For home theater-quality audio on a budget, try a sound bar

Banu Ibrahim
December 27, 2017

Story highlights

  • Sound bars help deliver high-def, booming sound quality on an affordable budget.
  • Our top picks to shop right now include Sonos PLAYBAR, Bose SoundTouch and TaoTronics.

Poor audio quality has the power to ruin even the best of movie nights. It's hard to get an immersive entertainment experience if the sound is crackling or if your television setup isn't loud enough to fill the room.

But investing in a full home theater setup can be very pricey.

That's why devices such as sound bars are increasingly popular among audiophiles on a budget. These speakers help deliver high-def, booming sound quality. And many options cost significantly less than a full home theater system.

A sound bar consists of multiple speakers inside the single device. The thought is that while many televisions with built-in speaker systems aren't powerful enough to deliver on intense musical moments or gut-punching audio effects during movies, a simple sound bar is. They generally don't take up much space, which makes them ideal for smaller living room setups.

As an added bonus, a number of them can be connected with Bluetooth technology so you can seamlessly stream music from your smartphone or tablet to the speakers.

We've scoured the Web in search of sound bars that deliver on solid sound quality and overall customer satisfaction ratings. Sounds like music to our ears.

Sonos PLAYBAR ($699; sonos.com)

For the best of both worlds, Sonos PLAYBAR can deliver full-theater sounds in your home for both your TV and your music streaming apps. The device has nine amplified speaker drivers which can help your current entertainment setup achieve that crystal-clear, deep sound audiophiles look for. It's this high level of sonic capabilities that garnered praise from independent tester Consumer Reports. The Sonos PLAYBAR is CR's top-rated sound bar, scoring "very good" marks in the sound quality and ease of use categories. The editors say it's one of few devices they recommend to "more critical listeners" for both movies and music.

Speaking of playing music, the device can stream sounds over Wi-Fi, so there's no interruption to your playlist if you receive an incoming call or message. It also gives you access to a number of Internet-based music services such as Pandora and Spotify. The PLAYBAR is by no means the cheapest sound bar out there, but it is a top-rated one in terms of sound quality.

Bose SoundTouch 3400 ($699.99; bestbuy.com)

Almost 2,000 customers have weighed in: Bose's SoundTouch sound bar should be considered a top contender in the field. Bose reportedly spent nearly 10 years perfecting the technologies in its sound bar. The company promises "larger than life" sound with the device, and it's a solid choice to help achieve a wide sound field. Like the Sonos PLAYBAR, the Bose SoundTouch features Bluetooth technology to help stream your music to the device.

We'll note though that a recurring comment made by customers has been that while the sound bar alone boasts good sound quality, to get the best possible sound with the SoundTouch — specifically a deeper bass — you'll likely want to add a subwoofer.

Q Acoustics Media 4 Soundbar with Built In Subwoofer ($399.99; amazon.com)

If you're looking for a sound bar that's not as expensive as the Bose or Sonos, consider Q Acoustics' device, which has won multiple awards for its design and functionality. The device was created not only to deliver high-quality audio but also to ensure that viewers get the same experience no matter where they're located in the room.

This is thanks to the sound bar's advanced Balanced Mode Radiator, which helps disperse sound. BMR technology allows you to place the speaker just about anywhere in a room and still get the same sound quality. And a built-in subwoofer helps eliminate any need for add-ons.

TaoTronics Sound Bar ($59.99, originally $129.99; amazon.com)

For those on a much tighter budget, TaoTronics has created a sound bar that's a No. 1 Best Seller on Amazon and delivers comprehensive sound for significantly less than the other options above. The sound bar features four full-range speakers that can be paired with wired or wireless devices for seamless setup with your existing gadgets.

Many Amazon customers have noted that sounds don't get distorted even when you crank up the volume on the device. That's pretty impressive for a speaker system that's now on sale for under $100. And if you're an Amazon Prime member, the free two-day shipping is just the icing on the cake.

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