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. However, there are plenty of decent budget options that confidently project sound across the room while perfectly complementing your room’s fancy decor.
1. TaoTronics 32-Inch Soundbar
Great sound and great design at a great price
TaoTronics is an aggressive Shenzhen tech company whose products have exploded onto the US consumer electronics market. This 32-inch soundbar is currently the best selling soundbar on Amazon and it’s easy to see why.
Being a 32-inch soundbar, it is the ideal size for medium-sized living room or bedroom TVs. For lower volume listening, this TaoTronics soundbar sounds better than almost all of its sub-$100 competition, and its wood grain finish gives it that touch of class you wouldn’t expect to find in the price range.
If you’re sick of the tinny sound coming from your TV and struggling to decipher important dialogue, this is our current recommendation. However, those who need to fill out larger rooms will want to look at the 38-inch soundbar from Vizio (below) or be prepared to increase their budget.
2. VIZIO SB3820 38-Inch Sound Bar
Top pick for larger TV screens
Vizio might be better known for their television sets, but the SB3820 soundbar is an attractive soundbar that sounds significantly better than any 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.
3. Wohome 32-Inch Soundbar with Built-in Subwoofer
Punchy bass without the need for an external subwoofer
This 2.1 channel soundbar from Wohome packs in two 20W full-range drivers and a 20W subwoofer that can produce up to 97dB of sound with less than 1% total harmonic distortion.
2.1 setups typically imply a sound bar and a separate subwoofer, but Wohome have put the woofer in the soundbar itself. The result is more convincing bass. Being rated a measly 20W, the subwoofer can’t really match separate subwoofer units (even the smallest ones), but nevertheless it does give the audio some ear-pleasing depth and texture.
At 32-inches wide this is best paired with 32”+ TV sets. 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.
The angled design means sound is projected upwards. It is 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.
4. Megacra TV Sound Bar With Dual Bass Ports
Angled speakers for better directed sound
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.
5. Creative Stage 2.1 Channel Soundbar
A highly affordable soundbar + subwoofer bundle
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 well-established brand like Creative bring one to the 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.
6. TCL Alto 5 2.0
The perfect soundbar for shoestring budgets
Chinese manufacturer TCL are quickly taking over the domestic electronics market and it’s no surprise that they’re now focusing their energy abroad. The TCL Alto 5 is a generously packaged 50W (25W x 2), 32-inch soundbar that costs a tiny fraction of those produced by more internationally recognized brands.
It’s bog-standard in appearance and its sound is good but not best-in-budget either. However, it’s difficult to fault it at the price it retails for. Especially when you consider the amount of accessories they’ve included in the box—which includes a remote control, a host of different audio cables and a wall mounting kit.
The soundbar can also be purchased as a 2.1 channel system that includes a wireless subwoofer. However, the resulting sound signature is rather bass heavy and at that price point we’d just get the Creative instead. Overall, we prefer it as a standalone soundbar to be purchased as a cheaper alternative to the TaoTronics and VIZIO soundbars included in this roundup.
7. Wohome S29 38-Inch 80W Soundbar
Best sound at louder volumes
Another soundbar from Wohome, the S29 somehow manages to house 2 tweeters, 2 mid-range drivers and 2 subwoofers. This gives it an impressive 40Hz-20kHz frequency range and makes it able to reach a deafening 105dB.
You most likely won’t find yourself cranking up the volume to the max. But with any speaker, listening at higher volumes means distortion begins to creep in. The S29 can get plenty loud before noticeable distortion kicks in. So if you are trying to fill a larger room, this would be our recommendation.
Looking at its downsides, the mids are quite flat and the actual enclosure is quite ugly, in my opinion. The rounded design, silver trim and shiny plastic rear just doesn’t work.
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.