The best budget soundbars for 2024


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The only drawback to the trend of TVs getting slimmer is the lack of space for a decent speaker system, which is where a budget soundbar comes in. This inexpensive home theater upgrade will make a big difference in how much you enjoy watching movies and TV shows or playing video games. While many of these soundbars are slim in their own right, they’re thick enough to accommodate larger drivers and amplifiers than the ones built into your TV. The best budget soundbars punch above their weight and deliver audio quality without breaking the bank.

How we chose the best budget soundbars

Our recommendations for the best budget soundbars are based on extensive research and hands-on testing. We spend a lot of time in front of top-of-the-line flatscreens, so we watched movies and TV shows, played video games, and listened to music to identify soundbars worthy of those vivid images. We also assessed whether they had advanced audio features like virtual surround sound, built-in Wi-Fi, and multiple means of connectivity—both cordless and cabled. Cost was also a factor we considered when making our recommendations.

The best budget soundbars: Reviews & Recommendations

Prepared to ditch your TV’s crummy integrated speakers without investing in a space- and budget-hungry traditional home theater setup? The best budget soundbars are a cost-effective solution that’ll make an immediate difference.

Best overall: Sonos Ray


Specs

  • Size: 3.74 x 22 x 2.79 inches
  • Surround sound: Yes with additional components
  • Price: $279

Pros

  • Audio quality
  • Narrow size
  • Optional surround sound capability

Cons

Sonos speakers are known for their quality and longevity but are typically more expensive than the competition. While the Sonos Ray is the second most expensive option we’re recommending, it’s also the best-sounding affordable soundbar. Dialogue sounded clear when watching movies and TV shows, and loud sounds (think explosions) didn’t overload the drivers, which can lead to distortion. This balance of intelligibility and impact is especially impressive given that the Sonos Ray is the narrowest budget soundbar in our guide. Regarding connectivity, the Ray is the only soundbar in our guide that doesn’t feature an HDMI port. Its performance over optical audio is laudable, as is its support for wireless audio streaming via AirPlay 2 or the Sonos Connect app. However, we’d have preferred HDMI as it typically delivers the most consistent experience. Optical audio can be a little shaky depending on your TV, and while we didn’t run into any trouble, that may not be the case for you.

One of Sonos’ design decisions with this soundbar was to set up the drivers in an optimized forward-facing configuration, which means sound won’t bounce off the sides of an entertainment center if you keep it in an enclosed area. These customized acoustics, aided by proprietary Trueplay processing that EQs the soundbar for your space, make the Ray sound consistent regardless of where it’s placed. While the Sonos Ray’s firmly centered soundstage is impressive in its own right, you can wirelessly pair it with Sonos Era 100 speakers and a Sonos Sub Mini subwoofer to create a compact 5.1 surround sound system. The Sonos Ray doesn’t support Dolby Atmos/7.1, but adding satellites and a sub will provide a more immersive experience than the soundbar will on its own. And even if you stick to stereo, you won’t find any glaring audio flaws when listening to the Sonos Ray solo.

Much like its big brother, the Beam (Gen. 2), is our top soundbar pick under $500, the Sonos Ray is the best soundbar under $300.

Best splurge: JBL Bar 300

JBL Bar 300 on a plain white background.

Specs

  • Size: 4.1 x 32.3 x 2.2 inches
  • Surround sound: Yes, virtual Dolby Atmos
  • Price: $399.95

Pros

  • Built-in surround sound capabilities
  • AirPlay, Alexa, and Chromecast support
  • An HDMI input

Cons

JBL’s Bar 300 is the most premium budget soundbar we feel comfortable recommending, and while its price is higher than our other recommendations, the technology inside justifies the cost. Thanks to forward and angled drivers, the Bar 300 supports Dolby Atmos virtual spatial audio without any additional hardware. This design choice is why this budget soundbar for TVs is so wide, so make sure your stand/credenza is large enough to accommodate it. The Bar 300 is also one of the only budget soundbars in this guide featuring a built-in subwoofer to deliver better bass performance right out of the box. While most soundbars require a separate subwoofer to flesh out the low end, the Bar 300 is pretty compact.

This is the ultimate budget soundbar when it comes to connectivity. JBL equipped the Bar 300 with an HDMI eARC port with 4K Dolby Vision passthrough for connecting to your television, an HDMI input (very helpful if you have a PlayStation 5 and/or a Blu-ray player and/or multiple streaming devices, etc.), an optical audio port, and support for Wi-Fi streaming via AirPlay 2. This soundbar also has a built-in Chromecast and support for Amazon’s Alexa, so you can add it to your smart home and control it totally hands-free. Audio features like JBL’s PureVoice ensure dialogue doesn’t get drowned out in a loud scene, while its 260-watt amplifier provides more than enough power to offer a movie theater-like presentation of that scene at home. If surround sound and flexible connectivity are must-have features, JBL’s Bar 300 is well worth its premium price.

Best smart: Roku Streambar Pro

Roku Streambar Pro

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Specs

  • Size: 2.8 x 32.2 x 3.9 inches
  • Surround sound: Yes
  • Price: $179.99

Pros

  • Built-in Roku player
  • Can be connected to additional speakers for surround sound
  • Especially cost-effective for older TVs

Cons

  • Best if you like Roku’s platform

We chose Roku’s Streambar Pro as one of the best soundbars at any price, but it’s an especially good get for those looking for great audio under $200. We’re inherently skeptical of multi-use gadgets, but Roku’s Streambar Pro is an exception. The soundbar has a 4K Roku media streamer built inside, which can turn an old TV into a smart one. This is especially nice if you’ve cut cable and need a simple way to stream TV shows and movies from online services. The Streambar Pro can be used with any device plugged into your TV—even competing media streamers—but the value of its built-in streaming hardware is part of what makes this soundbar such a great value.

The Streambar Pro’s other strong suit is its surprisingly good audio quality. We say surprisingly because we didn’t expect quite as much vocal clarity or stereo separation from a soundbar at this price point. If you typically struggle to hear what people are saying in movies or find the sound of explosions lacking in action-packed sequences, this soundbar will satisfy you. Roku didn’t pack any surround sound features into the soundbar itself but redirected those engineering resources into developing its Wireless Bass Pro subwoofer and Roku Wireless Speakers. Adding these speakers to your setup will allow you to enjoy your media in true surround sound without connecting any cables.

Most budget soundbars can only perform one task well, but the Streambar Pro works on two fronts without sacrificing the quality of either.

Best bass: Yamaha Audio SR-C20A

Yamaha Audio SR-C20A on a plain white background.

Specs

  • Size: 5.98 x 25.98 x 5.98 inches
  • Surround sound: No
  • Price: $179.95

Pros

  • Built-in subwoofer
  • Plenty of connectivity
  • Built-in Bluetooth

Cons

  • No surround sound capabilities

If you’re all about that bass when listening to music and watching movies, Yamaha’s SR-C20A is your ideal soundbar. It costs roughly half the price of JBL’s Bar 300 but is also one of the soundbars with subwoofers, which makes this a competent compact stereo soundbar. It cannot be integrated into a surround sound system, which may or may not be a loss depending on your home theater intentions. If the loss of that feature doesn’t bother you, the SR-C20A won’t disappoint.

Yamaha equipped its budget soundbar with a bevy of physical ports—one HDMI, two optical audio, and an aux jack—plus support for Bluetooth for wireless audio streaming from external devices. The soundbar’s built-in subwoofer is its marquee feature, but it also supports clear voice, a setting that highlights certain frequencies to improve the listenability of dialogue, and virtual surround sound, which can’t match the real thing but is better than nothing. Yamaha also considers this soundbar suitable for PC gamers who want better-sounding audio but don’t want to dedicate desk space to a pair of traditional powered computer speakers.

If you’re dissatisfied with the oomph of your TV’s built-in speakers, Yamaha’s SR-C20A is the solution you’ve been looking for.

Best budget: JBL Bar 2.0

JBL Bar 2.0 on a plain white background.

Specs

  • Size: 3.5 x 24.2 x 2.2 inches
  • Surround sound: No
  • Price: $199.95

Pros

  • Wired and wireless connectivity
  • Short design
  • Price

Cons

  • No surround sound capabilities

It’s hard to know what to expect from a soundbar typically offered for $120, but JBL managed to pack its Bar 2.0 with all the essential features. The only thing this cheap soundbar lacks is true surround sound support—but that’s to be expected from a gadget at this price. In every other way, JBL created a competitive soundbar for an unbelievable price. The Bar 2.0 has every common audio and video connector, plus support for Bluetooth. While the latter feature is common in more premium budget soundbars, it’s great to see it in our least expensive recommendation.

One of the Bar 2.0’s underrated features is its short stature. This is the shortest high-quality budget soundbar we could find, which is a big deal. Some soundbars are tall enough to block your TV’s IR receiver or even poke above its screen, partially cutting off the bottom part of your image. This isn’t a problem with the Bar 2.0, which can slip neatly underneath your set with no issues. While its list of extra features is barebones, JBL’s Bar 2.0 will be a significant audio upgrade over your TV’s built-in speakers and won’t require a big up-front investment.

What to consider when choosing the best budget soundbar for you

There are many factors to weigh when deciding which budget soundbar best fits your needs. Here are the ones we considered most important when compiling this guide:

Connectivity

Almost all the soundbars we recommend can be connected to a TV using an HDMI cable, the most reliable means of connectivity. Be sure to connect the budget soundbar to your TV’s HDMI ARC/eARC (Audio Return Channel) port for the best results. Some may be connected to your TV using an optical audio cable, too. Some soundbars also offer Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, which allows you to stream audio to them wirelessly from a smartphone, tablet, or computer.

Surround sound

Some of the budget soundbars in our guide can be augmented with additional speakers to create a more traditional surround sound system. Doing so will raise the overall price of your home theater, but you can put it together in pieces to spread the cost over a longer period of time. Setting up a surround sound system will create a more immersive environment when enjoying your favorite videos and games.

Size

Bigger typically means better in the audio world, but we understand not everybody has a big space for their home theater. Our recommendations run the gamut on size, so you can find one that fits any setup. Be mindful that wider soundbars will provide more noticeable stereo separation and may accommodate additional drivers.

FAQs

Q: What is the lifespan of a soundbar?

A soundbar can last a decade or more if it’s kept in the same place and music and movies aren’t constantly played at the highest volume level, which can damage them.

Q: What is the difference between cheap and expensive soundbars?

Additional drivers (the part of a speaker or headphone that produces sound), Dolby Atmos support, and a more powerful amplifier are the main differentiators between budget and premium soundbars.

Q: Does a soundbar really make a difference?

Yes. A soundbar will make a big difference when compared to listening to audio through your TV’s built-in speakers.

Q: How much does a budget soundbar cost?

This depends on its feature set, but our recommendations cost between $119 and $349.

Final thoughts on the best budget soundbars

Budget soundbars have come a long way in just the past couple of years, with many audio companies opting to give them features that were previously available on midrange to high-end models. The option to augment a budget soundbar with additional speakers or stream media to it directly over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi extends its usability significantly. Advancements in audio technology mean it’s possible to fit better-sounding hardware into a soundbar without significantly raising its price.

Why trust us

Popular Science started writing about technology more than 150 years ago. There was no such thing as “gadget writing” when we published our first issue in 1872, but if there was, our mission to demystify the world of innovation for everyday readers means we would have been all over it. Here in the present, PopSci is fully committed to helping readers navigate the increasingly intimidating array of devices on the market right now.

Our writers and editors have combined decades of experience covering and reviewing consumer electronics. We each have our own obsessive specialties—from high-end audio to video games to cameras and beyond—but when we’re reviewing devices outside of our immediate wheelhouses, we do our best to seek out trustworthy voices and opinions to help guide people to the very best recommendations. We know we don’t know everything, but we’re excited to live through the analysis paralysis that internet shopping can spur so readers don’t have to.





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