Are you struggling to hear the dialogue during intense movie scenes? Do action sequences lack impact with weak bass and wimpy explosions? Does the audio from your slick new 4K TV sound hollow and tinny? Don’t settle for lackluster sound that ruins the experience. The solution is adding a compact soundbar specially designed to enhance your TV’s audio performance.
Built-in TV speakers often leave much to be desired. Space constraints mean they are small with limited bass response. This results in quiet, unintelligible dialogue and disappointing overall sound quality. Why invest in cutting edge 4K or OLED display technology only to neglect the audio?
That’s where a compact soundbar comes in. These all-in-one speaker units sit right below your TV to provide louder, clearer, deeper sound. Music, movies, TV shows, sports and more all benefit from the audio boost. Dialogue is clearer. Effects are more immersive. Music has better presence. It’s a night and day difference over integrated TV speakers.
Compact soundbars are the ideal audio upgrade for today’s thin, wall mounted TVs. Much more affordable and space efficient than a component surround sound system, they provide serious sonic benefits without complexity. In this guide, we cover our picks for the top compact soundbars based on performance, design, features and overall value. Let’s boost your TV’s weak link and make the most of your home entertainment experience!
Our Top Pick – An Impressive All-Rounder With Great Sound
Searching for the best overall compact soundbar? Look no further than the Acme ZX-25. This 25-inch soundbar packs impressive audio technology into a compact, TV-ready design perfect for smaller spaces.
Let’s start with sound quality. With a dedicated woofer and dual tweeters powered by 100 watts of amplification, the ZX-25 belts out audio with deep bass, crisp highs and exceptional midrange clarity. Dual integrated subwoofers provide thumping low-end well beyond your TV’s capabilities, letting you truly feel the action in movies and music. Distortion-limiting technology keeps the sound clean even at high volumes.
Acme utilizes advanced digital signal processing to simulate 3D surround sound effects from just two speakers and a woofer. While not literally as immersive as discrete surround speakers, the ZX-25 does create a spacious, room-filling soundstage beyond that of a traditional soundbar. This enhances the cinematic effect with movies and TV.
The streamlined rectangular design measuring just 2.75 inches tall fits perfectly in front of wall-mounted TVs or centered on a media console. The tempered glass top and stain-resistant fabric wrap lend an elegant, high-end look. Integrated mount points make attachment under wall-mounted displays a breeze. Despite its svelte form, the ZX-25 still weighs in at a reassuring 7 pounds showing Acme didn’t sacrifice quality materials.
For connectivity, the ZX-25 includes an HDMI ARC port for direct digital audio connections to the TV as well as analog and optical inputs. Bluetooth 4.2 provides cable-free music streaming from your mobile devices. Physical controls up top handle playback adjustments while built-in IR learning allows control via your TV remote.
Priced at $375, the Acme ZX-25 hits the sweet spot of balancing great audio performance and features with reasonable cost. For a serious sonic upgrade over integrated TV speakers, the ZX-25 is our top overall choice among compact soundbars.
A Slimmed-Down Runner Up With Clear, Balanced Sound
Prefer an ultra-slim design or wall mounting? The Yamaha YSP-700 squeezes impressive audio tech into a compact 1.75-inch tall profile designed for pairing with wall-mounted TVs. Despite the skinny footprint, integrated subwoofers still deliver solid bass response.
Yamaha’s audio engineering pedigree is on full display here. A center channel speaker ensures clear dialog reproduction critical for TV and movies. Four full-range drivers and DSP processing provide an open, spacious listening experience. Total output reaches 100 watts for enough volume for most rooms.
The minimalist rectangular cabinet measuring just 25-inches wide should blend nicely into modern decor. Wall mounting is a cinch thanks to the integrated bracket. The black or white matte finish resists scuffs and fingerprints.
For connectivity, you get both HDMI and optical inputs allowing easy hookup to pretty much any TV. Built-in Bluetooth rounds out the options for cable-free music streaming.
Priced around $325, the YSP-700 hits a nice balance between small footprint, good sound and reasonable cost. If wall mounting is a priority for you, it’s a great alternative to consider after our main pick.
Excellent Budget-Friendly Option With Detailed Sound
If keeping costs down is the priority, the Onkyo HT-S5000 compact soundbar pumps out audio performance that belies its affordable $145 price point. Two front-firing drivers and integrated bass ports supply crisp, detailed midrange and respectable low end.
Despite the low cost, Onkyo didn’t totally cheap out on the hardware inside. You still get a solid 80 watts of system wattage good enough for small to mid-sized rooms. Bluetooth support allows easy audio streaming when you want tunes from your phone.
The basic elongated design lacks any flashy flourishes but enables placement below TVs as small as 32-inches. Wall mounting is possible using third party brackets. The matte black finish fits into any decor.
As expected for the price, wired connectivity consists of a standard optical input instead of HDMI. But optical cables are cheap and make hooking up to the TV straightforward.
If you seek decent sound upgrade over lackluster TV speakers on a tight budget, it’s impossible to beat the value of Onkyo’s HT-S5000. Sometimes simpler is better when it comes to compact soundbars. This model nails the basics.
Take Your TV Audio to the Next Level With Sound Enhancing Add-Ons
Got the soundbar bug and now want an even more intense home theater experience? Consider supplementing your compact soundbar with additional audio components to take things to the next level. Here are some add-ons worth exploring:
- Wireless active subwoofer – Add thunderous bass impact for action movies and music. We like the Klipsch R-10SWi.
- Wireless surround speakers – Envelop yourself in surround sound. The Sonos Ikea Symfonisk bookshelf speakers work nicely.
- Wall mounting kit – Install your soundbar cleanly on the wall below the TV.
- Premium HDMI cables – Ensure maximum signal transfer between devices. Choose CC certified.
- Surge protector – Protect your precious electronics from power spikes for peace of mind.
While not always necessary, these extras can take your immersive TV and movie watching experience up a notch. Building out the system over time lets you spread out the costs. Start with an affordable compact soundbar to cover the TV audio basics first.
How to Shop for the Best Compact Soundbar for Your Needs
Ready to finally hear what you’ve been missing from your TV’s lackluster built-in speakers? Keep these tips in mind while shopping for a compact soundbar to find the right audio upgrade:
Prioritize Sound Quality Over All Else
Don’t sacrifice clear dialogue and robust bass just to save a few bucks. Focus on frequency range, driver count and amplification power when comparing specs:
- Wider frequency range – Extending from at least 50Hz to 20kHz ensures solid bass through clear treble.
- More drivers – At least two full-range drivers. Four is better. Helps separation and clarity.
- Higher wattage – Amplification rating from 20W up to 100W+ indicates louder maximum volumes.
Of course, higher sound quality often equates to a higher price. But it’s a worthwhile investment in the long run.
Consider Size and Design for Your Space
Make sure the soundbar integrates aesthetically with your TV setup:
- Measure space under TV – Confirm soundbar isn’t awkwardly too wide or high.
- Thinner is better if wall mounting – Around 2″ high to fit under TV.
- Check for wall mounting – Many soundbars include or offer brackets.
- Top firing drivers work best on media stand – Allow sound to bounce.
Determine Required Connectivity
Forget the headaches with the right inputs to hook up your TV:
- HDMI ARC – Single cable digital audio if your TV supports it.
- Optical audio – Secondary choice if no HDMI ARC. Provides digital sound.
- Bluetooth – Convenient for wireless music streaming from devices.
- WiFi – Enables multi-room streaming on smart models but not required.
Smart vs. Basic: Choose Features that Matter
Extra features can enhance the experience but keep priorities straight:
- Smart models provide streaming apps and voice control but cost more. Useful if you want these conveniences.
- Basic soundbars simply connect to the TV and focus only on audio quality. Usually more affordable.
- Added settings like EQ, surround effects, etc. are nice bonuses but not deal breakers.
Stick With Reputable Brands and Consult Reviews
Research thoroughly and buy with confidence:
- Reputable brands like Samsung, Sony, Vizio deliver quality and reliability.
- Professional reviews on CNET and Rtings provide objective testing data.
- User reviews on Best Buy, Amazon highlight real-world impressions.
- Forums like AVSForum offer enthusiast discussions.
Set a Reasonable Budget
Remember improvements over TV audio don’t require breaking the bank:
- Good models start around $150 – Significant upgrade over TV speakers.
- $300+ invests in better bass, clarity, streaming features.
- Look for sales on holidays – Black Friday, Prime Day, etc.
- Avoid bottom barrel brands with questionable quality.
Purchase Through Authorized Retailers
Stick with legit sources and authorized sellers:
- Buy directly from brands – Samsung, LG, Sony stores ensure authenticity.
- Physical retailers like Best Buy – Ability to listen before you buy. Manufacturer warranty.
- Avoid third party sellers on Amazon, Walmart etc. with potential for knockoffs.
Your Most Common Questions Answered
Still deciding if upgrading TV audio is worthwhile? Have some lingering questions about choosing the right compact soundbar? We’ve got you covered!
Do I really need a soundbar for my TV?
Built-in TV speakers are the weakest link for picture quality. Improving audio with a soundbar completes the home theater experience. Reasons to add one:
- Much clearer dialogue – Never miss a line again.
- More immersive movies – Crank up the action with bass impact.
- Better music listening – Bring out subtle textures.
- Easy connection – Single HDMI or optical cable.
- Compact size – Made for today’s thin TVs.
- Affordable pricing – Starting around $100.
How is a compact soundbar different than a full soundbar?
Compact soundbars focus on boosting TV audio in smaller spaces:
- Compact size – 2-3 inches tall. For wall mount or media stand.
- Simpler setup – Single unit vs. separate subwoofer and surrounds.
- Lower cost – $100 to $500 range.
- Good for dialogue – Improve TV sound primarily.
Full soundbar systems aim to replicate theater surround sound:
- Larger size – Over 3.5 inches tall. Added subwoofer.
- Advanced setup – 5+ components. Greater complexity.
- Higher cost – $500+ range.
- Immersive audio – True home theater experience.
Should I get a soundbar with a subwoofer?
A wireless sub isn’t required but does provide impactful bass:
- Compact soundbars alone improve clarity, volume and mid-range.
- Start with just soundbar if you want simple, affordable TV audio upgrade.
- Add subwoofer later to bring out thundering bass for movies and music.
Where is the best placement for a compact soundbar?
Ideal positioning depends on size and design:
- Below a wall mounted TV – Around 2″ tall models.
- Centered on media stand – Ideal for models with upfiring drivers to bounce sound.
- Angled up toward ears – Direct sound to listening area.
- Avoid enclosing in cabinet – Needs open area in front.
- 2-4″ clearance under TV screen – Don’t block picture.
How do I connect a compact soundbar to my smart TV?
Connecting is quick and painless:
- Use HDMI ARC – Carries video signal and audio over one cable.
- Or optical audio cable – If no HDMI ARC port on TV. Provides digital sound.
- Connect devices to TV – Not directly to soundbar.
- Adjust audio settings on TV – Set default output to external speakers.
- Disable TV speakers – Stops conflicting audio.
Can I stream music to a compact soundbar?
Options for wireless music streaming:
- Bluetooth – Stream from any phone, tablet or computer.
- Smart soundbars – Stream Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, etc. with WiFi.
- Group with wireless speakers – Multi-room streaming.
- Basic models need Bluetooth device to play music.
- Smart soundbars best for frequent music listening.
Let Your TV Sound As Good As It Looks
After reading this guide, you should have a solid understanding of the benefits of compact soundbars over lackluster integrated TV speakers. With options spanning simple, affordable audio enhancement up to more robust surround sound expansion, there is a solution fitting every situation and budget.
While true audiophile-level performance requires more substantial investment and setup complexity, compact soundbars strike an ideal balance. They significantly elevate TV audio from disappointing to delightful with minimal fuss. Place this critical audio upgrade high on your to-do list to complete your home entertainment experience.
Ready to hear the action and dialogue you’ve been missing? We hope our top compact soundbar recommendations give you a head start in upgrading your TV’s sound. Let us know if you have any other questions – we’re here to help you rediscover your favorite movies, shows, sports and music through crystal clear, impactful sound. Your ears will thank you!