Improving the audio on your home theater system can be quite costly. Thankfully, the best budget soundbars won’t cost a fortune while offering better sound quality for your TVs. The problem is, there’re tons of options on the market at the moment, so it’s challenging to make a decision. Feature-wise, every soundbar is different, and there are some features you need to pay more attention to than others. Thus, we’ve put together a buying guide to help you know how to choose the best budget soundbar for yourself:
Here’s the first and foremost decision you have to make: should you buy a budget soundbar with or without a subwoofer? Let us explain first, subwoofers are the speaker drivers that are dedicated to reproduce the lower frequencies – specifically 20-200 Hz. They add punchy and rumble sound effects to the overall viewing experience. With a subwoofer, you can not only hear but also feel the sound. They make the explosions in the movies sound more impactful and echoing throughout the room.
If you often watch action movies or listen to bass-heavy or epic music, a subwoofer is worth considering. When you intend to use a subwoofer, make sure to leave extra space as it is a fairly large device. Check out this Cambridge Audio TVB2 (V2) which comes with a wireless subwoofer.
You’ll need a way to connect the soundbar to the TV, more often than not you just need one cable. The majority of soundbars connect via either optical cables or HDMI ARC. The latter is generally preferred since it offers better sound quality and supports more audio formats than the former. Most sub-$100 soundbars such as Vizio SB362An-F6 only come with a digital optical port. If you are willing to spend about $50-80 more, you can get something like Roku Smart Soundbar with HDMI connections.
Another major feature you need to keep an eye on is wireless connectivity. The Bluetooth and Wi-Fi functionality allow you to stream music from your smartphones, tablets, computers, etc. Typically, Bluetooth soundbars such as Bestisan or SAMSUNG HW-T450 are cheaper than Wi-Fi-enabled soundbars such as Polk Audio Signa S3.
USB ports on the best budget soundbars can be used to update firmware. However, this is no longer the case as most soundbars nowadays do software updates. Nevertheless, these USB ports are still useful as you can use them to play music from your external hard drives.
If you want to connect to external gears such as DVD or Blu-ray players, look for digital audio inputs. These can come in as optical or coaxial, analog stereo RCA, etc.
I’m sure you’ve come across some terms like “2.0” or “5.1” when shopping around for the best budget soundbar. The first number before the dot indicates the number of channels. The latter number after the dot tells you whether this soundbar comes with a subwoofer or not (1 for yes and 0 for no). for example, a 3.1 soundbar means that it has three speakers and one subwoofer.
Most budget soundbars such as TCL Alto 5+ have two speaker channels (one left and one right). 2.0 or 2.1 soundbars are the most economical option to boost your TV audio in a small space. For a more immersive experience, you can go for 3.0 or 3.1 soundbars which have an additional center speaker. They can offer you the true surround sound technology. However, you have to spend more than $200 to be able to get one of them.
The best budget soundbar will not only offer the best audio quality but complement your whole TV set look. You should take the width of your TV into account. A large TV will dwarf a tiny soundbar and vice versa. Ideally, the length of the soundbar should not be wider than your TV. For instance, for 42-50 inch TVs, you should get a 38 to 45-inch soundbar like this VIZIO SB3220n-F6.
You also should consider the height of the soundbar. It should not be too tall or the TV screen or IR port will be blocked from view. If the soundbar obstructs the IR sensor on the TV then the remote may stop working. In that case, you should move the soundbar or you can find one with IR pass-through cable such as this TCL Alto 7+.
Another important factor is the design. Most users would want a neutral-designed soundbar that blends in nicely with your décor. Something like Harman Kardon Enchant 800 would fit in most homes without creating any distractions. Some soundbars can be mounted on the wall with a mount-walling kit. This helps save space and make it ideal for a minimalist setup.
1. What’s the difference between a soundbar and a soundbase?
Both of these devices offer solid audio quality. They both serve the same purpose: to distinctly enhance your TV’s audio. So what makes them different from each other?
A soundbar is a long and slim “bar” that sits in front of your TV or mounted to the wall. Soundbase, on the other hand, is bigger and boxier and is designed to sit under the TV. Due to having more room for components, soundbases pack more powerful sound and overall better sound signature. In exchange, they can only be stationed under the TV or on a solid surface. you can’t mount them on the wall like soundbars.
The soundbar is more popular so you have more choices in terms of price, design, features, etc. whereas soundbase is unpopular. Therefore, soundbases are often more expensive and have limited choices and models for you to choose from. How you decide which one is better is up to you. Just choose the one that fits your room and personal needs best.
2. What’s the difference between active and passive soundbars?
There are two common types of soundbars: active and passive. The former is more popular than the latter as it has a built-in amplifier. Thus you don’t need a seperate A/V receiver to use an active soundbar. On the other hand, passive soundbars are without built-in amp and require an amplifier in a A/V receiver to work.
Thanks to their self-contained design, active soundbars are easier to setup and install. Despite being more expensive and complicated to use, passive soundbars offer superb sound quality, better future-proofing and customization.
3. How much do soundbars typically cost?
Soundbars vary in price. At the extreme of the spectrum, you can find some models reach up to $4,000. Here’s the price ranges and what you can expect from them:
Budget soundbar (sub-$200): A decent audio solution solutions for smaller homes and rooms. Most of them are either 2.0 or 2.1. A solid audio upgrade from the TV speakers.
Mid-end soundbar ($200-300): You can start to find three and five channels within this price range. These often offer extra features such as smart assistants. They make a good choice for medium-size houses with a wider audience.
Premium soundbar ($300 and above): At this point, everything offers excellent audio quality with the best tech baked in. You can easily find many 5.1 or 7.1 options.
4. Are there any features that I should look out for the best budget soundbar?
Beside what we’ve covered in the buying guide, there’re various features that you also need to look out for. They can elevate your whole audio experience in different ways. Anyhow, here’s some of them:
Voice assistants: Some smart soundbars include Alexa and Google Assistant. These bring you home automation features.
IR repeaters: As mentioned in the buying guide, you don’t want to place your sound in front of the TV’s IR sensor. It helps pass the signal to the TV IR port through the soundbar.
Front display panel: This can come in handy as it gives your visual feedback and physical buttons for control.
EQ (equalizer): This let you set sound configuration for different settings.
5. What are the best budget soundbar brands?
We’re glad you asked. The majority of the major electronics companies make audio solutions for home theater systems. Here’re some of the most trusted brands for the best budget soundbar:
Some brands such as Sony, Samsung, Sonos, Vizio have products across all price ranges. The most noticeable brands in the low to mid-priced range include: Boston Acoustics, Funai, Insignia, LG, Onkyo, Panasonic, Philips, Toshiba, Zvox. Other brands such as Pioneer, Sharp, Onkyo focus more on the midrange market. There are also other manufacturers that cater to mid to high-end price range: Bose, Denon, Harman Kardon, Klipsch, Polk Audio, Yamaha. There’s more, but that’s some of the most noticeable brands in the soundbar market.
The best budget soundbars of our choice is Yamaha YAS-109. This is one of the best affordable models in terms of overall fidelity. It comes with Spotify Connect and Alexa built-in and Wi-Fi capability. YAS-109 design is simple and minimalistic which makes it blend into the background nicely. This is the perfect choice for the tight budget and a smaller room.
Another great option for the limited budget is VIZIO SB2920-C6. For its sub-$100 price tag, the design and audio quality are surprisingly decent. Compared to other 2.0 soundbars in this price range, the SB2920-C6 offers a more neutral sound performance. You can expand the setup down the line thanks to its sub-in port. This affordable soundbar can meet the audio needs of most users.
After reading through our buying guide, you can shop around and read many reviews to narrow down the list. Make sure to try them in the stores before buying to ensure the soundbar’s suit to your taste. It pays to do a little research and you’ll be able to buy the best budget soundbars for yourself.