Review:
9 affordable soundbars

The best sound in the living room

A soundbar is by far the simplest sound upgrade that you can make to your TV. But how good of a sound do you get in the mid to lower price range?

(Photo: Manufacturer)

You can’t change the laws of physics. A flat TV always provides flat sound! It can be argued that the sound is half the experience, so we strongly recommend that you upgrade to external audio. Although Disney has acquired the Star Wars franchise, you don’t want Darth Vader to sound like Mickey Mouse…
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Or unattractive. You don’t necessarily need a full blown surround system to get a touch of home theatre feel in your living room. Except for connoisseurs, a good quality soundbar will go a long way.

Subwoofer

In this test, we want to find out exactly how good sound can get from a soundbar in the mid to lower price range. As a requirement, an external subwoofer must be included in the price, since experience suggests that there is not enough cabinet volume in a soundbar to provide enough bass on its own. This excludes popular soundbars from brands such as Sonos, HEOS, Bluesound and Bose, all become too expensive if you add a subwoofer.

No network streaming

This time we have had no requirements for multi-room features or music streaming over the network, but simply want the best sound in the TV room. That’s why all the soundbars in this test, except one (LG SJ8), have scrapped network connectivity and have banked on Bluetooth as the only way to stream music wirelessly.

Who is the soundbar for?

A soundbar is perfect for those who want better sound quality than the lightweight speakers built into the TV. However, it is not necessarily the optimal choice if you are primarily going to use it for music. A traditional stereo system will give you more bang for the buck. A few small, well-sounding stand speakers provide a better stereo perspective and a better resolution of the music, but when watching a movie, you will miss the bass effects you get from a soundbar with an accompanying subwoofer.

9 soundbars

We’ve found nine soundbars in the mid to lower price range. The size also varies, but they all decode movie sound digitally either using HDMI or optical digital input, and they have wireless Bluetooth connectivity for music listening.

This is how we tested

All the soundbars were tested at our listening room, connected to a Sony TV. The source was an Xbox One S, which was used for both a film (Alien: Covenant) and games (Forza Horizon 3). The music listening was done on Tidal, via Bluetooth on an iPhone X, and if this didn’t sound good, we double-checked with CD.

lydplanker
Nine soundbars, ready for testing. All with subwoofer. Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby

Products in this test
Sony HT-XF9000
Extra dimension in height

Sony’s soundbar simulates both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X in height, thus giving an extra dimension to the soundscape. Yes, it works.

Philips Fidelio B1/12
Better on TV than music

This is one of the smallest soundbars on the market. It sounds bigger than it looks, but has its shortcomings.

Yamaha YAS-207
Surprisingly huge sound

Yamaha was first on the market with active soundbars. This is their first with DTS Virtual:X surround sound.

Creative Sound BlasterX Katana
For gamers

Creative’s soundbar is for gamers and the only one in the test with USB inputs that replaces the sound card in PCs and Macs.

Panasonic SC-HTB250
Small and half-hearted

The small soundbar from Panasonic sounds bigger and more powerful than you might think. But it has a few issues.

Samsung HW-N660
Perfect balance

The soundbar from Samsung has a beautiful coherence in the tones, which makes both movies and music a pleasant experience.

LG SJ8
Let the sound flow

The soundbar from LG is one of the most affordable with built-in network features and streaming of music services. It also sounds good.

JBL Bar 3.1
Powerhouse

No one in the class provide this sense of home cinema. JBL crushes everyone on sheer force, and the sound quality is good enough for it to take the lead.

Klipsch RSB-6
Does not follow up

A masculine expression and rugged sound does not have the power to follow up, and Klipsch lands at the bottom.

    Leave a Reply

    avatar
      Subscribe  
    Notify of

    Also check out