Sony New ES 8K AV Receiver Lineup Offers Audio Features Others Don t. Sony es series subwoofer

Sony New ES 8K AV Receiver Lineup Offers Audio Features Others Don’t!

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Executive Overview

It’s been over a decade since Audioholics has done an intensive bench test review on a Sony receiver, but that’s about to change… Sure we’ve covered Sony’s other releases of products like their HT-A9 Home theater in a box system and new Sony technologies like their Object-Based ‘360 Reality Audio’ Format. But now Sony has announced a slew of immersive 8K receivers with a new immersive audio room correction technology. The new receivers from Sony are their first to feature 8K 4K/120 support as well as Sony’s new ‘360 Spatial Sound Mapping technology’. The new ES line features four new models built mainly for custom installation and the STR-AN1000 which is created for consumers looking to upgrade their current home theater system.

Sony’s Elevated Standard (ES) series’ AV receivers were designed from the ground up and from what we’ve seen, look to be the best receivers Sony has made yet. Improvements like a frame beam base chassis (FBB chassis) has been developed by combining a conventional frame beam chassis with a transformer base which should provide a stiff and more stable design for better sound with less distortion. With this, the overall thickness of the ES series has been improved, including a bottom plate that is 200% thicker and side walls that are 120% thicker than previous models. The ES series feature support for the leading control systems from Control4, Crestron, Savant and OvrC and all 4 ES models come with a graphical user interface, or front panel display. These are products designed for the Custom Integrator in mind.

STR-AN1000 7.2 Channel 8K AV Receiver

The consumer model STR-AN1000 is a 7.2 channel receiver, comes with Sony’s new 360 Spatial Sound Mapping Technology and is priced at 900. Sony says the STR-AN1000 is “designed to give you an immersive surround sound and high quality visual with simple set up.”

We are very excited to share the news of our highly anticipated receiver lineup. We’ve been a part of the custom integration channel for over 30 years, and we’re looking forward to offering streamlined integration for our partners, while also delivering incredible performance. We can’t wait for consumers to experience our new STR-AN1000 model! It’s perfect for our customers looking for an immersive home theater experience like never before.

Tyler Ishida. President of Consumer Business Group, Sony Electronics Inc.

The big news from Sony is their “revolutionary” 360 Spatial Sound Mapping technology that’s designed to create a unique and immersive cinematic experience. 360 Spatial Sound Mapping can place multiple phantom speakers around the room to create a wider listening space for a more authentic cinematic experience at home. By utilizing the positional information measured by Sony’s Digital Cinema Auto Calibration, multiple phantom speakers are generated all around the room. The latest auto calibration technology developed by Sony can correct the distance, angle, sound pressure and frequency response of each speaker by measuring the speaker placement in 3D using the supplied calibration microphone.The new calibration technology will work alongside Auto Phase Matching, which aligns the phase of different speakers. This means you can compensate for challenging speaker placement, delay, or phase shift to feel fully immersed in a movie.

Common Features of the ES Receiver Line and the STR-AN1000 Model

Sony STR-AZ7000ES: 13.2 CH A/V Receiver

All five receivers will feature the inclusion of video technologies like HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision and newly supported 8K, and IMAX Enhanced on the ES series and STR-AN1000. Likewise, all the receivers will support the latest formats, such as 4K/120, Variable Refresh Rate (VRR)8 and Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) in HDMI 2.1, for smoother and clearer movement for responsive gameplay. The AV receivers will also pass-through Auto HDR Tone Mapping and Auto Genre Picture Mode on compatible Bravia XR TVs for a better gaming experience on the Playstation 5.

The ES series and STR-AN1000 also supports DSD (Direct Stream Digital) native playback, with no conversion involved, so DSD content can be enjoyed losing none of the original quality. The AV receivers offer easy access to music applications. Not only with STRAN1000 but also ES series, users can easily connect Smart devices to the amplifier via Bluetooth and services such as Spotify Connect, Chromecast, Apple AirPlay 2 and Works with Sonos. So, it’s never been easier or more convenient for music fans to enjoy their favorite artists.

Center Channel Configuration Options

When connected to a Bravia XR TV with Acoustic Center Sync, the ES series and STR-AN1000 combine audio from the TV with the audio from the center speaker. Sony says with this pairing, “Dialogue will appear to come directly from the characters on the screen creating a much more immersive experience.” The AV receivers also integrate with the Bravia Quick Settings menu, allowing you to change features such as the sound field of the amplifier just by using the TV remote. The STR-AZ5000ES and STR-AZ7000ES models offer a center-channel lift-up feature that utilizes the front height speakers to help raise the center channel sound location for situations where the center channel must be placed lower to the floor under the display device. Both models also provide a Dual Center Speaker function that allows for the use of a top and bottom center channel speaker to improve the center speaker experience on very large screen displays.

In addition, the AV receivers can also connect wirelessly to Sony’s optional speakers, including wireless rear speakers SA-RS5 and SA-RS3S and optional wireless subwoofers SA-SW5 and SA-SW3.

What we think.

The 2 top models are a hefty 48lbs, 42 lbs, respectively, which is a good sign that Sony is going back to their audio roots and putting some meaty amps and power supply’s in their products. The big question is the new 360 Spatial room correction. Dirac has their spatial room correction solution. which abandons the old method of correcting one channel at a time, instead using every speaker in a system simultaneously to optimize the reproduction of each input channel. Trinnov recently released their Trinnov Optimizer to compete with Dirac Live, and now Sony has their 360 Spatial Sound Mapping technology. To say we’re ‘interested’ in Sony’s new line of receivers is putting it mildly. If Sony’s spatial correction can bring good results with easy set up like Sony claims, the base model STR-AN1000 at 900 would be an incredible price for the amount of technology out of the box.

Are you a fan of Sony ES receivers? Share your thoughts in the related forum thread below.

For your convenience, we’ve included a link to Audio Advice to buy this product. As an Audio Advice associate, benefits from qualifying purchases.

Unless otherwise indicated, this is a preview article for the featured product. A formal review may or may not follow in the future.

Tony is our resident expert for lifestyle and wireless products including soundbars. He does most of the reviews for wireless and streaming loudspeakers and often compares soundbars in round ups and helps us cover the trade shows.

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Sony Updates Mobile ES Car Audio Speakers and Subwoofer

Sony releases four new top-of-the-line car speakers and one subwoofer into its Mobile ES lineup.

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It seems Sony has not forgotten about car audio. Following the recent release of Sony’s new in-dash car stereos, the company announced new top-of-the-line car speakers and a subwoofer as part of their Mobile ES line. ES stands for “elevated standard” both in terms of build quality and performance.

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The new lineup include four speakers (XS-162ES, XS-160ES, XS-690ES, XS-680ES) and one subwoofer (XS-W104ES) — all priced under 299. Each speaker is built with new 3rd generation Mica Reinforced Cellular diaphragm material. Sony claims this rigid but lightweight driver allows for a much more precise response than conventional driver materials, for smoother and more natural sound characteristics.

21 Sony Mobile ES Lineup

  • XS-162ES: 6 1/2″ 2-way Component Speakers (299.99)
  • XS-160ES: 6 1/2″ 2-way Coaxial Speakers (249.99)
  • XS-690ES: 6 x 9″ 2-way Coaxial Speakers (299.99)
  • XS-680ES: 6 x 8″ 2-way Coaxial Speakers (249.99)
  • XS-W104ES: 10” Subwoofer (219.99)
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sony, receiver, lineup, offers, audio, features
sony, receiver, lineup, offers, audio, features

Speaker Features:

MRC Aramid Fiber Matrix Woofer: Mica Reinforced Cellular (MRC) is Sony’s original speaker diaphragm material, engineered for high rigidity and good internal loss (low resonant distortion), with a lightweight design. This third-generation compound has been further optimized with mechanical driver improvements to deliver an even wider frequency response and smoother, more natural sound characteristics. Embedding MRC in a unique matrix with aramid fibers suppresses diaphragm resonance and minimizes distortion — not only in the lows, but also in the mid and higher frequencies. The result is sound that is powerful at all frequencies and uncommonly clean — even at high volume.

Separated Notch Edge Surround: The woofer surround features another proprietary Sony technology, with distinctive curved notches improving the vertical amplitude symmetry for dramatically reduced distortion and enhanced clarity.

Soft Dome Tweeter: Compatible with High-Resolution Audio, a soft dome tweeter diaphragm is directly attached on the voice coil, designed to cover the music’s ultra-high ends, with a frequency range extending up to 40kHz.

Five-beam Frame Structure Dynamic Air Diffuser: The Five-beam Frame design disperses resonance while the integrated Dynamic Air Diffuser ensures efficient air circulation for smooth cone travel and cooling of the voice coil.

Progressive Height Rate Spider: The acoustically optimized spider allows for higher power handling and airflow, with a profile designed for more Rapid and precise cushioning of the speaker cone.

Phase Plug (XS-162ES Only): The resonance damping phase plug on the XS-162ES woofer helps realize ideal frequency response, right up to the crossover point with the matched tweeters. A rigid aluminum bobbin and Dynamic Air Diffuser further support the speaker’s wide frequency response, for controlled and dynamic bass delivery.

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Bi-amp Terminals and Gain Selector in Crossover Networks (XS-162ES Only): The audiophile-grade crossover features an optimal, metalized polypropylene film capacitor with lower dissipation for a smoother high-end. It features a bi-amp capable design to mitigate current distortion to the tweeter when running the woofer with high input levels. A dedicated gain selector balances the woofer and tweeter signal levels and enables tweeter level adjustment even when driving the components from a single amplifier.

Subwoofer Features:

MRC Honeycomb Woofer: MRC (Mica Reinforced Cellular) Honeycomb is specially designed for subwoofers. The core of the diaphragm is a foam-like material with a honeycomb shaped fiber base, which gives flexural rigidity exceeding ten times higher than that of regular PP matrix. This realizes astonishingly precise and powerful bass and low distortion simultaneously. Optimized for the newly developed mechanical approaches, this third-generation subwoofer diaphragm offers enhanced frequency response and smooth sound characteristics.

Separated Notch Edge Surround: With distinctive curved notches improving the vertical amplitude symmetry, this technology dramatically reduces distortion and enhances clarity.

Five-beam Frame Structure Dynamic Air Diffuser: Like the Mobile ES speakers’ feature, the Five-beam Frame design disperses resonance while the integrated Dynamic Air Diffuser ensures efficient air circulation for smooth cone travel and cooling of the voice coil.

sony, receiver, lineup, offers, audio, features

Progressive Height Rate Spider: The acoustically optimized spider allows for higher power handling and airflow, with a profile designed for more Rapid and precise cushioning of the speaker cone. To increase signal integrity and prevent sound interference, the lead wire from the voice coil is also sewn to the spider, reducing wire movement.

“Our audio engineers have designed the Mobile ES speaker lineup to give our customers a premium listening experience, without compromise. Our new speakers give music enthusiasts a variety of options based on their unique needs, while delivering the next level of innovation to the in-vehicle audio market.” Daisuke Kawaguchi, Vice President of Home Entertainment Sound, Sony Electronics Inc.


Sony’s 2021 Mobile ES car speakers and subwoofer will start shipping on June 10, 2021. To learn more and pre-order visit:

Home Latest New Products Car Audio Car Speakers Sony Updates Mobile ES Car Audio Speakers and Subwoofer

The Best Soundbar

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We’ve added new soundbars introduced at CES 2023 to What to look forward to.

For many people, going to the movies these days involves a walk from the kitchen to the couch, rather than a trip to a commercial cinema. So investing in a good TV and sound system makes more sense than ever. The use of a soundbar is the easiest, most affordable way to get a cinematic surround-sound experience at home, and the Polk MagniFi Mini AX’s excellent sound and simple setup make it our favorite all-purpose choice—though we have additional picks that suit different budgets and performance priorities.

How we picked and tested

We tested the soundbars in front of a listening panel, concealing the identities of the soundbars to eliminate bias.

We did not set a maximum or minimum price for soundbars to test, and we have recommendations priced from 60 to 1,500.

All of our top picks have an HDMI eARC connection, which is the most convenient way to connect a soundbar and TV.

Some of the latest soundbars include subwoofers that our measurements show are competitive with standalone subs.

The best all-around soundbar

Despite being simple, small, and affordable, the MagniFi Mini AX outperforms many larger, more complicated competitors.

Buying Options

Looking at the super-compact Polk MagniFi Mini AX, you might not expect much. But in our brand-concealed tests, where the listeners couldn’t judge it by its size, this soundbar outperformed larger, more feature-packed models costing hundreds more. The soundbar measures just 14.5 inches wide, but thanks to its digital signal processing (DSP) technology, it produced a surround-sound effect that was, in some cases, more natural-sounding (if less dramatic) than soundbars using dedicated surround speakers. The package includes a compact subwoofer that also performed better than its size suggests, producing deep, punchy, satisfying bass, and the system sounded better with music than most soundbars do. The MagniFi Mini AX is compatible with the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X immersive audio formats, and can also stream audio over Wi-Fi via Apple AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast, as well as via Bluetooth. It offers the essential connection options we like to see—HDMI eARC, optical digital audio, and analog audio—but lacks a dedicated HDMI input to connect source directly. Optional surround speakers are available.

For more enveloping surround sound

The M-Series Elevate uses dedicated surround speakers and motorized upward-firing speakers to produce more immersive sound from Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks.

Buying Options

If your priority is to get an enveloping surround-sound experience, the Vizio M-Series Elevate is for you. This system is more costly and much more complicated than our top pick, but our listening panel felt it delivered an experience more like being in a commercial cinema—though it did not sound as good with music. The 6.5-inch subwoofer impressed our panelists with its literal couch-shaking bass power. The soundbar has internal, motorized speakers that tilt up and bounce the sound off the ceiling to create a more immersive effect, while a purple-lit sound vent slides out from each side to enhance the surround effect even further. The system also has dedicated rear speakers that connect via cables to the subwoofer. Features include Dolby Atmos and DTS:X compatibility, one standard HDMI input, an HDMI eARC jack, optical and analog audio inputs, lots of adjustments for fine-tuning the sound, Bluetooth, and a dedicated signal-sensing input that lets you connect an Amazon Echo Dot so that the soundbar works as a Smart speaker. All that’s missing is Wi-Fi connectivity to stream music wirelessly via a platform like AirPlay or Chromecast, which is a feature you often get at this price.

Clear, compact sound at a friendly price

The Yamaha SR-C30A sounds much more natural than most inexpensive soundbars, even if it can’t match the volume and envelopment of more expensive models.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 250.

If you just want a simple, affordable soundbar to improve your everyday TV-watching experience, the Yamaha SR-C30A is the best soundbar we’ve heard for less than 300. There’s a natural, comfortable character to its sound that’s rare in soundbars at any price, although it doesn’t have the bass power and enveloping surround-sound effects of our pricier picks. At just 23.5 inches wide, this two-channel (stereo) soundbar is relatively compact, so it’ll suit TVs large and small. The subwoofer is too small to shake your couch, but it’s got enough power to add a decent amount of kick for action movies and games. The sound with music is smooth, although it can’t match the dynamics and bass power that our other picks have. The SR-C30A offers one HDMI eARC port, two optical audio inputs, one analog audio input, and Bluetooth—which is the standard complement of features we’d expect for this price.

For the most theaterlike audio experience

The S95QR includes a powerful subwoofer, surround speakers, five upward-firing Atmos speakers, and lots of inputs and audio streaming options.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 1,297.

The LG S95QR gets you pretty close to the sonic experience of having an AV receiver and surround-sound speaker system, but with easier setup. Billed as a 9.1.5-channel system, the S95QR has three upward-firing immersive speakers built into the top of the soundbar, plus one more upward-firing speaker built into each of the wireless surround speakers. This system’s extra upward-firing speaker and IMAX Enhanced feature produce an even more enveloping sound than our Vizio runner-up pick, especially with movies encoded in the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X formats—and it also plays louder without strain. The subwoofer produces powerful, punchy deep bass that really energizes a room (and your emotions). This full-featured system has both Google Home and Amazon Alexa voice-control compatibility, and it can stream audio via Apple AirPlay 2, Google Chromecast, Alexa, and Bluetooth. The S95QR has an HDMI eARC port, plus two HDMI inputs and an optical digital audio input, but no analog audio input.

The best all-around soundbar

Despite being simple, small, and affordable, the MagniFi Mini AX outperforms many larger, more complicated competitors.

For more enveloping surround sound

The M-Series Elevate uses dedicated surround speakers and motorized upward-firing speakers to produce more immersive sound from Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks.

Clear, compact sound at a friendly price

The Yamaha SR-C30A sounds much more natural than most inexpensive soundbars, even if it can’t match the volume and envelopment of more expensive models.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 250.

For the most theaterlike audio experience

The S95QR includes a powerful subwoofer, surround speakers, five upward-firing Atmos speakers, and lots of inputs and audio streaming options.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 1,297.

Why you should trust us

I have been reviewing audio gear professionally since 1990, having worked as an editor or writer for SoundStage, Sound Vision, Home Theater Review, Home Theater Magazine, and numerous other publications. In that time, I’ve conducted and published more brand-concealed tests of audio devices than any other journalist in the world, and I am an acknowledged expert in audio measurement. I also used to work as a consultant in soundbar design and tuning for numerous companies (mostly OEM/ODM companies that supply devices for well-known brands), and I’ve evaluated and measured more than 135 soundbars in final or prototype form.

For our fall 2022 tests, I asked a couple of Wirecutter subscribers, Katy Cook and Andrew Lyman, to give me their opinions on the top contenders. Both of them are tech-savvy, but neither considers themselves to be an audio enthusiast.

Who should get a soundbar

If you want better sound than you’re getting from your TV’s built-in speakers but don’t want to piece together separate components (such as an AV or stereo receiver and a speaker package), a soundbar is the way to go. Separate components usually provide better performance, but they also take up more space and require additional cables, and their operation is more complicated. A good soundbar strikes a balance between performance and convenience, delivering improved sound quality in a package that’s easier to set up and use.

Can a Good Soundbar Rival a True Surround-Sound System in a Blind Listening Test?

As soundbar performance continues to improve, does anyone need to invest in an AV receiver and speakers to get great sound? We did blind tests to find out.

In addition, today’s soundbars aren’t just for TV and movie watching. Almost all of them support some method of wireless audio streaming over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. This feature allows you to stream music from mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers.

If your top priority is getting the absolute best surround-sound experience, or if you have a lot of source devices (like a cable box, gaming console, streaming media player, and music player) to connect to your TV, you’re better off with an AV receiver and a multi-channel speaker system. If you just need a simple audio setup with no video pass-through, you might also consider wireless powered bookshelf speakers or a stereo receiver and a pair of bookshelf speakers.

If your primary concern is hearing the dialogue in movies and TV shows, almost any soundbar is better than the speakers built into your TV, and some soundbars have effective voice enhancement modes. We brought in some hard-of-hearing listeners to test the voice enhancement on a few soundbars; you can read the results in this blog.

Trouble Hearing TV Dialogue? The Right Soundbar Can Help.

Many soundbars offer voice-enhancement modes to improve dialogue clarity, but do they really work? We asked six hard of hearing people to give them a try.

How we picked

To decide which soundbars to call in for testing, we considered the following criteria:

  • Number of channels: Soundbars can have anywhere from two to 16 channels of sound. A simple “2.0” (or two-channel without subwoofer) soundbar is usually the least expensive and least complex, but generally it can’t deliver a cinematic experience. A “2.1” bar includes a soundbar and a subwoofer; this is the most common type, and most are priced under 300. A “3.1” bar adds a center-channel speaker for better voice clarity. A soundbar that’s described as having five or more channels—5.1, 7.1, or more—adds surround speakers, which may be built into the ends of the soundbar or might be separate speakers. Bars that incorporate Dolby Atmos support are usually labeled “5.1.2” or “5.1.4,” meaning they add two or four upward-facing Atmos speakers to bounce sound effects off the ceiling. Many new models push this even further; our upgrade pick, the LG S95QR, offers 9.1.5-channel sound. Because all of these soundbars might be of interest to different people, we tried everything we could get our hands on.
  • Wireless audio support: We considered only those soundbars that had the ability to stream music from a phone or tablet, via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi (or both). Fortunately, most new soundbars have this capability. Wi-Fi systems such as AirPlay, Chromecast, and Sonos are more complicated to set up, but they offer potentially better sound quality than Bluetooth because they do not apply additional data compression to the audio signal, and they can work in conjunction with other compatible speakers in a multiroom audio system.
  • HDMI ARC connection: Almost all of the soundbars we tested have an HDMI ARC or eARC (Audio Return Channel) jack, which lets you transmit audio via a single HDMI cable between the TV and soundbar. A basic ARC connection can pass compressed audio formats, while the newer eARC connection (enhanced Audio Return Channel) can pass an uncompressed Atmos signal, if both the TV and soundbar support eARC. The inclusion of an HDMI ARC port is important because it allows the soundbar to work like it’s part of the TV: When you power up your source device (such as a streaming media player or a cable/satellite receiver), both the TV and the soundbar should automatically power up and switch to their correct inputs, and the remote for the TV or media player allows you to control the soundbar’s volume. When this connection works the way it’s supposed to, tech-phobic family members don’t ever have to touch a button on the soundbar or its remote.
  • HDMI inputs: Although such inputs are less important in a 2.0- or 2.1-channel soundbar, this feature may be essential if you have a 5.1-channel or Atmos-capable soundbar and want to get the highest-quality sound from streaming media players, Blu-ray players, and video game consoles. Many older TVs equipped with HDMI ARC “dumb down” a 5.1 or Atmos signal coming in through HDMI to 2.0 channels, which they then pass to the soundbar. Many TVs released in the past four or five years can pass 5.1 audio and Dolby Atmos over HDMI ARC but in a compressed form. The newest TVs equipped with eARC can pass an uncompressed Atmos signal, but both the TV and soundbar must support eARC for that to happen. If your soundbar has HDMI inputs, you don’t have to worry which version of ARC your gear supports because you can connect your sources directly to the soundbar instead of to the TV.
  • Voice command: Some higher-priced soundbars feature compatibility with Amazon Alexa or Google Home voice-command systems, both of which also allow multiroom audio capability. We’ve tried these features on many soundbars, but in our experience, they don’t work as smoothly or set up as easily as Amazon- and Google-branded devices, and they sometimes “fight” with other devices in the system. For instance, an Alexa-capable soundbar in the living room may start playing your favorite playlist even though you addressed the command to an Amazon Echo in your kitchen. One alternative is a signal-sensing input, as found on many Vizio models. When this input is connected to a Smart speaker with an analog output, such as the Echo Dot, a spoken command to the Dot automatically powers up the soundbar and switches to that input, so you hear the audio signals streamed by the Dot through the soundbar.
  • Configuration: We tested only standard, powered soundbars with built-in amplifiers and audio processing, as opposed to passive soundbars that must be connected to an AV receiver. We also declined to test soundbases, which fit under a TV; some of those sound pretty good, but many TVs have legs that are too widely spaced for the TV to sit stably atop a soundbase.

Soundbar Not Working? Here Are Some Troubleshooting Tips.

As soundbars get more advanced, they also get more complex and sensitive to setup errors. Here are some tips for getting yours to work correctly.

How we tested

For each new round of soundbar testing, we conduct brand-concealed audio tests with a listening panel. Concealing the identities and configurations of audio devices is essential; studies have shown that listening results can be greatly skewed when listeners know the identities of the devices.

Before doing tests with outside listeners, I spent at least three days using each soundbar casually, watching TV programs, at least one action movie, and a few favorite movie clips—and listening to a variety of music. During these tests, I tried out the various sound modes, tested the different connection options, and got a general feel for how the soundbars performed and operated. I then put each of the soundbars through a formal test, playing Dolby Atmos scenes from the Blu-ray discs of Midway and Divergent: Insurgent, along with audiophile favorites such as Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” streamed via Wi-Fi when possible or Bluetooth otherwise. I also compared the soundbars against our existing picks. Based on the results of these preliminary tests, I picked the models I thought had the best chance of winning over our panelists.

For our official listening tests, I concealed the identities of the soundbars behind thin, black fabric. I told the panelists nothing at all about the soundbars, although they could see that at least some of the soundbars used dedicated surround speakers, which were arrayed on speaker stands behind them. I set the volume of each soundbar to the same playback level, using a sound pressure level meter and a shaped noise tone taken from a Dolby Digital receiver. I then played them the same movie and music selections I used for my testing, plus one music track of their choice.

During these tests, I asked the panelists to pay particular attention to:

  • how clear voices sounded in music and movies
  • the balance of bass to midrange to treble
  • how clean the bars sounded when cranked up
  • the volume, depth, and clarity of the bass response
  • how enveloping the sound was with movies and music
  • how effective the different listening modes were
  • how easy the soundbar was to set up and use

With soundbars that offered special sound modes, I generally employed the mode intended for the type of content I was listening to—movies or music, for instance—but I also experimented with all of the other modes available. If the soundbars had an “auto” or “AI” mode, I relied mostly on that one but tried the others as well. For soundbars with HDMI inputs that support 4K HDR video pass-through, I tested whether this function worked properly with an HDR-capable TV.

To specifically test every soundbar system’s bass capabilities beyond the listening tests, I measured each system using the same process we use for our guides to the best high-performance subwoofer and the best budget subwoofer. We show the results in the Measurements section below.

Our pick: Polk MagniFi Mini AX Atmos soundbar

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The best all-around soundbar

Despite being simple, small, and affordable, the MagniFi Mini AX outperforms many larger, more complicated competitors.

Buying Options

For most people, the ideal soundbar is one that delivers a huge upgrade from the sound of their TV’s built-in speakers, with a reasonable cost, a small footprint, and no setup hassles. That perfectly describes the Polk MagniFi Mini AX. The package includes just a soundbar and small subwoofer. The bar measures just 14.5 inches across, but in our brand-concealed listening tests, it beat out larger and more expensive models (including Polk’s step-up model, the MagniFi Max AX). Its 7-inch-wide subwoofer has plenty of deep bass to keep up with the soundbar, although it can’t provide the floor-shaking power that serious action movie fans will want. The MagniFi Mini AX is compatible with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X immersive sound formats (using digital signal processing to simulate surround effects), and can stream audio through Apple AirPlay 2, Google Chromecast, and Bluetooth, but its inputs are somewhat limited compared with pricier models.

We weren’t necessarily looking to make such a compact and (apparently) simple soundbar our main pick, and based solely on its size, I probably wouldn’t have put it up against three larger, more expensive models in our brand-concealed tests. But in my lengthy listening tests that preceded our more structured tests, I found its big, spacious, and detailed sound to be competitive with everything else I heard in the mid-three-figures range.

Our listeners agreed: “With this one, I can perceive more layers of sound and more of the sound effects, like the whistling sound that happens when the depth charges explode in U-571,” one said. In some ways, the simulated surround sound that the MagniFi Mini AX produces seems more natural than the “real” surround sound of the more expensive 5.1-and-up models we tested because there are no rear speakers blaring into your ears and distracting you from the dialogue. Even without surround speakers, we heard what seemed like sounds coming from all around us and even above us at times.

Polk offers the SR2 wireless surround speakers as an optional add-on. We tried them and found that, while they don’t really make the sound of the MagniFi Mini AX more enveloping, they do let you hear specific sound effects from the rear channels more clearly.

The 7-inch-wide subwoofer that comes with the MagniFi Mini AX is fairly compact, with a single 5-by-7-inch oval-shaped woofer. While it can’t really shake the couch, it does reproduce the lowest bass notes in music and the low-frequency sound effects in action movies without distorting or audibly clamping down on the bass. Our CTA-2010 measurements showed that its output averaged 106.8 decibels in the mid-bass and 93.6 dB in the low bass. The mid-bass number is comparable to what we got with our other mid- and low-priced picks, but the low bass number is only 1.5 dB less than our upgrade pick, the LG S95QR, produced. The MagniFi Mini AX still can’t match the powerful mid-bass punch of the S95QR, but for a soundbar in this price range, this is extremely impressive bass performance.

The MagniFi Mini AX has four preset sound modes labeled Music, Movie, 3D, and Night, all of which are easily accessible from a button on the remote control. The 3D mode gave us that big, enveloping sound we loved for movies; but with music, it seemed to add some extra reverberance that we didn’t like. In Music mode, the Mini AX produced some of the cleanest, most natural sound we heard from any of the soundbars we tested. In this mode, there’s not as much stereo spaciousness as the larger soundbars produced, but the Mini AX also didn’t produce the vocal-mangling tonal shifts we heard with so many other soundbars when they tried to reproduce music. There’s also a Voice Assist mode intended to make dialogue sound clearer, which can be activated and adjusted from the remote. It doesn’t produce the kind of voice boost that hard-of-hearing people will probably find helpful, but it does make dialogue easier to understand for people without hearing loss.

sony, receiver, lineup, offers, audio, features

The MagniFi Mini AX has one HDMI eARC port, plus optical digital and 3.5 mm analog audio inputs. Photo: Brent Butterworth

sony, receiver, lineup, offers, audio, features

sony, receiver, lineup, offers, audio, features

The MagniFi Mini AX’s remote control can directly access all of its features and adjustments without going through a menu system. Photo: Brent Butterworth

The MagniFi Mini AX has one HDMI eARC port, plus optical digital and 3.5 mm analog audio inputs. Photo: Brent Butterworth

One nice advantage of the MagniFi Mini over most (perhaps even all) more costly models is that it’s simple to operate. In what seems like a radical ergonomic revolution these days—but should really be nothing more than common sense—the top-mounted controls have raised white labels against a black background, so they’re easy to see in the dark. The same for the remote, which lets you access all of the soundbar’s adjustments directly, instead of requiring you to navigate a menu system that’s been abbreviated and encrypted to fit onto a four-character front-panel display.

You can stream audio wirelessly from a phone, tablet, or computer using Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay 2 (which requires an iOS device for setup), or Google Chromecast (which can be set up using iOS or Android devices).

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The MagniFi Mini AX has just one HDMI eARC port to connect directly to your TV, with no dedicated HDMI inputs for connecting source devices. So if you have multiple sources (such as a Blu-ray player and a gaming system or two) that you want to connect directly to the soundbar, you might want to opt for a soundbar with more inputs. But most people will probably connect all of their sources to the TV and just run a single HDMI cable from the TV to the soundbar’s eARC port. However, unless you have a newer TV with eARC rather than standard ARC, you can’t get the full, lossless audio fidelity available on Blu-ray discs if you connect your Blu-ray player to the TV, then run the sound from the TV to the soundbar. On a soundbar, it’s unlikely you’d hear the difference between lossless audio and data-compressed formats such as Dolby Digital and DTS. If you need an HDMI input, consider our runner-up pick, the Vizio M-Series Elevate.

The MagniFi Mini AX can’t play as loud as larger, more advanced soundbars, such as our upgrade pick, the LG S95QR. Most people don’t need any more volume than the MagniFi Mini AX can muster, though; cranking up a soundbar like the S95QR could have your neighbors pounding on your door before the opening fanfare of a movie soundtrack ends, even if you live in a house.

Although the MagniFi Mini AX is unusually compact and fits on just about any shelf or TV stand, it doesn’t have holes for wall mounting—though it can be positioned on the wall using soundbar wall-mount brackets.

Runner-up: Vizio M-Series Elevate Atmos soundbar

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For more enveloping surround sound

The M-Series Elevate uses dedicated surround speakers and motorized upward-firing speakers to produce more immersive sound from Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks.

Buying Options

If you want a more immersive surround-sound experience, we recommend the Vizio M-Series Elevate. This system offers more features, inputs, and adjustments than our top pick, but it’s also more costly and much more complex to set up and use. In addition to the soundbar and subwoofer, the package includes two rear speakers that must be wired to the subwoofer. Our panelists loved the extra excitement that the M-Series Elevate’s surround speakers and powerful subwoofer produced for action movies, but they weren’t particularly impressed with how the system handled music. The soundbar has plenty of inputs, including a standard HDMI input, an HDMI eARC port, and a signal-sensing input that lets the soundbar work like a Smart speaker when it’s connected to an Amazon Echo Dot.

The soundbar itself features motorized speakers that tilt upward automatically (or at your command) with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X content, to create a sense of sound effects happening above you, while purple-lit vents slide out from the sides to add extra sonic immersion around the sides. Our panelists enjoyed the extra spaciousness they heard through this system. Even though they felt that the Polk MagniFi Mini AX sounded more natural and had a better balance of bass to midrange to treble, they thought the M-Series Elevate sounded more exciting with action movies. It also reproduced impacts and explosions in movie soundtracks with more gusto; it seemed to be able to hit louder peaks. The panelists liked the sound well enough with music, but it didn’t stand out for them. I thought the M-Series Elevate sounded clearer and more natural with song vocals than most soundbars do, but our listeners thought the music sound was just average.

Our CTA-2010 measurements showed that the M-Series Elevate’s subwoofer output averaged 107.0 dB in the mid-bass and 89.9 dB in the low bass. That’s about the same as the Polk MagniFi Mini AX in the mid-bass, but 3.7 dB less in the low bass, so the Elevate’s sub might deliver a tiny bit less kick on explosions in action movies. Unlike many Vizio soundbars, the M-Series Elevate’s factory-preset subwoofer level isn’t overly loud, and you can turn it up or down if it doesn’t suit your taste (or your neighbors’ tolerance).

The M-Series Elevate offers a nice selection of inputs: one HDMI eARC port, one HDMI input (good for connecting a Blu-ray player to get full lossless sound from discs with Dolby Atmos or DTS:X), optical digital and 3.5 mm analog inputs, and an extra 3.5 mm input with signal sensing. The signal-sensing input is intended for connection to a Smart speaker with an analog audio output, such as an Amazon Echo Dot. When you speak a command to the Dot, the M-Series Elevate automatically turns on and switches to the signal-sensing input, and you hear the sound of the Dot through the soundbar. The original Elevate soundbar (a former pick) was slow to respond to signals from a Dot, so it cut off the first few seconds of the Dot’s response. The M-Series Elevate is much faster. When I asked it to play radio station KNTU, it should have responded “The One, from Tune-In,” and it only cut off “The.” We can live with that.

sony, receiver, lineup, offers, audio, features

The soundbar has a slide-out vent on each end that provides more immersive surround sound with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks. Photo: Brent Butterworth

sony, receiver, lineup, offers, audio, features

sony, receiver, lineup, offers, audio, features

In addition to optical digital audio and analog audio inputs, the M-Series Elevate has a signal-sensing Aux VA input for connecting voice-command devices such as the Amazon Echo Dot speaker. Photo: Brent Butterworth

sony, receiver, lineup, offers, audio, features

The remote control is the same capable but complicated one that Vizio has been supplying with its more advanced soundbars for the past couple of years. Photo: Brent Butterworth

The soundbar has a slide-out vent on each end that provides more immersive surround sound with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks. Photo: Brent Butterworth

The remote that accompanies the M-Series Elevate is the same one Vizio has been offering for a few years now, with a backlit alphanumeric display at the top. It has four buttons that access different control menus (EQ, Level, Setup, and Effect), and each of those offers several control functions—so it’s much more complicated to operate than almost any other soundbar remote. However, it’s also more powerful, allowing adjustment of the different channel levels (such as subwoofer, center, and surround), tone controls, and sound modes (such as Movie, Music, and Game). You can even turn off the purple lighting on the slide-out sound vents.

The M-Series Elevate is a more living-room-friendly device than the original Elevate. It measures 41.2 inches long (6.8 inches shorter than the original), and the soundbar and rear surround speakers are wrapped in charcoal-shaded fabric. The subwoofer is one of the shortest we’ve tested—just 9.5 inches high—so it should be able to tuck under many end tables. The M-Series Elevate doesn’t have holes for wall-mounting, but it can be wall-mounted using soundbar wall-mount brackets.

The one significant downside of the M-Series Elevate for some buyers is that it offers no Wi-Fi capability, so there’s no built-in support for Apple AirPlay 2, Google Chromecast, or Amazon Alexa. These are fairly common features in this soundbar’s price range. However, the system does offer Bluetooth for wireless audio streaming, and we found that connecting an Amazon Echo Dot to the M-Series Elevate worked better than any Alexa-equipped soundbar—because the Dot works better in concert with other Amazon-branded devices. It won’t respond to a voice command from another room if there’s an Echo device in that room.

Budget pick: Yamaha SR-C30A soundbar

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Clear, compact sound at a friendly price

The Yamaha SR-C30A sounds much more natural than most inexpensive soundbars, even if it can’t match the volume and envelopment of more expensive models.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 250.

If you want a simple, affordable solution that provides a huge step up from your TV’s built-in speakers, the Yamaha SR-C30A offers the clearest sound we’ve heard from a soundbar/subwoofer combo priced under 300. Most soundbars in this range have flaws that make voices sound hoarse, boomy, or strained, but our panelists thought the SR-C30A’s voice reproduction approached that of the more expensive models we tested. Even though this is a stereo soundbar, our listeners praised the spaciousness of its simulated surround-sound effects, but the limited rumble from its relatively small subwoofer keeps it from rocking your room. (Whether that’s good or bad is for you to decide.) The compact, 23.5-inch-long bar is a good fit for almost any TV, and while the soundbar doesn’t have a lot of inputs, it has all the ones most people will need. It also lacks Atmos/DTS:X support and any kind of Wi-Fi streaming, but it has Bluetooth.

Note that Yamaha says another model, the ATS-C300 soundbar, is identical to the SR-C30A, but was given a different model number to indicate that it’s sold through different retailers than the SR-C30A. We haven’t tested the ATS-C300, but we couldn’t spot a difference between the two models when we scanned the specs on Yamaha’s website.

“This one sounds really clear,” one panelist said when we compared under-300 models. “I could understand the dialogue better, and I could hear more of the sound effects in the movies.” We all felt the SR-C30A had a more natural-sounding balance of bass to midrange to treble than the other inexpensive models we tested, meaning that no frequencies of sound seemed boosted, which might make the sound boomy or harsh.

We were also surprised to hear that, with the 3D Sound mode enabled, the SR-C30A gave us a fairly convincing sense of surround sound; it didn’t make us feel quite like we were part of the action, but we could hear sounds seeming to come from the sides of the room. Unlike with the Polk MagniFi Mini AX, there’s no option to add surround speakers to the SR-C30A.

With music, the 3D Sound mode had a spacey and disembodied quality, so we preferred the Stereo mode instead. The sound with music was fairly one-dimensional, much like what we’ve heard from one-box home Bluetooth speakers, but the SR-C30A’s natural-sounding tonal balance left our panelists thinking it was just fine for casual music listening.

The system’s weak spot is the subwoofer. While pretty good for its size, it’s one of the smallest we encountered, with just a 5.2-inch woofer. On effects like the cannon shots and depth charges in U-571, the sub gave us a polite, restrained boom rather than a couch-shaking experience. However, at just 6 inches wide, it can nestle almost unnoticed against the side of a couch or under an end table. Our CTA-2010 measurements showed that its output averaged 107.8 dB in the mid-bass, but the output was unmeasurable at 25 and 20 Hz, so we couldn’t calculate a low bass average. That’s acceptable bass performance for a small living room or bedroom, but for a larger space, we recommend stepping up to something bigger. If you want a soundbar at a similar price with more bass (but less dialogue clarity), check out our previous budget pick, the JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass.

sony, receiver, lineup, offers, audio, features

The SR-C30A has one HDMI eARC port, two optical digital audio inputs, and one 3.5 mm analog audio input. Photo: Brent Butterworth

sony, receiver, lineup, offers, audio, features

sony, receiver, lineup, offers, audio, features

The SR-C30A’s remote has dedicated buttons for every function and doesn’t require you to navigate a menu system. Photo: Brent Butterworth

The SR-C30A has one HDMI eARC port, two optical digital audio inputs, and one 3.5 mm analog audio input. Photo: Brent Butterworth

The SR-C30A’s inputs aren’t numerous, but they’re similar to what’s found on most soundbars around this price: one HDMI eARC port, two optical digital audio inputs, and one 3.5 mm analog audio input. You won’t be able to connect a video source directly to the soundbar (you’ll have to run them all into your TV, then connect the TV to the soundbar), but at least the analog input lets you connect source devices such as tablets and computers. The SR-C30A has holes on the back for wall-mounting.

The remote control is simple and straightforward, with all controls clearly labeled and no menu system to fuss with. It provides dedicated buttons for all of the inputs and sound modes, plus a Clear Voice dialogue enhancement and Bass Extension buttons, neither of which seemed to do much.

Upgrade pick: LG S95QR Atmos soundbar

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For the most theaterlike audio experience

The S95QR includes a powerful subwoofer, surround speakers, five upward-firing Atmos speakers, and lots of inputs and audio streaming options.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 1,297.

For theaterphiles who also appreciate simplicity, the LG S95QR is the best way to get performance close to that of a real surround-sound speaker system without the complicated setup and confusing operation of a typical AV receiver. The package includes the large soundbar, a subwoofer, and two wireless surround speakers. The system has a total of five upward-firing immersive speakers: three in the soundbar, and one in each of the surround speakers. This setup allows it to produce exciting, enveloping sound with any good surround-sound movie, but especially with movies encoded in Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. The powerful subwoofer can easily shake the couch, providing a realistic sense of impacts and explosions in games and action movies. The S95QR is also packed with more features than our other picks, including Google Home and Amazon Alexa compatibility; Apple AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast Wi-Fi streaming; two HDMI inputs plus an HDMI eARC port; and Bluetooth.

An especially nice feature of the S95QR is its AI Sound Pro mode, which automatically adjusts the surround-sound effect to suit whatever you’re listening to. I left this mode on for most of our listening tests, and it seemed to deliver a just-right surround effect no matter what we played. The soundbar, rear surround speakers, and subwoofer are all large enough to fill an average living room with powerful surround sound that doesn’t get harsh when it’s played loud; the system always seemed ready and willing to play louder when we wanted it to. The one caveat is that the sound sometimes seemed a little bright, and the rear surround speakers too loud, but it was pretty easy to fix these flaws using the remote control and the alphanumeric display on the front of the soundbar. We just turned the treble down to.3 and the surround level to.6. Of course, you may prefer other settings. The point is, it’s easy to make these adjustments, and once they’re made, they’re made.

The S95QR is the first IMAX Enhanced soundbar we’ve tested. The marketing materials for IMAX Enhance are light on details; they promise only “a signature sound experience with more immersive, powerful sound” when an IMAX Enhanced movie is played through IMAX Enhanced audio gear. We tried streaming Iron Man in its IMAX Enhanced version from Disney, and comparing the S95QR with the similar (but non-IMAX) Samsung HW-Q990B soundbar: The sound from the LG definitely seemed more enveloping, with more sound seeming to come from all around us. But whether this improvement was because of IMAX Enhanced or because of the LG’s extra upward-firing speaker, we don’t know.

The subwoofer is just as big a star as the soundbar in this system, producing powerful, floor-shaking bass when the depth charges went off in U-571, and strong deep bass notes when we played pop and RB tunes. This subwoofer doesn’t boom annoyingly like a cheap soundbar sub—it has the punch and clarity of a small dedicated subwoofer. (The woofer size isn’t specified, but it appears to be about 8 inches in diameter.) Our CTA-2010 measurements showed that its output averaged 114.2 dB in the mid-bass and 95.1 dB in the low bass. The mid-bass number is about 7 dB higher than what our other picks achieved, which means you’ll feel more punch during impacts and explosions in action movies; this number is similar to what is produced by the Dayton Audio SUB-1200, one of the picks in our guide to best budget subwoofers. The low-bass number is a little more than we got from the Polk MagniFi Mini AX, but 6.9 dB less than what we got from the SUB-1200—so it’s the S95QR’s subwoofer is not the equivalent of a good home theater model when it comes to low-bass reproduction, but for a soundbar subwoofer, it’s very good.

sony, receiver, lineup, offers, audio, features

The S95QR has two HDMI inputs, along with an HDMI eARC port; the only other input is an optical digital input. Photo: Brent Butterworth

sony, receiver, lineup, offers, audio, features

The soundbar has top-panel controls and a five-character alphanumeric display on the front that can be rather cryptic at times. Photo: Brent Butterworth

sony, receiver, lineup, offers, audio, features

The S95QR includes wireless, Atmos-enabled surround speakers that plug into an AC wall outlet. Photo: Brent Butterworth

The S95QR has two HDMI inputs, along with an HDMI eARC port; the only other input is an optical digital input. Photo: Brent Butterworth

The S95QR has an HDMI eARC port plus two HDMI inputs, so you can connect a Blu-ray player and a gaming system (or two gaming systems) directly to it and get the maximum fidelity of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks from Blu-ray discs, even if your TV doesn’t have eARC. It also has a single optical digital audio input, but no analog audio input.

However, the S95QR’s many streaming options make its lack of an analog input a small issue at most. It has Google Chromecast and Apple AirPlay 2 streaming through Wi-Fi, and it can also function as a Google Home and Amazon Alexa Smart speaker, so it can stream through Alexa, too. And of course, if you don’t want to fool with setting up Wi-Fi streaming, the S95QR offers Bluetooth.

The remote control looks as simple as the ones that come with inexpensive soundbars, but it’s far more capable. Many of the adjustments are made through menus, using a five-character alphanumeric display on the soundbar’s front panel. I found it easy to access the bass and treble adjustments, but the display’s limitations force some of the function names to be a bit cryptic. What do you imagine “WF” stands for? Wrong—it’s the subwoofer adjustment. Fortunately, LG offers an easy-to-navigate smartphone app that accesses all of these functions, plus AI Room Calibration, which plays some test tones and automatically optimizes the sound for your room. (I ran AI Room Calibration before we did our listening tests.)

At 47.2 inches long, the soundbar may be too big for some TVs and TV stands; it barely fit between the feet of my 65-inch Vizio TV. The subwoofer’s not small either, but at just 7.6 inches wide, it should be easy to slip between pieces of furniture. The soundbar doesn’t have holes for wall mounting, but it can be positioned there using soundbar wall-mount brackets.

Other good soundbars

If you want to improve your TV’s sound but don’t want to fool with a subwoofer: The Denon DHT-S217 is a 2.0-channel Atmos soundbar that doesn’t include a subwoofer—although it has a subwoofer output, so you can add the sub of your choice if you like. Two 3.5-inch woofers on the bottom give it a surprising amount of bass, and it still sounds clear even when cranked up loud. Even though it doesn’t have upward-firing speakers, this soundbar produced a strong immersive effect when we played Dolby’s Atmos demo disc. It has an HDMI eARC port, an HDMI input, plus optical digital and analog audio inputs.

If you want a super-affordable, super-compact soundbar with streaming built in: Consider the Roku Streambar, a 14-inch-long, 2.0-channel, HDMI-equipped bar with the equivalent of a Roku Streaming Stick 4K streamer (a current pick in our best media streaming devices guide) built in. The Streambar sounds much clearer, louder, and fuller than almost any TV speakers, and it’s better than most inexpensive 2.0 soundbars. In our tests, we found it nice for all but the loudest movies, as well as for streaming music from Spotify and YouTube through Roku, and it includes Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay 2 support. For more bass, you can add the Roku Wireless Subwoofer; at 100.4 dB in our measurements, its mid-bass output wasn’t impressive, but its 87.4 dB low-bass output is solid. You can also add the Roku TV Wireless Speakers for surround channels, but they cost more than the Streambar does.

If you want a soundbar that’s slim, simple, and under 100: The TaoTronics TT-SK023 sounds so good for its size and price that we seriously considered making it a pick—even though it doesn’t have an HDMI ARC port and it can’t match the full sound of the Roku Streambar. If you can get by with just Bluetooth plus analog and optical digital inputs, it’s a great choice for a vacation home or kids room.

If you want a high-performance soundbar without a subwoofer or surround speakers: Consider the Sonos Arc, a former pick. It offers great sound (with Dolby Atmos support, but not DTS:X), easy operation, and built-in voice control via Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. You get the same extensive access to streaming services that other Sonos speakers offer, plus AirPlay 2 support (but not Bluetooth). The bar incorporates 11 speaker drivers total and produces an extremely spacious, realistic home theater sound, especially with Atmos material. You can add the Sonos Sub or Sonos Sub Mini, and various Sonos speakers as surround speakers, but that increases the cost considerably. The downsides are that it lacks a remote control and an HDMI input to directly connect source, but the HDMI ARC port allows for easy connection and control through your TV. The Sonos Beam Gen 2 is similar and about half the price, but it’s smaller so it doesn’t play as loud or offer as much bass.

If you want a great one-piece soundbar but don’t want to use Sonos: The Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is similar to the Sonos Arc in that it’s a one-piece Atmos soundbar with optional subwoofer and surround speakers: It is priced about the same, it has a single HDMI eARC jack, and it produces exceptionally enveloping and spacious sound. The Smart Soundbar 900 incorporates Bose’s ADAPTiQ automatic room calibration system, which seems to work well, as the Smart Soundbar sounds a bit clearer on dialogue than the Sonos Arc does, although it can’t match the Arc’s bass performance. It incorporates Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, and Bluetooth, so it works well with audio gear from many other companies. It also has a slim, beautiful design and an included remote control. It has an optical audio input and can also transmit sound to certain Bose Bluetooth speakers and headphones for listening in a second room. But it lacks HDMI inputs, DTS:X support, and an analog input.


To specifically test each soundbar system’s bass capabilities, we measured each system using the same CTA-2010 output measurements process we use for our best high-performance subwoofer and best budget subwoofer guides. These measurements provide a precise assessment of a speaker’s or subwoofer’s bass capabilities. Below is a chart that shows the results for our recommended soundbars:

Soundbar model Mid-bass output (40–63 Hz) Low bass output (20–31.5 Hz)
Polk MagniFi Mini AX 106.8 dB 93.6 dB
Vizio M-Series Elevate 107.0 dB 89.9 dB
Yamaha SR-C30A 107.8 dB N/A
LG S95QR 114.2 dB 95.1 dB

We also tried running frequency-response measurements to see how evenly each soundbar reproduced frequencies across the entire sonic range. But, as expected, this test turned out to be a mostly fruitless effort because the surround-sound simulation used in the majority of soundbars (even when the surround effects are deactivated) can in some cases create extreme anomalies that are difficult or impossible for a measurement microphone and an audio analyzer to sort out—no matter if they sound great to human ears and brains.

Sustainability and environmental impact of soundbars

Many readers are concerned about how the manufacturing, shipping, and normal use of the electronics we recommend impact the world we live in. We take that seriously too, which is why we’ve asked the manufacturers of all our picks to answer some basic questions about materials, life cycle, and other sustainability issues. While our recommendations are based completely on the criteria outlined in How we picked and How we tested, we offer this information to supplement the decision of any reader who uses environmental impact as a deciding factor in their purchases. We also recognize that this may not paint a complete picture of a product’s supply chain and life cycle impact.

For soundbars, we asked manufacturers whether the packaging and/or the soundbars use recycled materials, and whether the packaging and electronics are recyclable. The former is a big plus. The latter should be a plus, ideally, because most electronics contain many recyclable materials, but the methods of recycling them may have their own adverse impacts. We asked whether the firmware can be updated by the consumer; updatable firmware can extend a product’s life because it can allow bugs to be fixed or new features to be added.

The cardboard, foam, and packaging for the Polk MagniFi Mini AX are all marked as recyclable, but the company did not respond to our other questions about sustainability.

Vizio would not comment on whether its devices and packaging are recyclable or made from recycled materials. However, Vizio offers a nationwide take-back recycling program for its devices, sits on the e-Stewards Leadership Council, and has participated in the EPA Sustainable Materials Management Challenge since 2016. Consumers can find out where to drop off or send devices for recycling at the company’s environmental page. Firmware on the M-Series Elevate can be updated using downloaded firmware installed through a USB stick.

Yamaha said that the SR-C30A and its packaging are not made from recycled or recyclable materials, and it does not have a recycling program in place.

LG said the plastic inner casing and fabric grille of the S95QR are made from 100% recycled materials, and that the packaging (made mostly from recycled cardboard and pulp fiber) is also recyclable. The company has a web page devoted to its efforts to make its soundbars more eco-friendly.

What to look forward to

At CES 2023, several companies introduced new soundbars that seem well worth testing. Almost every new soundbar offers some level of Dolby Atmos compatibility, although many lower-priced models do not include upward-firing speakers that help Atmos deliver a more realistic surround-sound effect. Except where noted, pricing and ship dates were unavailable as of our most recent update.

LG showed two new soundbars, the SC9 and SE6. Both can connect wirelessly through Wi-Fi to compatible LG TVs. The former includes the Wow Orchestra feature, which can sync the soundbar’s speakers with the speakers in compatible LG TVs.

JBL introduced five new soundbars: the 400 Bar 300, 600 Bar 500, 900 Bar 700, 1200 Bar 1000, and 1700 Bar 1300X. The last three include wireless surround speakers that are magnetically attached to the soundbar for charging, but can be removed and placed in the back of the room for surround sound. We heard the Bar 1300X at CES and were impressed with the surround effect and the strong bass coming from its 12-inch subwoofer.

Nakamichi’s Dragon soundbar (named after the company’s famous cassette decks of the 1970s) aims at a state-of-the-art experience with dual subwoofers (each incorporating two separate woofers), separate surround speakers, and a total of six upward-firing Atmos drivers. But at 3,500, it’s the most expensive active soundbar we’ve encountered.

Samsung’s HW-Q990C is the updated version of the HW-Q990B, which came very close to the performance of our current upgrade pick. It incorporates a new version of Samsung’s Q Symphony feature, which integrates the soundbar’s speakers with the ones built into select Samsung TVs. They also showed a new gaming-oriented soundbar, the HW-G60C, which is similar to the HW-S60A discussed below but adds LED lighting plus Echo-cancelling microphones for gaming.

TCL will offer three new Atmos-equipped soundbars: the 2.1-channel S4210, 3.1-channel Q6310, and the 5.1-channel S4510. All offer DTS Virtual:X for an Atmos-like effect from non-Atmos material, plus automatic calibration to optimize the sound for your room.

The competition

We’ve tested a number of soundbars over the course of several years—too many to list them all here. The following is a list of some of the newer and more noteworthy models we’ve tested or considered:

The Bose Smart Soundbar 300 sounds very clear, natural, and enveloping with movies and music, but for a one-piece soundbar with no Atmos capability, it’s expensive.

The Bose Smart Soundbar 600 is similar to the Smart Soundbar 900 (featured in Other good soundbars) in terms of features and sound, but it’s smaller and less costly and it needs a subwoofer more than the Smart Soundbar 900 does. If you’re planning to buy one of Bose’s subwoofers to go along with the soundbar, this one may be a better buy than the Smart Soundbar 900, but if you want to use it on its own, you may find it a little lacking in bass.

The Dali Katch One was formerly listed in Other good soundbars, and we still like it a lot. Its two tweeters, four midrange-woofer drivers, and four bass-reinforcing passive radiators give it an exceptionally clear and enveloping sound. It also has a subwoofer output that lets you add your own subwoofer—potentially one that’s a lot better than those typically included with soundbars. It has HDMI ARC, two optical digital audio inputs, one analog audio input, and Bluetooth, but it lacks HDMI inputs and Atmos support, which are common features around this price.

The Hisense AX5100G is the most affordable Atmos-compatible soundbar with included surround speakers that we’ve tried. It’s a pretty good system for the price, but it doesn’t offer much of an immersive effect with Atmos material, and it has a “cupped hands” coloration with music, as if singers had their hands cupped around their mouths.

We formerly included the JBL Bar 2.0 in Other good soundbars as a good choice if you want an affordable soundbar without a subwoofer, but we now prefer the Denon DHT-S217 for its more spacious sound, its extra HDMI jack, and its subwoofer output. The Bar 2.0 sometimes sells for much less than the DHT-S217, though, so it’s still a great choice if you just want an inexpensive path to better TV sound.

The JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass is our former budget pick. Its bass is stronger than that of our new budget pick, the Yamaha SR-C30A, but our panelists thought the SR-C30A sounded clearer with dialogue and vocals.

We were surprised to hear how spacious the small, relatively simple JBL Bar 5.0 sounded, and if you want a very simple solution for enveloping sound, it’s great. But for a soundbar without a subwoofer (or an option to add one), it’s pricey.

We strongly considered making the Atmos-equipped JBL Bar 9.1 our top pick because it offers surprisingly natural vocal clarity, and its 10-inch subwoofer’s ample bass blended well with the midrange and treble from the soundbar. But the detachable, wireless surround speakers didn’t hold a charge for long, and it was a huge pain to have to keep recharging them.

The LG QP5 Eclair puts out a big, full, clear sound considering the soundbar is less than 1 foot long, but it’s expensive for a 2.1-channel soundbar and doesn’t produce the spacious, enveloping sound that a good, larger model can offer.

The LG SP8YA is an Atmos-equipped soundbar that our listeners felt had a rough, boxy sound on voices and relatively low maximum volume.

Our panelists felt that the LG SP9YA boosted the lower treble unnaturally, making voices stand out too much, and that its sound wasn’t as enveloping as that of some competitors.

For its price, the 2.0-channel Monoprice SB-300 offers lots of great features and a generous selection of inputs, and it fits well with most movies and music, but it made rattling noises when we cranked up the sound on action movies.

The Monoprice SB-600 is affordably priced for a bar with Dolby Atmos and upward-firing immersive speakers, but we were unable to get an HDMI ARC connection working with it, even using the same TV and Monoprice cabling that worked fine with the SB-300.

With its dual 8-inch subwoofers, Nakamichi’s Shockwafe Elite 7.2 eARC produces much stronger bass than any other soundbar we tested for our latest update. For loud, bass-heavy action movies, it’s arguably the best we tested, but its Dolby Atmos immersive sound effects are much less convincing than with our picks that include surround speakers. When we listened to music, the vocals often sounded buried in the mix.

Nakamichi’s Shockwafe Ultra 9.2 is less a soundbar option and more a home theater system that omits the separate AV receiver. The package includes four wired surround speakers and two 10-inch wireless subwoofers—that’s more gear than the typical soundbar shopper probably wants, so this system is best suited for the home theater enthusiast who wants a fully immersive audio experience but doesn’t want to buy all the pieces separately. In our tests, its dynamic output was fantastic for larger rooms, and its low-end presence was great. High frequencies were a little muted—not quite as crisp, clear, and airy—so this system didn’t perform as well on music. But we think movie lovers would love it.

The Philips B7305 is a very nice, relatively affordable 2.1-channel soundbar. Although we had to turn the bass all the way down to get it sounding good, this system did have smooth voice reproduction on movies and music, and it played pretty loud for the price. It’s a decent choice if your budget and your room are small.

The Philips B8905 is an Atmos-enabled soundbar that incorporates the DTS Play-Fi multiroom sound technology, which we’ve always found difficult or impossible to set up. After resetting the B8905 and reloading the app multiple times without ever getting Play-Fi working, we gave up.

The Polk MagniFi 2 is a powerful, Chromecast-equipped, 4.1-channel soundbar with a 3D mode that’s intended to simulate Atmos, but we found that it had a weird, echoey sound that didn’t work well for movies. Even with 3D mode off, it tended to sound echoey and weirdly swishy when playing music.

The Polk MagniFi Max AX is the much-larger, roughly twice-as-expensive sibling of our top pick, the MagniFi Mini AX. We liked its sound with music and were impressed with its subwoofer, but we thought Mini AX sounded a little fuller on dialogue, and its immersive sound effects were more enveloping.

The Polk React is a 2.0-channel soundbar with Alexa capability, and the option to add a wireless subwoofer and surrounds. We like the à la carte concept, but the soundbar doesn’t play very loud and it didn’t sound as enveloping as some other models we tested.

The Polk Signa S3 is a good low-priced soundbar, but it can’t match the dialogue clarity of our budget pick, and its bass comes across as relatively boomy.

The Polk Signa S4 is a very good-sounding Atmos-enabled soundbar, but the included subwoofer can’t keep up. While the soundbar itself sounds great when turned up, the subwoofer tends to distort even with the volume only halfway up.

Although the Roku TV Wireless Speakers target the same audience as a budget soundbar, they’re compatible only with Roku-branded TVs. Check out our separate post about these speakers to learn more.

The Roku Smart Soundbar sounds a little edgy on movie dialogue and vocals in music, and it doesn’t seem to produce much more bass or a significantly higher maximum volume than the tinier Streambar.

The Samsung HW-Q800A 3.1.2-channel bar produced good Atmos effects, but sounded rough on vocals in music, and its subwoofer sounds excessively boomy unless its volume is set near zero.

The Samsung HW-Q990B came very close to the performance of our upgrade pick, the LG S95QR, and the two soundbars are extremely similar in design and features. We preferred the LG for its somewhat more immersive sound and easier operation.

The Samsung HW-S60A 5.0-channel bar is designed for use without a subwoofer, but the way it’s tuned makes it sound thinner and less satisfying than some other subwoofer-less bars we’ve tested.

The Samsung HW-S800B is a super-slim soundbar that’s only 1.5 inches high but is sonically competitive with larger models. It includes an amazingly powerful and punchy mini subwoofer. All of our listeners loved the subwoofer, but only one liked the sound of the soundbar itself; the other two thought it didn’t sound as clear as its competitors with dialogue, and felt its immersive Dolby Atmos effects weren’t as strong.

The Sonos Ray sounds nice for music and movies, but other one-piece soundbars in its price range have more immersive sound and bass output. You can add the Sonos Sub Mini for more bass, but it costs a lot more than the Ray and its deep bass output isn’t impressive. The Ray is still a good choice for those who want better sound from their TV and already have a lot invested in other Sonos gear.

The Sony HT-A3000 is a pricey one-piece bar to which you can add a subwoofer and surround speakers. We tried it with and without the sub and surrounds, but didn’t like the sound either way—dialogue tended to have a boxy character, as if actors were speaking into cardboard boxes, and the vocals in music sounded buried in the mix.

The Sony HT-A5000 produces dramatic overhead speaker effects with Atmos soundtracks, but it seems to emphasize the upper range of voices in a way that makes the sound rather glaring—and despite a large, button-filled remote and a dedicated smartphone app, we could find no way to fine-tune the sound.

The Sony HT-G700 seemed to add some Echo to stereo music that we were unable to defeat, and even for a 3.1-channel soundbar, its Dolby Atmos effects didn’t sound very immersive.

Sony’s HT-Z9F 3.1-channel soundbar system is a former runner-up. In our tests, it produced a big, spacious, dynamic sound that we liked with movies—but its high end was a little harsh, and it didn’t sound as good with music. You can add optional wireless surrounds for about 300, but the result is more complicated to set up and use than many soundbars.

The Sony HT-S400 2.1-channel soundbar has an unusually enveloping sound for a product of this type, but its midrange has a rather harsh sound when the volume is turned up.

The Vizio Elevate is a previous runner-up pick. It’s bigger and more powerful than the M-Series Elevate, but we like the more refined design of the new model. The Elevate is still a great choice if you want a high-powered home theater sound experience for under 1,000.

The unusual trapezoidal shape of the Vizio M21d-H8 one-piece soundbar caught our attention, but it sounded rather spacey and disembodied, and it produced barely any bass.

The Vizio M213ad-K8 is a 2.0 soundbar with no subwoofer. For its low price, it produces a decently immersive effect, but we prefer the Denon DHT-S217 for its stronger bass and more immersive sound.

The Vizio M51a-H6 produced a very enveloping sound for a small 5.1 soundbar, but dialogue sounded more sibilant than it did through some other affordable soundbars we tested.

The Vizio M512a-H6 is our former also-great pick, and still probably the best bet if you want an under-500 soundbar that includes surround speakers. We’d rather step up to the Vizio M-Series Elevate, but if you want to save a couple hundred dollars, the M512a-H6 is a great choice.

The Vizio V51-H6 carries an amazingly low price for a 5.1 soundbar, and it had excellent dialogue reproduction and a big, enveloping sound in our tests. But because it uses basically the same tiny subwoofer as the V21-H8, the crossover frequency between the soundbar and the subwoofer is very high. And because the rear surround speakers had to be connected to the subwoofer, we needed to position the subwoofer in the back of the room—as a result, we heard bass and lower midrange notes coming from behind us, which drove us crazy.

If you’re just looking for a simple option to deal with dialogue clarity and don’t need all the bells and whistles of a full-fledged soundbar, Zvox’s AccuVoice TV speakers are a good choice, as they use hearing-aid technology to improve dialogue clarity. We tested the AV203 and the SB380, both of which have six preset AccuVoice levels. With both, we found the tech to be more effective than the “voice” modes on most soundbars at rendering dialogue clearly—but the more you step up the AccuVoice effect, the less natural everything else sounds. Read more about Zvox devices here.

This article was edited by Adrienne Maxwell and Grant Clauser.

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