When it comes to watching movies or just regular TV programme, there’s a surprising amount of people who underestimate the importance of good audio.
Sure, a good TV might have decent speakers, but having a dedicated audio solution is quite honestly a whole different level.
Now, the problem comes with the fact that not everyone has the room for a 5.1 or even a 2.1 system in their room, so having dedicated speakers and a receiver and amplifier might be out of the question.
To add to this, such systems are oftentimes expensive and might be out of your budget.
Enter soundbars. A soundbar is a great way to replace your TV’s built-in speakers and get higher quality audio, without having a complex solution that takes up a lot of space, and without spending a lot of money.
They’re compact, come with or without a subwoofer, and depending on the quality, can make anything from a significant to a truly mindblowing difference.
The reason why they work so well is rather simple – they are just a dedicated speaker, and a much larger one compared to the ones you already have on your TV.
This allows them to give you a more powerful, cleaner sound, which is well worth it when enjoying a movie.
So, now that we’ve concluded that a soundbar is a pretty good investment to make, how about we take a look at a few options?
We’ll start by looking at things you should look for in a soundbar, and then we’ll take a look at the best budget soundbars on the market.
Things To Look For In A Soundbar
When it comes to soundbars, things are rather simple.
However, there are a few functionalities that can make your entire experience a lot better, so let’s take a look at what you should be looking for in a soundbar.
Just a soundbar, or a woofer, too?
To begin with, you should see whether the model you’ve chosen is just a soundbar or a soundbar with a subwoofer.
Make no mistake, a good soundbar will get you deep bass without a subwoofer, but having a dedicated subwoofer always makes things better.
Note that a subwoofer will very likely increase the price, especially if it’s a wireless one.
However, it’s usually worth it when you want a bit more bass and don’t want messy cables all around your room.
Virtual surround is a thing
Next, you should check whether you’re looking at a 2-channel or a 5-channel soundbar.
Yes, even though 5-channel systems tend to have satellite speakers behind you, some higher-end soundbars do a great job of recreating the experience of a 5-channel system.
Within the budget range, however, chances are you’re looking at a 2-channel subwoofer, but if you can spring for it, by all means, go for virtual five channels.
HDMI ARC adds convenience
Even though most of the soundbars you’ll come across do have this covered, you’ll want to make sure the model you go for has ARC or Audio Return Channel.
This allows you to use a single remote for both your TV and your soundbar and lets you connect them with a single HDMI cable, provided you have a CEC-enabled TV.
Make sure you can stream from your phone
Last but not least, you could consider some additional functionalities. For example, you could come across at customizable voice levels, or in the case of most modern soundbars – Bluetooth.
While the soundbar is primarily used for your TV, Bluetooth connectivity can let you stream music from your smartphone or tablet on that same soundbar, without connecting any extra cables.
Best Budget Soundbar 2021 Review Guide
With all of this out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the best budget soundbars on the market today.
We’re kicking things off with the Sony HT-S100F. This is a very wallet-friendly soundbar that has a slim profile and fits rather well in front of just about any TV set.
One thing you’ll note is that this is a two-channel soundbar that has no subwoofer.
Well, Sony decided that they don’t want you to pay for a subwoofer, and instead, they’ve opted for a Bass Reflex speaker, which delivers surprisingly punchy bass without any compromises in clarity and details.
And yes, it does a great job, and the bass you get from the HT-S100F is rather good.
It’s not just the bass – Sony has implemented their S-Force front surround technology which attempts to emulate surround sound using only two channels.
Unfortunately, you don’t get the same experience as a dedicated 5.1 system, but for a budget soundbar, the sound you get is surprisingly clean and good.
Now, Sony does have a habit of putting as many extra features in their products as they possibly can, and the HT-S100F is no exception.
To begin with, you do have HDMI ARC, which lets your TV and your soundbar communicate with just a single HDMI cable.
This makes things rather convenient, and so does the inclusion of Bluetooth and USB. When you don’t want to use your TV as a source for audio, you can either stream from your smartphone or tablet or connect a USB device and use that as a source.
Overall, the HT-S100F is a great, compact, wallet-friendly choice for anyone looking for a quality soundbar that doesn’t take up a lot of space.
- Compact design that saves space
- HDMI ARC support
- Bass Reflex speaker
- No dedicated subwoofer
- Surround sound isn’t all that immersive
Polk Audio is no stranger to the world of budget home audio. The Signa lineup has three soundbar models, and the Signa S2 sits at the top of the range.
This is a budget soundbar that comes with a pretty good subwoofer, as well as Polk’s Voice Adjust technology and Dolby Digital decoding.
The main thing about the Signa S2 is that it’s a low-profile soundbar that sits at only two inches tall. It won’t be blocking your TV’s remote, and it’s still large enough for some great speakers to be placed inside.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 decoding promises room-filling sound, and to some extent, you do get it. It’s not as good as a dedicated system, but that’s not the point either.
We also mentioned the Polk VoiceAdjust technology which helps make dialogue a bit clearer, something that’s critical with movies and shows.
As far as the subwoofer goes, it does a pretty great job at delivering punchy bass whenever you need it to. There’s also the fact that it’s wireless, so you don’t have any unsightly cables going from it to the soundbar.
You do have additional functionality in the shape of a Bluetooth module, so you can easily stream music from a compatible device.
There’s even a dedicated music mode which can modify the soundbar’s equalizer settings for a better audio experience.
While we’re discussing modes, it’s worth mentioning Night Mode, which is a one-button mode that will lower the bass levels and use VoiceADjust to clear up the dialogue, allowing you to enjoy your movie without disturbing everyone in your home.
- Dedicated wireless subwoofer
- VoiceAdjust technology for clearer dialogue
- Bluetooth wireless streaming
- The length might make it too big for some setups
If you’re willing to pony up a bit more for a great experience, Sony’s 2.1 channel HT-S350 should be one of the soundbars you’re looking at.
Even though slightly pricier than some of the other models we’re looking at on our list, it’s very much worth its asking price, and comes with a great feature set.
This being a 2.1 channel soundbar, you do get a dedicated subwoofer, and Sony included a wireless one, so no cables have to go from it to the soundbar.
However, this also means that you don’t get the Bass Reflex speaker in the soundbar that Sony tends to include in other budget models.
This allows them to include the S-Force PRO Front Surround speakers instead, which does a great job. Well, much better than the regular S-Force system, especially as far as immersion goes.
Overall, the sound is great, and you have punchy bass and very large, spacious sound. The 6.3” speaker unit on the subwoofer does a great job.
Sony did include HDMI ARC for a single-cable communication between your TV and the soundbar, as well as an optical input, and Bluetooth.
If your TV has Bluetooth, you can even connect it to the soundbar wirelessly, too, which is rather neat. Or, you can stream music from any Bluetooth-enabled device.
Last but not least, another part of why this soundbar is slightly more expensive is the build quality.
Not only is this a very sturdy, wall-mountable option, but Sony also included high-quality materials and paid attention to the finish – the front metal section looks nice. If you’re willing to spend a bit more, the HT-S350 is a great choice.
- Wireless subwoofer and option for wireless connectivity
- S-Force PRO for immersive sound
- Excellent build quality and materials
- More expensive than what some would consider “budget”
- A rather large soundbar length
Klipsch R-10B – Best Budget Soundbar 2021
And so, we arrive at the most expensive pick of the bunch, the Klipsch R-10B. Many enthusiasts will recognize the brand as one of the most popular home audio manufacturers, which does drive the price of the R-10B up a bit.
However, it’s still one of the best budget soundbars out there, so let’s take a better look at it.
First things first, Klipsch includes a wireless subwoofer for a bit of extra oomph in the bass department. It’s a rather large unit, but only needs a power cable so less cable management for you, and it does pack quite a punch.
The soundbar itself has two horn-loaded dome tweeters, as well as two 2.5” woofers, which overall gets you very spacious sound, both when you need clear dialogue, and when there’s intense action going on. The sound is overall impressive in any regard.
One thing we were particularly impressed by was the Virtual Surround Mode.
Just like with most modern soundbars, this tries to emulate the immersion of a 5.1 system, but unlike most, this one does a great job. You’ll feel like you’re right in the middle of everything that’s going on.
In terms of additional functionality, you have Bluetooth with aptX, so you can stream music wirelessly from a tablet or smartphone.
Unfortunately, there’s no mention of HDMI ARC, which is a shame at this price point and is the only bad thing in an otherwise excellent soundbar.
Finally, the build quality and design are both phenomenal – Klipsch have a reputation in this regard, and they certainly live up to it with the R-10B.
- Wireless subwoofer for 2.1 channels
- Virtual Surround Mode works very well
- Bluetooth with aptX
- No HDMI ARC functionality
- Quite expensive for a budget soundbar
Conclusion – what’s the Best Budget Soundbar?
Even though it’s the most expensive of the bunch, the Klipsch R-10B soundbar comes out as the clear winner here.
Not only does it look stunning, but the sound is on another level, especially when you turn on the virtual surround functionality.
The dialogue is clear and crisp, the bass is punchy and quite intense, and overall you have great sound quality.
Also, the price is further justified by the inclusion of Bluetooth aptX which lets you stream lossless music with rather high quality, and the possibility to wall mount the R-10B.