Top 5 cheap soundbars: Best home theater and computer PIcks under $100
Flat TVs and laptop computers, no matter how good they are, suffer from one major flaw.
That flaw is incredibly flat sound.
You can't have an ultra-slim design and a good speaker, there's nothing to reverberate the sound.
Thankfully there's an easy fix for that - soundbars.
Today, I won't be speaking about the best soundbars like Sennheiser Ambeo or Bose 500. Instead, I'll be talking about more affordable models that'll still significantly improve the sound quality of your TV or computer.
So, If you're looking for a budget solution to your flat sounding tv and computer, keep reading!
In a hurry? The test winner after 19 hours of research:
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Last Updated: August 1, 2019
By Barry Allen: This article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information regarding best soundbars available for those who are interested in improving their TV sound without breaking the bank. The best 5 available have changed, and information has been added to assist individuals in finding the best soundbars currently available on the market. The FAQ has also been updated.
What to look for in home theater soundbars?
Here's the thing: a wallpaper-thing TV can only fit a wallpaper-thin speaker inside. A small speaker is suitable for a smartphone or a tablet, but if you're watching "BladeRunner 2049." on a 4K HDR TV, you'd want the sound to be just as crisp.
One Amazon search will yield a ton of results for soundbars. Some are excellent, and some aren't worth the packaging they come in.
When it comes to features, every soundbar is different. And, not all features have equal weight. Having a smart soundbar that you can control with a smartphone app is cool and all, but if it has only one or two HDMI ports, you won't be able to plug in all your devices.
There are many more factors you’ll have to consider when purchasing a soundbar (especially a budget one). And for that reason, I've prepared this short guide.
While the total size of the soundbar obviously affects the size of the internal speaker's resonating area, in any well-built soundbar, this shouldn't really affect the quality or tone of the sound produced.
When it comes to size, you should consider where and how are you actually planning to use the soundbar. If you just plan on just having it sit under your TV, as long as it can fit snugly, it will satisfy your size demands.
If, however, moving it around the house and oft reconfigurations are your forte, a smaller soundbar will be a lot more practical.
Looking at different models, you might get caught up and order a seemingly perfect soundbar. Then, once it arrives, you realize it only has a single HDMI input with no Bluetooth connectivity.
Depending on your needs, it might even be the most essential factor in deciding which soundbar is for you. Although Bluetooth isn't necessarily ubiquitous, soundbars that support it work reliably.
A common feature in soundbars is their reliance on optical cables for input. However, most TVs today lack these kinds of audio outputs, and instead offer HDMI as their sole way of connecting to other devices.
When shopping for a soundbar, you will notice two or three numbers separated with a comma. These numbers represent the number of channels and whether the model comes with a subwoofer or not. The first number refers to the number of drivers, and the second number tells you whether a particular model comes with a subwoofer.
For instance, if you see "3.1" in the product name, that means it has three drivers (left, right and center) and a subwoofer. Generally speaking, the more channels a soundbar has, the better the sound experience.
If a soundbar has a third number such as 5.1.4, that number indicates that it supports Dolby Atmos -- a technology that uses dedicated drivers to fire the sound into the ceiling for a more immersive surround sound. This third number specifies how many dedicated Dolby Atmos drivers the soundbar has.
No matter which soundbar you choose, it will significantly improve the sound quality of your TV. However, there is still the option of a subwoofer.
A subwoofer is a driver that delivers explicitly low-frequency sounds such as rumbling, growling, and bass. Some soundbars can produce good low-frequency sounds by themselves, but nothing can substitute a dedicated subwoofer.
I personally wouldn't buy me a soundbar that comes without a subwoofer, since it gives so much depth and color to the sound.
Some products come with a built-in subwoofer, and some with a separate wireless one. I prefer the latter because it gives me more room for customization. However, you won't make a mistake if you get a soundbar with a built-in subwoofer.
Best tv soundbar under $100 - Cheap Home Theater Roundup
Now that we have looked at some basic characteristics and what to look for in soundbars, we can start checking out products.
I've divided this list into three parts: best soundbars under $100, under $50, and best computer soundbars. Feel free to jump to the section you find most interesting.
1. Yamaha ATS1080 R
Our Rating: 90/100
What if I told you that you were able to buy a high-end soundbar at a massive discount? This is precisely the case with the Yamaha ATS1080 R.
How is this possible?
As it turns out, Costco bought a warehouse of a custom model of the Yamaha ATS108s and failed to sell them on time. Their solution? Give them to Amazon to sell them as refurbished. They put a new model code at the end, and we have a great affordable soundbar!
Dimension-wise, the Yamaha ATS1080 is quite beefy for a soundbar. It's 35 inches wide, about 8 inches deep and 2 inches high. This soundbar is also quite deep, and might not fit on your table. Be sure to do the necessary measurements before ordering it.
The Yamaha ATS1080's drivers are located peculiarly on the bottom of the unit. This, however, doesn't impede its ability to deliver realistic warm sounds. What's more, this location helps it reverberate a lot better, especially if you put it on a wooden surface.
Although I haven't done a precise measurement, I estimate the soundbar can deliver sound as loud as 100dB. Even at max output loudness, the ATS1080 can play sounds clearly, with no harmonic distortion.
It can provide a warm, equal-tone, clear sound out-of-the-box. It's suitable both for music listening and enjoying clear movie dialogs. The soundbar is classified as 2.0, though it has 2 mid - and high-range drivers and 2 dedicated subwoofers, making the label 2.2 more suitable.
It has one HDMI input and one HDMI output, supporting 4K passthrough and ARC. It also has one digital optical input and the regular 3.5mm stereo jack.
2. Vizio SB3820
Our Rating: 85/100
For the second item on my list, I've decided to pick out one of Vizio's soundbars because they're seasoned veterans in the soundbar industry. The reason I picked SB3820 is that it offers the best bang for the buck.
Let's go over the size first. This soundbar is a whopping 38-inches wide and 3 inches deep and tall. The dimensions are suitable for most TV tables. And, if you can't fit it under your TV, there is always an option of hanging it on the wall.
Now on to the drivers. The Vizio has only a 2.0 wide-range stereo. Although the manufacturer advertises this product as having a "special" Deep Bass technology, I wouldn't get hung over it. Don't get me wrong, the drivers have a more-than-decent mid and high range capabilities, but the bass leaves a lot of room for improvement.
What it lacks in the bass, it compensates with loudness. You can turn it up all the way to 10, clocking at 100dB. Throw in a half-decent sub, and you have a $400-sounding audio system at less than half the price.
When it comes to connectivity, the Vizio features one analog stereo RCA, one 3.5mm stereo mini-jack, one digital RCA jack, one Toslink optical jack, RCA output for a subwoofer, and a USB input for .wav file playback.
I've noticed the lack of HDMI ports - however, SB3820 makes it up with the inclusion of built-in Bluetooth.
This soundbar also comes with several Dolby features and filters. Namely, it supports Dolby Digital -- providing dramatic spatial dimension to cinema and soundtracks, DTS TruSurround -- improving the surround sound effect, and DTS TruVolume -- a technology that provides consistent and comfortable volume levels.
Best soundbars under 50
I'm well aware that not everybody is willing to whoop out the money to get a soundbar, be it a high-end one or even a $100 test. This is why I compiled this short list to help out those not too sure about their purchase or those on a budget.
1. TaoTronics Bluetooth 5.0 Computer Speaker
Our Rating: 70/100
Although TaoTronics isn't as big of a name as Vizio or Yamaha, they're one of the leading manufacturers of cheap, high-quality soundbars.
The size of this product is quite compact for a soundbar; it can easily fit on most desks, as it's only 16 inches wide and around 2 inches deep and tall. This makes it suitable both for use as a TV and a computer speaker.
It has support for Bluetooth 5.0, allowing you to play music from just about any device, provided the soundbar is plugged in and turned on. The range on the Bluetooth is 30 feet, meaning it covers only the room it's in. Other connection options are limited to just a single 3.5mm stereo jack, but you can't expect much from an affordable unit like this.
It has tactile controls, in the form of a circular button control on its right side which provides basic media and volume controls, such as Play/Pause and Next, Prev.It can be wall-mounted on keyhole mounts. You might opt for using it as a Bluetooth speaker in your living room, either for casual music listening or parties.
The name would imply the soundbar can handle 5.0 audio. However, it only has two wide-range drivers, and simply physically cannot deliver true surround sound. This is not to discredit their quality, which is exceptional for the low price tag.
2. TaoTronics Wired Computer Sound Bar
Once again, TaoTronics is my brand pick for this slot. They seem ubiquitous in the lower price range, and it is easy to see why. With a low price tag, they pave the entryway for most people to get into quality soundbars.
Size-wise, this soundbar is more-or-less the same size as the last one: 16 inches wide, and about 2 inches deep and wide. This allows it to fit snugly on nearly any surface. Especially considering its power supply, which I'll talk about a bit later, you can even use it to replace the built-in speakers on your laptop.
Sadly, unlike all other soundbars I reviewed, this one lacks Bluetooth connection and doesn't have any other wireless connectivity alternatives.
The only way you can connect to the device is through a 3.5mm stereo jack. Even the manufacturer advises customers, should their TVs have only RC outputs, use respective adapters to connect to the 3.5mm jack.
The only saving grace is its other 3.5mm mic input, allowing you to play music and sing along simultaneously. Although it's unclear to me why the manufacturer included this in their final product, some people might find this as a solution to their problems.
Once again, the number of drivers in this soundbar is only two, perhaps unsurprisingly. The drivers, as far as I can tell, are identical models to the other TaoTronics model, and the price difference comes from the lack of Bluetooth.
It seems this soundbar is geared towards PC users, as the source of power for this soundbar is a USB connection. Don't worry, the cable is included.
It goes without saying that the power provided over USB isn't significant and, consequently, the drivers can't play too loudly.
Best computer soundbar
Soundbars are usually associated with TVs. Using soundbars with computers is often overlooked, but is quite a viable solution, providing much of the same at a lower price.
1. Dell AC511
Dell is a well-respected consumer electronics manufacturer that has brought many innovations to the market. Their AC511 soundbar is no exception, as it combines many practical features geared towards PC users.
Namely, it's compact design, at 16 inches wide and about 2 inches deep and tall, allows for comfortable desk use. This is accentuated by its physical volume knob and headphone output passthrough.
It features an integrated T-Hook for compatible monitors, allowing a single-cable connecting to your monitor to draw sound, while a USB connection draws the power it needs for sound delivery.
The drivers on this soundbar are not perfect by any means, but at this price tag, they provide a more-than-perfect replacement for standard computer speakers.
Rated at 1.5 watts, the drivers deliver flat and muffled sound, so don't expect crisp and clean sound. I wouldn't use this soundbar for anything but basic system sounds and light Youtube browsing.
Thankfully, you can always plug in a good pair of headphones and enjoy the decent sound quality.
This brings us to connectivity. Other than two 3.5mm jacks for audio input and headphone out, there is nothing else. It has no Bluetooth, HDMIs, or optical audio inputs, and it doesn't have to since it's basically a form-factored computer speaker.
Because AC511 works best with Dell monitors, there's no point in buying it if you don't own one of the compatible models. If you do decide to buy it, think about getting a Dell monitor to boot so you can get the most out of it.
Best soundbars under $100 - Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Are soundbars worth the money?
A: If you enjoy listening to music at a higher fidelity or are dissatisfied with the sound of your TV, soundbars are worth investing in. They greatly improve the surround sound effects and clarity of dialog.
Q: Can I connect a soundbar directly to my TV?
A: It depends on what inputs your soundbar has and what outputs you TV has. Generally speaking, you should have an HDMI output on your TV and an HDMI input on your soundbar. Other options include RC, Toslink optical or analog 3.5mm jacks. You may need adapters to connect your TV with your soundbar if there isn’t a matching port.
Q: Will a sound bar improve TV sound?
A: Definitely yes. The main issue with today’s TVs are their flatscreen design, which disallows large areas to be used as speaker resonating areas. This results in TVs sounding flat, hollow and muffled. A soundbar fixes this by being a dedicated speaker with the sole purpose of providing quality sound and tone.
Q: Can you use any sound bar on any TV?
A: Theoretically, yes. It only depends on the types of inputs your soundbar takes and the outputs you have on your TV. The most common inputs/outputs are HDMI ports, which are ubiquitous in modern TVs. You might also have RC, Toslink optical or analog 3.5mm jacks, which may require adapters to transform the output of your TV to the input of the soundbar before use.