Why Soundbar?

As TVs get slimmer and slimmer, the sound quality gets worse due to less volume being available for the integrated speakers to work with. A good soundbar is a quick and simple way to upgrade your mediocre (to say the least) TV sound without needing to have a full home cinema setup. It saves you having the intrusive cables and the extra space needed for a full-fledged 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system. In fact, soundbars can also stream music via Bluetooth, generate a virtual surround soundstage, wirelessly pair with a subwoofer and much more. The question is – with so many options available to chose from, what is the best soundbar 2018 has to offer?

Before you go out shopping for a soundbar, it is important to understand that soundbars are not designed to compete with 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound systems. Hence, it would be unreasonable to expect the same level of sound quality, although some soundbars get pretty darn close. There are also two main things to keep in mind when choosing a soundbar. First is the placement, as soundbars come in different sizes which may not fit all TVs or TV stands. The other is the connection type. This may sound like something minor, but we see too many customers buying a soundbar only to realize that they need an HDMI connection and the soundbar only has an optical one. Similarly – if streaming music via Bluetooth is required, it has to be checked as not all soundbars support it.

Due to its ease and convenience, the soundbars have recently exploded in popularity. There are many players in the market with many options available, so choosing one could be quite a daunting and overwhelming experience. Thankfully, we have shortlisted the five ultimate soundbars to suit your individual needs. So whether you need a budget version to give you the best bang for your buck or a fine-tuned audiophile-grade sound experience – we have a pick for you.

How do we test?

Since soundbars are usually a mix use device, we test them with a wide range of media. This mainly involves playing video games, watching a movie and listening to the music. If the soundbar supports wireless streaming, we test the wireless connection for stability and audio quality. Additionally, to objectively assess the actual sound performance, we allow the soundbars we test to break-in thoroughly.

If the soundbar comes with some sort of a mobile application or other software, it is also being tested as the additional configuration settings can alter the sound experience quite dramatically. Like always – we consider both the initial impressions of the product as well as real use customer feedback. This allows us to provide you an honest, practical and complete review to help choose the best soundbar 2018 has to offer.

The main aspects we consider when reviewing soundbars are:

  1. Design and Build Quality
  2. Features
  3. Sound
  4. Value

With countless options available on the market, reviewing soundbars is not a very straightforward exercise. Since we want to keep our reviews concise and down to the point, we have only shortlisted five soundbars. We could have easily fit ten as the second half came so close that it was almost impossible to split hairs. As always, please comment and share your thoughts. We hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as we did putting it together. Let’s get into it!

1. Vizio SB3820-C6

The Bottom Line: The best budget level soundbar that looks and sounds anything but budget.

Vizio has done an amazing job over the last few years to establish itself as one of America’s leaders in soundbars.

The company offers one of the widest soundbar ranges varying in features and size. Yet, it is not the range that has always surprised me with Vizio products but rather their ability to strike an almost perfect balance between value and audio performance.

When buying Vizio soundbars you should not expect to be blown away by the best sound experience you ever had, that is not Vizio’s promise. What you should expect however is to walk out thinking that you had a pretty amazing deal after all. Let’s see if it is the case with Vizio SB3820-C6.

The Vizio SB3820-C6 design stands consistent with the Vizio product line. It highlights a basic, minimalist and clean approach to product design which Vizio is known for. The soundbar represents a low-key square style block with a nice fabric around it which fits almost any interior. Additionally, it comes with a mount so wall placement can also be considered.

Connecting Vizio SB3820-C6 is a pretty straightforward experience. The soundbar has coaxial, optical, RCA, USB and 3.5mm jack inputs. It also allows the music to be streamed via the Bluetooth which is also easy to set-up. You need to press the Bluetooth button on the remote to pair the soundbar with your Bluetooth enabled device.

The Vizio SB3820-C6 features two powerful 2.75″ full range drivers which are quite capable on the low end and depending on your love for bass – you may even get away without having a subwoofer. Alternatively, the soundbar features an external subwoofer output for a richer and deeper sound quality.

To enhance your audio experience, the soundbar supports Dolby Digital, DTS TruSurround and DTS TruVolume. Having the DTS TruSurround on makes a great difference as it brings the increased width and sound richness across the range. Alternatively, deactivating this feature switches the soundbar into the stereo mode, which results in a flatter soundstage.

To test the movie performance I went with The Fast And The Furious. It is an action movie, so the sound gets busy at times with almost the full range of frequencies being engaged at the same time. I have to say that it handled most of the scenes well, even at a slightly elevated volume levels. The produced sound is clear and balanced with quite warm tonality. The mids reproduction is probably the main highlight as the voice quality is crystal clear. This is quite impressive, as some soundbars that are double or triple the price have a weaker mid frequency reproduction. Additionally, I was quite pleasantly surprised with the level of bass this unit can produce given its size. It won’t make your chest pump, yet it will make you think twice before buying an external subwoofer.

The only little nuisance (if we had to be picky) are the fancy, but not very functional LED lights on the left side of the soundbar. They look good, but it takes time to learn how to read them, which is not necessarily something we would like to spend time doing. Furthermore, we think the remote controller could be improved – it is flimsy and not at all intuitive.

Overal, the Vizio SB3820-C6 proved to be a great entry level all-rounder. It is so good that in some departments it manages to outperform soundbars that cost twice as much. Additionally, it looks more expensive than it is and with a classy design, you get plenty of placement options. If you are looking for the best budget soundbar, you will not find a better, more balanced and feature-rich package on the market.

7.9/10
  • Design 75%
  • Features 70%
  • Sound 80%
  • Value 90%

Positive

Negative

Best in class audio performance
Clear sound, especially vocals
Deep bass for its size
Wireless streaming
Amazing value
LED lights look great, but are not functional
Flimsy remote

2. Samsung HW-K950

The Bottom Line: The best premium soundbar with Dolby Atmos support. It creates the best surround sound experience we have seen in soundbars.

The Samsung HW-K950 is remarkable in many ways, one of which is the Dolby Atmos support.

In fact, if this feature is on your must-have list and you do not want to cut holes in your ceiling – then your choices in the current market are pretty darn tiny.

The soundbar’s chassis is made of anodized aluminum which gives it a premium feel. The overall shape represents a rectangular bar wrapped in a mesh that conceals the top and front drivers. It looks fine and practical, yet we feel that a slight touch of luxury would complement the overall package greatly.

The main highlight of Samsung HW-K950 is the Dolby Atmos 5.1.4 support. To achieve that, the soundbar had to incorporate a special hardware configuration consisting of 5 surrounds and 4 overhead speakers. Additionally, the soundbar is paired with the wireless subwoofer and two wireless speakers at the back. Each of those speakers has two separate drivers, – one forward and one upward firing to create a Dolby Atmos experience. This is not a typical soundbar setup, but one that allows the sound to bounce off the ceiling to create the most realistic surround experience seen in soundbars. It does require some extra effort to set up the subwoofer and the rear speakers, yet the process is quite straightforward as both the speakers and the subwoofer are wireless.

In terms of the audio performance – the HW-K950 is the best soundbar that Samsung has ever produced. The sound was originally crafted at the recently established, multi-million dollar sound laboratory in California, which Samsung has built to become one of the loudest names in the audio industry. The result is an unbelievably clear, immersive and rich sound experience across the frequency range, be it stereo, 5.1 or 5.1.4. setup. Moreover, the soundbar manages to create exceptional levels of details which are only matched by an audiophile grade brands such as Bower & Wilkins or Monitor Audio.

The unit also comes with a couple of perks to make it an even more appealing proposition.

  • If you have a Samsung TV there is a good chance that you will only need to use one remote.
  • A wide array of sockets consisting of 2 HDMI inputs and 1 output, allowing the passthrough of a 4k signal. The output supports ARC standard, which allows a single cable connection with supporting TVs. You will also find more typical optical and 3.5mm mini-jack inputs.
  • You can upscale the regular soundtracks to Dolby Atmos with Surround Sound Expansion Plus mode. This is a great feature, as not many movies or soundtracks come with the Dolby Atmos support.
  • Samsung companion app allows you to stream music via Spotify, Deezer. 7digital, 8tracks, Murfie, Napster, Qobuz, Tidal, Amazon Music, Juke and TuneIn radio.

In regards to the drawbacks, there are just a couple. Being in the premium segment it is a pity that HW-K950 does not support DTS:X format. The soundbar can reproduce the signal, but it will get decoded as a stereo stream only.

Additionally, we found the subwoofer to produce a slightly overwhelming amount of bass. At times, it does feel out of balance as excessive amounts of lows may translate to a thick and bloated sound experience.

In summary – Samsung HW-K950 is a heck of a soundbar which takes the sound experience to a whole new level. Where many soundbar manufacturers struggle to fit 6 drivers into the soundbar chassis, Samsung has managed to find a room for 11 separately amplified speakers. It produces a rich and immersive 3D soundstage which is full of details. The unit also manages to keep a full-bodied, cohesive and crystal clear sound at the above-average volume levels, which is quite rare. Overall, the Samsung HW-K950 is as close as you can get to a true home cinema experience without the need for a standalone receiver and lengthy cables.

If you are an audiophile searching for a soundbar that supports Dolby Atmos in one practical and convenient package – look no further, the Samsung HW-K950 is the best choice the money can buy.

8.9/10
  • Design 80%
  • Features 90%
  • Sound 95%
  • Value 90%

Positive

Negative

Rich, full-bodied, audiophile-grade sound
Dolby Atmos support
Effortless setup and use
Great multiroom app control
Wireless subwoofer and rear speakers
Overpowered bass levels at times
Only stereo DTS support

3. Polk MagniFi Mini

The Bottom Line: The best compact soundbar available on the market with Google Cast built in.

According to the latest trends – everything small is big again. This applies to AVRs, speakers and most other gadgets including soundbars.

Unboxing the MagniFi Mini was actually an exciting experience as the soundbar turned out to be really small. Given its size, we really did get concerned with our sound quality expectations. Thankfully we had a TV set close by and a power point to put those concerns to bed.

The MagniFi Mini is only 13 inches wide and 3 inches high, which is small by any soundbar measure. The real surprise is actually how much stuff has Polk managed to pack into that size and let me tell you – quite a lot! The limited size, however, also comes with a drawback as the unit can only sit upright and unlike other soundbars, cannot be mounted on the wall.

The remote however has a premium feel and aesthetics that you usually get with more expensive sound bars. It is also very simple and intuitive to use allowing you to control the source, volume and switch between various sound modes such as the ‘Night mode’. The setting reduces the master and subwoofer volume as well as emphasizes the vocals to make the voices more prominent at lower volume.

Coming back to the MagniFi Mini design – it manages to pack 2 tweeter and 4 mid-range drivers into an incredibly small chassis. This is more than some of the full-size soundbars have.

Although the soundbar is made completely out of plastic, it looks and feels very solid. It has a thick rubber plate at the bottom, which makes the soundbar sit tight and not rattle.

The Polk MagniFi Mini comes with a wireless subwoofer, which is made of plastic, yet looks and feels just fine. It complements the soundbar quite well, not only visually but also by expanding the width of the soundstage. In fact, we think it is actually the subwoofer that gives the MagniFi Mini the edge and makes it stand out. The tandem works so well together to produce an amazing width of the stereo image. The sound experience delivered is punchy, rich, juicy and at the same time quite detailed.

Although the MagniFi Mini does an amazing job reproducing the vocal, the rest of mids feel light, thin and sometimes even missing. When pushing the soundbar to the limit, the mids are the first ones to give in as signs of sound distortion start to appear.

In summary, the MagniFi Mini offers massive amounts of sound in a small package. It represents one of the best size to sound ratios we have ever come across in soundbars. It is also quite affordable, intuitive and well built. If you are looking for a minimalist, compact yet capable solution with a punchy bass to enhance your TV audio experience exponentially, the MagniFi Mini is one of the best contenders to get the job done for you.

8/10
  • Design 80%
  • Features 80%
  • Sound 70%
  • Value 90%

Positive

Negative

Very capable package for the size
Compact design that will fit most living room setups
Great value
Google Cast compatibility
Intuitive design
Mid frequencies feel distorted at times and lack warmth
Only one HDMI input
Some users find wireless streaming unstable

4. Sonos Playbar

The Bottom Line: The soundbar that looks gorgeous and sounds brilliant. It can be extended to a full home cinema system with flawless integration with other Sonos products.

You may be asking what does the soundbar designed 5 years ago is doing in the best soundbars of 2018? Yes, it is still one of the top picks with most of the competition still playing catch up.

We truly love and respect Sonos as a company as they have always done things differently and the Sonos Playbar is no exception. Sonos were amongst the first ones to package a true soundbar experience and create something special. Since then many other brands have hit the market, yet Sonos Playbar is still a very worthy contender.

The Sonos Playbar is positioned as a music-focused soundbar, yet in reality, it is much more capable and much more versatile than that.

We did not go through the unboxing exercise this time as we have done it years ago and were quite amazed by the build quality. It was great to see aluminum being used excessively in the chassis construction giving the soundbar a premium look and feel. The contoured edges, side mesh and wrap-around cloth still feels sleek and modern even by today’s standards. This design allows the soundbar to be very versatile in terms of placement as it could be placed upright, flat or on the wall.

The Sonos Playbar comes with three high-range and six mid-range drivers. This proves to be a great setup as the soundstage produced is detailed, wide and full-bodied. The aluminum soundbar chassis plays its part in making the sound crisp, detailed with great levels of finesse.

The sound quality is genuinely richer than the soundbar’s size, yet to achieve the best results we found that the soundbar needs to sit upright, which is also the recommendation from Sonos.

The Sonos Playbar produces very respectable levels mid-bass, which will be sufficient for most of us allowing the soundbar to be used on its own. For the ones wanting to take the audio experience a couple of notches up, we suggest adding a subwoofer into the mix, if you can afford it. With the Sonos Sub, the soundstage becomes a lot more complete as complements the Sonos Playbar just perfectly.

Although the Sonos Playbar has been designed for music, it performs equally well when watching movies. Playing back The Expendables gets you instantly impressed with an extremely expanded soundstage. The audio quality produced is smooth, clear and very realistic. We did, however, run into some little issues when the movie scenes got busy with explosion-packed action scenes. It felt a bit too much for Sonos Playbar to handle and we had to tone it down a notch.

The Sonos Playbar comes with an amazing app for PC, Mac, iPhone or Android users. It can be used to configure the audio output across all interconnected Sonos speakers in your house. It allows you to group the speakers into zones and send the different audio signals to different zones at the same time. If you decide to have the Sonos Sub as part of the setup, it could be easily configured via the app.

You will also find that most (if not all) of the online music services such as Spotify, Rhapsody or Pandora come integrated into the app as well as many various radio stations. The app also features full sound controls and configuration, it includes active DSP and EQ circuitry, bass, treble and loudness level controls, lip-sync delay, a nighttime mode, and voice enhancement mode.

Overal, the Sonos Playbar is hard to fault in any regard as it represents a well rounded, solid, intuitive, stylish and close to the audiophile-grade sound quality package. We have enjoyed the movie experience it delivered and absolutely loved its music performance. We wish it had a pair of HDMI inputs, as having only the optical connection feels constrained. On the downside, the soundbar feels quite pricey, especially if you choose to add the Sonos Sub into the mix. All in all, the soundbar has stood the test of time as it has been around for years now and the fact that others are still struggling to beat it tells you a lot.

8/10
  • Design 90%
  • Features 80%
  • Sound 80%
  • Value 70%

Positive

Negative

Great design and build quality
Wide, detailed and dynamic soundstage
Can expand to more speakers and a subwoofer
Great Sonos App that allows you to adjust sound levels and speaker configuration
No HDMI input
Does not support DTS
Expensive, especially with a subwoofer
Does not come with a remote

5. Yamaha YAS-207

The Bottom Line: A very composed and well-built package that comes with unrivaled sound quality that eclipses anything else in its class.

With so many options available on the market, the budget end has never been more saturated and competitive. In fact, the budget segment features the most fierce rivals.

Yamaha has historically done very well with their budget line, offering great value and sound quality and Yamaha YAS-207 is no exception.  

The YAS-207 is a replacement for YAS-203, which was a hugely successful model back in the days, so we have our expectations pretty high, so let’s see how it fairs.

The design has never been the strongest side of Yamaha and YAS-207 is no exception. It does not have a wow factor as it features a simple black cloth grill giving the soundbar a fairly generic feel.

Where the design lacks, the YAS-207 makes up in build quality. The soundbar looks and feels very solid and the subwoofer feels really stout as it is made from MDF, whereas other manufacturers in this price range mostly default to plastic.

The front of the soundbar has a set of touch controls and a typical Yamaha-style LEDs, which actually look dated in 2018. The labels on the LEDs are pretty small and the unit does not have an on-screen menu, so the only way out is to memorize the LED lights and their positions. Unlike Vizio SB3820-C6 the LED lights on YAS-207 are visible from the distance, so it should be a slightly easier job.

In terms of the port connections – YAS-207 features HDMI (with ARC support), optical and 3.5mm jack connections. The unit comes with a remote, which feels well built and is very practical. It has big buttons making it easy to press and the layout is clean.

The audio experience of YAS-207 is exceptional for the price. The highs are clear and crisp whereas the lows have a deep and punchy feel. Voice is clear when watching a movie, especially when the ‘Clear Voice’ mode is enabled.

The YAS-207 is the first soundbar on the market to support DTS Virtual:X and DTS Virtual Surround, which is designed to improve the surround sound experience and add additional scope and volume to the soundstage. In practice, the experience that DTS Virtual:X produces felt a little inconsistent. It does a good job creating a larger and immersive sound field, yet the tone seems to vary between the movies. At the end of the day, the DTS Virtual:X did not appear to be a silver bullet, as we found some movies that sound better using the standard surround mode or even stereo.

With the tightest competition across the budget range, the Yamaha YAS-207 manages to stand above the rest. Our entry level pick Vizio SB3820-C6 is an amazing soundbar, yet if you have some extra to spare, then Yamaha YAS-207 will reward you with a better level of sound immersion and audio quality overall.

For the money, it represents one of the best choices available on the market today. It offers a great build quality, easy setup, amazingly balanced soundstage that makes it a worthy successor to the well known YAS-203 and our editor’s choice.

8.8/10
  • Design 90%
  • Features 80%
  • Sound 90%
  • Value 90%

Positive

Negative

Excellent build quality
Rich, clear, and powerful sound
Subwoofer is made from MDF, not plastic
Amazing value, nothing beats it in this price range
Dolby and DTS decoding
No Google Cast or AirPlay support
The design feels dated
Treble could be more refined

Feature Comparison

Vizio SB3820-C6 Samsung HW-K950 Polk MagniFi Mini Sonos Playbar Yamaha YAS-207
Frequency Responce 60Hz-19kHz 20Hz-20kHz 40Hz-24kHz 56Hz-20kHz 40Hz-23kHz
Wattage 150 watts 500 watts 150 watts 100 watts 100 watts
Drivers 2x2,75″ full range 3x highs 6xmids 2xtop dome 2x0,5″ highs 2x2,25″ mids 3 x highs 6 x mids 2x1″ highs 4x1,75″ full range
Subwoofer No Yes Yes Optional Yes
HDMI No Yes Yes No Yes
HDMI ARC Support No Yes Yes No Yes
Wall Mountable Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Connections USB, RCA, Optical, 3.5 mm HDMI x 2, Optical, 3.5mm HDMI, Optical, 3.5mm Optical HDMI, Optical, 3.5mm
Bluetooth Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Width 38″ 30″ 13″ 35.5″ 37″
Sound Modes 6 7
Warranty 1 year 1 year 1 year 2 years 2 years
SCORE 7.9 8.9 8 8 8.8
Price Check Check Check Check Check