RS Recommends: The Best Compact Sound Bars to Upgrade Your Home Theater System (2023)

RS Recommends

Don't let a lack of space stop you from experiencing excellent audio quality

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When you hear the term “home theater audio system,” it’s easy to only think about big 5.1 surround sound speakers, but that’s not always the case. Compact sound bars are a major improvement over the speakers built into your TV, and can fit neatly under it.

The major problem with TV speakers is that modern 4K TVs are designed to be as thin as possible, which means there’s not a lot of space for audio equipment. Compact sound bars may be short, but they’re still taller and wider than the speaker space inside your TV. What that means: these little “bars” help create a larger, more immersive soundspace than just using built-in TV speakers alone.


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(Video) Soundbars: What to know before you buy

Better still, well-known audio companies and TV brands have begun making their own compact sound bars, so you’re not sacrificing audio quality if you get one. As a person who was skeptical about sound bars until I tried one, I can attest to the big difference they make in your home theater experience, even in a small living room or studio apartment.

What Are the Best Compact Sound Bars?

There are many factors to consider when choosing the right compact sound bar (or portable sound bar) for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.

Size: We’re defining “compact” as sound bars under 30 inches long. These sound bars won’t take up a lot of space, and can be mounted on the wall under your TV set or placed on top of an entertainment unit or shelf.

Connectivity: Sound bars connect to your TV by getting plugged into ports like optical audio, HDMI, and RCA (red and white). Some sound bars have multiple ports, which allow you to use them with several devices at once, and other sound bars support Bluetooth, so you can stream audio to them wirelessly.

Smart Features: While you should get a sound bar to improve the audio quality of your home theater system, we’ve also chosen one that can be used as a smart-home hub.

Upgradability: All of the compact sound bars we’re recommending will sound great on their own, but some can be part of a larger audio system you can build over time.

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1. Vizio SB2920-C6


VIZIO has become a popular TV company over the past few years, but its compact sound bar is no slouch. It measures 29 inches long, which makes it the largest compact sound bar we’re recommending, but it’s still relatively small compared to setting up an entire speaker system.

The SB2920-C6 has an optical, Aux (3.5mm), coaxial, and RCA inputs, plus an output for a subwoofer. VIZIO includes several cables with the sound bar, so you can connect it to your TV (and other devices) right out of the box. The only upgrade you can make to this sound bar is adding a subwoofer, so you can’t use it to build up a surround sound system over time.

This sound bar supports high-resolution audio formats like Dolbys DTS Studio Sound, DTS TruVolume, and DTS TruSurround when you use an optical cable. You won’t get real surround sound audio out of this sound bar, but it will mix 5.1 audio into stereo.

VIZIO covers the basics with the SB2920-C6, but it doesn’t have any smart features, and its upgradability is somewhat limited. Still, it’ll be a big improvement over your TV’s built-in speakers, and deserves more than a brief look.

Buy VIZIO SB2920-C6

(Video) Best Soundbars 2023 [don’t buy one before watching this]

2. Bose TV Speaker Small Sound Bar


The Bose TV Speaker Small Sound Bar delivers big, booming sound in a sleek, compact package. Paired with your TV, the portable sound bar creates a louder, more immersive listening experience than through your TV speakers alone. You’ll hear every rip and rumble from your favorite action film, with deeper bass and loud, room-filling sound. Music and effects are brought to life in vibrant detail, while Bose’s “dialogue mode” pulls out every word and expression from movies or commentary, to ensure that conversations sound crisp and clean.

The surprisingly powerful speakers amplify sound throughout the room, making this great for music listening too. Pair the sound bar to your phone via Bluetooth to soundtrack your next party, or to set the mood for when you want to relax with a good album in rich, audiophile quality. Press the “bass” button on the included remote to turn up the beats for extra oomph.

At 23.4 x 2.2 x 4 inches, this is the smallest Bose sound bar, and one of the most portable sound bars available overall. The TV Speaker’s light weight (just over seven pounds) makes it easy to mount on the wall or position on an entertainment unit or counter (you can add mounting hardware for an extra $40).


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We’ve tested this sound bar ourselves and it sets up in minutes, with easy pairing to your TV and devices.

Buy Bose TV Speaker Sound Bar $279.00

3. Sonos Beam


(Video) Vizio M-Series 5.1 Sound Bar Review (M51a-H6) | How is it this good?

I used the Sonos Beam as my home theater audio system for almost a year, and it’s still the sound bar I recommend to my friends and family.

It’s 25.6 inches long, which puts it in the middle of the pack in terms of size, but it’s fully loaded with impressive features. The Beam only has one port — HDMI — plus an HDMI to optical audio converter it bundles in the box. This may seem strange at first, but HDMI and optical audio are the most widely used standards for stereo receivers and TVs.

Most sound bars have other ports to allow you to upgrade your system over time, and connect lots of devices to them at once. The Beam has all of those features, but Sonos opted to go wireless instead. This sound bar supports Bluetooth and AirPlay 2, an Apple-developed wireless audio standard that allows you stream higher resolution music from your iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV.

You can create a full 5.1 surround sound system by pairing the Beam with a Sonos SUB or Sonos One speakers. The Beam, Sub, and One speakers all need to be connected to an outlet for power, but connect to one another wirelessly.

The Sonos Beam is a smart sound bar, and can be set up to work with both Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant. Once it’s configured, you can control the Sonos Beam with your voice. Voice commands can be used to play music from different streaming services, change the Beam’s volume, or control smart-home accessories.

These technical features are all great, but it’s the Sonos Beam’s performance that really stands out. In my experience, the Beam does a great job when listening to music, watching movies and TV shows, or playing video games. It held its own in scenes or game sequences where there was a lot going on, and dialogue was never drowned out by background effects. I was particularly impressed with how the Beam handled bass.

It’s no surprise that the most technically-advanced compact sound bar in our guide comes from one of the pioneers of modern audio tech, but the Sonos Beam delivers on all fronts.

Buy Sonos Beam $349.00

(Video) Vizio M-Series 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos Sound Bar Review (M512a-H6) | Best Atmos under $500?


Which is best home theatre or sound bar? ›

Don't get us wrong, a soundbar does deliver exceptional quality audio for movies also but it still lacks a little depth when compared to home theater speakers. However, if you prefer the sound coming at you from the front, then soundbars are the best option.

Is soundbar enough for home theater? ›

If you're looking for a home cinema audio experience that makes as little physical impact on your living room as possible, then a soundbar will be the best option.

Are small soundbars worth it? ›

Smaller soundbars generally don't sound as spacious as their wider counterparts, but their more compact form makes them easier to travel with or set up wherever you'd like. We've tested over 160 soundbars, and below you'll find the best soundbars with a small design to buy.

How do I get the best soundbar sound quality? ›

Turn off or mute your television's internal speakers to allow your soundbar's quality sound to shine through. Use HDMI (ARC) or other high-quality cables to relay audio signals to your Soundbar. Adjust your equalizer settings, if possible, to ensure your soundbar is optimally programmed for your specific audio source.

Is a soundbar better than a sound system? ›

The choice between a soundbar and surround sound system may come down to your living arrangements. If you have a small apartment, the compact design of soundbars make them the go-to choice. However, if you have the space, surround sound setups will almost always provide a better listening experience.

Can a soundbar replace a home theater system? ›

No, of course not. Nothing can replace a full-blown Klipsch home theater setup... BUT a sound bar can be the ideal solution for those seeking an upgrade to their wimpy TV speakers. Let's break down the pros and cons of each so you can decide what's best for you.

Which theater sound is best? ›

  • Dali Oberon 5 5.1 Speaker Package. You can build a great surround system around this hugely enjoyable package. ...
  • Sonos Arc. ...
  • Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 Home Cinema Pack. ...
  • Sony HT-A9. ...
  • Sonos Beam Gen 2. ...
  • Wharfedale DX-2. ...
  • Sony HT-A7000. ...
  • Q Acoustics 3050i 5.1 Cinema Pack.
Sep 7, 2022

Can I sit my TV on a soundbar? ›

No the tv can't sit on top of the sound bar. You can connect the sound bar to the bottom of the tv though.

What is important when buying a soundbar? ›

Decide how many channels you want.

If you simply want to enhance your TV sound, a soundbar with 2.1 channels (two front channels and a separate subwoofer) could be enough. If you want true surround sound, buy a soundbar with a subwoofer and rear speakers (preferably wireless) for multichannel sound.

Does a sound bar need a smart TV? ›

No it wont work unless you have TV connected to stereo with optical, Sound bar only has optical input or Bluetooth.

Do soundbars make dialogue clearer? ›

Some soundbars make dialogue clearer and easier to understand, while others can make voices sound more muddy and cluttered.

What is the lifespan of a soundbar? ›

Soundbars: 6-16 years

A newer amplified soundbar, like a Sonos Arc, should not become obsolete anytime soon, though expect the hardware to operate for up to 7 years before needing a repair or a replacement.

How big should my soundbar be? ›

While you can always get the biggest one, it might not look so great if your TV is smaller than your soundbar speaker. Instead, you want a soundbar that is 5 to 10 inches shorter than your TV. For instance, your soundbar should ideally be up to 50 inches long if your TV has a screen size of between 55 and 65 inches.

How do you hear dialogue better on a soundbar? ›

First look for something called “Dynamic Range Compression” (some TVs have an option called “Night Mode,” which is similar). The idea of this setting is to even out (or compress) loud noises like explosions and softer ones like dialogue. By bringing them closer together in volume, you will be able to hear words better.

What gives the best sound quality? ›

What is the best audio format for sound quality? A lossless audio file format is the best format for sound quality. These include FLAC, WAV, or AIFF. These types of files are considered “hi-res” because they are better or equal to CD-quality.

Where is the best place to put a soundbar? ›

Soundbar placement
  1. Place the soundbar above or below your TV with the speaker grille facing the listening area.
  2. Avoid placing the soundbar in an enclosed shelf or cabinet. ...
  3. Do not place your TV on the soundbar.
  4. An accessory wall bracket is available to mount your soundbar.

Do soundbars sound good without subwoofers? ›

A soundbar doesn't need a subwoofer to sound good. Soundbars include multiple internal speakers that can sound great on their own, but a subwoofer helps produce low frequencies that many soundbars cannot.

Does soundbar replace TV speakers? ›

Soundbars are designed to replace your TV speakers; they are not meant to work in parallel with your television's built-in speakers. The primary reason for this is the echo. When you run both your TV speakers and your soundbar at the same time, the same audio signal is relayed to both.

Are soundbars worth getting? ›

Yes, soundbars are worth it because they enhance your audio experience, far outperforming your TV speaker. They also come with a other convenient features that can incorporate other media devices in your home. Placed in front of your TV, a soundbar does an excellent job in improving the sound.

Do soundbars replace stereo speakers? ›

While an active soundbar can completely replace a receiver in a setup, it is important to make sure any other equipment will be compatible without the traditional receiver.

Do you need an amplifier for a soundbar? ›

In most cases, you do not need an amplifier or receiver for your soundbar. The exception is the case of a passive soundbar. However, most soundbars are active and therefore do not need the extra amplification provided by an amplifier or receiver.

Should you get the same brand soundbar as your TV? ›

It is not necessary to match brands for your soundbar and TV. With that being said, there are a handful of benefits to doing so, such as single-remote syncing, matching sound features, design compatibility, and possibly other special features.

Which company makes the best sound system? ›

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  • Anker. Anker Soundcore Motion+ ...
  • Apple. Apple HomePod mini. SEARCH. ...
  • Bose. Bose Portable Smart Speaker. SEE PRICE. ...
  • Google. Google Nest Audio. SEARCH. ...
  • JBL. JBL PartyBox 310. SEE PRICE. ...
  • Sonos. Sonos Move. SEE PRICE. ...
  • Sony. Sony SRS-XP700. SEE PRICE. ...
  • Ultimate Ears. Ultimate Ears HYPERBOOM. SEE PRICE.
Jan 20, 2023

Which is the No 1 sound system? ›

Bose is best known for its top-notch home audio systems and speakers, noise-cancelling headphones, professional audio products and automobile sound systems.

What soundbar is better than Bose? ›

The Samsung HW-Q80R is a better soundbar than the Bose Smart Soundbar 700 by itself, though the Bose can easily be upgraded into the Bose Smart Soundbar 700 with Speakers + Bass Module.

Which TV is best for home theater? ›

The 5 Best 4k TVs For Watching Movies - Winter 2023 Reviews
  • Best TV For Watching Movies. Sony A95K OLED. ...
  • Best Upper Mid-Range TV For Watching Movies. Samsung QN90B QLED. ...
  • Best Mid-Range TV For Watching Movies. LG C2 OLED. ...
  • Best Lower Mid-Range TV For Watching Movies. Hisense U8H. ...
  • Best Budget TV For Watching Movies.
Jan 20, 2023

Should soundbar be in front or behind TV? ›

What is this? If you have a TV console, the best setup using a soundbar would be to have the TV stand toward the rear with the soundbar placed on the console at the front. This should only be done if the console leaves room for the TV stand and the soundbar to each fully be supported by the console.

Should soundbar be on table or wall? ›

Issues with Soundbar Placement

So, it's better to just set it on the table rather than wall mounting it. Some Soundbar system bounces the sound off the walls in order to create a theatre-like surround sound experience. So, the layout of the wall and the interior decoration might block the sound.

Should soundbar go above or below TV? ›

For the best experience, we recommend placing the sound bar at ear level. Position the sound bar main unit on top of the table and right below the center of your TV.

How many watts is a good sound bar? ›

How many watts does a sound bar use? A sound bar uses 20-50 watts by itself. If you have subwoofers and rear speakers, the wattage increases because you have additional devices.

Are bigger soundbars better? ›

Soundbars come in all shapes and sizes: from under a foot long to wider than a big-screen TV. While the larger soundbars sometimes offer more drivers and hence a bigger sound, there are others where all you're paying for is a longer box. If you want the soundbar to be exactly the same width as your TV then take note.

Do soundbars work with older TVs? ›

While most modern soundbars rely on an HDMI cable to connect to HDTVs and 4K TVs, there are still plenty of soundbars on the market with legacy audio inputs that will work with older TVs—and yes, that includes CRT (aka “tube”) TVs that are decades old.

How do I match my soundbar to my TV? ›

On your TV, navigate to Home, select Settings, select Sound, select Sound Output, and then select Bluetooth Speaker List. Select your soundbar from the list. When the TV detects a nearby soundbar, the message Need Pairing or Paired will appear in the TV's Bluetooth device list.

Do you need WiFi for soundbar for TV? ›

Bluetooth is more common amongst soundbars and TVs. But HDMI cables offer the best and most consistent audio experience. If your TV does not support WiFi or Bluetooth, you can always use a Bluetooth adapter to achieve a wireless connection.

What's the difference between 2.1 and 5.1 sound bar? ›

A 2.1 channel soundbar only features 2 channels, with one on each side. Meanwhile, a 5.1 channel soundbar has 2 side channels and a center channel plus two rear speakers. The rear speakers could be built-in or external. As one would imagine, the more channels you have, the larger a soundbar would be.

What sound bar is better than Bose? ›

The Samsung HW-Q80R is a better soundbar than the Bose Smart Soundbar 700 by itself, though the Bose can easily be upgraded into the Bose Smart Soundbar 700 with Speakers + Bass Module.

Are Sonos better than Bose? ›

The Sonos Beam wins out by a margin due to its excellent ecosystem and by offering a choice of voice assistants. But if you want a TV speaker that can make your TV sound better, then opt for the Bose.

What is the difference between 2.1 and 3.1 soundbar? ›

The difference between a 2.1 and 3.1 soundbar is very simple – a 3.1 soundbar just has an extra channel of sound. This extra channel relates to a centre channel, so while 2.1 soundbars have a left and a right channel, a 3.1 soundbar has speakers arranged in a LCR configuration, LCR standing for left, centre and right.

How many speakers does a 2.1 sound bar have? ›

A 2.1 soundbar includes two speakers, usually a left and right channel and a subwoofer. A 5.1 soundbar includes five speakers, usually front left, front right, front center, surround left, surround right, and a subwoofer.

How much should I spend on a sound bar? ›

There are also pedestal-style soundbars, called sound bases, that your TV can sit on, but they've become rare as TV sizes have become larger. Soundbar speakers are found in a wide range of prices. You can spend as little as $100 or more than $1,000. Many sell for $200 to $600.

Do I need HDMI 2.1 for a soundbar? ›

You're in luck — all you need is a single HDMI cable to connect your TV and soundbar enabled with Dolby Atmos (HDMI 2.0 for ARC should do the trick while HDMI 2.1 is necessary for eARC setups). This is the simplest option and will send audio directly from your TV to your soundbar.

Is Sony better than Bose soundbar? ›

Side-by-Side Comparison

The standalone Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is a bit better for mixed usage than the Sony HT-Z9F. The Bose is better built and has better soundstage, surround, and Atmos performances. The Sony has DTS support and a Full HDMI In port for high-quality passthrough, unlike the Bose.

Is JBL soundbar better than Bose? ›

Side-by-Side Comparison

The Bose Smart Soundbar 700 is a bit better for mixed usage than the JBL Bar 5.1 Surround. The Bose is better-built, with better soundstage and surround performances. Also, it has built-in voice assistant support.

Is Bose soundbar better than Samsung soundbar? ›

Side-by-Side Comparison

The Samsung HW-Q90R is a better soundbar system than the Bose Smart Soundbar 700, although the Bose can be upgraded easily into the Bose Smart Soundbar 700 with Speakers + Bass Module. The Samsung gets louder and supports Atmos.

Who is better than Sonos? ›

What is a good alternative to Sonos? Sonos is the best known of all the multi-room systems, but there are plenty of alternatives. Big names like Apple, Amazon, Google and Bose offer speakers that can work together wirelessly as a multi-room system, as do less mainstream brands like Audio Pro and Bluesound.

Is Sonos better than Sony? ›

The Sonos is better-built, with better soundstage, center, surround, and Atmos performances. It also comes with a room correction feature, and it can be upgraded as the Sonos Arc with Sub + One SL Speakers. However, the 2.1 Sony comes with some EQ presets as well as a Full HDMI In port, unlike the Sonos.

Is Bose the best sound quality? ›

Bose speakers are the best in terms of sound quality. They have a very good bass and treble, which is why they are preferred by many people. The clarity of their music is also amazing as compared to other brands available in the market today.

Are 3.1 soundbars worth it? ›

Audio Quality

We mentioned above that 3.1 soundbars have a more powerful audio reproduction than the 2.1. Plus, that extra channel in the center helps enrich the dialogue, making it sound more precise and sharper. It also adds to the whole listening experience.

What is a good wattage for a soundbar? ›

How many watts does a sound bar use? A sound bar uses 20-50 watts by itself. If you have subwoofers and rear speakers, the wattage increases because you have additional devices.

What is the difference between 2.0 and 5.0 soundbar? ›

If the number is a “2”, this means your soundbar includes a left and right channel. If the first number is a “3”, however, this means the soundbar has a left, right, and center channel. Soundbars that include “5” channels will support either “mimicked” or actual surround sound speakers as well.


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