The Best Cheap Soundbars of 2019

A soundbar isn't worth buying unless it sounds better than your TV speakers. Unfortunately, many cheap soundbars suffer from the same problems that TV speakers do (rattling, distortion, etc.)

Why do TV speakers sound so bad? Blame physics

Sound is a mixture of pressure variations; so is noise. Whether something sounds "good" or "bad" depends on the fluctuation and separation of those variations. I.e. The phase, frequency, and amplitude.

When all frequencies play at the same average sound level, it's called "white noise." 

Unlike full-sized speakers (that use a woofer, squawker and tweeter), many television speakers use a single driver to recreate all frequencies. Vibrating these tiny drivers doesn't take much power: Even the movement of electrons and air molecules can create noise. On top of that, small speakers don't have the force (or surface area) to generate enough sound pressure for our brain to process as "loud" or "full."

The end result is tinny, muffled TV sound. These limitations apply to cheap soundbars, too.

A good $100 soundbar will sound better than most TV speakers. Soundbars in the $200 range often include simulated surround-sound effects and a separate subwoofer (which makes deep voices richer, but doesn't shake a room). Some soundbars in the $250-$500 range include Dolby Atmos and other advanced surround-sound technologies. At these prices and beyond, a soundbar becomes harder to justify.

Soundbars vs. Surround Sound Speakers

Logitech's THX-certified Z906 5.1-channel surround sound system delivers 500 watts of continuous power, supports Dolby Digital and DTS, and frequently sells between $100-$200. In other words, this home theater system can be had for the same price as an entry-level soundbar! 

A Denon AVR-X1500 home theater receiver paired with an excellent center speaker (like Definitive Technology's Procenter 1000) can be had for less than $500. It's a simple way to get the benefits of a soundbar now, with the flexibility of building a home theater later. (Denon's receiver includes support for 4K/HDR10 video, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay and Amazon Alexa voice control.)

The upshot: There are better-sounding alternatives to a soundbar at almost any price. Deciding between a soundbar or a home theater is a matter of space, style and convenience.

If you opt for a soundbar, make sure the input on the soundbar matches the output on your TV. HDMI is the best connection option: It's more secure and future-proof than a TOSLINK (optical) connection or a 3.5mm headphone jack. On top of that, HDMI-ARC allows a soundbar's volume to be controlled with a TV remote. 

Here are the best cheap soundbars available now:

Soundbars Under $200

Good Price: $150 | Great Deal: $100

Samsung's inexpensive soundbar has good bass response and sounds better than TV speakers, according to several Amazon customers. Some reviewers who used the optical port (instead of HDMI) were disappointed that they couldn't control the soundbar with their TV remote.

Good Price: $150 | Great Deal: $140

Dialogue is clear and easy to understand on this affordable soundbar, according to several Amazon customers. Some reviewers expected "bigger sound" and stronger bass from the subwoofer.

Good Price: $198 | Great Deal: $170

Yamaha's surround-sound simulating soundbar is easy to set up using HDMI-ARC and sounds noticeably better than TV speakers, according to several Amazon customers. Many reviewers don’t like the way that cables protrude from the back of this soundbar (especially when it is mounted to a wall).

Soundbars Under $100

Good Price: $90 | Great Deal: $80

Vizio's soundbar is easy to install, cables are included, and it sounds considerably better than built-in TV speakers, according to several Amazon customers. Some reviewers say the remote is difficult to use in the dark. A few customers couldn't pair this soundbar with their universal remote controls.

Good Price: $90 | Great Deal: $80

This budget soundbar sounds better than TV speakers and supports HDMI-ARC, according to several Amazon customers. Many reviewers (even happy ones) wish this soundbar had more bass.

Megacra’s 38-Inch Soundbar Has Six Drivers - Image Credit: Megacra

Good Price: $87 | Great Deal: $80

This soundbar is a big improvement over TV speakers, according to several Amazon customers. Some reviewers complain that the instructions are confusing; others don't like the soundbar's "auto-off" feature (it turns itself off after a few minutes of no signal).

Good Price: $98 | Great Deal: $81

Pyle's soundbase has rich, deep and immersive sound, according to several Amazon customers. Many reviewers say the remote is small and hard to use in the dark; some say the bass is too boomy.

John DeFeo