There's something about going to the theater that you just can't quite replicate at home. It's the large screen, sure. But it's also the sound. You don't just hear it — you feel it. It's truly an immersive experience in that regard, and it's something many of us have strived to recreate in some manner at home, with all kinds of satellite speakers and external subwoofers.
But sometimes that's just a bridge too far. Sometimes just a basic improvement in sound quality is all you need, particularly if you're talking about a secondary screen and not your main movie-viewing mechanism. And that means you don't want to spend a ton of money.
Sound bars are a perfect tool for this trade. And while you certainly can spend upwards of a thousand dollars on a top-of-the-line sound bar, it's also completely possible to pick one up for less than $100 that still manages to be a marked improvement over the audio of your TV's built-in speakers.
The best sub-$100 sound bar for most people
This Vizio sound bar has the best mix of looks and sound quality. And as an added bonus, it works even better if you have a Vizio TV.
Who should buy this sound bar
If you want your TV to sound better than your TV sounds — and your don't want to spend a whole lot of money in the process — these are the sound bars to look out. None costs above $100.
Is it a good time to buy this sound bar?
Yep. This one didn't come out until almost halfway through 2018, so it's still pretty fresh. And while it's possible we'll see it on sale at some point, don't expect huge discounts.
Reasons to buy
- Svelte design shouldn't intrude on your TV screen
- No problems with any of the connections
- Includes all cables and mounting hardware
Reasons not to buy
- If you need an HDMI connection
- If you just have to have surround sound
- If you need an external subwoofer
A good, basic sound bar doesn't have to break the bank
Not every room in your home needs to have a theater experience that would make Thomas Dolby proud. But that doesn't mean you should have to settle for your TV's internal speakers, either. You can do better. And you can do better for about a hundred bucks.
And for about a hundred bucks, it's hard to do a lot better than the Vizio SB362An-F6. (OK, Vizio could maybe do better on that name somehow, but whatever. It's not like you'll have to address it a lot.)
Here's what makes the Vizio so good. Like other entries in this space, it's a "2.1" sound bar. That means two channels for that sweet, sweet stereo sound. And the ".1" refers to a subwoofer — a dedicated speaker to create some low end. In this case, that subwoofer is in the body of the speaker. In fact, there are a couple of them down there.
It's not the same as having a dedicated external subwoofer that fills a room with the thundering hits of a thousand dinosaurs, or makes it feel as if the explosion in that action movie might have left a crater in the next room. This isn't that product, and $100 isn't that price.
But what you get with the Vizio sound bar is an experience that is definitively better than what you'll get from your television's speakers.
And it's done in the typical Vizio fashion. While the sound bar itself is decidedly not high-end, the packaging is as exact as something that cost 10 times more. Vizio does a nice job with that, and it immediately gives the impression that you're not just getting some cheap, knock-off speaker. A couple other nice details: There's a small channel through which the audio cables will run — and Vizio provides optical, RCA and aux cables. (The Vizio-style remote control also comes with its own batteries.)
So it looks good. It's only about 2 inches tall, so it shouldn't intrude into the TV's picture at all. And it sounds good — giving enough bass and stereo separation so that you'll never want to hear your TV's internal speakers ever again. And it's got the Vizio name behind it, which shows through the packaging itself, to any sort of after care you might need.
One added bonus: If you're using a Vizio TV with this sound bar, the volume controls should just work with whatever remote you were using previously. (That's kind of a big deal given that there's no HDMI input, and thus no CEC control. But, hey, it's still a $100 sound bar.)
Alternatives to the Vizio SB362An-F6
Vizio isn't the only player in this economy sound bar space, of course. Amazon has its own branded sound bar. And Chinese company TaoTronics hits the lowest of the three prices we've seen, though performance is definitely not as good.
Amazon Basics 2.1 Sound Bar
Another great basic sound bar.
This sound bar is of the same ilk as the Vizio model, with an internal subwoofer that fires downward from the body. It maybe doesn't sound quite as nice, and it's not quite as sleek. But it does have three preset sound modes. It's not a bad option at all.
TaoTronics TT-SK019 Sound Bar
Even less expensive
Is less expensive. And less nice.
If for some reason you just can't get one of our other recommendations, there's this 40-inch sound bar from TaoTronics. It's got inputs for optical, RCA, coax and Bluetooth, and it adds a small display on the front. It doesn't sound quite as nice, and the optical input has been finicky for some. (Including me.) But it's another option, if you need something big (40-inches is kind of long in this case) and not too fancy.
The bottom line
Not every room of your home needs a full theater-like experience when it comes to sound. But every room deserves at least just a little better than the speakers that are built into your TV.
These three options fix that. They bring better stereo range than internal speakers, and more bass. And they do it for less than $100.
The team that worked on this guide
Phil Nickinson is the editor of CordCutters.com , the Head Dad behind Modern Dad and Editor Emeritus of AndroidCentral.com. He's been a journalist since starting at his hometown newspaper in 1998, and with Mobile Nations since 2009. Follow him on Twitter: @Mdrndad .
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