Most televisions have two 10-watt speakers, giving them a total "power" of the sound of 20 watts. For comparison, most smartphones have a power of about 1.2 watts. But due to the fact that televisions provide larger and fancier screen sizes every year (55 inches have become the average size of a TV in the US), the need for large sound to fit large screens has only increased. This is where soundbars appear - compact audio devices that deliver hundreds of watts of sound.
If you have a mid-range TV or even a high-end device, spending a few hundred on a soundbar can really make the difference between a good night movie and one that knocks you down. If you just want to get the best soundbar under 500, you are in the right place.
For the convenience of your choice, we checked the most highly rated and well-studied soundbars on the market right now and found the sound quality and features for any budget.
All models in our ranking have Bluetooth support, and can also connect to a subwoofer wirelessly (the kit includes wireless subwoofer). Additionally, all devices support connection to the subwoofer, but not all soundbars have included subwoofers.
Compact (2.7 kg, 980 x 60 x 110.5 mm) and stylish soundbar with a weighty wireless subwoofer (180 x 437 x 401 mm, 9.4 kg). The highlight of the model is surround sound in the DTS Virtual:X format. There are also a number of decoders onboard: Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby Digital 5.1, and even DTS Digital Surround.
Separately, it is worth noting the function of Yamaha MusicCast. This means that the soundbar can play music from your home UPnP server, Internet radio or through streaming services; both in wired mode (Ethernet network) and in wireless scenarios (WiFi (2.4 / 5 GHz), AirPlay, Bluetooth Ver. 4.2 EDR / A2DP, AVRCP (up to 10 m) are supported).
The number of supported file formats is amazing - consider it yourself: MP3 / WMA / MPEG-4 AAC: up to 48 kHz / 16 bits, ALAC: up to 96 kHz / 24 bits, FLAC / WAV / AIFF: up to 192 kHz / 24 bits. Such a set is rather the prerogative of full-fledged streamers. But this is not all: Yamaha MusicCast allows you to "connect in one click" additional wireless surround speakers to the system (with a MusicCast Surround certificate - for example, Yamaha MusicCast 20 or MusicCast 50), expanding the listening area.
Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400 DSP options include activation of ClearVoice modes (improved intelligibility of dialogs), enhanced bass, as well as standard tuning modes for different types of phonograms (music, television programs, movies, sports, video games). There is also compatibility with the Amazon Alexa voice control service - just great.
What is the Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400 "under the hood"? Four 4.6 cm midrange / woofers with high overload capacity are installed in the central unit. They operate in the range from 160 to 9,000 Hz; "From above" the system is supplemented by two 2.5-cm dome tweeters (from 9 kHz to 23,000 Hz). The power of the built-in amplifier is 100 watts. A dedicated subwoofer with a 16-cm low-frequency woofer and the same 100W amplifier works for bass. The reserve is enough to sound a room of 20 sq.m. So we can name this device the greatest among the best soundbars under $500.
Samsung HW-N650 is a good choice for the price. However, there is nothing outstanding. I transmitted music via Bluetooth, watched movies, turned on sound modes, and everything worked as it should.
The brushed metal chassis and the heavy, durable subwoofer certainly satisfy all the requirements. With 340 watts of total sound power, the HW-N650 is by far one of the loudest combinations of soundbar and subwoofer I've tested, and it is designed to withstand all the rumble of speakers and speakers, allowing it to clarify the sound with great clarity.
However, the biggest advantage of the NW-650 (after its considerable size), apparently, is how well it works with Samsung TVs: you can easily and reliably connect Bluetooth to them, creating a wireless setting that will surely appeal to you lovers of minimalism and noisy AV. Its general set of functions - not to mention its responsiveness, the state of the LED indicator, and all the smallest details - is otherwise rather average, which is not bad at all.
This is a simple, easy-to-configure product (especially if you have a Samsung TV) that has a dedicated central channel (which provides better support for the middle range, i.e., for voices).
The N650 connectivity looks good on paper, especially when you consider the inclusion of Bluetooth.
However, upon closer inspection, the connection is not so impressive, especially compared to last year's soundbars or competitions. The number of HDMI inputs is also rather scarce given the price, but you can always use ARC to send sound from the TV to the N650 via HDMI. For reasons that they themselves know best, Samsung opted not to support end-to-end HDR transmission, despite using HDMI 2.0 connections.
The N650 supports 5.1 channel versions of both Dolby Digital and DTS, but cannot decode lossless formats and thus does not support Dolby Atmos or DTS:X.
We appreciated the sound in the empty meeting room and one of the "loaded" rooms of our editor's apartment. The difference is really tangible - the "virtuality" of the 5.1 format does not affect the laws of physics in any way. On the contrary, this format requires more predictable reflections for the perception of surround sound: in other words, empty space, as in a cinema.
There are no complaints about the sound quality: medium and high frequencies are transmitted in full, sometimes there are not enough low frequencies when playing special effects. Ideally, the viewer should be in front of the center speaker, but even an offset of 1-2 meters ("within the sofa") allows you to enjoy the surrounding sound. The most interesting thing is that even away from the soundbar, the sound remains quite decent, although you can only guess about the virtual "location" of objects.
If you need Atmos surround effects, but you're not interested in an AV receiver and lots of speakers, the Vizio SB36512-F6 will be the music for your ears. SB36512 is not only the first Atmos soundbar but also a fairly high-quality device, which is the best 5.1 soundbar under 500 dollars.
The SB36512-F6 not only provides great sound but also has all the necessary connectivity options. The only detail is the lack of DTS:X decoding.
SB36512-F6 is quite limited by its black fabric film and silver tips. At the top of the panel is a pair of upward-facing speakers designed to emit Atmos effects into the room. There is a limited number of controls at the top, and a 36-inch wide rear rail is mounted on the wall at the back.
The main design flaw SB36512 is the same as any other Vizio in recent years - super basic "display" on the device. This is just a set of LED points that can be useful for measuring the volume level but do not give results when displaying which input is currently active.
The wireless subwoofer is a black and silver box with a 6-inch woofer. This device helps the entire system to fall to the declared frequency of 40 Hz. Vizio has five different types of physical connection: HDMI input/output (with ARC), coaxial, optical, USB (for playing WAV files), and a 3.5 mm analog input connector. Wireless connections include WiFi with integrated Chromecast and Bluetooth.
The remote control is a real magic wand, not a plastic brick, and it even includes a single-line LCD display, which is very useful for changing advanced settings or adjusting the soundbar.
As for the performance of the subwoofer as a home theater sound effects flying above your head and through the room, thanks to Atmos pitch channels, create a bewitching feeling of a real movie show. The perfect coordination of the front and rear speakers allows us to feel at the premiere of the long-awaited film.
Despite the fact that the musical fragments of SB36512 were slightly higher than the average for soundbars, it still did not sound as good as a home theater. Given the very reasonable price, the Vizio SB36512 is getting closer to the sound of the Dolby Atmos AV receiver and multi-channel speaker system.
If you can adapt the wires and want to upgrade them beyond typical soundbars, the SB36512 deserves serious consideration.
The compact design includes dedicated rear speakers. The number of inputs exceeds the number of competitors with Bluetooth, HDMI input/output, and Chromecast WiFi music.
The superb Vizio SB36512-F6 combines Dolby Atmos effects in a compact soundbar with rear speakers and a subwoofer - all at a very affordable price.
Sonos Beam is among the most popular soundbars in the world (for a good reason). The Beam isn't cheap, but it's made with Sonos signature attention to detail and fast-moving minimalism, making it the most compact in a line of the best soundbars under 500.
The first thing I noticed in Beam was that it takes a completely different approach than many other soundbars we tested. For one, there is no external subwoofer turned on. There is also no Bluetooth function - to transfer music to Beam wirelessly, you need to pair it with the Sonos app and use WiFi. The Beam selects some accessibility paths for the sake of consistent streaming quality (and possibly a sense of exclusivity and security). Instead of feeling lost, it is like Sonos expressing confidence that Beam is a product that costs less than an open system.
But besides the feeling of a well-designed design and a more "closed" streaming atmosphere, Beam is people's favorite soundbar because its sound quality is really impressive. Whether you're watching a movie or listening to music, Beam just sounds great, providing a good frequency presence from low to high frequencies. It is easy to customize for various music genres, and despite the fact that there is no external subwoofer, there is enough bass in such a compact bar.
Although I would express confidence in Beam and its awards based solely on its software/hardware design and sound quality, it is also one of the few tests that we carried to intelligently integrate Amazon Alexa. But if there are two things that Sonos seems to understand well, this is sound quality and the creation of a tough, functional ecosystem that shines through with Beam. It does not have the majority of functions and does not have the largest number of drivers/speakers among all the top soundbars we tested, but it just does everything with undeniable polishing and delivery.
Thanks to its switching capabilities, the Sonos Beam is superior to the PlayBar. The presence of an HDMI input with ARC support, which now appeared in the Sonos soundbar, was sorely lacking in the older model. This can be done about switching because, in addition to the Ethernet connection and WiFi module, this device has nothing. An HDMI cable with ARC support is all you need to connect. With this connection, all control of the audio system can be carried out from the remote control of your TV.
Like all other Sonos devices, the Beam soundbar does not have its own control panel. Do not forget to indicate in the TV settings that the sound should go to the corresponding HDMI output. The lack of a Bluetooth connection is a little disappointing. Sometimes this is more convenient than running the application.
The first thing I noticed in the 31.5 x 4 x 1.8-inch Soundbar 500 is how thin it is - it is noticeably thinner than the Sonos Beam 25.6 x 3.9 x 2.7 inches. But the size of the Soundbar 500 is contrary to the power and fullness of the sound it produces.
The device has one HDMI input, which you connect to the TV to use HDMI ARC as a sound source; this means that you need to connect all video sources to the TV, not the soundbar. If your TV does not have support HDMI ARC, you can use the optical digital audio input. You can also connect wirelessly via WiFi, Bluetooth, or AirPlay 2.
The soundbar itself has only two buttons: one to turn off the microphone, and the other to turn on the voice assistant. It comes with a remote for controlling volume and switching inputs. The free Bose Music app offers more features. Like Sonos Beam, you can add speakers to the system, including a wireless subwoofer and satellites.
For voice assistant, you must choose either Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa - you cannot activate both at the same time. However, you can switch assistants through the Bose Music app.
The Soundbar 500 perfectly displays dialogs and produces impressive bass for a small device without a subwoofer - especially when listening to music. The soundbar provides wide sound despite its small area.
Bose Adaptiq room calibration process is a bit awkward since you have to wear a headset that measures the sound from five places in the room (this is what the TruePlay process in Sonos - when you walk around the room swinging your phone up and down - seems less embarrassing).
The Bose Soundbar 500 is easy to use and sounds good for its size - exactly what you expect from a Bose. With the ability to add a subwoofer and satellites, this can be the basis for a reliable home theater sound system.
Although it lacks the features that can be obtained with other soundbars in the price range - especially with Dolby Atmos support and HDMI inputs - it competes with Sonos Beam in sound and simplicity. The choice between the Soundbar 500 and Beam depends on which brand you prefer. If you already have Bose speakers that work with the Bose Music app, the Soundbar 500 is a great addition to your sound system.