If you’re lucky enough to own one of the best TVs available, then you may have noticed that the sound quality doesn’t match the visuals. 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, and they’ll take up a lot less room in your living room as well. To help you find the best one for your needs, we’ve rounded up the best soundbars of 2023.
What is the best soundbar?
If you’re looking to spend the least amount of money to get good sound, then the best soundbar to buy is either the Creative Stage or the Roku Streambar. If you’re a movie lover, then a soundbar with a wireless subwoofer, such as the Klipsch Cinema 400, will help you get the most out of action films. Taking this one step further, the Vizio M512a-H6 with Dolby Atmos support is an excellent buy 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 we’ve ever heard in a soundbar.
If you’re on the hunt for the best soundbar 2023 has to offer, we’ve rounded up some excellent speakers starting from $100. This list is updated periodically as we test new models.
The 10 best soundbars of 2023
Video: Best Soundbars Under $500
Other soundbars we’ve tested
- 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 our Polk Signa S3 review.
- Zvox SB500 ($400): 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 our Zvox SB500 review.
How we choose which soundbars to test
When choosing which soundbars to evaluate, CNET 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 we have found there are great soundbars at every price level, starting at $100 and up. We try to evaluate the number of features a soundbar has alongside others that cost the same. However, once the price of a soundbar exceeds $500, some people 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 we’ll look at features that help maximize spatial sound quality. For example does the soundbar offer dedicated height speakers, or is it simulated Atmos?
- 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. As a result we 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 our soundbar buying guide.
How CNET tests soundbars
CNET follows a rigorous, unbiased evaluation process for all of our soundbar testing, from simple stereo speakers to Dolby Atmos systems. We do comparative testing, pitting similar soundbars against each other side by side.
We evaluate the performance of each soundbar with a number of different types of content, including movies, music, TV shows and games. We 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. We also use the Thanator Attack scene of Avatar (26.53) to test a system’s dynamics and detail retrieval.
When it comes to music, we 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. It also helps with uncovering hidden details and the relative dynamics a speaker is capable of. Using both types of content — movies and music — we then grade the sound quality of each soundbar. We evaluate characteristics such as speech clarity, dynamics/volume, bass response and musical playback.
Our 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. We also use Roon music software to stream to individual devices or the Oppo player as needed.
More home theater buying guides