TV speakers continue to sound lousy and underwhelming in 2022. Even on sets that have gorgeous picture quality, the built-in audio rarely does the visual side justice. This ultimately comes down to physics: With TVs continuing to get slimmer and sleeker than ever before, there’s just not much room for powerful drivers. Some TV makers like Sony offer legitimately great-sounding speakers in their most premium models, but they cost thousands of dollars.
If you’re like most people and don’t want to completely break the bank when upgrading your TV (or prioritize video specs over built-in sound), the easiest way to beef up the audio of your movies and TV shows is still a soundbar.
In terms of future-proofing, we strongly recommend buying a soundbar with Dolby Atmos, as there’s now a massive selection of content across streaming services that supports the modern surround format. Another thing to consider is whether you want the soundbar to support HDMI passthrough, which lets it function as a middle point between gaming consoles and your TV. If your TV is relatively new, it might be better to plug in external devices directly and use the soundbar exclusively for audio.
1. Vizio M-Series 5.1.2 Premium Soundbar
Best soundbar under $500
Vizio has long been the go-to recommendation for a quality soundbar that comes at a sensible price. Even better, Vizio often bundles in the rear-channel speakers and floor-standing subwoofer that other companies require you to purchase separately.
The best price-to-performance pick among Vizio’s soundbars in 2022 is the M512a-H6. The soundbar itself is plenty powerful and has up-firing speakers for immersive Dolby Atmos surround sound. The system, which includes a 6-inch sub and low-profile wired rear speakers, comes with a backlit remote control for switching between TV audio presets (movie, music, etc.) and Bluetooth. It doesn’t have many other extra features or tricks, but if you skim through reviews on Amazon or Best Buy, you’ll find a number of satisfied customers who praise the atmospheric Atmos sound, dialogue clarity, and more. And again, you’re getting the complete Atmos system for $499.99 all in.
Best soundbar for both home theater and music
If you plan to regularly listen to music through your soundbar but still want a premium home theater experience, the Sonos Arc is our top recommendation. As the company’s flagship home theater product, the Arc contains 11 internal speakers that deliver impressive Atmos performance — but also excel at music playback. With services like Apple Music and Amazon Music now offering Atmos tracks, this Sonos soundbar is a great choice for getting the most from those songs.
The Sonos Arc supports hands-free voice controls using your preference of either Alexa or Google Assistant. It also includes AirPlay 2 compatibility, so you’ve got a plethora of options for playing content on the device.
For $899, you’re not getting any extra speakers or a sub — and adding those to your system can quickly get far more expensive — but even with its standalone performance, the Arc proves it can hang with some of the very best premium soundbars on the market. And if you’ve already got Sonos products at home, it’s the obvious choice.
Best soundbar for apartments and smaller spaces
In some scenarios, the Sonos Arc might be overkill and too loud for your specific TV room. If that’s the case, the second-generation Sonos Beam isn’t a bad fallback — and you’ll save hundreds by going with the company’s entry-level soundbar.
You get the same grab-bag of features, like built-in voice assistants and full integration, with Sonos’ whole-home audio platform. The second-gen Beam even includes Atmos support. However, a key difference between the Arc and Beam (aside from their size) is that the Arc has dedicated up-firing speakers for Atmos height channel effects. The Beam lacks those and uses virtualization to fake your ears and brain into thinking it’s the real thing. Sonos pulls off the trick fairly well, but it’s not a match for the Arc’s pull-you-in immersion.
4. Vizio Elevate
Best Dolby Atmos soundbar for around $1,000
Not many soundbars can match the cool factor of Vizio’s Elevate, which is able to rotate its left and right side speakers upwards when playing Dolby Atmos audio. But the Elevate is much more than that parlor trick; this high-end 5.1.4 soundbar system sounds terrific and comes with a subwoofer and two satellite speakers.
Aside from playing sound from your TV, the Elevate also supports Google Cast and Bluetooth. The HDMI inputs support passthrough of Dolby Vision 4K, but not Xbox Series X and PS5 features like 4K at 120Hz. (We’ve got a recommendation below that does.) At $1,099, the Elevate costs quite a bit more than the company’s other soundbars, but its audio quality doesn’t disappoint.
5. Sony HT-A7000
Best soundbar with HDMI 2.1 passthrough
Sony’s flagship soundbar is the lone recommendation on this list that supports HDMI 2.1 passthrough for features like 4K 120Hz gaming and 8K video content. At $1,399.99, the HT-A7000 obviously doesn’t come cheap. But it packs an expansive 7.1.2 speaker array into a piece of hardware with a design worthy of its asking price.
Sony throws in a laundry list of features like AirPlay 2, Google Cast, Spotify Connect, and regular Bluetooth support. And the company’s sound field optimization algorithms ensure the soundbar is performing at its best by automatically adjusting audio based on a room’s acoustics.
6. Roku Streambar
Best soundbar with built-in streaming apps
See the size of that thing? You don’t need a giant soundbar to achieve the main goal of ditching your TV’s dreadful audio. The Roku Streambar is a no-frills, very compact 2.0 stereo channel soundbar that doubles as a 4K HDR streaming device. Plug into your TV’s ARC HDMI input and you’ll also get access to Roku’s easy-to-use software and an endless supply of streaming apps to choose from.
Obviously its sound output isn’t going to compete with any of the bigger, pricier picks on this list. But if you’re underwhelmed, there’s the option of adding Roku’s wireless speakers and subwoofer to the mix to give the Streambar some extra kick.