You probably already shelled out good money for a nice big TV and maybe a streaming gadget to play your Netflix. But it doesn’t matter how large your screen is or how much it cost—the speakers in your TV probably sound awful. 

You’d be surprised by how much more you enjoy those shows with a halfway decent soundbar or surround system hooked up to your primo panel. Explosions pop, dialog sounds far crisper, and you may even notice sonic details in your favorite films that you’ve never picked up on before.

Updated September 2021: We’ve added the Samsung HW-Q950A, Nakamichi Shockwafe, and LG SP9YA. We’ve also updated links and prices.

Why You Need a Soundbar

We have yet to test a new TV that didn’t sound crummy without some kind of audio accessory added. That’s mostly due to the way televisions are designed. Great-sounding speakers are bulky, and as TVs have gotten thinner, with shrinking bezels and sleeker designs, manufacturers are having a harder time building good speakers into them.

If you can afford to spend $150 on a new soundbar with a subwoofer, it’s essential to getting the most out of your viewing experience. To help, we put together this list of the best soundbars we’ve tested, including soundbars sold on their own as well as models that come bundled with a subwoofer. We’ve also compiled some advice on how to make the most of your purchase.

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  • Photograph: Vizio

    Best Value

    Vizio 2.1 Soundbar and Sub (SB3621NS-H8)

    Vizio is one of the best brands in the business when it comes to delivering good sound at palatable prices, and its most recent 2.1-channel model is a shining example of this ethos. This soundbar is sleek and easy to set up, and it has a wireless subwoofer that can sit under your couch. (2.1 is shorthand for “stereo speaker with a subwoofer.”)

    With optical and coaxial cable inputs—plus Bluetooth for playing music from your smartphone—you can enjoy its crystal-clear audio from virtually any device you own, though you will have to shell out for a more expensive bar if you want to use HDMI ARC to control your sound using your TV’s remote control instead of the included Vizio remote.

    Inputs: Optical cable, coaxial cable, and Bluetooth

  • Photograph: Vizio

    Best for Under $600

    Vizio TV Sound System With Dolby Atmos (SB36512-F6)

    If you’re into console gaming, you know how important it is to detect that opponent creeping behind you in the shadows. This affordable Dolby Atmos soundbar from Vizio helps you hear every footstep in real, physical space. Atmos bars fire sound upward, expanding your TV’s soundstage. It means that gamers can hear what’s going on above them, which is perfect for avoiding that gun-toting helicopter flying around. Two upward-firing rear surround speakers also come in the box.

    At $550, it’s the most affordable Atmos-enabled soundbar bundle you’ll find, making it a no-brainer for anyone who values fantastic sound.

    Inputs: 2 HDMI ports (one ARC), 3.5 mm, optical, USB, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Google Chromecast built in

  • Photograph: Samsung

    Best Dolby Atmos Bar

    Samsung HW-Q950A

    Samsung’s flagship Dolby Atmos soundbar (8/10, WIRED Recommends) has a massive 11.1.4 driver array spread across two satellite speakers, a subwoofer, and the bar itself. This lets it be more nimble and focused in its processing of each channel, adding significantly to the immersion when compared to more affordable (and even many similarly priced) soundbars. If you don’t have the room for a traditional home theater surround system, or you just hate the clutter of cables, this is about as close as I’ve heard to a true wired system, without a receiver, speakers, and hundreds of feet of copper running through the walls. If you own a late-model Samsung TV, you can pair the bar with the screen’s speakers, adding even more focus to the voices onscreen.

    Inputs: HDMI (eARC), Bluetooth, Optical

Source: Your TV Sounds Terrible. These Soundbars Can Fix That

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