The wireless speakers last around 10 hours. The JBL SoundShift™ automatically switches the audio between multiple sources. The Night mode reduces the dynamic range, making the loud sounds less loud without compromising the surround system.
Installing the device can take some time and effort.
Featuring detachable speakers, the JBL Bar 5.1 hangs both with soundbars and surround sound systems, so you can make the sound more immersive when the source calls for it, then attach the speakers back and watch sports without adding unnecessary audio immersion to the experience.
Bluetooth 4.2, 3 x HDMI in, 1 x HDMI out, optical in, AUX in, USB
Tabletop / Wall-mount
JBL SoundShift™ technology, 5 sound modes (Standard, Music, Movie, Voice, Sports), Night sound effect, Remote control included
Sound bar: 45" x 3.7" x 2.3" (with rear speakers attached)
Subwoofer: 16" x 12" x 12"
The Night mode reduces the bass output. The Voice Enhancement feature can isolate voices and amplify them so that the background noise does not interfere and so that you can recognize the quietest lines without cranking up the volume. The sub keeps the lows rumbling.
The Bluetooth module's range is underwhelming.
Despite its 2.1 output, thanks to the S-Force™ PRO Front Surround tech, the Sony HT-S350 sounds almost identical to mid-range 5.1 systems, surrounding you with an immersive, dynamic sound so that you feel like you are transported into the on-screen action. Unlike these systems though, the HT-S350 is more affordable and compact.
Bluetooth 5.0, 1 x HDMI out, optical in, USB (only for update)
Tabletop / Wall-mount
S-Force™ PRO Front Surround technology, 7 sound modes (Auto Sound, Cinema, Music, Game, News, Sports, Standard), 2 sound effects (Night, Voice), Remote control included
Sound bar: 35.5” x 3.5” x 2.6"
Subwoofer: 7.5” x 15.1” x 15.4”
The dialogue sound effect makes the words stand out so that you can pick them up without increasing/decreasing the volume from one scene to the next. You can adjust the bass via the supplied remote, adjusting both the extension and the impact.
The remote is huge and inconvenient.
Even though audiophiles might find the sub-less system a little disappointing, people who are very much into the whole movie night idea will not make a mistake choosing the Bose Solo 5. Also, measuring less than 22 x 3.5 x 3 inches, this device will fit even the most jam-packed entertainment centers.
Bluetooth 5.0, coaxial in, optical in, AUX-in, USB (only for update)
Tabletop / Wall-mount
Dialogue sound effect, Remote control included
21.6" x 3.4" x 2.6"
The Game mode, using directional sound, will disclose the enemy's position. The Smart mode can detect what you're watching and automatically optimize the sound settings. The instructions that come with this system are straightforward and easily digestible.
The connection interfaces are limited.
The Samsung HW-T450 is the smartest device within this lineup. While most soundbars come equipped with multiple sound modes, this one takes them to a whole new level, making music, movies, and games much more engaging, enveloping, and immersive. Plus, the remote lets you easily switch between these modes.
Bluetooth 4.2, optical in, USB
Tabletop / Wall-mount
4 sound modes (Surround Sound Expansion, Game, Standard,Smart), Remote control included
Sound bar: 33.9" x 2.9" x 2.1"
Subwoofer: 7.1" x 10.7" x 13.5"
Using the HDMI and optical inputs, the device can be paired with modern TVs, while the AUX input will let you connect old CRT models to the soundbar. The USB port will let you play content (both video and audio) from USB flash drives.
The LED screen is too bright.
What the folk at RIF6 are offering here is an affordable solution that will let you blast music from smartphones and present a much more impressive alternative to the TV's speakers. Even the least tech-savvy customers will have no issues setting this device up and managing its features.
Bluetooth 5.0, 1 x HDMI out, optical in, AUX-in, USB
Tabletop / Wall-mount
4 sound modes (Music, Movie, News, 3D), Remote control included
35.4" x 3.1" x 2.8"
JBL Bar 5.1
Soundbars are more portable and less expensive than 5.1 surround sound systems with multiple speakers but, from an output perspective, they usually stack up short. Usually being the operative word here though since the JBL Bar 5.1 can easily compete even with some premium surround sound systems. First and foremost, as the name suggests, this product offers 5.1 surround sound, something that soundbars seldom give you. Of course, this is also where the line gets a little blurry since the device comes equipped with detachable battery-powered wireless speakers, meaning that the system has its hands in both baskets, so to speak.
These detachable speakers last somewhere around 10 hours (depending on the load/volume), so you can switch between authentic surround sound and, when you're done, attach them back, recharging the speakers with comfort and ease. Between the sub and the speakers, this system draws and outputs 510 watts, producing loud yet detailed sound.
But, as much as these detachable speakers define the product, the 250mm wireless sub almost puts them to shame, providing the richest, most thrilling bass, with a noticeable bump, considerable impact, and above-average extension. Plus, unlike most subwoofers, this one is wireless, so you can place the sub anywhere you want, choosing the direction from which the bass will be coming from.
Needless to say, the additional elements here also make setting the system up quite a hassle, even for people with prior experience. Still, it is well worth it.
Besides the huge sub and detachable speakers, this soundbar does not stand out that much from the pack. "That much" does not include the JBL SoundShift™ tech though. Automatically switching the audio between sources, this technology lets you choose the sound coming from the TV or the sound coming from the Bluetooth-enabled gadget connected to the system.
The system also includes five semi-standard sound modes: Default (literally dubbed as Standard here), Movie, Music, Sports, and Voice. There's nothing especially interesting about these modes but there's something interesting about the additional Night mode. With this mode, you reduce the system's dynamic range, thus reducing the loud sounds coming from the audio source, while the surround sounds are still coming from the speakers.
Again, the JBL Bar 5.1 is both a soundbar and a surround sound system, giving you the best of both worlds. So, as long as you don't mind paying extra, this product will not leave you wanting more.
|Last updated price||$499.99|
What customers say about this product
Size & Weight
Rumbling Lows and Clear Highs
The Sony HT-S350 all but exemplifies what soundbars are supposed to be and what they're capable of. Though not without its flaws, the company remains synonymous with quality audio systems, and the review subject fits the same mold. To start with, there is the system's tremendous 320-watt output, producing bright and dynamic audio with consistent volume and excellent clarity. To add more, you have the huge, 6.3-inch sub, with its 6.16-gallon output delivering deep bass. While the soundbar makes sure that the mids and highs are produced with clarity, the subwoofer makes the lows rumble with might.
But, before addressing anything else, this system is much more about the tech that puts the aforementioned components to good use. To name one, the device adopts the company's signature Voice Enhancement tech. Isolating voices and amplifying them over the background noise, this technology makes even the quietest lines recognizable. To name two, the system integrates the S-Force™ PRO Front Surround technology, which does an excellent job emulating surround sound without the components that make the whole surround sound thing possible in the first place. We're not saying that it is literally the same that the 5.1 systems are offering but the audio is comparable.
Almost Matching 5.1 Systems
Looking at the available interfaces, you're greeted by the same standard lineup, including Bluetooth 5.0, 1 x HDMI out, optical in, and USB (only for update). While the updated BT module keeps the signal stable and reliable, its range is not that great. Depending on obstructions, the range will fluctuate somewhere between 80 and 400 feet, while most Bluetooth 5.0 modules usually hover between 100 and 800+. Is that a huge downside? Not really since, let's be honest, who needs a 100+ feet Bluetooth connection anyway?
What most people will need or, at the very least, find interesting is the 7 sound modes (Auto Sound, Cinema, Music, Game, News, Sports, and Standard) and 2 sound effects (Night and Voice) that the system is offering. Between these modes (and effects), you can adjust the audio output based on the content as well as your needs and preferences. As always, you'll be able to do so using the supplied remote, with its ergonomic layout and sufficient spacing between the buttons.
Last but not least, despite its understated profile, the system looks quite elegant, with its tactile punched metal housing on the front panels.
In short, the Sony HT-S350 sounds almost like 5.1 surround sound systems except that the price is much more reasonable and the product is much more compact than these systems usually are.
|Last updated price||$198.00|
Bose Solo 5
Budget Price, Mid-Range Performance
The Bose Solo 5 is pretty chummy with the budget crowd, sharing the price bracket with that crowd but without sharing the underwhelming sound that these systems are usually offering. No, despite belonging to the budget bunch price-wise, this system easily earns a seat at the mid-range table. First things first, we really appreciate the dialogue sound effect, making each and every word stand out, so you can understand even the most subtle lines whispered in the dark without adjusting the volume between scenes.
Considering that the system does not include a sub, you would presume that the bass output here would be lacking, to say the least. This is not quite the case though. Sure, soundbars without subs cannot match those that come with subwoofers, but the system comes pretty close. Using the remote that's shipped with the package (not a redundant clarification at all), you can easily increase or decrease the bass output, making its impact more or less pronounced and the extension more or less noticeable. Again, without a sub, the bump from the bass remains minimal, so audiophiles might be a little disappointed but, as far as movie buffs are concerned, this is more than sufficient.
What is a little less sufficient though is the above-mentioned remote. While the buttons are all there, which is something that we can appreciate since that means you do not have to scooch next to the unit to adjust certain settings, the remote's shape and the layout are not ergonomic at all. We can forgive the shape but, with all the buttons cramped together, avoiding an occasional misclick becomes an impossible task.
Commanding the Smallest Footprint
Not unlike most soundbars, this soundbar for TVs enables both tabletop and wall-mount placement. But, unlike these bars, the one we're discussing here measures just 21.6 x 3.4 x 2.6 inches. Commanding the smallest footprint among the products on this list, this device easily fits even the busiest, the most crowded entertainment centers, making the wall-mounting option unnecessary (unless it is more about preference than it is about space-based needs).
Even looking at the product from the setup perspective, everything is more impressive than you would expect. Connect the system with an audio cable (anything between a coaxial input, optical input, or an AUX input and the system will automatically detect the kind you're using.
Long story short, movie buffs on a budget cannot go wrong with the Bose Solo 5. Everyday customers who find the TV's integrated speakers insufficient will find the system more than satisfying as well.
|Last updated price||$192.99|
What customers say about this product
Size & Weight
Banking on Aesthetics
The Samsung HW-T450 is the sleekest, most elegant-looking system that you can find within its price range. With the smooth, refined housing, both components easily blend into the most upscale settings, fitting minimalistic modern interiors about as well as rustic lofts.
The elegant appearance does not come without its costs though. In pursuit of reducing clutter, the people behind this model have also reduced the interface options, leaving only Bluetooth 4.2, optical input, and a USB port. Of course, between these three, the system still easily fits most TVs, tablets, smartphones, you name the device. Still, we wouldn't mind seeing an HDMI input added next time, even despite somewhat sacrificing the discreet aesthetic.
Size-wise, the soundbar measures 33.9 x 2.9 x 2.1 inches, about as long as most 'bars but less tall and wide, leaving more space on the entertainment center for more devices. The sub follows suit, measuring 7.1 x 10.7 x 13.5 inches, with an extra inch shaved here and there to make its profile more compact. Needless to say, following the common playbook deployed across almost all soundbars, this model offers you both tabletop and wall-mount installation options. The slight but pleasant difference here is that the hardware that you need to mount this device onto a wall is provided with the package and the instructions that come with it make the task a lot less challenging and more straightforward than it usually is.
Covering Gaming Needs Too
From the long read above, you might deduce that the system is banking on aesthetics alone but this is not the case, not at all. No, the sub does not compromise the bass output, making the lows rumble and giving the music an awesome impact with a respectable extension. At the same time, the Smart mode will be detecting the content you're consuming and automatically optimizing the sound settings based on its needs. While loud sporting events will be ringing and roaring, dramas with quiet dialogues will be coming at you soft and almost muffled, but with the lines amplified when necessary, making them always understandable.
In addition to this mode, the device offers three extra sound modes: Standard, Surround Sound Expansion, and Game. As far as we're concerned, the last one takes the cake, with directional sound telling you where the enemies are coming from.
To sum up, the Samsung HW-T450 is probably the most versatile 2.1 soundbar under 200 bucks, accommodating gamers, audiophiles, and movie buffs alike.
|Last updated price||$0.00|
Compared to the models we have been talking about above, this product from RIF6 is a little basic. Albeit not without its moments, to some extent, the price reflects the quality here. For starters, its total power output caps at 80 watts, which is not bad, much more impressive than what most TVs are offering these days but a tad less impressive than what most soundbars usually lend you. Now, where most people are concerned, the two integrated subwoofers will suffice, providing an almost room-shaking bass that goes as deep as 72 decibels, all while keeping the audio output crisp and precise. But the audiophile crowd will probably find the built-in subs lacking.
Looking at it from one angle, we can easily get behind the little discreet LED screen hidden behind the mesh net (speaker grill), adding to the model's already attractive aesthetic. At the same time, some might find even this hidden screen a little bright and distracting.
What's not distracting is the aforementioned aesthetic. Quite the opposite, the unit looks sleek, slim, and elegant. With its clean lines and polished accents, this model looks nothing like its budget contemporaries, resembling premium models more than low-end soundbars. Plus, featuring smooth curves and rounded edges, this device makes sure that kids and pets will not be able to injure themselves running into the unit. Peaking at 35.4 x 3.1 x 2.8 inches, the model occupies almost no space, not imposing on that precious entertainment center space that most people like to conserve. Also, you can always go with the wall-mounting option and save even more space.
The Modes and the Interfaces
Peeking inside, we'll find the tech you would expect from a budget model. The speakers and the subs that we have mentioned above are decent but nothing to parade. Still, using the 4 sound modes that the device is adopting, you'll be able to fine-tune the audio, matching the content you're consuming. Between the Music, Movies, News, and 3D surround sound modes, you'll be hearing and feeling every instrument, line, sound effect, every detail with depth and clarity. Meanwhile, the connection interfaces that include Bluetooth 5.0, 1 x HDMI out, optical in, AUX-in, and USB will enable pairing this model with every device in the book, from headphones and headsets to TVs, monitors, laptops, computers, you name the device.
All things considered, this soundbar from RIF6 might leave the more demanding customers feeling nonplussed but its price-performance ratio is off the charts, so we can easily recommend this one to people on a strict budget.
|Last updated price||$79.99|
What Is a Sound Bar?
Soundbars are the best solution for people who wish to improve the sound of their TV set without spending too much money. Unlike home theater sound systems, sound bars are much more compact. A typical soundbar is a small panel with built-in speakers. The sound bar is placed really close to the TV set, so it requires no additional space or pieces of furniture. Actually, sound bar systems are designed to be used with widescreen TVs. Also, these systems are quite awesome for music too. There are some differences between these bars, so make sure to read the reviews first. Here, we have gathered and selected the most impressive sound bars on the market today to make your choice easier.
If you wish to change the way your laptop or computer sounds, you're welcome to read our up-to-date review on computer speakers. You may also be interested in taking a look at our review on headphones which can be paired with your laptop or just used as an accessory with your tablet or smartphone.
What Features to Compare
Type and Design
If you want to place a soundbar right in front of a TV, you should get a tabletop bar. Some sound bars are wall-mountable and, therefore, can be attached to the wall. Keep in mind that a soundbar doesn't block a signal from the remote. There is another type of sound bars - TV stands. They are larger and wider and TVs are usually placed on top of such bars. However, you should still check the dimensions of the stand so that it can withstand a widescreen TV (52'', for example). A TV stand must be steady and durable enough.
The next issue to consider is the sound settings since a soundbar is intended to produce a high-quality sound. If you like the bass, choose the soundbars with built-in subwoofers or those supporting the connection of subwoofers. Don't forget to find out such important features as the power output, sensitivity, and frequency - they determine the maximum volume and sound clarity. However, the following features aren't sufficient for deciding if the soundbar is good or not. We strongly recommend checking all the sound enhancing system each soundbar has. For example, any top sound bar has a Dolby surround technology support for producing the multi-channel sound. Also, most sound bars are capable of creating a 3D sound effect, giving you an impression of full immersion in the world of sound. Lots of manufacturers develop their own sound enhancing technologies that maximize the performance of their sound bars. If you want to set your own sound parameters, make sure to choose the soundbar with adjustable equalizer settings. This way, you will be able to enjoy the sound you like the most.
Connections and Control
When making the final decision, don't forget to find out what interfaces a soundbar has. Apart from standard audio ports, some devices allow for other types of connection. For example, an HDMI port ensures the high-quality sound in Blu-Ray movies. The availability of the USB port allows for playing media files stored on your smartphones and flash drives. Bluetooth makes it possible to stream the music wirelessly right from your mobile device. Some soundbars even have Wi-Fi, which is used for connecting to online music services. Finally, check out the controls - you should be able to set the device and enable different modes without any troubles. The best soundbars have a remote for controlling the unit without leaving a couch. Moreover, certain sound bars can be controlled via mobile apps, so you need no remotes, just your smartphone or tablet.
SOUNDBARS VS LOUDSPEAKERS
The integrated speakers that most TVs come adopting range from terrible to, at best, passable. When you have already spent a considerable sum to make the video experience as engaging, immersive, and enveloping as possible, you want to make sure that the audio part does not trail behind the visuals. So, when the subject arises, you have two options: soundbars and loudspeakers. Both devices/systems have advantages and disadvantages to them, which is what we've decided to discuss here.
More affordable. Good soundbars start at less than 150 bucks. Raise the limit to ~200 and you are starting to look into premium models. With speakers, you need two separate units and an AV receiver, so the entire system will cost you at least 300 pounds, usually more.
Less clutter. Soundbars are more compact than speaker systems, usually packing everything into one unit that measures somewhere between 35 and 100 centimeters length-wise (14 and 40 inches respectively) and around 10 centimeters (4 inches) both height- and depth-wise. Sure, those models that reach ~40 inches are not necessarily that compact but even these units are producing less clutter because you're still working with one device, meaning fewer wires and a cleaner entertainment center.
No gimmicks. 5.1 sound systems are great, except when they're not. Thing is, most TV shows are recorded in stereo, so those multi-speaker home cinema setups that people invest hundreds and hundreds of pounds into are reproducing pretty much the same sound that soundbars around 70+ bucks give you. When you're watching Bargain Hunt during lunchtime and the Great British Bake Off come evening, soundbars are more than enough.
Lacking high-quality surround sound. Yes, there are soundbars that come housing different Surround Sound systems and 3D modes but these do not add to the listening experience as much as 5.1 systems.
Emulating the cinema-style surround sound experience. Because you can position different speakers behind, before you, and to the sides, you can literally surround yourself with different sound output devices, making the experience more immersive and lifelike and quite comparable to what you're experiencing at cinema theatres. Plus, because most movies these days come in a Blu-ray format, meaning that they have been recorded for multi-channel audio systems to begin with, more speakers allow you to experience the movie's audio the exact same way the director wanted you to.
More flexibility. Yes, you can start with two speakers only, which's not enough to reproduce accurate and authentic surround sound. The upside is that you can build from there and turn the system into anything you want, from the compact yet underwhelming 2.1 to expansive 9.1, taking up the entire living room yet making sure that the audio never trails behind the picture.
Less newbie-friendly. In addition to more clutter and higher price tags that we have mentioned before, these systems are far less accessible to beginners than soundbars. More often than not, you have to set everything up, whilst soundbars can be plugged using different interfaces and put to good use right away.
1. Adrienne Maxwell Five Tips to Pick the Right Soundbar, Home Theater. July 8, 2013.
2. Andy Clough Soundbar Buying Guide: How to choose the right soundbar, What Hi-Fi. June 18, 2014.
3. Adrian Diaconescu How to shop for a soundbar, Digital Trends. February 23, 2013.
4. Jon L. Jacobi How to pick the right soundbar, TechHive. December 18, 2014.
5. Joe Roberts Best Soundbar 2016: 17 best soundbars for your TV, TrustedReviews. January 18, 2016.
6. Chris Heinonen, Dennis Burger The Best Soundbar, The Wirecutter. June 14, 2016.
7. Jamie Carter Best soundbar: boost your TV's audio and get music streaming, too, The Gadget Website. March 18, 2016.