These days, having a home entertainment system is not like it used to be. Time was, buying a television set and a stand was a luxury, and wheeling the set in to watch Jackie Gleason while dinner was served was just about the height of sinful, gluttonous suburban living.
We’ve come a long way since Philo T. Farnsworth’s invention, and we’ve made some minor upgrades. In the 70s, you would hear stories about the theatre set up in the White House to view films that Richard Nixon found controversial or actor Roddy MacDowall’s famous collection of bootleg classic films that the FBI raided.
Those were the examples of major home entertainment systems with which we all became familiar. We never thought that we’d approximate the same kind of setup in our very own homes one day. Today, however, it’s entirely possible to have an amazing home theatre, with a 4k HD TV and the finest chairs money can buy.
Unfortunately, no matter how many improvements we’ve made to the picture, sound has taken a little longer to perfect. Nearly all new fancy TVs are amazing to look at, but the sound is another story. They often have difficulty with even simple concepts such as dialogue clarity and proper range.
Thankfully, we have soundbars to fix this issue. Soundbars are capable of bringing home higher-quality audio than just what a television set can. They can offer much more of a broad range of quality, and they can even enhance any music you stream through your TV.
Today, you can enhance the audio in your entertainment system without breaking the bank. One might think this would be an expensive endeavor, but fortunately, there are options that make it a much more reasonable pursuit.
Ultimately, any of these soundbars are excellent devices that often have specific features that make them terrific for specific things, and some have great all-purpose uses no matter what you’re using it for. But to really understand what makes a good soundbar, you should consider a few aspects.
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What To Look For In The Best Soundbar
Where you place, or where you are able to place, a soundbar is incredibly important to its ability to deliver clear, crisp sound. But equally important to where you place your soundbar and TV in your home – a decision that’s both aesthetic and practical – is how easy it is to set up.
You don’t want to have to spend hours trying to screw in a wall hook-up that won’t quite fit. While part of the responsibility falls on you, it’s also up to the manufacturer to ensure that installation goes smoothly.
So be on the lookout for soundbars that advertise easy setup. It’ll save you time and trouble.
It shouldn’t be a primary concern, but the soundbar should also have a design that you like. There’s no point in having an eyesore in your home.
Size is something that should always be taken into consideration, both because you need to know it’ll fit where you want it and because it’ll matter aesthetically.
While looks aren’t everything, you should discount them, as a model that takes time to dress itself up a little may also house some impressive features.
As a rule, the soundbar should never run longer than your television set. Most soundbars don’t exceed the length of modern televisions, so it’s up to you to find a model that gets as close to the same length as possible.
Active or Passive?
There are two types of soundbars. An active soundbar is a soundbar with built-in amplifiers. Passive soundbars need an additional amplifier or receiver to work. While the passive option is cheaper, it’s always better to go with an active soundbar.
For one thing, you’ll use up less space with an all-in-one active soundbar rather than one you need to connect to an amplifier. A passive soundbar would also likely require an additional subwoofer, taking up even more space.
Modern technology places a high premium on compact, simple designs, so having a passive device is a little outdated.
Consider the Channels
You may have heard of channels being a factor with soundbars. The best way to think of a channel is as an individual speaker.
Most television shows and films operate under 5 different audio channels – though in some cases, they use even more. These channels are embedded digitally.
So when you think of a home entertainment system with multiple speakers around it – the older kind that graced the precursor of a mancave – the channels on a soundbar operate like those speakers. If it’s a 2-channel soundbar, it only has two speakers: left and right.
The more channels on the soundbar, the more immersive the experience. However, this begs the question, how many channels do you actually need?
This will depend on the user as well as the space in which it’s set, but anyone should be able to find a level of comfort with up to 7 options.
6 Best Soundbars Under $200:
Here are the 6 best soundbars on the market selling for less than $200.
- Wireless subwoofer
- Streaming capability
- Works with HDMI
- Easy set up
The Polk Audio Signa is a fairly simple soundbar – what you see is what you get; a 2.1 bar that comes with a wireless subwoofer. While it’s a fine device that manages to boost the sound quite effectively, unfortunately, it doesn’t have the ability to give you a complete surround sound experience.
Watching movies is a particularly special activity in many households. After a year of staying indoors, it’s more important than ever to recreate the theatrical experience as accurately as possible. If that’s what you’re looking to do, the Polk is not really what you’re looking for.
If you’re simply looking for a terrific bass boost, this is the device you’re looking for. It’s appropriately loud enough, and for some people, simple is the best answer. The Polk is an especially easy soundbar to install, which is excellent for those that aren’t technologically inclined.
If you’re new to the world of soundbars, this is a great starter. For a device under $200, it’s also made out of pretty solid material, so it’s unlikely it will break should you have any accidents. The one major drawback is the autosave power feature, which automatically shuts it off every 15 minutes.
- Multiple connections: Wireless Bluetooth 5.0 with reliable stability, several wired cables
- Smart remote and different sound modes
- Heavy Bass booms
- Easy Installation
Pheanoo may not be a company that you’re familiar with, but you soon will be. Their soundbar with a subwoofer is not only designed to sound great but look great as well. Admittedly, it’s a nifty-looking soundbar with blue light and a sleek design that looks especially nice when mounted to the wall.
What’s more, it appears they didn’t sacrifice any of the quality for the look of the soundbar. This soundbar offers the surround experience so many companies claim they can approximate. You’re obviously never going to get exactly the same Dolby experience you do in a theatre, but if you watch a movie known for its excellent sound design, you will notice a difference.
One of the best aspects of the Pheanoo is its ability to pick up the bass when necessary properly. There’s virtually never any distortion.
Unfortunately, as with most inexpensive products, it does come with one major caveat. If your television is an LG, which is a fairly common brand, the HDMI ARC connection may not work. While you can still use the optical connection, the sound won’t come through. If you have an LG, it’s probably wise to choose another model to avoid potential issues.
That said, for other televisions, it’s a fine, inexpensive option.
- Subwoofer included
- Adaptive sound lite
- Game mode
- Wireless surround sound compatible
When you first open the Samsung HW-A450/ZA, it’s not terribly impressive to look at. It gives you a bit of a sound boost when you hook it up, but nothing really to get excited about. At least, that’s what you’ll think until you realize it has several enhancements that you didn’t notice.
Enhancements such a graphic EQ and presets make Samsung one of the easier devices to use on the market. And while it offers a significant boost in sound, there are still some problems with it.
One of the biggest problems with the Samsung is the bass, which appears to be set at low and hard to adjust. It’s not the best device for music. This is the main complaint from most users. While it’s a perfect device for some things, it’s not as all-purpose as a soundbar should be.
It is, however, pretty good for gaming and television. Samsung has the ability to really distinguish dialogue, making it crisp and clear. It’s also very useful for when someone is sneaking up on you in a video game – their footsteps will be audible!
This is a terrific soundbar if you have someone in your home who is suffering hearing loss, as it unmuffles noises that would otherwise sound garbled.
- Television streaming capability, Roku included
- Powerful 4k streaming
- Voice remote with TV controls
- Speech clarity, volume leveling, and night mode
Streaming television has all but replaced cable for the younger generations, with multiple major corporations jumping on the bandwagon and offering their app. It’s become a strange new world, where the word “app” has suddenly replaced what once was called “channels,” but odd as it may be, it has its benefits.
One such benefit is convenience, which is one thing the Roku Smart Soundbar has capitalized on. Early soundbar/streaming combinations were failures, but the Roku appears to be the first device to get it just right.
The sound quality is pretty impressive for a bar without a subwoofer, with a broad range of volumes and little distortion at loud volumes. The streaming, the second half of the soundbar’s selling points, is an upgrade from traditional Roku devices. Small, HDMI-hooked Rokus can often have trouble loading certain apps, but there were no such issues here.
For those who still want a more impressive sound, the Roku bar also features two add-ons – a subwoofer and some wireless rear speakers. The surround experience is far superior to the subwoofer-less soundbar’s abilities. It’ll cost a little more, but it’s well worth the extra bang for your buck.
Probably the most advantageous feature is the voice remote, which lets you tell your television what to do. You can even use a headset if you don’t want to disturb others. There’s no adult way to say this, voiceless remotes are cool.
- Built-in subwoofer
- Clear Voice enhance dialogue
- Bluetooth streaming
- Easy installation
This is one of the better-looking soundbars out there, with large, blue LED lights and wrapped in a very attractive fabric. The all-in-one setup with the subwoofer and Bluetooth makes it much easier to fit anywhere you need to. There’s also no wifi connection to set up, making it a pretty easy installation.
That said, there are some drawbacks to not having a full-on wifi connection. While the Bluetooth works well and doesn’t have any connectivity issues, having wifi is always preferred.
But no one is buying soundbars for their wifi connectivity. How’s the sound, right?
The Yamaha offers some of the best, clear audio for film and television as far as sound quality goes. It’s always best to select a movie with a lot of thuds, explosions, shootouts, or generally a film with a lot of action. Fight Club, a film whose bone-crunching fight scene is a bit legendary, really sounded as good as it did upon seeing it in a theatre, with every punch making a crisp, clear connection.
Unfortunately, some of the wiring placement is a little awkward, which can make where you place the soundbar a little difficult to figure out. If you’re looking for crisp, clear voices emanating from your television set, this bar will certainly elucidate what people are saying onscreen. It’ll also accentuate the biggest explosion with ease.
- Noise-free sound boosted bass
- Rock-solid sound
- Button and remote control
- DSP technology: Digital Signal Processing from movie, music, or dialogue
For a simple, single soundbar, the Bestisan packs one surprising punch. While no soundbar can ever perfectly recreate the cinematic experience, it does a pretty good job delivering an amped-up sound. The keyword for the Bestisan is strength, and it has it in spades.
The adjustable treble and bass allow you to control the levels easily, and you’ll want to set them to your liking when playing music. If you’re familiar with mixing at all, you know that settings like these should never be set in stone. They should be adjusted depending on the artist, and those variations can be pretty significant.
Once you do set the levels properly, the sound is thoroughly impressive. It carries beyond just the living room or immediate area, making it ideal for any parties or social gatherings. For the low price, it’s truly impressive how well the sound carries.
For film and television, the DSP technology is fairly impressive. It allows you to switch seamlessly from three settings depending on what you’re watching or listening to.
A soundbar that doesn’t offer a lot of extra add-ons or features delivers a really solid, complex sound.
FAQs About the Best Soundbars Under $200
Are Soundbars Worth It?
Indeed, soundbars are absolutely worth the cost. They are an affordable, easy, and stylish way to boost the sound system offered by your television.
Most televisions are so focused on improving picture quality – and they’ve done an admirable job – that they seem to have lost sight of how important sound is.
A good quality soundbar can make the home viewing experience as close as one can get to going to the theatre, although that’ll never be perfectly mimicked. What’s more, many soundbars such as the Roku have incorporated other modern technology to offer both in one device!
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What Size Soundbar Do I Need for a 55” TV?
No matter what size television you have, there’s a simple rule for figuring out how big your soundbar should be. The screen does not measure TV screens, they are measured with the frame included. And generally, your soundbar should be slightly smaller than your screen.
So for a 55” television, anywhere from 45” to 50” should be ideal. You want a soundbar just slightly smaller than the size of your television.
Are Soundbars With Built-in Subwoofers Worth It?
A lot of soundbars come with built-in subwoofers, and they definitely enhance the audio experience. They are most important when dealing with loud or heavy bass sounds, and they are especially convenient.
It completely removes the need to buy and set up a separate subwoofer, which can be a hassle if not in cost, at least in placement.
Is it Better to Place a Soundbar Above or Below the TV?
One interesting thing that’s happened with televisions as flat screens have become the standard is the concept of placing something atop one is not very practical.
Decades past, you could use the top of your television to rest books, VHS, DVDs, and a variety of other objects. Today, it’s not feasible.
That’s why soundbars are so often placed beneath the television set. If it’s on a stand, the soundbar is usually set in front of that. However, there are several models that offer wall-mount setups. Depending on what model you have, this is a perfectly acceptable and sometimes even preferable way to set it up.
It’ll depend entirely on the space in your home. You will know how sound carries best from your television area, and you should set your soundbar where it will be able to work best.
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