Polk MagniFi Mini AX
Despite being simple, small, and affordable, the MagniFi Mini AX outperforms many larger, more complicated competitors.
Looking at the super-compact Polk MagniFi Mini AX, you might not expect much. But in our brand-concealed tests, where the listeners couldn’t judge it by its size, this soundbar outperformed larger, more feature-packed models costing hundreds more. The soundbar measures just 14.5 inches wide, but thanks to its digital signal processing (DSP) technology, it produced a surround-sound effect that was, in some cases, more natural-sounding (if less dramatic) than soundbars using dedicated surround speakers. The package includes a compact subwoofer that also performed better than its size suggests, producing deep, punchy, satisfying bass, and the system sounded better with music than most soundbars do. The MagniFi Mini AX is compatible with the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X immersive audio formats, and can also stream audio over Wi-Fi via Apple AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast, as well as via Bluetooth. It offers the essential connection options we like to see—HDMI eARC, optical digital audio, and analog audio—but lacks a dedicated HDMI input to connect a source directly. Optional surround speakers are available.
Vizio M-Series Elevate
The M-Series Elevate uses dedicated surround speakers and motorized upward-firing speakers to produce more immersive sound from Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks.
If your priority is to get an enveloping surround-sound experience, the Vizio M-Series Elevate is for you. This system is more costly and much more complicated than our top pick, but our listening panel felt it delivered an experience more like being in a commercial cinema—though it did not sound as good with music. The 6.5-inch subwoofer impressed our panelists with its literal couch-shaking bass power. The soundbar has internal, motorized speakers that tilt up and bounce the sound off the ceiling to create a more immersive effect, while a purple-lit sound vent slides out from each side to enhance the surround effect even further. The system also has dedicated rear speakers that connect via cables to the subwoofer. Features include Dolby Atmos and DTS:X compatibility, one standard HDMI input, an HDMI eARC jack, optical and analog audio inputs, lots of adjustments for fine-tuning the sound, Bluetooth, and a dedicated signal-sensing input that lets you connect an Amazon Echo Dot so that the soundbar works as a smart speaker. All that’s missing is Wi-Fi connectivity to stream music wirelessly via a platform like AirPlay or Chromecast, which is a feature you often get at this price.
The Yamaha SR-C30A sounds much more natural than most inexpensive soundbars, even if it can’t match the volume and envelopment of more expensive models.
If you just want a simple, affordable soundbar to improve your everyday TV-watching experience, the Yamaha SR-C30A is the best soundbar we’ve heard for less than $300. There’s a natural, comfortable character to its sound that’s rare in soundbars at any price, although it doesn’t have the bass power and enveloping surround-sound effects of our pricier picks. At just 23.5 inches wide, this two-channel (stereo) soundbar is relatively compact, so it’ll suit TVs large and small. The subwoofer is too small to shake your couch, but it’s got enough power to add a decent amount of kick for action movies and games. The sound with music is smooth, although it can’t match the dynamics and bass power that our other picks have. The SR-C30A offers one HDMI eARC port, two optical audio inputs, one analog audio input, and Bluetooth—which is the standard complement of features we’d expect for this price.
The S95QR includes a powerful subwoofer, surround speakers, five upward-firing Atmos speakers, and lots of inputs and audio streaming options.
The LG S95QR gets you pretty close to the sonic experience of having an AV receiver and surround-sound speaker system, but with easier setup. Billed as a 9.1.5-channel system, the S95QR has three upward-firing immersive speakers built into the top of the soundbar, plus one more upward-firing speaker built into each of the wireless surround speakers. This system’s extra upward-firing speaker and IMAX Enhanced feature produce an even more enveloping sound than our Vizio runner-up pick, especially with movies encoded in the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X formats—and it also plays louder without strain. The subwoofer produces powerful, punchy deep bass that really energizes a room (and your emotions). This full-featured system has both Google Home and Amazon Alexa voice-control compatibility, and it can stream audio via Apple AirPlay 2, Google Chromecast, Alexa, and Bluetooth. The S95QR has an HDMI eARC port, plus two HDMI inputs and an optical digital audio input, but no analog audio input.