The Best Soundbars Under $500 of 2020
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We've been reviewing TVs for many years, and we've found that no matter how fancy they are, nearly all of them share one common attribute: their speakers suck. But with TVs delivering bigger and fancier screen sizes every year, the need for big sound to match big screens has only grown. That's where soundbars come in.
If you've got a mid-range or even a high-end TV—and you're not interested in a full-blown surround system—investing in a good soundbar can truly make the difference between a ho-hum movie night and one that knocks your socks off. If you just want to grab the best soundbar under $500 we tested, check out the Yamaha YAS-209 (available at Amazon for $349.95). However, we continually update this list with the newest and best soundbars around to ensure there's something for every listener (and budget).
Here are the best soundbars under $500 we tested, ranked in order:
JBL MusicCast BAR 400
Polk Audio MagniFi 2
The Yamaha YAS-209 is our top soundbar right now.
Best Overall Yamaha YAS-209
Yamaha’s YAS-209 is our favorite soundbar for $500 or less for three basic reasons: it sounds great for the money, it’s easy to set up and use, and it’s absolutely loaded with features.
While the YAS-209 doesn't offer Dolby Atmos (for that you'll want to move one slot down), it offers everything you need at a great price, including a spare HDMI input for your favorite gaming console or streaming box, virtual surround sound, WiFI streaming, Amazon Alexa voice assistant, and more. Don’t love Alexa? It's easy to mute the microphones atop the bar and use the YAS-209 as a traditional soundbar. And that’s where this sound bar shines.
While the 209's sound performance can’t match up with expensive, audiophile systems or bars with multiple upfiring drivers for Dolby Atmos immersion, it brings it for its price point. Detail is impressive, bass response from the wireless sub is smooth and powerful, and dialogue is easy to make out thanks to the Clear Voice EQ feature. On that note, the bar offers multiple sound modes (including DTS:X Virtual Surround to expand the soundstage), making it easy to adjust the EQ to taste.
You can also stream your favorite music or podcast over your choice of WiFi (including Spotify Connect) or Bluetooth. While you can certainly get more if you spend up, it’s hard to find much fault with this simple-yet-potent sound system.
If you're looking for a great-sounding, affordable soundbar that’s chock-full of features, Yamaha’s YAS-209 is the best in the business right now.
Clear, punchy sound
Loaded with features
No analog input
No multiroom audio
$349.95 from Amazon
$349.99 from Best Buy
$349.95 from Walmart
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar
The Vizio V21-H8 delivers a stellar upgrade to your TV speakers at a very friendly price.
Best Value Vizio V21-H8
Vizio's 2.1-channel soundbar/subwoofer combo is an awesome choice if you want full-bodied sound and modern features without shelling out a ton of money. While a lot of entry-level soundbars don't offer up satisfying bass performance, we were very impressed with how deep a robust the V21-H8's subwoofer is, and found that overall it delivered a balanced, blended soundscape that really upped the audio ante where movies, music, and video games were concerned.
This Vizio combo also offers an impressive feature set that includes both Bluetooth and WiFi streaming, HDMI (ARC) connection, and multiple EQ modes. Like most combo bars, the wireless sub and soundbar are pre-paired out of the box, making it easy to just plug everything in and instantly upgrade your home theater situation. Adjusting volume and jumping between sound modes is easy, too; the system excels at simplicity.
Premium, future-facing features like Dolby Atmos, eARC, or microphones for built-in voice assistant control are not a part of this package, but that's reflected in the very accessible price point. If you just need a quick and effective audio upgrade, this entry-level Vizio combo is one of the most value-packed options around.
Not very forward compatible
$172.84 from Amazon
$175.74 from Walmart
$149.99 from Sam's Club
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar
The Razer Leviathan is our favorite soundbar for gaming.
Best for Gaming Razer Leviathan
The Razer Leviathan is designed specifically to be used while gaming, even intended for use with a big gaming monitor. That said, you can still pair it with a TV for use with music and movies. It sounds good for most kinds of audio, but it's especially well-suited for the footfalls, explosions, and mixed soundscapes of video games.
There are some drawbacks when comparing it to a traditional soundbar that interested buyers should be aware of. First and foremost, there's no remote. That means you wouldn't want to use it with a TV set across the room. This bar is made to sit close and provide powerful sound while you sit at your preferred gaming setup. The design also won't blend into most setups: decorated by Razer's green snakes insignia, it may not integrate very subtly into your living room decor.
If you're looking for something to enhance movie dialogue or to boost your favorite TV shows, a more traditional bar will suit you better. But if you're looking for a powerful solution to raise your gaming to the next level, this compact soundbar/subwoofer combo is an excellent choice.
Solid audio quality
Great value for gamers
$199.99 from Amazon
$229.99 from Walmart
How We Tested
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar
The ideal soundbar blends right in with your TV; it's the unsung hero of movie night.
Reviewed staff have spent years evaluating soundbars—everything from simple 2.1-channel value models to the huskiest Dolby Atmos 'bars—in order to narrow down the picks and find the best soundbars for every buyer. We've got a long history studying headphone audio objectively via our in-house Head-and-Torso Simulator, and no shortage of movie- and music-lovers on staff hungering for the best living room audio experience. Our soundbar testing is spearheaded by Reviewed's experienced team of home theater and tech experts, and backed up by science.
For years now, Reviewed has listened to, loved, and argued over standalone soundbars, soundbar/sub combos, and a few home-theater-in-a-box products to find the best soundbars you can buy.
Testing mostly involves using them as any consumer would, using each bar as an audio substitute for a TV (via either HDMI ARC or optical connection), testing its streaming and Bluetooth functions, and analyzing its sound modes, voice-boosting modes, and individual proprietary features. We also conduct back-to-back analyses of sources like Netflix/Blu-ray movies , surround sound and Dolby Atmos demo discs, Spotify over Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi, and occasionally, 3.5mm aux sources and USB audio.
While the best soundbars all had different combinations of drivers, tweeters, woofers, and external subwoofers, generally, audio quality was respectable in most cases across genres and sources. Apart from performance features like surround sound speakers and Dolby Atmos/DTS:X speakers, what really tends to set soundbars apart in like price ranges are usability pain points, design aesthetics, and overall responsiveness—where the day-to-day rubber meets the road, so to speak.
What You Should Know About Soundbars
In short, the point of a soundbar is to either replace a home theater speaker system with a less obtrusive device or, more simply, to replace your TV's built-in speakers with something that actually sounds good. Because speaker (or driver) clarity depends so much on the vibration of moving parts within a confined space, modern super-thin LED and OLED TVs generally don't have very good sound. You might think your TV sounds fine, but when you hear your favorite movies, TV shows, or music through a good soundbar, your opinion will change.
Soundbars aren't your only option for improving your living room/home theater audio, but they're by far the most affordable and convenient. If you live in an apartment or smaller space, or simply don't want to shell out the considerable funds it requires to install a surround system or mounted speakers in your home, a soundbar is an impermanent way to greatly improve your TV audio experience. And because the vast majority of soundbars can read your TV remote for volume and power over HDMI ARC connection, it's often a seamless transition.
What To Look For In A Soundbar
The major things to look for when shopping for a soundbar are price, audio output, and connectivity, the latter two usually being directly related to the first. If you're on a tight budget, you likely aren't going to get extras like Dolby Atmos, object-oriented speakers, or a huge range of decoding/pass-thru options for advanced or lossless audio modes. However, you can expect to get multiple speaker drivers comprising at least a stereo (left/right) setup, and usually an external subwoofer.
Tweeters refer to smaller speakers (drivers) assigned to the high-mid and high (treble) frequencies of the audio spectrum. Woofers and sub-woofers refer to speakers (drivers) assigned to the midrange or bass/sub-bass frequencies of the audio spectrum.
What About a Subwoofer?
Many soundbars offer what is known as a 2-channel or 2.1-channel configuration, meaning the sound is directed through left and right stereo channels with the possible addition of a separate subwoofer to handle lower frequencies (which makes up the ".1" of the equation). A 2-channel soundbar works fine for most content, and a soundbar without a subwoofer or one that has built-in woofers, rather than a separate cabinet, may even be preferred in smaller apartments.
That said, if you're looking for cinematic rumble—whether for movies, TV, or video games—you'll want to seriously consider a soundbar that includes a separate subwoofer. It cannot be underestimated how much this will enhance action scenes and other dramatic moments, while also helping thinner bars fill in some of the gaps their smaller drivers create in the frequency spectrum.
Surround Sound and Dolby Atmos/DTS:X
Some soundbars also take things even further, offering separate surround sound speakers that can be set behind you in a 5.1-channel configuration (including center, left, right up front and rear left and right channels). When fed content mixed in surround sound, these soundbars better immerse you in your favorite shows and movies, especially when the different channels are balanced properly.
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X-enabled soundbars take things even further, adding upfiring speakers (either 2 or 4), which can bounce sound off the ceiling so that it appears to be coming from above, immersing you in a hemispheric globe of sound. While only effective with Dolby Atmos and/or DTS:X-supported content, Atmos-enabled soundbars offer the most immersive experience available, bringing you even closer to what you'll experience in a high-quality theater. That said, you will pay a premium for this technology, and you'll also have more speakers to spread around your TV room, so these concessions must be considered before making your choice.
Other Soundbars We Tested
Of all the soundbars on our list, Vizio’s SB36512-F6 packs the most cinematic thrill for your dollars. That’s because this micro-sized surround soundbar offers the spherical immersion of Dolby Atmos, which incorporates height speakers as well as traditional surround speakers to completely engulf you in sound. And it does so at a price that allows almost anyone to dive into this exciting technology.
It wasn't long ago that a decent Dolby Atmos setup would cost at least $1,500, and often much more. Vizio’s Atmos soundbars cut costs by swapping the wireless surround sound speakers found in most other Atmos soundbars with wired speakers that plug into the subwoofer. It’s not the most elegant solution, but with true 5.1.4-channel surround sound at hundreds less, it’s a great compromise. And besides, even with wireless speakers, there's almost always a cord to plug in.
The result SB36512-F6 uses Vizio's trickle-down technology to offer a 5.1.2-channel Dolby Atmos setup for the same cost as some 2.1-channel systems. The SB36512-F6 also offers other goodies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth streaming, multiroom audio support, and control via a smartphone app. Frankly, the fact that you can find a Dolby Atmos bar with actual surround speakers on this list at all is impressive.
So why isn’t the SB36512-F6 our top pick? For one thing, it’s a little onerous to set up, requiring you to run wiring throughout your TV room. For another, while the soundbar offers solid detail and clarity for regular content, Dolby Atmos is definitely its forte, and the format still isn’t particularly common. It's offered mostly select content and streaming services, often with hurdles to manage.
Still, for those looking to get into the cinematic joys of true Dolby Atmos, the SB36512-F6 is far and away the most affordable ticket in town, and a whole lot of fun to boot.
Powerful Dolby Atmos sound
Chromecast, Wi-Fi streaming
Wired setup can be obtrusive
Not as good for stereo tracks
$429.99 from Amazon
$499.99 from Best Buy
$498.00 from Walmart
$449.00 from Sam's Club
The Sonos Beam is one of the most popular soundbars around (with good reason). The Beam isn't cheap for a soundbar without a subwoofer, but it's made with Sonos' signature attention to detail and sweeping penchant for minimalism, which makes it an excellent choice. And for those heavily invested in Sonos' multiroom speakers, which can easily be added to the system for around $200, it's probably the best on the list.
The first thing you'll notice about the Beam is that it takes a different approach than many of the other soundbars we've tested. As mentioned above, there's no included external subwoofer. There's also no Bluetooth functionality—streaming music wirelessly to the Beam requires interfacing with it through the Sonos app over WiFi, or using protocols like Spotify Connect or AirPlay 2. The Beam withdraws some avenues of accessibility for the sake of consistent streaming quality (and, probably, a feeling of exclusivity and security).
The Beam’s audio quality, hardware, and design are all impressive, and unlike a lot of soundbars, it integrates Amazon Alexa in a sensible way, making it easy to use voice commands for basic smart controls.
Sonos is perhaps best know for the functionality of its multiroom audio ecosystem, and that shines through brilliantly with the Beam, making it easy to integrate the bar with other Sonos speakers to fill your home with sound or create a surround sound system. However, it isn't the best option for everyone. If you want to spend less, need something with a more robust cinematic presence via additional drivers or an external subwoofer, or especially if Bluetooth is important to you, the Beam may be too pared down at its relatively stiff price.
That said, while the Beam may not have the most features or the highest driver/speaker count on our list, it does everything with impressive polish. For those interested in diving further into Sonos' popular audio ecosystem, it's a great choice.
Highly polished user experience
Geared towards Sonos users
$399.00 from Amazon
$399.99 from Best Buy
$399.00 from Sonos
Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400
Yamaha's MusicCast Bar 400 is a beefy hunk of sound. This is not the soundbar to buy if you're looking for pruned elegance or high-tech features, but it is the one to get if you just want to be satisfied by robust audio and simple, effective features.
The 400 has all the base features: Bluetooth streaming, a Clear Voice setting for dialogue, dimmable LED indicators, and various audio modes for movies, music, and so on. What makes the 400 stand out is its audio punch: it provides a solid 200 watts of audio. The hefty included subwoofer is half of that, and the other half is split across four woofers and two tweeters within the bar itself. While not unique, it's a time-tested array that works to deliver TV audio and music in a way that complements the full frequency range.
The way the BAR 400's MusicCast support also allows it to be integrated with other MusicCast speakers for a whole-home sound solution (similar to Sonos speakers), and that integration is one of the things you're paying for here, too. If you're not interested in MusicCast it may make more sense to go with Yamaha's YAS-209.
All in all, while this isn't the highest value bar, the MusicCast 400 is robust, reliable, and easy to set up and use. It's got options for HDMI, optical, aux (3.5mm) connection, Bluetooth, Dolby/DTS pass-thru, and can be integrated with Amazon Echo devices for voice control. The biggest drawback is that it feels a little "plain" for the price tag, and as time goes by, you can continue to get more for your money.
Loud, robust sound
Tons of features
$499.95 from Amazon
$449.95 from Walmart
$499.95 from Newegg
Polk MagniFi 2
Polk’s Magnifi line has long been known for engineering powerful and relatively balanced sound out of a compact setup and the Magnifi 2 certainly does that (though the subwoofer is pretty sizeable). Adding some modern updates like WiFi streaming as well as a slew of HDMI inputs (three in all) to the Magnifi One, this bar offers plenty of cinematic might in a slim form factor (not including its tubby subwoofer, that is).
Where the bar goes a bit astray is in Polk’s implementation of surround sound features, or rather a lack thereof. While Sony’s HW-GT700 supports a slew of surround sound formats and high-tech virtualization of 3D sound formats like Dolby Atmos for $100 more (when it's not on sale), the Magnifi 2 comes up short in comparison. There’s no 3D surround sound support, and only basic DTS and Dolby decoding, which limits how much this bar can do with the signals it receives.
Further, as a 2.1 soundbar, this is one of the few modern examples in the Magnifi 2’s price class without a center channel, which is instrumental in providing clarity in the center of the sound for movies and TV, especially when it comes to dialogue. As such, the Magnifi 2 occasionally offers muffled sound and less presence than we’d like in the midrange. You can correct for this with the bar’s Voice Adjust feature, but it often comes at a price when it comes to balancing other frequencies.
On the bright side, unlike the GT700, the Magnifi 2 offers WiFi streaming (via built-in Chromecast), and its three HDMI inputs mean you’ll be able to connect a ton of outboard devices without using up all your TV’s ports. Like virtually every bar on our list, it’s also upgraded from the Magnifi One’s optical connection to HDMI ARC to easily use most TV remotes to control it—but it doesn’t offer the latest HDMI eARC connection, which allows for uncompressed audio and adjust for sync issues between the bar and eARC ready TVs.
In the end, while the Magnifi 2 is definitely an upgrade in comparison to its previous version, its lack of surround sound hardware and software make it a big ask at its base price. If you can find it on sale, however, it may well be worth consideration.
Powerful, expansive sound
Multiple HDMI inputs
Stereo channels can get overwhelmed
Poor surround sound support
$499.00 from Amazon
$499.99 from Best Buy
$499.00 from Walmart
Yamaha's SR-B20A all-in-one soundbar/subwoofer has a lot going for it: high value, good sound, and a compact design that seriously saves on space. The flat, handsomely dressed bar houses a 2.1-style speaker setup capable of filling your living room with balanced, dialogue-friendly sound, and there are enough sound modes and smart extra features to help justify the already decent price tag.
The real issue with the SR-B20A is simply that it's got stiff competition. Starting around the same price as our current best value pick, you're losing out on an external subwoofer and WiFi functionality here, which isn't really reflected in the price tag. While we don't think the SR-B20A is overpriced for its performance, it's really only the ideal choice if you absolutely don't have space for an external subwoofer.
No external subwoofer
MSRP is a bit high
$179.12 from Amazon
$192.99 from Best Buy
$189.48 from Walmart
$199.95 from Newegg
Older Soundbars We Tested
Get the LG SK8Y from Amazon — This robust soundbar from LG may be a bit pricy, but its 2.1-channel interface also delivers pretty huge sound: a total of 360 watts. You won't find many fancy features here, but you do get Dolby Atmos compatibility, and if you're looking for a simple option to pair with a large TV, this one isn't a bad choice at all—especially if you can find it on sale.
Get the Polk Audio MagniFi Mini from Amazon — The slightly older MagniFi Mini was one of our favorite soundbar/subwoofer combos for a couple of years, thanks to its compact design, robust bass support, and simple, effective feature set. You won't get room-rumbling sound from this little bar, but it does a lot given its namesake.
Get the JBL Bar 2.1 from Amazon — The JBL Bar 2.1 is an excellent option if you want a simple but efficacious soundbar/subwoofer combo at a great price. For all it's simplicity in terms of features, most people will be perfectly content with what the Bar 2.1 allows them to do, and getting 300 watts of power at this price is hard to beat.
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