It’s no secret that TVs generally need a helping hand when it comes to audio. In the race to be the thinnest, brightest, most feature-laden rectangle out there, not much room is left in the chassis for one of the most important parts: the speaker. Enter the cheap soundbar. Built as a consumer gadget to replace your TV’s speakers (but without replacing high-end surround sound systems), soundbars—particularly the more expensive products—can outperform just about any tube on the market when it comes to audio. If you don’t have hundreds or thousands of dollars to let loose on a high-end setup, don’t fret. We’re here to tell you that you can make your money work without having to suffer through under-emphasized midrange frequencies and shoddy build quality.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on March 24th, 2020, to reflect pricing changes and add new information about Dolby Atmos.
Related: Best computer speakers
The Vizio SB3621 C6 is the best cheap soundbar
If you’re looking to stay frugal while shopping around for a cheap soundbar, look no further than this Vizio model. It brings an insane value to the TV stand as a 2.1 soundbar system, but it’s not just a standalone soundbar. No that would be far too pedestrian, this package includes a wireless subwoofer.
Vizio SB3621 C6
While the design may be uninspiring to some, it’s inoffensive and easily blends into a wide array of living space layouts. Plus, this cheap soundbar supports Dolby Digital. Although it’s not quite as impressive as Dolby Atmos, it does add greater depth and spatial dimension to your home theater setup.
What you should know about cheap soundbars
- Not every option provides high-quality Bluetooth codec support, but that’s fine since most of them don’t perform as well as we’re led to believe anyway. That said, of the options provide aptX support.
- Subwoofers aren’t always included. But if you go for something that does have a sub your audio will benefit from clarity as there will be less auditory masking.
- While cheap soundbars are great, it’s worth being aware of future audio trends and knowing that 3D audio seems to be the way of the future, especially as it applies to home entertainment.
What is Dolby Atmos and do I need it?
If you hang around home theater geeks long enough (or search the forums) you may have come across Dolby Atmos before. But what is it? Dolby Atmos is one of the many codecs responsible for decoding surround sound information. What makes this different from your typical 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound setup is that Dolby Atmos is object-based. This may sound confusing, but it really isn’t as hard as it seems. Well, at least understanding it isn’t.
Typically, your surround sound information is broken up by channels. It determines which sound goes to the right speaker, or the left speaker, or the sub, etc. An object-based codec like Atmos will also bounce sounds off of the ceiling in order to incorporate the vertical plane. Because of this, audio engineers can then configure a particular sound into what’s called an object. For visualization purposes, you can think of a particular sound as a small orb. With multiple speakers around you, and then additional sounds that can be bounced off the ceiling, Dolby Atmos can give you a precise impression as to where you perceive the sound to be coming from. As you can imagine, this is very useful for games and TV shows where the sound can help you become completely immersed. It’s all very interesting and you can read a full explainer about how it works right here.
While this is all cool, you definitely don’t need it. If you’re shopping for your first soundbar or just want a quick upgrade to the sound coming out of your new TV then any of these will work just fine. If you already have a soundbar and are ready to take the next step into home theater geekery, then you might be interested in checking out our list of the best soundbars.
For a bar that’s good at basically everything, check out the Sony HT-S350
Sony is one of the most respected companies in audio, and thankfully, you can get this solid soundbar for less than the price of one of their top-tier headphones. At around $200, the HT-S350 offers a solid upgrade to any TV setup. It gets loud, sounds good, is easy to setup and control, and also comes with a subwoofer to help fill in some of those low-end sounds. Plus, it has a discreet design that will blend in nicely to almost any setup.
If you already have a good soundbar then this might not be for you, but if you’re still listening to your movies via the built-in speakers on your TV then this will make a world of difference. On top of that, you can also connect to it via Bluetooth and play songs via your smartphone or tablet making it a versatile speaker that will do well in a party setting as well as movie night.
The Klipsch R-10B provides optimal sound quality
This soundbar-subwoofer setup originally retailed for just shy of $500 and can now be had for $280. While it’s the most expensive cheap soundbar listed, listeners get a great value out of this aptX-supported system.
It provides a 250W peak power output, which means that things are going to get loud. Due to the dedicated subwoofer, though, the midrange frequencies aren’t masked. In fact, Klipsch set out to make midrange frequency reproduction a highlight of the R-10B, so that vocals can be clearly heard above the background noise.
Klipsch’s R-10B supports Dolby Digital Decoder, so your audio quality will sound excellent no matter the format. Not only does the unit sound good, but it also looks good. Plus, the soundbar can be mounted to a wall with proper equipment.
Gamers should pick up the Razer Leviathan
If you’re not one for gaming headsets, a gaming soundbar may be more your speed. In that case, invest in the Razer Leviathan; it’s a sleek, compact option for well under $300.
Despite the gamer-centric branding, Razer’s Leviathan is a shockingly competent soundbar for under $200. Bearing all the standard guts and features afforded by the other audio products in this price bracket, the Leviathan can be hooked up to your computer or TV to give it that extra audio boost to turn your setup into a media haven. Built with the idea that your space may be at a premium, the subwoofer is split out from the main body into a standalone 5.25 downward-firing unit.
Save the most money without sacrifice quality and get the AmazonBasics 2.1 Channel Soundbar
You really can’t get much more bare-bones than a piece of AmazonBasics equipment. However, this will easily replace your TVs lackluster speakers in a pinch—without emptying your wallet. It has three modes: standard, news, and movie. News focuses on dialogue clarity while movie mode is for a more cinematic effect.
AmazonBasics 2.1 Channel Bluetooth Sound Bar
We’ve opted to add the 2.1 channel system for under $100, but you can also pick up the subwoofer-less model for $70. The audio quality is easily the least-good of the bunch, but don’t take that to mean that it’s bad; on the contrary, it’ll blow your TVs on-board speaker units out of the water.
- Polk Audio 2.1 Channel Soundbar: This soundbar-subwoofer combo includes Dolby Digital 5.1 decoding and allows listeners to adjust the soundbar’s voice levels.
- TaoTronics Soundbar: This 34″ 2.0 channel system can be connected optically or wirelessly, includes touch controls and a remote, and touts a modern design.
- Creative Stage Air: This soundbar is marketed as an under-monitor soundbar for desktop users, but it works well as a cheap option for your TV if you live in a small space, too.
Why you should trust us
The SoundGuys team works tirelessly to research and better understand consumer audio. Each team member has multiple years of experience when it comes to keeping up with the world of audio, and they know how to tell a high quality product from a gimmick.
Each writer just wants readers to be happy with their products, and no one here benefits from championing one product over another. We want you to enjoy your listening experience and we want to provide resources for readers looking to take a few deep dives into the world of audio. If you have time, please, refer to our ethics policy.
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