Best smart soundbar for 2022
Best smart soundbar for 2022
Everything is “smart” these days, and if you want a way to combine your voice assistant, music streaming and your TV, then a complete solution sound bar is what you need. You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for great quality either. Most top brands start at just over $100.
Before showing you the choices, it’s worth distinguishing between a smart soundbar and a Smart-TV. While a smart TV usually means it has built-in streaming apps, a smart soundbar instead has a voice assistant — usually Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. The exceptions here are the Roku Cast Bar and Streambar Pro (formerly smart soundbar), which have streaming apps and an optional always-on assistant.
The compact Roku streaming bar plugs into your TV’s HDMI ARC port and functions as both a 4K streamer and soundbar. We found the Streambar easy to set up, and it sounds great for the size, especially with dialogue. To make the soundbar really smart, the $30 Voice Remote Pro adds an always-on voice assistant, handy for finding new shows and even the remote itself.
Read our Roku Streambar review.
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The Polk React with DTS Virtual Surround Sound is a unique soundbar upgrade to one of my favorite smart soundbars, the Polk Command Bar. Although it lacks the subwoofer, you can always buy an extra one, and the rears too. 3D surround sound technology delivers excellent sound quality and the onboard Alexa is responsive. If you can afford it, it’s worth spending the extra $80 on the Yamaha YAS-209 for its subwoofer and extra HDMI port.
Read our Polk React review.
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The Yamaha YAS-209 offers excellent sound quality in a compact soundbar with built-in Amazon Alexa voice control. The mics work well in noisy environments and you can use them to stream music. DTS Virtual:X surround sound delivers a rich effect reminiscent of surround sound speakers, and the smart soundbar comes with an articulating wireless subwoofer. Unfortunately, the Yamaha YAS-209 soundbar doesn’t use the company’s MusicCast system, so it won’t sync with other Yamaha speakers. The YAS-209 is currently out of stock, but the identical Costco version called ATS-2090 may be available instead.
Read our Yamaha YAS-209 review.
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With the addition of Dolby Atmos, the Sonos Beam Gen 2 is now the mid-priced smart soundbar to get. It offers a choice of Alexa or Google voice assistant, and the Sonos ecosystem is one of the best music streaming platforms. You might miss deep bass without a sub, but this compact speaker makes your movies sound huge with its virtual surround capabilities.
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The Sonos Arc is the adult version of the Beam and offers a number of upgrades for the extra cash. The first is the use of dedicated and upgraded Dolby Atmos speakers, giving it an edge in movies, and the second is more drivers and a bigger cabinet for better bass performance. Otherwise, it’s another great Sonos offering with the choice of voice assistants and the best music streaming system.
Read our Sonos Arc review.
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How I test soundbars
At CNET, I test audio gear ranging from compact soundbars to surround sound speaker systems, but regardless of the device, my methodology is largely the same. I always compare products with one or more reference devices that offer the best performance at a similar price.
When it comes to soundbars, I want to see how well a system works with music as well as movies, since most people will want to do both. I watch from a handful of test scenes from 4K Blu-ray or streamed from a 4K streaming service (Vudu, for example) and evaluate things like bass performance and clarity of dialogues. I also use a number of test music tracks and evaluate all streaming features such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Systems that can work well with both types of entertainment inevitably get the best scores.
See my how to buy a sound bar for more features and other things to consider when looking for a new system.
Smart Soundbar FAQ
What is a smart soundbar used for?
While a smart soundbar is usually used to describe a soundbar with a built-in voice assistant, it can also mean a soundbar with video streaming capabilities, like the Roku Streambar. A smart soundbar is often used both as a streaming device and to control other smart home devices via voice. The two assistants typically included with soundbars are Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
It’s worth noting that adding a separate Google Nest mini or Amazon Echo device to an existing internet-connected soundbar can often yield the same capabilities as a smart soundbar. The added benefit is that it doesn’t freeze your soundbar when you ask it a question.
Can you use a smart soundbar on any TV?
Since most TVs these days are smart TVs, it doesn’t matter if the soundbar is smart or not, the combination should still work perfectly. A smart soundbar will add voice capabilities to any system. The Roku Streambar will also work with an existing smart TV, and you can choose the TV or soundbar as your primary streaming device.
Can you choose which voice assistant a smart soundbar uses?
There are two types of smart soundbars: one that offers a single voice assistant (usually Amazon Alexa) and one that offers the choice of Google Assistant or Alexa. The Polk React and Yamaha YAS-209 are two examples of Alexa-only soundbars, while Bose Smart Soundbars and Sonos products offer both assistants.
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