Do you want your family movie night to sound better than watching in an IMAX? Chances are you’re not in a position to make that happen if you’re reading this article.
However, what if I told you that you can enhance the audio quality of your so-called smart TV tenfold? And you can do this without spending more than $200 or hiring a professional to configure the system? Soundbars can be the solution.
Soundbars pack all the power of a multichannel system, some of them with the subwoofer included, without having to set up speakers in all corners of your living room. You only need to set up a single wide and slim bar, under your TV screen or thereabout, and you’re good to go.
10 Best Budget Soundbars - Upgrades to TV Speakers
Table of Contents
- 10 Best Budget Soundbars - Upgrades to TV Speakers
- Figuring Out the Numbers
- What to Expect from Affordable Models
- Does Size Matter?
- Sound Modes and Why They’re Important
The Yamaha YAS-108 may be the best budget soundbar for you if you're after some very impressive features packed in an ultra slim design.
The input options include optical, aux, and HDMI. It can also connect to two devices at the same time if you take advantage of the Bluetooth streaming.
The DSP (digital signal processor) is DTS Virtual:X. This creates 3D surround sound effects without having to have 5 or speakers in your room (as you might be aware of, DTS and Dolby are always competing against each other for the best surround sound processing). There’s also very good dialogue enhancement for the money.
The built-in dual subwoofers enhance the surround sound by giving it a fuller audio profile. This soundstage can be used for movies, gaming, and watching live concerts to some degree.
What’s also interesting is that the YAS-108 comes with a gyroscope feature. This comes in handy if you’re using the keyholes for the wall mount. The gyroscope should help create an even sound distribution within the room.
This 2.1 channel soundbar may not seem like much but it’s a real steal at this price point. The wireless external subwoofer adds great bass definition. This makes the sound fuller and more intelligible overall.
You don’t even need high-speed car chase scenes, war movies, or anything with a lot of bang and cool special effects to appreciate the sonic improvement. In fact, those scenes may make you want to upgrade to a full home theater system because that’s not what soundbars are designed to ace, but just to get rid of the killjoy of thin-sounding TV speakers.
The soundbar also comes with its own controller so you won’t have to worry about pairing it with a HDMI ARC-compatible TV. Both the soundbar and the subwoofer are wireless which makes placement and line of sight easier to control.
The Vizio SB2821-D6 comes with Dolby Digital, DTS TruSurround, and DTS TruVolume. These three DSPs can squeeze a lot of detail out of most Blu-ray content.
The distribution of the sound waves throughout the room is balanced for a realistic and immersive experience in the comfort of your home.
This is one of the more basic soundbars on this list. Despite the reasonable price, the sound is excellent and you get the assurance of buying something from a specialty audio company like JBL.
You won’t find any fancy features here. However, as long as you don’t turn the volume up to max, the JBL Boost TV soundbar gives you just what you need. Don’t worry about the lack of an external subwoofer, this soundbar produces more bass than many 2.1 soundbars. That’s because it’s a largish soundbar with bigger drivers.
What’s even more impressive is the dialogue clarity. If you’re looking for Blu-ray quality, this is not the best option, neither is any soundbar. However, for any other movies, games, and especially online streaming sessions, this JBL really boosts your TV’s audio to another level.
The TCL Alto 7+ 2.1 soundbar is a beast in home entertainment. Sporting a very simple design, it packs a lot of power all in all. Equipped with various sound mode presets, this TCL soundbar can help you get the most out of your movies, music, games, etc.
I find it particularly interesting how accurate the speaker is across all registers while still capable of enhancing the vocal when you need it most. The experience is immersive, though some audiophiles may not put it on par with a proper 5.1 surround sound system.
The fact of the matter is that the sound reproduction, the surprisingly deep bass, and the wall mounting kit make this a very convenient and entertaining soundbar. It also has an IR pass through for unrestricted access.
Another industry best sound bar under $200 is the Sony S200F. In addition to looking really sleek, this compact soundbar is packed with features. It comes with a built-in subwoofer and the amplifier has a maximum output of 80W.
You can use it with an HDMI cable if you want to make the most of it – adjust the frequency response or use your remote to make adjustments. If not, there’s also a remote control included.
Bluetooth connection is another option. You will notice that even though the output may drop a bit, a wireless audio connection isn’t always a bad thing. The sound clarity is still impressive for any Blu-ray movies.
The soundbar can also be wall-mounted. This should help with managing clutter and directing the sound at your favorite seat. Keep in mind that it’s a 2.1 channel design, so you will want as much coverage as possible. Moving the unit around can make a big difference.
The Samsung HW-M360 is a 2.1 channel soundbar with an external subwoofer (the so-called 0.1 channel).
The wireless subwoofer seems really powerful. It offers great definition on the lower frequencies as well as give the soundstage a richer and more complete sound. Dynamic or action-packed movies, sporting events, and games sound a lot better than anticipated.
You can also use an optical cable to input digital sound signal directly from your digital devices such as DVD players and CD players. However, I found the Bluetooth connectivity to be enough in this case. For many people, getting rid of clutter is worth the slight sonic degradation.
The Samsung Audio Remote app is another cool feature. While the HW-M360/ZA doesn’t feature a controller, you can use the app and control the soundbar with your phone. It’s especially helpful since there’s no support for an HDMI ARC connection.
If you’re looking to feel the sound, you may not have to look further than the Samsung HW-R450 Soundbar. This 200W soundbar comes with a wireless subwoofer of impressive power. The frequency response range is tailor made for emphasizing the midrange and allowing you to distinguish the dialogues in Michael Bay-style action-packed scenes.
The Bluetooth connectivity scores major convenience points. It allows for quick and easy installation as well as more placement options and a clutter-free setup. The Sound Smart technology makes it so that little input on your end will be required.
The HW-R450 is capable of recognizing various types of sound and then optimizing it for you. A few sound modes are also available so that you can switch between movie and music modes to gaming. Yet another way to take your console or PC gaming to another level of immersion.
This 80W soundbar isn’t made by a top name, but it still delivers a very impressive and immersive sound. The soundbar is also compatible with most 40” and up TVs from Samsung, LG, Sony, and many more top brands.
The DSP technology seems a bit outdated these days. But keep in mind that an 80W soundbar is nothing to scoff at. Especially when it also comes with a built-in subwoofer that’s capable of excellent bass definition.
You can connect it via Bluetooth or by using an optical cable. Of course, coaxial and RCA cables are also supported. Those with older TV sets should appreciate the feature.
The sound clarity is more than ok. Unlike other soundbars, you can also tweak the settings on the bass and tweeter to customize the audio profile to best fill your room.
If you’re looking to have your choice of wired or wireless connection, this TaoTronics soundbar may be just what you need. You can use AUX, optical, or regular RCA cables, or you can use Bluetooth to set up your sound system.
The advantages should be obvious at least in terms of placement and creating an unobstructed line of sight. But reduced cable clutter is not the only reason I like this system. The wireless subwoofer is a massive plus as it helps create a room-filling sound that adds depth and make everything more enjoyable.
Also nice is the LED display. The touch controls are easy on the eyes and quite functional. Another feature that’s worth every penny is the range of the 40W subwoofer. It can be connected from up to 30ft away, which gives you plenty of room to experiment with placement. Place it in a corner for more but less refined bass or with a good amount of space around it for less but tighter bass.
If you’re looking for something that’s really budget-friendly, then you might want to check out the BlitzWolf Smart Soundbar. This is the most affordable soundbar I could find that still met most of my requirements in terms of audio quality and performance.
The soundbar is a 2.0 channel design. That being said, the absence of a subwoofer is more than compensated for. The 6 sets of input are the main highlight, as they allow you to use just about anything input options from regular audio cables with RCA connectors to HDMI and Bluetooth.
There are also four pre-programmed sound modes for specific scenarios – news, sports, movie, and music. You can use either the movie or sports modes if you’re planning to do some gaming.
The bass definition is still pretty good and with six speakers as part of the design, you can get quite the immersive experience in your living room. Last but not least, the compact design and the included remote add even more bang for your buck.
Figuring Out the Numbers
A lot of soundbars today come with various number labels attached. They usually signify the number of channels, built-in subwoofer, and the supported Dolby or DTS DSP sound fields.
The first number usually tells you how many channels there are – left, right, rear, center, etc. The second number after the period tells you if there’s a subwoofer – which is known in the circle as the 0.1 channel. Sometimes there’s also a third digit after the subwoofer.
This will tell you if the soundbar comes with Dolby Atmos surround sound processing and the number of dedicated drivers used to create the unique Dolby Atmos immersive sound.
If you’re not getting a wireless soundbar, you need to understand a few things about the cable inputs. You will find either optical or HDMI input or both. An HDMI interface is preferable as it offers support for more audio formats. The optical input connects to the digital output of your upstream device.
You’ll need a Toslink cable (originally introduced by Sony). You may find another digital input in the form of an RCA connector. That’s for use with a 75-ohm coaxial digital or video cable.
HDMI can carry all signals: video, digital, and analog. It is today’s standard connection but it doesn’t necessarily make it superior sonically. In fact, most high-end components prefer to separate the signals for better isolation and fidelity.
What to Expect from Affordable Models
Finding a good soundbar under $200 is not that hard. Dolby Atmos soundbars are fairly cheap these days. They have amazing quality even at a lower price point.
That being said, you can’t expect Hi-Fi audio or 4K pass through. The more you pay, the more bells and whistles you’re going to get. Is a soundbar under $200 worth the money? – In my opinion, yes. It is definitely an upgrade over TV speakers. You can expect a warmer and more directional sound that’s closer to real life than the usually tinny sound of TV speakers.
Does Size Matter?
What do you think of speaker sizes? First of all, bigger probably means more powerful right? Secondly, larger speakers may be more difficult to place.
With soundbars, you’ll only have to worry about the subwoofer really, which you can tuck away somewhere unobtrusive. Because of this, the size doesn’t really matter that much.
You should pay more attention to the number of speakers and the soundbar configuration than anything else. That’s because soundbars on their own will never require a lot of room. They’re designed to replace a roomful of speakers in the first place.
Sound Modes and Why They’re Important
Whether you’re an audiophile or just someone who enjoys tinkering with the EQ settings, you know how important it is to have the correct settings for the source.
Soundbars are usually equipped with preconfigured sound modes that take a lot of the guesswork out.
I recommend taking advantage of the preset sound modes for one very simple reason. All those preset sound modes that you see are designed to make the most of the components in your soundbar.
Make the Most with Very Little Investment
Although certain technologies can make a huge difference in the tonal profile, you don’t always need to pay a premium to enjoy a rich and well-balanced sound during your favorite movies.
As you can see from my picks for the best soundbar under $200, sometimes less is more. Most of these soundbars are compatible with new and old TV sets and are very versatile in placement.