If you’ve been a reader of this website, you’ll know I haven’t always had kind things to say about soundbars. I have said in the past that compared to a smartly purchased speaker setup, soundbars don’t offer good audio quality for the price. I even wrote an extensive list of alternatives to soundbars to try and steer people towards other products.
After reading those articles, you may be surprised to learn that I actually own a soundbar in my own house. There are lots of good reasons to own a soundbar in the right circumstances. For me, I already have lots of great speakers that dominate several rooms of my house. I’ve got a home theater with 7 speakers; in my library I’ve got a vinyl setup; and at my computer I have studio quality monitors. I really just needed something that would be good for watching TV with my girlfriend in the living room, or as a second TV at Super Bowl parties. I didn’t want to dominate a whole wall of my living room with speakers and a subwoofer. That’s why I bought a soundbar for my living room TV.
Even though I have got this love for great speakers and great sound, sometimes a soundbar is the right choice. Unfortunately, the sound bar I bought is no longer available for purchase, so I am going to give you a list of recommendations based on the things I think are important to a soundbar.
If a soundbar is the right choice for you, I want to make sure you get a good one that you will be happy with for a long time. It can be hard for people to distinguish the good soundbars from the bad ones. You need to be very careful about what kind of soundbar you purchase.
You should not buy a big piece of plastic from a TV manufacturer masquerading as a piece of quality audio equipment. That means don’t buy from: Vizio, LG, Samsung, or Sony. They all make great TV’s. They do not make great speakers. They all also make some of the best-selling soundbars. I would avoid them if possible.
Any of the soundbars I list below should work well for anyone and provide good sound. I made this list of soundbars by using the following criteria:
- Soundbars should be made by a company known for excellent speakers
- Soundbars should be made of medium density fiberboard.
- Soundbars should have sufficient size to use reasonably sized drivers
- Soundbars should not require an external amplifier
I have pretty stringent standards on what soundbars I recommend. I tried to find ones at a wide variety of price points that met my criteria. The are soundbars I’ve listed are ones you should buy if you’ve decided a soundbar is the right thing for you.
Paradigm is a speaker manufacturer that is well-known for its line of luxury speakers. They are the brand that I consider to be sitting on the edge of what I would ever consider buying. They make fantastic speakers that you can use for years.
So when Paradigm makes a soundbar, you can expect it to live up to the pedifgree of the brand. It uses conventional soundbar technology throughout, and it is extremely well regarded as the best performance you can get out of a soundbar. Once you spend this kind of money on a soundbar, you aren’t going to get a better one anywhere, physics won’t allow it. If you are looking for a soundbar and have the budget for this, get it.
One nice thing about this soundbar is you can connect a subwoofer to it later so you truly have a great experience at minimal use of space and without the complexities of a home theater setup.
Yamaha YSP-1600– $450
Yamaha was the company that launched the current trend of the soundbar form factor. They made what they called a “sound projector”. The sound projector applied wave theory normally used for US military radars to create beams of sound in any direction, without having to move anything. When they bounce off of walls, they create virtual speakers. The downside is you are spreading your money over more, lower quality drivers. Its a neat concept. I studied it quite a bit in grad school.
Most soundbars, on the other hand, don’t try and do this. Instead the soundbar is just two or three speakers built into a single box.
Yamaha still uses this design concept today, although they have made their sound projectors smaller to be the same size as other company’s offerings. They are still a good choice for a manufacturer when looking for a sound bar.
It is not surprising that Pioneer extended its Andrew Jones line to included soundbars. These are always well designed pieces of audio gear for the price. I own 6 speakers from this very line, and reviewed them on this website earlier.
The speaker drivers, at 3″ and subwoofer, just 6.5″, are smaller than their counterparts from the home theater speakers, but the soundbar should still do a pretty good job. It inherits the distinctive shape and tweeters from the larger speakers. This is a good balance between cost and performance.
Dayton Audio ATS-1200 – $199
Dayton Audio is well known for its cheap speakers that sound surprisingly good. With this unique product, Dayton Audio built its soundbar into a TV stand. The speakers are truly hidden into the furniture with this one. Because of its innovative design, it is able to fit large woofers underneath the TV. If you’re starting from scratch, and do not even have a TV stand, this is a good one to try.
RCA RTS7110-B – $68
RCA makes cheap electronics that do a basic job at a satisfactory level. You won’t get anything fancy with this soundbar in terms of features or sound quality. You will, however, get something that sounds better than your TV speakers at a low price. If you want something cheap and easy and you aren’t looking for great sound, this is a good choice to get started.