Soundbars can be a decent option when you don’t have the room for a full home theater setup. You also don’t have to spend thousands to get a good performing product that'll do a better job than most TV speakers. Whether you need a full Atmos setup or a good 2.1 system, there’s a lot of options available at a decent price point.
We’ve tested nearly 30 soundbars and below are our recommendations for the best soundbars under $500 in 2020. See also our recommendations for the best soundbars, the best Dolby Atmos soundbars if you watch a lot of movies, and the best budget soundbars if you’re on an even tighter budget.
The best soundbar under $500 that we’ve tested to date is the Vizio SB36512-F6. It's a 5.1.2 Atmos compatible setup that consists of a soundbar, a wireless subwoofer, and two rear satellites with upwards-firing speakers to help create the fully immersive listening experience. It offers great price-to-performance ratio, offering a ton of features for considerably less than most other options. Its connectivity choices are excellent and it even has a 3.5mm aux input for plugging in phones, something many other soundbars lack.
The sound reproduction of this soundbar is good and is quite well-balanced and neutral sounding. The dedicated subwoofer adds a good amount of thump and rumble, though unfortunately, we noticed audible sub-bass port noise when the soundbar's volume was pushed to its limits. The rear satellite speakers provide good localization, and you get fully immersed in the surround sound, but unfortunately, they need to be plugged into the wireless subwoofer, which limits where you can place the sub in your space.
Unfortunately, the soundstage coming from the bar itself is only decent, as it comes straight out the front and doesn't do any tricks to widen the soundstage by using side-firing speakers. The setup also doesn't look and feel quite as premium as some other 5.1 setups we've tested, though that's expected at its low price point, and it still doesn't feel cheap. Overall, this soundbar provides the best bang for your buck and despite its low price point should please most people.
If you want a 5.1 setup but don't have room for dedicated rear satellites and like to be able to customize the sound profile of your speakers, get the Samsung HW-Q60R. It doesn't support Atmos like the Vizio SB36512-F6, and its surround performance isn't as good, but it feels more premium and better built and has more customization options like dialogue enhancement and a graphic EQ. While this 5.1 setup doesn't have actual rear speakers, it uses what Samsung calls Acoustic Beam to create a similar surround effect from the front bar itself. Unfortunately, this doesn't work as well as dedicated satellites, and it won't do as good a job at fully immersing you in sound.
Get the Vizio if you have the room for rear satellites and want a full immersive 5.1.2 Atmos experience, but if you're concerned about living room clutter and like to be able to customize your sound profile, go for the Samsung.
The best soundbar under $500 for dialogue we’ve reviewed is the Samsung HW-R650. It's a 3.1 setup that includes a dedicated subwoofer and a center channel. It has a premium build quality and the subwoofer connects to the soundbar wirelessly, making its positioning much easier. There's a good selection of inputs, but sadly, it doesn't support 4k 60Hz passthrough. It does have Bluetooth support, though, so you can stream content from mobile devices.
The overall sound profile is decent, but it lacks sub-bass. Fortunately, this soundbar has a graphic EQ to customize the sound, as well as subwoofer adjustments and a dialogue enhancement feature. The dedicated center channel is great for dialogue-heavy content, as it helps to improve speech clarity. Although this soundbar supports virtual surround sound, all surround content will get downmixed to a stereo configuration.
Overall, this is a versatile soundbar that can handle most content decently well and is a great choice for those who mainly watch a lot of dialogue-heavy content.
The best small soundbar under $500 we’ve tested is the Sonos Beam. It's a standalone soundbar that can be easily upgraded to a full surround sound setup. It has a relatively small footprint and should fit between the legs of most TVs at or above 55 inches. The build quality is great and it feels robust, but the fabric can get damaged. Although this soundbar has very few inputs available, it does have some wireless capability, as you can cast to the soundbar via Wi-Fi and it supports Apple AirPlay.
This soundbar has a well-balanced sound profile, but without a subwoofer, it lacks some sub-bass. However, there are quite a few sound enhancement features available to customize the sound, such as room correction, dialogue enhancement, as well as treble and bass adjustments. Unfortunately, this soundbar doesn't support any virtual surround sound format, so all surround content gets downmixed to a stereo configuration.
If you're looking for a small soundbar but want to keep your options open for future upgrades, the Sonos Beam is a very good choice.
The best 2.1 soundbar under $500 we’ve tested is the Yamaha YAS-408BL; it's also known as the MusicCast Bar 400. It's a good performing soundbar that comes with a decent wireless subwoofer that delivers a good amount of bass. It's noticeably better-built than the cheaper Yamaha YAS-207, but the performance isn’t that much better.
Its sound profile is great with stereo content, with an extended bass for a thumpy and punchy experience on top of having great mid and treble performance. This will result in great performance regardless of the stereo content you listen to. It can also get pretty loud, although we don’t recommend pushing the bar to its limits as there's some compression in the bass range and you might hear some distortion as well.
This soundbar also lacks sound enhancement features like an EQ, although it might not need one if you’re looking for a neutral sound reproduction. However, it lacks a night mode, which would have been useful. On the upside, it has tons of connection options, whether you play content wired or wirelessly. If you don’t care about the metal grill and just want a straightforward soundbar that offers great performance, you can also check out the cheaper Yamaha YAS-207.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best soundbars under $500 for most people to buy. We factor in the price (a cheaper soundbar wins over a pricier one if the difference isn't worth it), feedback from our visitors, and availability (no soundbars that are difficult to find or almost out of stock everywhere).
If you would like to choose for yourself, here's the list of all our soundbar reviews under that price point. Be careful not to get caught up in the details. No soundbar is perfect. Personal taste, preference, and listening habits will matter more in your selection.
01/09/2020: Minor text and structure changes, no change in recommendations.
12/06/2019: Only minor updates to the text and verification for accuracy; no changes in product picks.