No matter the cost of your TV, it’s worth investing in a separate, dedicated speaker for your screen. Soundbars are a much more affordable alternative to home theater speakers and AV receivers, while still providing powerful and immersive audio. I’ve tested the best brands including Bose, Sony, Vizio, Sonos, Klipsch, Sennheiser and Polk to bring you the absolute cream of the crop. To help you find the best one for your needs, these are the best soundbars based on my listening tests.
What is the best overall soundbar?
If you’re looking to spend the least amount of money on quality sound, then the best soundbar to buy is the Roku Streambar. It offers both streaming and sparkling movie sound and is an unbeatable value.
If you’re looking for a step-up from that, then the best soundbar for most people is the Klipsch Cinema 400. This Klipsch speaker adds the oomph of a wireless subwoofer, which will help you get the most out of action films and music. Taking this one step further, the Vizio M512a-H6 with Dolby Atmos support is an excellent buy for under $500, and the best option for spatial audio on a budget. Lastly, if you want the best that money can buy, then the Sennheiser Ambeo will give you the best sound I’ve ever heard in a soundbar.
If you’re on the hunt for the best soundbar 2023 has to offer, I’ve rounded up some excellent speakers starting from $100. This list is updated periodically as I test new models.
The best soundbars of 2023
Factors to consider when choosing a soundbar
When choosing which soundbar to buy, CNET also uses the following criteria as part of its selection process:
- Price: The most important consideration when choosing a soundbar is how much it costs, and I have found there are great soundbars at every price level, starting at $100 and up. I give a lot of thought to the features a soundbar has in comparison to others that cost the same. I do have one rule of thumb, though: Once the price of a soundbar exceeds $500, you may find it more worthwhile to save for an AV receiver and speakers.
- Wireless streaming: Whether it’s connecting a phone over Bluetooth or more advanced streaming technologies such as Spotify Connect or Apple AirPlay, the more choices for streaming technologies a soundbar has, the better.
- Dolby Atmos: Dolby Atmos is one of the most popular features in soundbars over $400, and so I look at features that help maximize spatial sound quality. For example, does the soundbar offer dedicated height speakers, or is it simulated Atmos? See my roundup of the best Dolby Atmos soundbars.
- HDMI connections: At the bare minimum, a soundbar sold in 2023 should have at least one HDMI input, and preferably more. The ability to offer multiple HDMI ports will help users with a large selection of sources (Xbox Series X, Apple TV, Nintendo Switch, Blu-ray player, etc.). However, there are notable exceptions to this rule. For example, the Sonos Ray only offers an optical output, but this is acceptable given that it’s most suitable for older or smaller TVs.
- Subwoofer and surround speakers Single-bar systems are great for smaller TVs, while a soundbar-and-subwoofer combo is better suited for a living room. For that reason, I take note of the size of the system and whether it offers wireless or wired peripherals. Most soundbars with subs are wireless, for instance, while systems with surrounds can be wired, as in the case of the Vizio Elevate.
Read more in the soundbar buying guide.
How CNET tests soundbars
CNET follows a rigorous, unbiased evaluation process for all of its soundbar testing, from simple stereo speakers to Dolby Atmos systems. In the CNET AV Lab, I do comparative testing, pitting similar soundbars against each other side by side.
I evaluate the performance of each soundbar with a number of different types of content, including movies, music, TV shows and games. I use a number of test scenes — including the opening of Mad Max:Fury Road for playback of the spatial audio standard Dolby Atmos for soundbars which support it. I also use the Thanator Attack scene of Avatar (26.53) to test a system’s dynamics and detail retrieval.
When it comes to music, I use a number of CNET test tracks which you can find here in a Tidal or Spotify playlist. Tracks such as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Red Right Hand, with its deep bass and tenor vocals, help determine a system’s ability to track male voices in particular, without sounding congested. The song also helps with uncovering hidden details and the relative dynamics a speaker is capable of. Using both types of content — movies and music — I then grade the sound quality of each soundbar. I evaluate characteristics such as speech clarity, dynamics/volume, bass response and musical playback.
CNET’s dedicated audio lab in downtown New York includes a selection of 2022 and 2023 televisions (with HDMI eARC), plus Apple TV 4K streamer and Roku Ultra streamers, a Microsoft Xbox Series X and an Oppo UDP-205 4K Blu-ray player. I also use Roon music software to stream to individual devices or the Oppo player as needed.
Other soundbars I’ve tested
- Bose Smart Soundbar 600 ($500): Bose makes a number of excellent soundbars including the Smart Soundbar 600 which offers true Dolby Atmos playback. The 600 is great for reproducing dialogue and sounds fine with music too. The Sonos Beam squeaks barely ahead due to better bass and the tried-and-true Sonos ecosystem. Read CNET’s review of the Bose Smart Soundbar 600.
- JBL Bar 500 ($600): Alongside Klipsch, JBL has long had a reputation for being a rock ‘n’ roll brand with a big sound and even bigger cabinets. During my tests, the JBL Bar 500 fulfilled both parts of the brief by pairing excellent sound with one of the largest subwoofers I’ve ever seen with a soundbar. Yet, while it includes both HDMI and networked music streaming, the JBL is missing Dolby Atmos — which is disappointing for the price. You can save yourself a lot of money by getting the even-bigger sounding Klipsch Cinema 400 instead.
- Polk Signa S3 ($299): If you’re looking for a speaker that can do music as well as play the latest episode of The Last of Us, then the Polk Audio Signa S3 has a lot to offer. It’s great for streaming, as it has Chromecast built in in addition to Bluetooth and an HDMI input. Read my Polk Signa S3 review.
- Sony HT-S2000 ($498): Better in some ways than the competition and worse in others, the Sony HT-S2000 boasts better bass response than the Sonos Beam. But for $500 it misses a lot of the features of its single-bar competition, namely Dolby Atmos compatibility and Wi-Fi streaming.
- Zvox SB500 ($430): If you’re looking for a single audio bar that’s even cheaper than the Sonos Arc, the Zvox SB500 is a great option for people who still prize sound quality. This speaker offers multiple sound mode options, tighter bass and better sound than most other single-speaker options. While it may lack the Sonos’ Wi-Fi streaming, the Zvox still includes Bluetooth connectivity for streaming audio from your phone or tablet. Read the Zvox SB500 review.