The mad scientist — Yamaha YSP-2500 ($1,000)
The Yamaha YSP-2500 showcases an exterior design that’s as sleek as it is inconspicuous, but its true talent lies in its ability to forge very convincing virtual surround sound. The sixteen individual 1.125-inch “beam” drivers and dual 4-inch woofers allow you to differentiate sound locations with a surprising amount of ease, peppering the room with powerful bass and clear treble from every corner. Other features include DTS-HD and Dolby True HD decoding, 4K passthrough at 60 fps, and dynamic range control, which compresses audio and aids with abrupt spikes in volume. The versatile settings, accessible via onscreen menu and included remote, push the device’s capabilities even further, letting you adjust the complex layers of virtual surround sound and implement audio syncing.
Available at: Amazon Best Buy
The minimalist — Klipsch R10-B ($479)
The Klipsch Reference R-10B revels in its own simplicity. The sound bar’s minimalist design is attractive — even if does take the form of a tall, plastic cabinet — and the robust MDF-enclosed subwoofer is a powerhouse of awesome all to itself. The resulting sound stage is engaging and detailed, flanked with explosive bass and pristine treble that fully capitalizes on the system’s solid stereo spacing. The R-10B doesn’t showcase much in the way of extras, but it does offer Bluetooth connection with aptX for CD-quality sound from compatible devices, and its sonic talents are well suited to a range of musical genres. The aforementioned size of the sound bar also renders it more suitable for mounting than sitting, yet, given its accurate performance and dead-simple navigation, we can overlook a few setbacks.
The mighty mouse — Definitive Technology W Studio Micro ($800-900)
Those looking for a bar that sounds far bigger than its ultra-slim profile alludes will want to check out Definitive Technology’s W Studio Micro. Measuring just under 2-inches tall and 3-inches thick, the Micro far exceeds expectations of a bar its size, offering thunderous sound with a smooth and supple touch that delivers the finest details with ease. And while this bar is definitely on the pricier side, Def Tech doesn’t stop there, tacking on Play-Fi wireless technology to make the Micro a perfect hub to build out a multi-room home audio solution, as well as allowing for true wireless surround sound with additional Play-Fi components. Add in a handsome design, and the Micro makes for an excellent addition to your compact TV room.
Available at: Amazon Best Buy
The whole shebang — Vizio S5451W-C2 5.1 surround sound bar ($300-500)
Virtual surround sound is all well and good, but even in this brave new world, nothing beats the real thing. That’s where Vizio’s S5451W-C2 comes in. The name might not be much, but this system makes up for Vizio’s lack of inspiration in nomenclature with rich and full 5.1 surround sound thanks to dual satellite speakers that plug into the sub. Adding those pieces to the three channel setup up front, the bar provides plenty of detail to spice up movies and music, while surrounding you in sweet, room engulfing action. Bluetooth wireless connection, HDMI inputs, and an intuitive interface shore up the feature set to make this 5.1 system-on-the-cheap an enticing proposition.
The hammer — Denon DHT-S514 ($650)
The Denon DHT-S514 is a behemoth, in both size and sound. The sound bar’s simple, rectangular chassis houses a compelling arsenal of components inside, including two ½-inch tweeters buoyed by dual 2 x 5-inch drivers. A whopping 175 watts of digital amplification power the system, allowing for an accurate sound signature across the entire spectrum, one highlighted by a comprehensive upper register and sweet-sounding bass. The device lacks a traditional display, offering only basic LEDs, though it still manages to showcase a swift setup process and an array of fine-tuned listening modes for music, movies, and dialogue, as well as Dolby and DTS decoding, and Bluetooth streaming with aptX support. It also touts a variety of connection options, including optical and coaxial digital audio inputs, and an ARC-enabled HDMI output.
Available at: Amazon Best Buy
The acrobat — Sony HT-CT770 ($248-450)
Sony’s HT-CT770 is a smartly-sculpted piece of versatile technology, enveloped in a diamond-shaped design with sleek silver accents. The bevy of inputs, which includes three HDMI inputs and an ARC-enabled HDMI out, give it an upper hand over many comparable competitors, while 4K pass-through, virtual surround sound, and Bluetooth wireless connection add to a laundry list of enticing features. Moreover, the 110 watts of digital amplification and the four-pack of drivers housed beneath the mesh exterior let it achieve impressive, full-bodied sound and a sprawling stereo image that owes much to its taut upper register, subtle midrange, and ample bass response. Most interestingly, thanks to an on board gyroscope, the bar can even adjust the sound to sit up, or lay back flat to fit your setup needs (hence the acrobat title). Combine the aforementioned features with the sound bar’s appealing price tag, and you get a sweet bar for a nice price.
The aristocrat — Def Tech SoloCinema Studio ($1,000)
The Def Tech SoloCinema Studio doesn’t come cheap, nor is it quite as impressive for music as it is for movies — but that’s really splitting hairs. The 43-inch-long bar and accompanying subwoofer make a brilliant duo, delivering powerful and refined audio that easily belie their premium construction. The system showcases excellent dynamic range and provides rich, detailed sound — particularly in regards to dialog — filling the room with thumping low-end and an upper register awash with vivid nuances. Although it lacks the ARC HDMI connection of many of its peers, the boxy package still brims with tempting features, offering everything from an intuitive interface, DTS and Dolby decoding, Bluetooth with aptX, and 5.1 virtual surround features with wild titles like Active Vector Response Curves. The price of the package will scare some away, but top-notch sound and performance beg a premium fee.
The ringer — Pioneer SP-SB23W ($400)
The best product of Pioneer’s collaboration with its former Chief Design Engineer Andrew Jones might have been this little bar above. The SP-SB23W is a fantastic sound — err, “speaker”— bar, founded on a six pack of individually amplified drivers and a very capable wireless subwoofer. The stubby, yet high-riding bar rests in a handsome MDF cabinet lined with wood grain ripples, complementing the cubed subwoofer with a smart design. More importantly the cabinet helps the system integrate beautifully with a host of content, producing a smooth and natural sound signature built on creamy mids, musical bass, and richly-drawn dialog. The system sets up in minutes, including analog, digital optical, and Bluetooth connection, and though the tall design might get in the way of your TV’s IR sensor, the overall performance and shoestring price justify a bit of furniture rearrangement.