Picture quality is only half of watching a video. The other half? Sound quality! For example, a top-of-the-line 4K HDR TV feels incomplete with tinny audio. Enter the home theater system. Multi-speaker arrays ranging from basic two-channel systems to robust 7.1 channel packages pump out lifelike audio.
But with the advent of soundbars, home cinema aficionados gained a compact means of pumping out enhanced sound. Snagging a quality soundbar, even under $100, doesn’t mean breaking the bank either.
Check out the best low-end soundbars for audiophiles.
Why Get a Soundbar?
Soundbars offer several advantages over other kinds of speakers (how speakers make sound). Primarily, even a basic speaker package or soundbar offers a marked improvement over internal television speakers. That’s because many TV manufacturers build speakers which face away from the user and results in poor sound quality.
A soundbar helps eliminate wires strung across the room. Compact speaker systems pack in anywhere from two to five, or more, speakers into a long, rectangular box. With true 5.1 soundbars, there’s the complete set of channels for surround sound. Many soundbars even include dedicated subwoofers.
However, even with a full-fledged 5.1 soundbar, you won’t experience the same surround sound effect as with separate speakers. That’s because a soundbar sits in front of the viewer, and relies heavily on the acoustics of the room for proper resonance.
- No-hassle speaker setup
- Improvement over standard TV speakers
- Relies on acoustics of the room
- Not as robust as dedicated surround sound
What to Look For in a Soundbar
Just like traditional separate speaker configurations, consider the number of speakers you want. This usually ranges from two to five. If you’re keen on bass, you may benefit from a dedicated subwoofer. Then there’s connectivity. Think about how you plan to hook up your soundbar. If you want to directly connect components, HDMI inputs are a must.
Alternately, you can run all of your devices into your TV and run audio into the soundbar with cables like an optical (Toslink) connector. Part of this includes where you are using your soundbar. Use with a TV differs from PC audio. Finally, if you need specific technologies for proper audio decoding, that’s a limiting factor. For instance, you might prefer Dolby Atmos for a three-dimensional audio effect.
- Connectivity (HDMI, Toslink, etc.)
- Number of speakers
- Dedicated subwoofer
- Audio decoding technology (Dolby Atoms, Dolby Pro Logic II)
Best Low-End Soundbars for Audiophiles
In deciding the best low-end soundbars for audiophiles, we’ll focus on soundbars that retail for less than $300. Because many home theatre systems at the mid-range fall around $500 or more, $300 and under are what you should expect for budget soundbars.
It’s tough finding a decent soundbar under $100. However, TaoTronics’s 36-watt, 21-inch soundbar slides in at an ultra-affordable price. You’ll find several connection options including Bluetooth for wireless audio and an optical connection. TaoTronics even throws in an optical cable with its soundbar.
The TaoTronics sits at just shy of five stars out of five on over 40 Amazon reviews. Feedback praises this soundbar for its excellent audio quality, size, and ease of use. Still, don’t expect many high-end features. If you’re paying less than $100 for a soundbar, chances are you don’t feign hopes of best-in-class audio quality. Additionally, you won’t find on-device controls or a dedicated subwoofer. At the price point, TaoTronics offers easily the best soundbar you can find. As an alternative, Vizio makes its SB2820n-E0 which is similarly priced and receives rave reviews.
- Under $100
- 36 Watts
- Great connectivity (Optical input, aux, RCA stereo)
- Quality doesn’t rival mid-range or high-end soundbars
Lifewire names the Richsound Research one of its best soundbars for any budget in 2017. For just over a Benjamin, the Richsound Research TB232SW affords superb connectivity options. The 2.1 audio device includes an external subwoofer and respectable 120-Watts. You’ll find crisp audio and punchy bass. There’s built-in Bluetooth, as well as optical, HDMI ARC, and auxiliary inputs.
Since there’s CEC, you can control the RSR TB232SW with your television remote. Its solid connectivity for both wired and wireless hookups make this a top-notch budget soundbar. Sound is incredibly well-balanced as reviews from Amazon reveal. However, equalization (EQ) options are pretty limited though that’s to be expected at this price. Additionally, the subwoofer is wired, not wireless. Again, for around one hundred, you really shouldn’t assume that a sub will be included at all, much less a wireless option. For the price, the RSR provides a much-needed upgrade over stock TV speakers.
- Great connectivity (Optical, aux, HDMI ARC)
- Few EQ options
- Wired sub
When it comes to budget electronics, Vizio completely demolishes the competition. CNET praises the Vizio SB3621 as “the king of the budget soundbars.” It’s a 2.1 system replete with Bluetooth, stellar connectivity, and fantastic decoding options. You’ll find Dolby and DTS decoding. Unlike many subwoofers at this price, the sub is wireless.
However, as CNET notes, the USB port can play music although only for WAV files. That’s an oddly specific audio format choice. Plus, the LED display is pretty lacking. Nevertheless, the Vizio Sb3621n-E8 packs a wallop and sets an industry standard for budget soundbars.
- Wireless subwoofer
- Excellent decoding options including Dolby and DTS
- Great connectivity (Optical, digital, aux)
- USB port (WAV-only)
- WAV-only USB port
- LED display is useless
While Razer is best known for its gaming peripherals, the manufacturer creates some of the best audio equipment you can buy. The Razer Leviathan is a fantastic soundbar. Onboard, the Leviathan boasts Bluetooth with aptX technology and there’s NFC for quick wireless pairing. For its size, the Leviathan ranks among the most powerful soundbars available. As PC Mag notes, the wired sub provides pleasant low frequencies and admirable music performance.
Unfortunately, the major shortcoming is lack of a remote. As such, to adjust the volume and turn the soundbar on and off, you must get up and use the onboard controls. This means it’s better suited to use with a PC rather than a TV. Furthermore, and ironically considering Razer’s game-centric product line, the high-end for movies and games is average. In spite of a missing remote, the Razer Leviathan is one of the best soundbars for all-around audio. Because of its 5.1 emulation and Dolby decoding, the Leviathan is a top choice.
- Great connectivity (Optical, aux)
- Dolby virtual 5.1
- Dolby decoding
- Dedicated subwoofer
- Excellent low-end from sub
- No remote
- Wired subwoofer
Though Polk carved a niche with its upper tier audio equipment, the Polk Signa S1 is a fantastic soundbar for audiophiles. PC Mag enjoyed the balanced and clean audio profile. While it’s a 2.1 system, a simulated surround sound mode lends a full-bodied sound. There’s stellar connectivity including Bluetooth for wireless streaming. The subwoofer is wireless, a neat inclusion. Audiophiles will appreciate how the Signa S1 handles music as well as video content masterfully.
Because it’s a budget offering, the Polk Signa S1 is fairly barebones. Bluetooth comes standard, but you won’t find Dolby Atmos decoding. However, Dolby Digital decoding and even a 5.1 simulated surround sound mode compensate for lack of Dolby Atmos. Ultimately, the Signa S1 stands as one of the best choices with its even sound quality.
- Wireless subwoofer
- Robust sound
- Balanced audio profile
- Good for music
- Dolby Digital decoding
- Simulated 5.1
- No Dolby Atmos decoding
At a little under $300, Samsung’s HW-M450 is a truly amazing soundbar. The subwoofer is wireless, and the soundbar itself features a novel design. Its drivers are on the front which is shorter and smaller looking than the grille on top. TechHive found the sub delivering spectacular low-frequency outputs. For inputs, you’ll find HDMI, optical, RCA, and auxiliary in addition to Bluetooth connectivity.
What sets the HW-M450 apart is its Bluetooth. Like most soundbars with Bluetooth, it’s capable of syncing with devices for wireless streaming. But the Samsung soundbar can link with optional wireless speakers for a true 5.1 surround sound set up. This is a rarity among soundbars. But its sound isn’t appropriate for larger rooms. Though Samsung adds Clear Voice technology, having this enables actually makes voices sound less natural and it’s best to leave this toggled off. With its gorgeous design which extends from the unit and wireless sub to remote, small stature and phenomenal sound quality, this is an incredible soundbar.
- Great connectivity (HDMI, optical, aux, RCA)
- Bluetooth for wireless streaming and adding speakers
- Upgradeable to 5.1
- Small footprint
- Sleek remote
- Lacking for large rooms
- Clear Voice isn’t convincing
- Extra wireless rear speakers are expensive
For my turntable, I use a Yamaha stereo from the 80s and I’ve always been a fan of Yahama audio equipment for its solid performance and affordability. At around $200, the YAS-106 provides what CNET dubs “a wide-open sound.” It’s perfect for film and television, and shockingly enjoyable for music as well. Connectivity yields a bevy of options.
But there’s no subwoofer, and at this price point, one should come standard. At $200 however, the YAS-106 is an exquisite and reasonably-priced soundbar.
- HDMI input capable of 4K HDR passthrough
- Dolby and DTS decoding
- Auxiliary input
- Clear Voice isn’t convincing
- No subwoofer
A typical concession at the budget end of the spectrum for soundbars is opting for 2.1 rather than true Dolby 5.1. But Vizio, king of the budget category, offers its 38-inch 5.1 SB3851-C0 for under $300. You’ll find the soundbar along with dedicated real left and right speakers, plus a wireless subwoofer. TechRadar praises the SB3851 for excellent value and standard Google Cast. The true 5.1 with wireless sub and rears makes this an unchallenged soundbar perfect for audiophiles.
Yet at higher volumes, audio quality distorts a bit. But for a complete 5.1 array in a small package and with support for Dolby Digital, DTS TruVolume, and DTS Studio Sound, the Vizio SB3851 is one of the top soundbars available.
- True 5.1
- Wireless subwoofer and rear speakers
- Excellent sound quality
- Dolby DTS, Digital, and DTS TruVolume support
- Pleasant mids, highs, and bass
- Distortion at high volumes
Low-End Soundbar Theory: Best Budget Soundbars
There’s no shortage of affordable, audiophile-quality soundbars. Opting for a low-priced sound system doesn’t mean sacrificing audio quality. You can’t go wrong with a Vizio soundbar. Its 5.1 SB3851 is tough to beat, and the SB3621n is an awesome choice. The Razer Leviathan is a solid choice if you’re willing to deal with the inconvenience of no remote. Yahama’s YAS-106 punches well above its price point, as does the Polk Signa S1.
No matter which option you choose, it’s assuredly an upgrade over your stock TV speakers. Moreover, it’s a lot easier than cobbling together your own home theatre system.
Which budget soundbars for audiophiles do you recommend, and what soundbar are you using?
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