What’s the Best Soundbar for Your Home Media Center or Computer?
Fact: built-in television speakers tend to offer lackluster sound. Often, TV speakers face backward. Moreover, standard television audio remains notoriously underpowered. That’s why you need a soundbar.
Soundbars offer upgraded audio quality while eschewing complex wiring and configuration. Instead, soundbars provide a clean, compact speaker array. Find out what’s the best soundbar for your home media center or computer.
When selecting a soundbar, you’ll want to consider three factors. Namely, room size, the number of “speakers,” and audio source. A less powerful soundbar is sufficient if you’re using your soundbar with a computer or in a small room. Where your audio comes from matters as well.
Are you using an optical cable, coaxial, HDMI, or stereo RCA jacks? Most soundbars feature multiple inputs. Nevertheless, you’ll want to ensure you’re getting the best audio quality possible. If you’re using RCA, you’re missing true surround. We’ve covered the differences between Dolby Digital, THX, and DTS Dolby Digital, DTS, THX: Surround Sound Standards Explained Dolby Digital, DTS, THX: Surround Sound Standards Explained Although there are only three main players in the surround sound industry, each has their own subsets of technology as it relates to surround. Read More .
The number of speakers is crucial with true surround. Especially with soundbars, a 2.0 or 2.1 speaker array is common. Thus if hooked up via optical, a 5.1 or 7.1 signal gets downmixed. Even some soundbars marketed as 5.1 rely on emulated rather than true 5.1. These use virtual surround. You’ll want to consider these facets, as putting together home theaters A Blueprint For Your Home Theater System A Blueprint For Your Home Theater System Setting up the perfect home theater isn’t easy. Read More requires many components and accordingly lots of planning.
Vizio dominates at budget electronics. Despite their low cost, Vizio electronics like the 32? E320i Smart TV Vizio E320i-A0 32-inch Smart TV Review and Giveaway Vizio E320i-A0 32-inch Smart TV Review and Giveaway To test out whether a TV can be feature-filled yet affordable, I bought myself a Vizio E320i-A0 32-inch 720p 60Hz LED Smart HDTV, which came in at $288 ($290 at retail price). I tested it… Read More consistently rake in solid reviews. The home theater guru makes a 2.0 soundbar in two configurations: 29? and 38? form factors. As the 2.0 implies, this soundbar only features two audio channels. So there’s no subwoofer built in. However, Vizio provides a subwoofer out jack. You can easily add a powered sub later.
Despite the lack of a standard sub, reviewers on Amazon noted adequate bass. Vizio’s deep bass modules aid in boosting bass, sans-subwoofer. The 29? speaker fills small rooms, whereas the 38? suits moderate to larger rooms. It includes Dolby Digital compatibility and DTS TruSurround. Note that Dolby Digital is limited to optical audio. DTS TruVolume equalizes audio for an even sound. Plus, Bluetooth is standard for wireless streaming and there’s a remote. In terms of inputs, there’s one stereo RCA, a 3.5mm stereo mini jack, optical TOSLINK, and coaxial. You’ll also find a USB input for music playback.
If you’re willing to shell out about $200 more, you can snag a 5.1 soundbar from Vizio. In their review, CNET praised the SB4051’s true five channel audio with wireless sub and surround speakers. However, CNET found the bass overpowering. Nevertheless, the 2.0 soundbar balances budget and affordability — and bass even without a dedicated sub. As a 2.0 soundbar, it’s almost guaranteed to beat standard TV speakers.
ProsBuilt-in Bluetooth.Dolby Digital, DTS TruSurround, DTS TruVolume.Deep bass technology compensates for lack of subwoofer.Output for adding sub.Remote standard.Analog and digital inputs (optical and stereo).
Razer honed a niche in the gaming space. Particularly, Razer specializes in gaming accessories such as mice like the Naga Razer Naga, Logitech G600 MMO Gaming Mice Review and Giveaway Razer Naga, Logitech G600 MMO Gaming Mice Review and Giveaway Next to a good keyboard, a mouse is one of the most important tools in a PC gamer’s toolbox. For some genres, a mouse is even more important than a keyboard. After all, it allows… Read More and keyboards. But considering Razer’s proliferation of headsets, its foray into the soundbar market is no surprise. The Razer Leviathan boasts 5.1 audio. Clocking in at around $200, it’s a phenomenal value. Furthermore, the tiny package produces enough sound to fill a moderately sized room. Still, the Leviathan is compact enough to stow under a computer monitor.
PC Mag praised the Leviathan for its powerful sound deriving from a diminutive stature. Reviewers also noted loads of low-end kick from the sub. Standard Bluetooth and both analog and optical inputs provide plenty of connection options. However, while the Leviathan is branded as 5.1, it’s not true 5.1. Rather, it’s virtual 5.1 surround sound. But the main limitation is a lack of a remote. While the Leviathan suits a home media center, its built-in controls fit computer audio. There’s no IR sensor or HDMI input for using your own remote or controlling the audio levels via TV connectivity.
Ultimately, the Razer Leviathan is an amazing soundbar for the price. Because of the Leviathan’s lack of a remote and compact size, it’s best for computer use rather than for a home media center.
Pros5.1.Dolby Digital, Dolby Virtual Speakers, Dolby Pro Logic II.Space-saving design.Digital and analog inputs (optical and stereo).Bluetooth with aptX.
ConsNo remote.Lack of IR sensor.No HDMI.Not true 5.1.
Polk specializes in audio and its MagniFi Mini really shines. Small in size but big on sound, CNET awarded the MagniFi Mini an 8.2/10 in their review. Premium features such as Wi-Fi and phone casting compliment the Polk MagniFi Mini’s excellent sound quality. This 2.1 channel soundbar is among the smallest you’ll find. With two 12m tweeters and four 2.25? drivers, the Polk produces a rich range of highs and lows. For a $300 soundbar, the Polk MagniFi Mini is well-endowed. You’ll find Bluetooth, analog, optical, and HDMI inputs, as well as Audio Return Channel (ARC). There’s even Google Cast How to Cast Media From PC to TV Using Google Chrome How to Cast Media From PC to TV Using Google Chrome Google Chrome now has the built-in ability to cast media from a PC to a TV. Here’s what you need to make use of it and how to get started now. Read More .
On top of that, there’s also Ethernet. But sadly, the HDMI input is ARC-only. This hinders potential connectivity. You’re prevented from hooking up non ARC-compatible devices like a game console or Blu-ray player. So you’ll have to use an optical cable. But many televisions include an optical out, so you can hook your devices to your TV via HDMI and run an optical to the soundbar. The Boston Acoustics Tvee Model 30 Boston Acoustics TVee Model 30 Sound Bar Review And Giveaway Boston Acoustics TVee Model 30 Sound Bar Review And Giveaway Today, we are looking a sound bar from Boston Acoustics called the TVee Model 30. This is one of the higher models in their product line, so my expectations were very high. Is it easy… Read More is a solid substitute.
Overall, the Polk MagniFi Mini offers high-end features at a mid-range price. This offsets quirks like unreliable Wi-Fi and an ARC-only HDMI input.
ProsSpace-saving design.Bluetooth.HDMI with ARC.Google Cast.Analog and digital inputs (optical and stereo).Built-in Wi-Fi.Ethernet port.
ConsHDMI is ARC-only.Spotty Wi-Fi.
The Yahama YAS-203 mixes high-end sound quality and moderate affordability. For the price, it’s tough to find a soundbar that achieves the combination of highs and lows. It’s this range of sound that makes the 2.1 Yahama one of the best soundbars for your home media center or computer. The bass and treble remain perfectly balanced. Inside the bar, you’ll find a pair of 1/8? drivers and a 6.5-inch driver in the attached subwoofer.
Higher-tier features like Bluetooth and DTS decoding make the Yahama compete with soundbars well above its price tier. CNET notes that sound quality is impressive for both music and movies. However, their reviewers did note that Bluetooth sounds a bit shrill or grating when used with devices that lack aptX. Despite its vast features, Yahama omitted an HDMI port. There’s also a built-in IR repeater. Because of its taller form, the TAS-203 occasionally blocks the IR port on many TVs. However, this IR blaster nullifies that issue.
Overall, the Yahama YAS-203 lends itself well to movies, TV, and music. It’s louder and exhibits a full dynamic of sounds, separating it from budget soundbars while keeping the price reasonable.
ProsBluetooth with aptX.Analog and digital inputs (optical and stereo).DTS and Dolby Digital decoding.Rear IR blaster.Dynamic sound.Remote included.
ConsNo HDMI.Bluetooth grating with non-aptX devices.Can block IR on TVs (but IR blaster compensates for this).
Pioneer is synonymous with superb audio quality. As such, the Pioneer SP-SB23W ranks as one of the best sounding soundbars you can find. CNET reviewers acknowledged that the SP-SB23W sounds better than most other soundbars at any budget. This 2.1 soundbar’s high-quality starts with build materials. Rather than the commonplace plastic housing, the Pioneer opts for wood composite. While this lends a high-end feel and benefits acoustics, it does make for a bulkier soundbar. Like the Yahama YAS-203 this might block your TV IR receiver. However, unlike the YAS-203 or Sony HT-CT260, the SP-SB23W lacks an IR sensor. Chances are, you may need to elevate your television set slightly.
Since the Pioneer SP-SB23W is 2.1 system, there’s an included sub. Not only that, but the subwoofer is wireless. It excels at pumping deep bass while remaining compact. The remote is a bit cheap — it’s thin, and non-distinct shape and buttons mean buttons aren’t distinct. But at least it includes a remote, unlike the Razer Leviathan. Moreover, you can program your cable box or TV remote to control the SP-SB23W.
Inputs are pretty barebones. There’s a single optical input and one analog input. Especially with the wood cabinet, it’s surprising that Pioneer left off HDMI or even multiple digital inputs. Like other soundbars with minimal inputs, you’re best off running all wires into your TV and hooking your TV to the soundbar with an optical cable. There is Bluetooth for wireless streaming as well. Additionally, while the SP-SB23W decodes Dolby Digital, there’s no DTS decoding.
Despite its flaws, the SP-SB23W’s balanced sound and superb build quality more than compensate for its oversights.
ProsDolby Digital decoding.Bluetooth with aptX.Analog and digital inputs (optical and stereo).Wooden cabinet.Compact yet powerful sub.Includes remote.
ConsLackluster remote.Propensity to block TV IR port.No DTS decoding.Lacks HDMI.
The Sony HT-NT5 packs exceptional sound and features into a well-designed soundbar. Sony’s HT-NT5 boasts fantastic quality for both music and video purposes. A thin form factor and wireless subwoofer make this 2.1 soundbar’s audio quality exquisite. Plus, you have the option to add wireless rear speakers. This converts the 2.1 soundbar into a full-fledged 5.1 surround system. Whereas many soundbars don’t even feature one HDMI input, the Sony HT-NT5 offers a whopping three. Moreover, these boast HDCP 2.2 and HDR support with 4K video sources.
It’s tough to find a fault with Sony’s HT-NT5. At around $500, the commendable feature set, connections, and sound quality make the HT-NT5 an amazing soundbar. On top of that, the HT-NT5’s aesthetics match its quality sound. CNET did note that adding the wireless rear speakers was a tedious process. However, the addition of rear speakers bolstered audio, especially for movies.
ProsGoogle Cast.3 HDMI inputs.4K and HDR support.Expandable to 5.1.Dolby TruHD and DTS-HD support.Bluetooth.Analog and digital inputs (optical and stereo).USB input.
ConsExpensive.Wireless rear speakers a pain to pair.
If you’re seeking rich audio, the Samsung HW-K950 ranks among the best. This top-tier soundbar is perfect for movies and music. Samsung’s HW-K950 includes rear speakers for a true 5.1 surround sound experience. Moreover, the HW-K950 sports Dolby Atmos support. For this, there’s a 5.1.4 setup: five surround speakers, a sub, and four overheads. With Dolby Atmos compatibility, the Samsung HW-K950 is an incredible value.
However, Dolby Atmos sources are limited. Additionally, DTS support remains partially limited. The HW-K950 can decode all Dolby tracks except for DTS:X. Plus, DTS streams are decoded in stereo. There is wireless streaming, along with HDMI and both analog and digital inputs.
Still, despite these limitations, the Samsung HW-K950 boasts Dolby Atmos decoding, multiple HDMI inputs, and rear speakers for immersive surround sound.
ProsDolby Atmos support, Dolby decoding.HDMI inputs.HDMI output.Analog and digital inputs (stereo and optical).Bluetooth.Multiroom streaming.Rear speakers.
ConsNo DTS:X support.DTS stream decoding limited to stereo.
While home theater systems with dedicated speakers still reign supreme for audio and cinephiles, soundbars have evolved. Now, many soundbars offer an experience on par with budget and mid-range home theater set ups. Even a low-end soundbar is bound to trump native television audio quality. At the high end, consider sound bar offerings from Sony, Yahama, and Samsung. In the budget range, Vizio is tough to beat. Notably, Vizio’s S5451W-C2 and SB3851-C0C soundbars are stellar picks. Each offers true 5.1 with dedicated rear speakers. Both also feature Dolby Digital and DTS decoding.
Ultimately, if you’re still relying on your TV speakers, it’s absolutely worth upgrading to a soundbar. These are perfect for an enhanced audio experience without clutter. Further, options range from entry-level options to high-end offerings. With such variety, there’s a soundbar for every budget and audio necessity. After you’ve picked out your soundbar, learn how to build a home theater on the cheap How to Build a Home Theater on the Cheap How to Build a Home Theater on the Cheap Home theaters are crazy expensive — if you don’t know the best ways to save on one. Find out what you need, what you can do without, and what you can save on here. Read More !
Are you using a soundbar? Tell us which is your favorite, how you’re using it, and why!
Image Credit: Florian Augustin via Shutterstock.comMoe Long is a writer and editor covering everything from tech to entertainment. When he’s not hammering away at his keyboard, he may be found listening to vinyl, running, and drinking far too much coffee. Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.