Bought yourself a new TV and want to immerse yourself in a movie? Chances are the built-in speakers are lacking the oomph and audio fidelity you want—which is perfectly understandable given how thin flat screen TVs have become.
Sound-wise, you just can’t beat a fully fledged 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system for a home theater. But soundbars are an excellent alternative. They save on space and you don’t have to pull your hair out over speaker placement issues and complicated wiring. Simply place it in front or wall-mount it above your screen and enjoy a vastly superior sonic experience.
In this rundown I’ll be taking you through my top picks for soundbars that cost under $100. On a tight budget like this, higher end consumer soundbars we typically see on television commercials from the likes of Sonos, Bose and Sony are out of the question. They will also lack virtual surround sound technologies like DTS:Virtual X or Dolby Atmos.
However, there are plenty of decent budget options that confidently project sound across the room while perfectly complementing your room’s fancy decor. Some of them even feature a separate subwoofer for more immersive bass. Here is the list of soundbars we rate highest in this price bracket:
TCL is a Chinese consumer electronics company that are slowly gaining a foothold in western markets through their affordable range of electronics. They’ve become the world’s third-largest TV manufacturer by market share, so it’s unsurprising that they’ve started making soundbars.
The TCL Alto 6 and 6+ are among the best-sounding under $100 soundbars we’ve tested. They are the same 32 inch soundbar, but the Alto 6+ is the one you ideally want to go for, since it is a 2.1 channel setup which includes a wireless subwoofer. However, if space or budget are limited, the 2.0 channel Alto 6 is still a good buy.
TCL have also included all the bells and whistles we’d hope to expect from a soundbar–something that’s not always a given. HDMI ARC support, Bluetooth, Dolby Digital and a remote control are all part of the package.
There’s not much to complain about with the TCL Alto 6+. It obviously lacks Dolby Atmos virtual surround sound, but that’s a given at this price. Overall, it’s our default soundbar recommendation in this budget.
This 2.1 channel soundbar from Wohome manages to house a total of 6 speakers–four 15W dynamic drivers and two 10W tweeters. It also features two bass reflex tubes which significantly improves bass response, to the extent these types of soundbar claim to have a built-in subwoofer.
The Wohome Soloist S9920 is fairly light on nice-to-have features, lacking HDMI ARC or including any sort of mounting equipment for instance, but its a strong contender when it comes to pure audio performance. You’ll have a difficult time a better sounding standalone soundbar for the price.
Measuring 38-inches wide this is best paired with larger 40″ to 60″ televisions. Wohome do offer smaller offerings in the Soloist range, which we’d recommend if your TV is significantly smaller. You’ll want to hook it up to the TV using either the RCA or optical input at the back, but other devices can connect to it using the auxiliary input to the side or instead go wireless and pair using Bluetooth.
Perhaps our biggest criticism of the S9920 is its rather ugly, behemoth design. Speaking of design, its angled design also means sound is projected upwards. It’s therefore best positioned on a flat surface directly beneath the TV (although wall mounting holes make it possible to be positioned in various other ways).
3. TaoTronics 32-Inch Soundbar
Runner-up affordable standalone soundbar
TaoTronics is an aggressive Shenzhen tech company whose products have exploded onto the US consumer electronics market. While it’s tempting to go for the biggest soundbar you can get for they money, in reality you want one that is best-suited for your TV and room size.
Being a 32-inch soundbar, it is the ideal size for small living room or bedroom TVs. For lower volume listening, this TaoTronics soundbar delivers balanced and clear sound, and its wood grain finish gives it that touch of class you wouldn’t expect to find in the price range. It can still get pretty loud, but not without distortion and compression artifacts creeping in.
If you’re sick of the tinny sound coming from your TV and struggling to decipher important dialogue, this is a solid pick. However, those who need to fill out larger rooms will do much better going with the 38-inch Wohome soundbar or the TCL Alto 6+.
Hearing declines with age. As you get older, it becomes increasingly difficult to hear clearly the voices on the TV. Poor quality built-in speakers certainly don’t help, but even on better speakers the voices can get lost in all the other sounds.
The ZVOX AccuVoice AV100 uses patented technology to make voices clear and easy to understand. This is achieved through an onboard DSP and integrated DAC which boost the common frequencies that human voices produce. As a result, human voices are clearly heard over the music, sound effects and other background noises in the audio.
Other manufacturers advertise voice enhancement technologies on their soundbars like Yamaha’s Clear Voice and Polk’s Voice Adjust. However, ZVOX are clear leaders in this space, and none of those rudimentary technologies come close to being as effective.
While the voice assist feature is brilliant, keep in mind this is a tiny 10-inch speaker. ZVOX offer a bigger, more powerful 17-inch soundbar in the AV200, but in any case these are relatively small and should only be considered if you need the hearing assistance feature.
Vizio might be better known for their television sets, but the SB3820 soundbar is an attractive soundbar that sounds significantly better than built-in TV speakers.
Thanks to the SB3820’s Deep Bass Modules, the soundbar is capable of producing deeper lows than most of the competition. This gives it compelling sound without needing an external subwoofer, although Vizio also offer one bundled with a subwoofer for those seeking thumping lows on their movie nights.
The soundbar comes with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a soundbar today, including built-in Bluetooth, analog and digital inputs and DTS TruSurround and DTS Tru Volume.
Capable of producing up to 100dB of sound, it won’t have trouble filling larger rooms. Being a large 38-inch sound bar, this is definitely better paired with larger TV sets that have 42”+ screens. Those with smaller TVs should consider the smaller 29-inch SB2920 instead.
This rather generic and unremarkable budget soundbar is manufactured by an OEM and sold under various other badges, but the underlying components are actually quite decent.
Thanks to the angled speaker design, this soundbar projects sound upwards which makes it especially good for filling rooms when placed on low surfaces.
The two 3-inch full-range drivers can produce clear highs and mids while the dual bass ports ensure the low-end isn’t lacking. The respectable 40 watt output power is on the lower side (even for a small 28-inch soundbar) but at lower volume listening the sound quality is superior to many of the other 28-inch soundbars that boast over 100 watts of power.
The latest Bluetooth 5.0 compatibility means you can stream high quality audio files to the soundbar from your phone, and playing around with the built-in DSP’s bass and treble levels makes it possible to get the sound you want.
While a good soundbar produces a decent amount of bass by itself, having a dedicated subwoofer unit gives the bass a significant boost that will make sure you really feel the thump and kick in those action-heavy scenes.
Soundbar options are limited within the $100 budget, let alone one which bundles a separate subwoofer, so it is impressive to see a household name like Creative bring one to market.
The package is compelling, with a 40W soundbar and 40W subwoofer which can produce 160W peak power. It comes with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a soundbar, from Bluetooth connectivity to a remote control. Creative have also given the soundbar a USB port which can play your favorite MP3s off a USB thumb drive.
While it’s a decent package overall, it isn’t necessarily the perfect under-$100 soundbar. The soundbar itself is rather small (around 22-inches wide) and simply not wide enough to provide great stereo separation. Creative have also tuned the drivers to be mid-range drivers meaning unless it’s used in conjunction with the subwoofer the lower frequencies are thin. You end up with a mediocre soundbar and a mediocre subwoofer that is neither as clean as a standalone solution, nor pack the punch of a higher end 2.1 channel setup.
When we think of soundbars we normally think of long and thin bars. However, as an alternative to soundbars, some people prefer tabletop “soundbases” on which your TV is directly placed upon.
The advantage of soundbases is that because they are deeper and have more internal volume, audio engineers have more room to play with. The Pyle PSBV600BT is one of the very few budget soundbases, and it features a built-in subwoofer. The result is the sound of a soundbar + subwoofer setup but in a single box.
While the overall sound is good, the bass is slightly overpowering and the mids and treble on occasion feel drowned out. Furthermore, the soundbase lacks some features we’d like to have seen, like HDMI ARC and a better remote control. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a soundbase for under $100, this is a good option.
What Do More Expensive Soundbars Offer?
If you’re willing to increase your budget, you should check out our list of the best soundbars for under $200. Many of the included soundbars bundle a subwoofer, as higher end sound systems really benefit from a subwoofer which can reproduce sub-bass frequencies. You’ll also soundbars from more familiar brands like Samsung, Sony and Bose which don’t offer much in the under $100 price bracket.
If your budget has no limit, you’ll be looking at Dolby Atmos soundbars that cost upwards of a thousand dollars. These are true 5.1, 7.1 or 9.1-channel systems that have side-firing speakers and wireless satellite speakers. However, at that point we’d probably suggest considering an actual surround sound speaker setup with copper wiring.
More Buying Advice
How do I connect it to my TV?
Soundbars are inherently quick and easy to setup. They typically have several physical inputs as well as Bluetooth connectivity that lets you stream music to them wirelessly from your phone or tablet.
When connecting to your television, you’ll most likely want to connect to it using an optical cable. This is the most common way to do it, although connecting via a coaxial or analog RCA connection is also common.
If your home theater has a bunch of other components in the mix (e.g. Blu-ray player, games console etc.) the TV will pass audio from them to your soundbar. However, it is also possible to send the audio signal from the components to your soundbar directly. You can learn more about various configurations in this helpful guide by Crutchfield.
What about HDMI ARC?
Some soundbars feature an HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) port, which means all the audio can be handled over an HDMI cable. Assuming your TV also features an HDMI ARC port, this is another simple way of connecting the two. In this list the Creative Stage 2.1 and Wohome S29 feature HDMI ARC.
Despite intending to simplify connecitivity, many people have ironically run into problems using HDMI ARC and find themselves preferring optical. At this point it is hard to recommend the presence of ARC as a reason for picking a particular soundbar.
What Does The USB Port Do?
Very little, actually. They are typically included for firmware updates, although now sound bars can be updated by more up-to-date means. They also let you play music from a thumb drive, but who does that anymore?
What are Sound Bar “Channels”?
You can think of each channel as a source of sound occupying a different spatial position. For example, in a 5.1 surround sound home theater setup, you have center, left, right, left-rear and right-rear channels.
Budget soundbars are typically limited to either 2.0 (left/right) or 2.1 (left/right with subwoofer). However, DSP can help give you the illusion that sound is coming from different directions.
The width of the soundbar itself can give you an idea of how good stereo separation is. The further the left and right speaker are, the clearer it becomes which side the sound is coming from.
What is the difference between a Passive and Active Soundbar?
Passive soundbars are those that need to be ‘driven’ by a separate amplifier or receiver. They are not very common, as one of the selling points of a soundbar is their simplicity.
Active soundbars have an amplifier built-in. All of the soundbars listed in this roundup are active.