Best soundbars of 2021 | CNN Underscored


As TVs slim down, image high quality retains getting higher whereas built-in audio continues to deteriorate. That’s why, as we be aware in our best TVs guide, it is sensible to pair your TV — even a brand-new mannequin — with a soundbar.

Positive, you possibly can wire just a few completely different audio system up across the room. However the all-in-one resolution of a soundbar is the only strategy to increase your audio expertise. Plus, they rival the output of surround-sound programs and also you don’t have to spend a small fortune to get a high quality soundbar.

Over the course of many months, we examined 14 soundbars towards TV exhibits, films and a ton of audio content material. In the long run, we discovered two soundbars that stood out from the remainder.

Finest Soundbar

Whereas the Streambar Professional did not function one of the best sound high quality of the soundbars we examined, you would need to spend greater than double the value to get one thing greater than nominally higher.

The improve decide

At $799, the Sonos Arc tops all different soundbars by way of pure audio chops — and may even put up a struggle with most dwelling theater programs.

Roku's Streambar Pro replaces the Smart Soundbar.


Roku’s Streambar Professional replaces the Sensible Soundbar.

There’s no query Roku has solidified its place as one of many prime streaming machine makers round. However one other space through which Roku continues to shine is with its audio lineup. In 2020, the Roku Sensible Soundbar was our prime decide for greatest soundbar. And in 2021, the Streambar Pro picks up proper the place the Soundbar left off, as soon as once more incomes our prime nod.

On paper, the Streambar Professional doesn’t increase the bar (forgive the pun) when in comparison with the Sensible Soundbar, however that’s by design. Roku is within the means of streamlining its product households and launched what quantities to be a barely upgraded Sensible Soundbar beneath the Streambar Professional identify. Consider the Streambar Professional as a Sensible Soundbar 1.5, simply by a distinct identify.

And for a similar $179.99 you get a 2-in-1 soundbar that pairs audio with Roku’s streaming platform. Meaning you get entry to numerous streaming platforms (like Disney+, Netflix, HBO Max and Peacock, amongst others) and Roku’s personal Channels lineup that has exhibits and films accessible to look at without cost. As an illustration, as we’re penning this, we’re watching “Solid Away,” a traditional, without cost.

So what’s modified in addition to the identify? The Streambar Professional now comes with an upgraded Voice Distant and a pair of wired earbuds that can be utilized with the brand new distant to privately and quietly hearken to your present whereas a roommate or beloved one sleeps close by. Additionally included within the field are two AA batteries for the distant, an influence cable, an HDMI cable and an optical cable. You actually get all the pieces you possibly can presumably want within the field, minus the TV.

All in all, it was extremely straightforward to arrange. You’ll simply want to provide the Streambar Professional energy and join it to your TV. You must join the Streambar Professional to your TV’s HDMI eARC port if it has one. This lets you use the Roku distant to manage quantity ranges and the facility standing of your TV utilizing the included Roku distant.

The Streambar Professional’s plastic construct, enveloped by delicate mesh on the entrance, lacks a sure aptitude. We appreciated that, although, because the Streambar Professional doesn’t struggle for consideration like a number of the different flashier soundbars we examined. And the compact design (32 inches lengthy, just below 3 inches tall, to be precise) is the right dimension; it’s by no means dwarfed by TVs pushing 60-plus inches, nor does it overwhelm smaller TVs.

Tucked behind the material entrance cowl are 4 2.5-inch full-range drivers to push out the sound, they usually’ll definitely catch your consideration. These small however mighty audio system aptly sort out low, mid and excessive tones, including vibrancy to the historically flat sound {that a} TV delivers. Throughout testing, we sat 10 toes from the TV and Streambar Professional setup. Whether or not we have been watching the Olympics or “Ted Lasso,” it sounded as if the conversations have been occurring proper beside us.

The Streambar Professional will increase reactionary sounds, issues like viewers clapping or aww-ing from the gang, to deliver them to full life. It’s additionally effectively balanced, with a give attention to correct spatial placement. When watching “Avengers: Endgame,” we heard Captain America’s protect fly from left to proper and Iron Man fly from proper to left.

When it comes to what’s missing, bass isn’t the Roku Streambar Professional’s robust go well with. It’s definitely there, nevertheless it’s not as in your face as with different soundbars we examined. Once more, that’s not a lot a knock towards the Roku, because the sound general was effectively balanced and actually didn’t go away us wanting for extra bass. (If bassy sound is one thing you’re on the lookout for, the Vizio V-Sequence 5.1 is a good possibility, although it lacks readability when utilizing simply the soundbar.) On account of that balanced strategy, we have been in a position to extra clearly discern the finer particulars in no matter we have been watching, equivalent to background conversations in a film, avenue noise throughout a racing sequence or environmental noises in a nature documentary.

You should use the Roku OS interface (the identical setup as on Roku streaming units) to make changes to the sound. Roku has a speech readability setting that will increase vocals in TV exhibits and films, which primarily lowers different tones within the combine as a way to hear the vital dialogue even when utilizing the soundbar at decrease volumes.

Roku OS 10 added a Digital Encompass 5.1 function to the Sensible Soundbar as effectively. It’s a setting you’ll have to allow in Sound Settings, and, effectively, we didn’t discover a lot of a distinction between when it was turned on or off. There’s a slight change within the course the sound comes from, nevertheless it wasn’t sufficient to wow us.

However again to the speech readability function for a second — it has a dramatic impression, for the higher. After we watched an episode of “Conan” with vocal enhancement turned on, the Streambar Professional strategically raised each the host’s and visitor’s voices whereas decreasing viewers reactions. There’s additionally evening mode, which lowers hefty appears like explosions or racing engines in order to not disturb others. One factor lacking, although, is a devoted equalizer for adjusting low, mid and excessive tones, which might enable customization to the sound expertise and is one thing many different soundbars provide.

Even so, the Roku Streambar Professional is a no-nonsense approach so as to add sturdy sound and smarts to your TV. At lower than $200 and with efficiency akin to a lot pricier fashions, the Roku Streambar Pro is a no brainer.

Jacob Krol/CNN

Whilst you’re paying a hefty sum for the Sonos Arc, you’re actually getting a whole bundle that surpasses all different soundbars we examined by way of sound — and even most dwelling theater programs.

In comparison with the Roku Soundbar, the Sonos Arc is bigger, spanning 45 inches. However the bulkier construct is sensible, contemplating there are 11 audio system packed inside. Whereas that’s not essentially the most audio system we examined — the Vizio Elevate boasts 18 — the Sonos Arc is unmatched within the audio it might probably ship, because it persistently delivered a crisp, detail-filled sound that was noticeably clearer than the TV’s built-in audio system.

However what actually set it aside from all the opposite soundbars we examined was how effectively it positioned sounds round you for a full 360-degree audio expertise. That’s because of the Arc’s secret sauce: TruePlay, a function that makes use of built-in smarts to customise the audio combine for the house it’s in. Throughout setup within the Sonos app (accessible for each Android and iOS), it’ll immediate you to finish the TruePlay course of, throughout which the Arc will play a sequence of pulsating tones because the app instructs you to face in sure positions away from the speaker — all of the whereas the microphone in your smartphone is listening for the tone and the way it sounds, accumulating knowledge from across the room the place the Arc is about up. It’s listening to see how the tone is coming throughout, at what quantity it’s the most clear and if there are any echoes it ought to work to keep away from. In consequence, reasonably than pushing a wall of sound straight at you, this custom-made audio combine permits the angled audio system (pointed left, proper, up and down) to push sound by the nooks and crannies of your house, immersing the room in sound to ship a real surround-sound expertise.

That customized combine’s readability is rarely overwhelmed regardless of how excessive the quantity (and it might probably get wall-buckling loud) or how thunderous the bass the Arc can produce. And whereas the Roku handles spatial sound aptly, the Arc is unequalled right here, because it transplanted us again to a theater in a approach no TV or soundbar might. You actually really feel the sound round you — if a automotive is racing throughout the display screen from left to proper, you are feeling as if it’s actually zooming by you.

Extra mundane or on a regular basis content material like actuality TV, sport exhibits, serials, information and documentaries additionally sound richer and extra detailed, permitting you to listen to all the pieces to the fullest extent. Watching “Planet Earth,” for example, essential tones just like the narration and backing observe come by unmuddled whereas additionally introducing sounds which can be usually glossed over — assume animal calls within the distance or the pitter-patter of them shifting. The Arc can also be Dolby Atmos suitable, so for Dolby content material, it’ll preserve the audio combine true to the maker’s intent reasonably than compressing the audio to suit by TVs’ built-in audio system.

The Arc’s intelligence expands past the sound mixing too. The Arc lives throughout the Sonos ecosystem, so it might probably combine with different related audio system for a grouped audio expertise. Moreover, the Arc options far-field microphones, which make it a really massive sensible speaker. Soundbars from Bose also feature this, however many others we examined didn’t have the sensible assistant operate constructed immediately in. Sonos allows you to decide between Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant. AirPlay 2 is a good resolution should you’re within the Apple ecosystem, as you possibly can forged content material to the Arc proper out of your machine.

At $799, the Sonos Arc is just not low-cost and sits within the higher echelon of soundbars. However for its value, you’re getting a soundbar that produces audiophile-like sound high quality.

After combing by editorial opinions, buyer opinions and spec sheets, we selected our testing pool of 14 soundbars.

With every soundbar, we paid shut consideration from the second the field arrived, noting how protected the soundbar and equipment have been. We timed how lengthy the setup took and the way clear the directions have been. Moreover, we paid shut consideration to what was included within the field. And if there was an app accessible, we examined it on a number of units.

Every soundbar was examined with a spread of TV fashions, together with the Hisense ULED, LG CX, Samsung Sero, Sony X800H, Sony X900H, Sony X950H, Sony A8H, TCL 5-Sequence, TCL 6-Sequence, TCL 8-Sequence, Vizio V-Sequence, Vizio M-Sequence, Vizio P-Sequence and Vizio OLED, amongst others, to make sure compatibility throughout fashions.

In relation to sound high quality we examined with an array of content material that spanned all genres of TV exhibits, films and music. We examined with a broad vary of content material, together with “Avengers: Endgame”; “The Mandalorian”; “WandaVision”; “Hamilton”; “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”; “Frozen II”; “Tangled”; “Wreck-It Ralph”; “Area Power”; “The Daring Sort”; “Under Deck”; “90 Day Fiancé”; CNN and CNN Worldwide; “The Love Guru”; Austin Powers, James Bond and Iron Man films; “Batman v Superman: Daybreak of Justice”; “Letter to You”; “Springsteen on Broadway”; “Brooklyn 9-9”; “The Workplace”; “Surprise Girl 1984”; and numerous others. We analyzed the sound through histogram and with measuring volumes that the soundbar might produce.

Whereas the soundbar was in use, we famous if the bar itself was rocking or rattling. If the soundbar featured a microphone, we regarded to see what it may very well be used for. Along with commonplace connectivity like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, we additionally examined casting applied sciences like Google Solid and Apple AirPlay 2.

Lastly, as we all the time do, we paid shut consideration to the guarantee of every soundbar and what it covers.

Bose 700 Soundbar ($799;

The Bose 700 Soundbar represents the excessive finish of Bose’s lineup. At $799.95, the 700 soundbar is identical value as our winner, the Sonos Arc. In our opinion, it has one of the aesthetically interesting designs of any soundbar we examined — a mixture of glass and metallic accessible in black or white.

Powering the audio expertise is a central tweeter and 4 drivers that produce a really balanced sound out of the field. Bass is robust however not bouncy or immediately emphasised within the combine. Similarity, mids, highs and treble come by clearly. It’s a distortion-free expertise that focuses on offering readability with room to listen to every tone. It sounded nice, nevertheless it didn’t get as loud or as detailed because the Sonos Arc.

Microphones are inbuilt, and also you get your decide of a wise assistant — both Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant. You’ll management the expertise with the Bose Music software for Android or iOS, nevertheless it’s not as seamless because the Sonos ecosystem. The truth is, the app difficult issues a bit in our testing, with gradual connections and a few options not all the time working.

Enclave CineHome II ($998.98;

The Enclave CineHome II is a powerful package that’s extra like a whole dwelling theater setup than a soundbar. Included in every field is a white glove — sure, a white glove to maintain your fingerprints off of every speaker and elements. Our favourite facet of the CineHome II is that it’s utterly wi-fi (effectively, aside from the facility cables). However you’re free to position the six audio system wherever they match into your room with out worrying about wires.

There’s a central management field that all of them hook up with, and you should utilize the Enclave app in your cellphone to regulate and fine-tune the system. You don’t want to make use of the app, although, because the CineHome II connects to the eARC HDMI port in your TV, which permits it to make use of your TV’s quantity adjustments to regulate its quantity. It’s additionally one of many first sound programs to be Roku TV Prepared, that means you should utilize your Roku TV to arrange and fine-tune Enclave immediately in Roku’s interface.

General sound high quality for the CineHome II is implausible, providing a large soundstage whereas streaming on a regular basis exhibits like “Gold Rush” on Discovery, YouTube movies or the film “Soul” on Disney+.

The place the CineHome II fell slightly quick for us was the general lack of bass and the necessity to watch exhibits at excessive quantity with a view to take full benefit of the sound high quality. It’s a positive sound system, there’s little doubt, nevertheless it’s greatest designed for somebody who likes watching films with the quantity cranked to 11.

Roku Streambar ($99.99, initially $129.99;

Roku’s Streambar is a smaller, extra compact model of the Roku Soundbar. However don’t let its dimension idiot you: It’s almost simply as succesful. And, maybe extra importantly, it’s simply $129. For that, you not solely get a compact soundbar that places out respectable sound, however you additionally get a full-fledged Roku streaming machine. Meaning you should utilize it to look at your entire favourite exhibits throughout your favourite streaming companies — in 4K, thoughts you — simply by connecting the Streambar to your TV.

The Streambar is lower than half the scale of the Soundbar, and its small footprint seems to be humorous when positioned beneath bigger (assume 65-inch or greater) TVs. The material floor wraps the entrance and sides of the Streambar, giving it the identical core look because the Soundbar.

We loved the sound high quality of the Streambar, nevertheless it in the end fell wanting its greater sibling. There was an apparent lack of sound lacking within the heart channel, leaving the left and proper channels to choose up the slack and fill the room. And whereas it did job, you possibly can rating the Smart Soundbar for just a bit more cash and get a extra optimum sound expertise.

Samsung Q800T ($899.99;

Certainly one of Samsung’s more moderen mixture soundbar and subwoofers is the Q800T. Because the identify suggests, it’s designed to be paired with the QLED household of TVs that the model makes. The Q800T combines a soundbar with audio system set in numerous instructions with a tall subwoofer.

Our favourite portion of the Q800T was the subwoofer. It not solely grounded the combination, taking good care of the low and bass tones, nevertheless it additionally allowed us to broaden the scope of sound. It’s a wi-fi subwoofer and may be positioned a bit farther away from the bar itself. Whereas this subwoofer handles the decrease finish of the spectrum, the Q800T handles mids and highs. In different phrases, they complement one another fairly effectively.

From the soundbar itself, audio is upward and front-firing by a sequence of audio system inside. It permits music to go above you and immediately in entrance of you. If paired with a Samsung QLED it’ll even work in tandem with the TV’s inside audio system. Finally, although, the audio produced simply wasn’t on par with the Sonos Arc.

Sonos Beam ($399;

The Sonos Beam is a extremely terrific soundbar, and when it first launched it owned the house. However the rather more inexpensive Roku Sensible Soundbar is on par with the Sonos Beam.

They actually scored very shut, with just a few factors accounting for the variations. The Beam produced deeper bass and will get a bit louder. However at its value level, we don’t assume the machine is price a number of hundred extra. The Roku Streambear Pro supplied lots of the identical audio modes, equivalent to dialogue enhancement and the flexibility to cut back loud noises. Sonos did get a leg up for its customizable EQ, although.

Sony HT-S350 ($278;

Sony’s entry-level HT-S350 pairs a soundbar with a wi-fi subwoofer in a single bundle. It has assist for a lot of audio mixing requirements — Dolby Atmos and DTSX included — however minimal sensible connectivity options.

Sound was fairly common in our testing. Sony combined readability and further particulars with loudness and crisp bass through the subwoofer. Entrance and heart is Sony’s virtualization expertise, which goals to copy a {surround} sound expertise with simply the internals of the bar. Sony doesn’t embody satellite tv for pc audio system with a lot of its soundbars; reasonably, it intelligently mixes with a front-facing sound expertise. Finally, it doesn’t fairly meet the bar set by the Roku Streambear Pro.

Sony HT-G700 ($598;

Sony’s HT-G700 is a step up from the HT-S350 and actually focuses on virtualization expertise. It’s a regular soundbar paired with a woofer that focuses on a front-facing combine. It’s so much higher on this mannequin than on the HT-S350, although. With simply the soundbar and the subwoofer, we actually felt the sound throughout us.

Even with this virtualization, it does pack in assist for Dolby Atmos. The subwoofer is wi-fi and mechanically connects to the soundbar. It’s additionally a one-plug connection on to the TV through HDMI. The speaker placement contained in the soundbar aides in readability with dialogue as effectively. On the value level, although, it falls in the midst of the highway a bit.

Sony HT-Z9F ($898;

The Sony HT-Z9F carried out very intently with the HT-G700 featured above. Whereas it didn’t earn a prime spot, it pairs the superb virtualization expertise with the smarts which can be lacking on the cheaper fashions. Sony’s HT-Z9F helps Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant.

However that’s the primary distinction in contrast with the decrease fashions. When it comes to sound, we felt Sony was in a position to present a combination that felt like a real {surround} sound setup with out the necessity for extra satellite tv for pc audio system. Audio was punchy, each from the soundbar and the subwoofer, together with vibrant pops when wanted. We particularly appreciated it, as we did with the Sonos Arc, for superhero and epic motion films. The immersion was evident, however the Sonos Arc delivered a greater bundle on the identical core value.

Sony HT-ST5000 ($1,498;

Out of all of the soundbars we examined, Sony’s HT-ST5000 was the most costly, nevertheless it in the end delivered a middle-of-the-road sound expertise. The truth is, we desire the Sony HT-G700 out of any of the Sony soundbars that we examined. The Sonos Arc performs higher and proves that much less is extra — each by way of finances and with {hardware}.

The audio, produced by a soundbar and a wi-fi subwoofer, didn’t sound as detailed or vibrant because the Sonos Arc; it lacked a punch by way of high quality and readability. Like the opposite Sony choices, it does function digital {surround} sound, nevertheless it felt muddier and lacked the soundstage that we noticed from cheaper fashions and different model names.

Vizio V-Sequence 5.1 ($249.99;

Full with a soundbar, two satellite tv for pc audio system and a subwoofer, the V-Sequence 5.1 was on par with the Roku Streambear Pro and provides in a bit extra bass however at a better value level.

The soundbar itself options three audio system that act as the middle of the combination. By itself, it provides you elevated quantity, however dialogue can find yourself getting washed out with different noises within the combine. Moreover, the V-Sequence 5.1 contains satellite tv for pc audio system together with a modest-size subwoofer. When it’s all connected, you get a {surround} sound expertise that actually places you within the heart of the motion. And with Dolby Atmos content material, the V-Sequence intelligently reads the directions for a greater combine.

Contemplating this machine’s value, it’s a extremely strong dwelling theater setup — however we expect for the cash and for the simplicity, Roku’s Sensible Soundbar is a greater deal throughout.

Vizio M-Sequence Soundbar ($196.99;

Much more entry stage than Vizio’s V-Sequence is the M-Sequence soundbar. It’s significantly a bare-bones soundbar setup, offering a primary sound louder than what’s constructed into your TV however leaving us wanting extra within the realm of readability and bass.

From first seems to be, the M-Sequence is an easy soundbar with a sloped entrance. It’s additionally fairly skinny for a soundbar, which had us questioning house for sound to be pushed out from the six audio system inside. That’s a powerful variety of audio system in a soundbar at this value, they usually work effectively to essentially up general potential quantity. It’s a noticeable enchancment over TV audio system however solely brings marginal enhancements with readability amongst voices and with bass.

Vizio Elevate ($850.09, initially $999.99;

The Vizio Elevate boasts 18 audio system. The left and proper ends of the soundbar can strategically rotate as much as be upward-firing or keep forward-facing for a large soundstage. It’s significantly spectacular and offers us a style at what future dwelling leisure audio may appear like.

It’s not only a one-and-done bundle, although. The Elevate soundbar is paired with a modest-size subwoofer and two satellite tv for pc audio system. And you really want to set all of it up for a very compelling expertise.

And whereas it does assist HDMI eARC for straightforward setup, it’s lacking some key connectivity factors. It helps Google Solid, however Apple AirPlay 2 isn’t supported right here. There aren’t any microphones on board, both.

Learn extra from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing:

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