The 9 Best Soundbars in 2024


Soundbar FAQs

A close-up of the format logos features on the Sennheiser Ambeo Max soundbar.

Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are popular immersive audio formats that can bring 3D audio to a soundbar.

Ryan Waniata/Insider

Are soundbars better than TV speakers?

Generally, even cheap soundbars deliver better audio quality than the speakers you’ll find built into most TVs. To keep costs down and ensure that the speakers fit within a flat-screen design, TVs usually include small divers and poor placement that can result in thin, muddy sound. The best soundbars can add more dimension, clarity, and bass to your TV-watching experience. 

Soundbars can also improve the definition of dialogue and other effects for those with hearing issues. That’s especially true for soundbars with a dedicated center channel, where most dialogue and other important movie and TV sound effects are directed.

How many speaker channels should a soundbar have?

The best soundbars can support multiple audio channels. These channels refer to how many directions sound can be sent through the device. Entry-level soundbars support two channels for basic left and right stereo playback, but high-end models can support five or more channels, including a center channel for dialogue, as well as surround channels via extra audio drivers, satellite speakers, or advanced virtualization techniques. 

Channel specifications are listed as a string of up to three numbers separated by decimal points. The first number represents how many standard ear-level channels are included (left, right, center, surrounds). The second number indicates if the device includes a dedicated low-frequency channel or separate subwoofer for extra bass. The final number indicates how many height channels are included for Dolby Atmos support.

Buyers who just want a simple upgrade from their TV’s integrated audio will likely be satisfied with a compact 2.0 or 2.1 soundbar system. But if you’re looking for a more complete home theater experience, you’ll want to opt for a 5.1 system or above.

What is Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos is an immersive surround sound format that uses object-based audio mixing. In practice, this means that sounds can be more precisely positioned around your room, with effects placed in all directions, including overhead. For instance, when rain falls from the sky, or a helicopter flies overhead, you can actually hear the sound coming from above.

Dolby Atmos soundbars can use one of two methods to create overhead sound effects. The first involves using audio processing to create a simulated sense of height from regular ear-level speakers. The second method uses up-firing drivers angled up instead of forward to bounce sound effects off your ceiling. Generally, good upward-firing drivers provide a much more convincing sense of overhead sound than audio processing can produce alone.

For more specifics, see our What is Dolby Atmos explainer.

Do I need a subwoofer?

A subwoofer can be an integral part of your cinematic and musical experience. Due to basic physics, soundbars alone can’t offer the power and authority you’d get in dedicated bass frequencies from even a moderately sized subwoofer. If you’re looking for earth-rattling thunder, the deep boom of explosions, and hefty bass beats, you’ll want to highly consider a soundbar that either includes a subwoofer or, at the very least, allows you to add one later.


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