volume. You’ll barely notice the slight flattening of bass and mid-range elements as you turn up the sound.
Support for Dolby Digital and ARC DTS: This improves your sound experience as you watch Blu-ray and Netflix content.
Audio enhancement: The Samsung 2.1 HW-R550 offers a graphical equalizer, dialog enhancement and night mode.
This soundbar is designed with excellent bass in mind. It is a great addition to your entertainment center, especially if you’re on a budget. Time to wrap up our best budget sound bar list by exploring the top-rated soundbar for your money.
This sound bar ranks first on our best budget sound bar list because of its features and impressive sound quality. Although it costs more than most other soundbars on this list, the Yamaha YAS-207BL provides value for money. The only real downside of the soundbar is that it lacks an on-screen interface that you can access from your TV.
The YAS-207 stands out with its leather-and-cloth exterior, well-marked LEDs and touch controls. It is a compact soundbar that easily blends into your entertainment setup. In contrast, the subwoofer is one and a half feet tall, so you’ll have to find a clever way to conceal it.
Inputs, connectivity, setup
You can connect the YAS-207 with the analog, optical or HDMI ports at the back of the soundbar. The device also allows for Bluetooth playback.
The Yamaha YAS-207 has the most accurate sound reproduction of all the soundbars reviewed here. The result is clear dialog that stands out from any background sound. When it comes to music, you can detect distinct elements of sound come together to form blended, detailed sound.
This soundbar does a good job of reproducing bass, but it doesn’t match the bass levels of the Samsung 2.1 soundbar. Instead, it strikes a balance between rich, distinct treble and deep bass.
The YAS-207 supports DTS and Dolby Atmos, allowing it to simulate overhead sound, to a degree. This allows the soundbar to create great surround sound.
This is the best soundbar on the list, and it outperforms the rest on almost every metric.
There’s some tradeoff between price and performance
The most affordable soundbars on this list have limited features and, sometimes, imperfect sound reproduction. You will have to pay a little extra for a sound bar that delivers on all the important qualities of an audio device. That being said, price is not always the best indicator of sound quality, so judge each sound bar on its own merits. Hope our best budget sound bar list makes your quest for better TV audio a little easier.