Best Soundbars Under $300 for the Theater Experience at Home

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SOUND SAVINGS

Ready to catch up on the Oscar-nominated films in true cinematic style? Not too long ago, home theaters were complicated, unwieldy, and expensive, requiring an array of speakers and jumbled wires. Today, a variety of capable systems in compact packages provide significantly better sound than the average TV -- and they're available at affordable prices. Cheapism.com sorted through expert reviews, consumer commentary, and product specifications to round up the best soundbars and sound bases under $300. With one of these systems, which pack two to five speakers into their relatively small frames, all it takes to establish a minimalist but competent home theater is a smart TV and a comfortable couch.
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GOOD CHEAP SOUNDBAR: VIZIO SB3821-C6

This entry-level soundbar lacks premium features like surround sound and HDMI, but reviewers say the Vizio SB3821-C6 (starting at $140) delivers surprisingly competent sound. In terms of pure audio quality, the 2.1-channel system outperforms many soundbars that cost significantly more. The features it does have are welcome: Bluetooth connectivity allows music to be streamed from a smartphone; Dolby Digital and DTS support offer multiple options for movie playback; and the soundbar can be wall-mounted if space is at a premium. A wireless subwoofer rounds out the package and offers solid bass output.
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GOOD CHEAP SOUNDBAR: SONY HT-CT390

With a wireless subwoofer, myriad connectivity options, and a variety of settings for adjusting the sound profile to different types of content, the 2.1-channel Sony HT-CT390 (starting at $198) is one of the most versatile soundbars in this price range. It's no slouch on audio quality, either, reviewers say. Thanks to a sleek, slim design that can be mounted nearly anywhere, this model makes an excellent fit for small living spaces. It also includes HDMI ARC support -- rare in a soundbar this cheap -- which allows the TV remote to control volume and power on the unit, further cutting down on clutter.
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RUNNER-UP: YAMAHA YAS-106

For a minimalist home theater setup that doesn't sacrifice quality, the bare-bones Yamaha YAS-106 (starting at $200) fills the bill. Lacking a stand-alone subwoofer, this model is the most straightforward and least space-consuming soundbar on our list. But that doesn't mean the sound is entirely stripped-down; the YAS-106 delivers solid audio overall, according to reviews. Thanks to two subwoofers built in, alongside two speakers, the bass output is actually quite impressive and capable of filling a decent-size room. This soundbar can also be mounted on the wall and features Bluetooth connectivity.
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BEST CHEAP SOUNDBAR: VIZIO SB3851-D0

True surround sound places audio behind the listener, adding an extra element of immersion. Most soundbars in the budget price range can promise only "virtual" surround sound, but the 5.1-channel Vizio SB3851-D0 (starting at $250) comes with two rear satellite speakers to offer this encompassing audio experience at an affordable price. A wireless subwoofer adds to the formidable sound. This "smart" soundbar includes support for Google Cast and allows users to connect mobile devices via Wi-Fi for music streaming. The Vizio SB3851-D0 also comes with HDMI ARC support to help reduce the number of remote controls.
Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

BEST CHEAP PEDESTAL SOUNDBAR: ZVOX SOUNDBASE 570

For those who want big sound with minimal setup, the Zvox SoundBase 570 (starting at $299) might be the ideal home theater solution. This single, self-contained slab serves as a pedestal for a TV up to 60 inches. Instead of a free-standing subwoofer, it has built-in bass-drivers that are said to deliver their fair share of "boom," along with five internal speakers. It holds its own against soundbars with separate subwoofers, according to reviews. Zvox's AccuVoice technology (also found in hearing aids) makes movie dialogue more intelligible.
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VIRTUAL SURROUND SOUND SPLURGE: YAMAHA YAS-203

Yamaha's YAS-203 soundbar (starting at $400) has garnered nearly universal praise from tech reviewers. With excellent sound quality, a relatively reasonable price tag, and genuinely useful features -- like app control and an IR repeater that allows the remote to control the TV even if the soundbar is blocking the sensor -- it's easy to see why this model is lauded. The 2.1-channel Yamaha YAS-203 lacks true surround sound, but its exceptional virtual surround effects in tandem with its wireless subwoofer create an expansive soundstage. (Keep an eye out for sales on this one -- prices fluctuate widely.)
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PREMIUM SOUND WITH 'SMART' FEATURES: LG SH7B

As one of the more recent entries into the soundbar arena, the 4.1-channel LG SH7B (starting at $300) offers more premium features than some slightly older competitors. It's one of only two home theater systems highlighted here that offer support for Wi-Fi, which allows music to be streamed through multiple rooms. It also comes with Google Cast built in and HDMI ARC output. Expert reviewers praise the LG SH7B for its sound quality, as well, giving it particularly high marks for movie playback and dialogue clarity. Adding a pair of rear LG speakers creates true surround sound, but at significant expense, and users can expect a substantial boost to their home audio experience even without that upgrade.