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sounds terrible

Your TV Sounds Terrible. A Soundbar Can Fix That

You’ve probably already shelled out for a nice big TV, and maybe a streaming gadget to play your Netflix, but what about your audio?It doesn’t matter how large your screen is or how much it cost—it probably sounds awful. You’d be surprised by how much more you enjoy those Netflix Originals with a halfway decent…

You’ve probably already shelled out for a nice big TV, and maybe a streaming gadget to play your Netflix, but what about your audio?

It doesn’t matter how large your screen is or how much it cost—it probably sounds awful. You’d be surprised by how much more you enjoy those Netflix Originals with a halfway decent soundbar or surround system. Explosions pop, dialog sounds far crisper, and you may even notice details you’ve never picked up on before.

Why You Need a Soundbar

We have yet to test a modern TV that didn’t sound crummy without some kind of audio accessory added. That’s mostly due to the way they’re designed: Great-sounding speakers are bulky, and as TVs have gotten thinner, with shrinking bezels and sleeker designs, manufacturers are having a harder time building them in.

Even if you can only afford to spend $150 on a new soundbar with a subwoofer, it’s essential to getting the most out of your viewing experience. To help, we put together this list of the best soundbar bundles we’ve tested, and a little advice on how to make the most of them.

Updated March 2021: We’ve added the Vizio SB3621NS-H8, Vizio Elevate, and Sony HT-X8500, as well as updated links, prices, and honorable mentions.

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  • Vizio soundbar

    Photograph: Vizio

    Best Value

    Vizio 2.1 Soundbar and Sub (SB3621NS-H8)

    Vizio is one of the best brands in the business when it comes to delivering good sound at palatable prices, and its most recent 2.1-channel model is a shining example of this ethos. This soundbar is sleek and easy to set up, and it has a wireless subwoofer that can sit under your couch.

    With optical and coaxial cable inputs—plus Bluetooth for playing music from your smartphone—you can enjoy its crystal-clear audio from virtually any device you own, though you will have to shell out for a more expensive bar if you want to use HDMI ARC to control your sound using your TV’s remote control instead of the included Vizio remote.

    Inputs: Optical cable, coaxial cable, and Bluetooth

  • Photograph: Vizio

    Best Audio for Under $500

    Vizio TV Sound System With Dolby Atmos (SB36512-F6)

    If you’re into console gaming, you know how important it is to detect that opponent creeping behind you in the shadows. This affordable Dolby Atmos soundbar from Vizio helps you hear every footstep in real, physical space. Atmos bars fire sound upward, expanding your TV’s soundstage. It means that gamers can hear what’s going on above them, which is perfect for avoiding that gun-toting helicopter flying around. 

    At under $500, it’s the most affordable Atmos-enabled bar you’ll find, making it a no-brainer for anyone who values fantastic sound.

    Inputs: 2 HDMI ports (one ARC), 3.5 mm, optical, USB, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Google Chromecast built in

  • Photograph: Vizio

    A Luxury Bar With Atmos (the Grooviest Bar)

    Vizio Elevate

    When you pop on a movie or TV show that supports Dolby Atmos, the edges of Vizio’s flagship Elevate soundbar (9/10, WIRED Recommends) rotate skyward, bouncing the height channels off of your ceiling into your ears. You feel like a Bond villain, and the full-surround of the system is among the best you’ll find without spending thousands more. The sleek design makes it easier to place than most other systems in this price range, and it even fits perfectly below Vizio’s new OLED model. (Trust me, that’s a match made in home-theater heaven.)

    Inputs: HDMI (ARC), Bluetooth, Optical

    Even More Luxury: If you want even more impactful sound, and are willing to spend significantly more money, check out the Samsung HW-Q950T ($1,500). It boasts up-firing rear speakers for a full 9.1.4 experience at home.

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