Soundbars on a Budget The Wrap-Up

The Wrap-Up
From my reviewer’s perspective, this tale of four soundbars proved both educational and encouraging. Educational because a random sampling of these under-$500 bars gave me a good baseline on what the average, non-enthusiast shopper might get to experience at home these days with a little careful research before purchase. Encouraging because, honestly, even at these low prices, there really wasn’t a dog in the bunch. While none of the entries would pass hard-core audiophile muster as both a top-notch music and movie system (nor should they, at this price level), each brought some great strengths.

Overall, I loved the emotional connection I made with my music collection on the $400 Acoustic Energy Aego Sound3ar, but the spatial limitations of its simplistic audiophile design is definitely something I’d find frustrating over time for movie

and TV watching—you gain engagement with its sonic voicing and authoritative bass, while losing some on its lack of soundstaging and dimensionality. Still, it was definitely the music-lover’s choice here, and made me consider whether the Aego3, with its separate front speakers, might be an even better alternative for those who can spread them apart for a wider soundstage.

The Vizio SB3851-D0 was acceptable for music and ultimately compromised (like the Yamaha) in the deep-bass department. But was an awesome movie system that, with its separate rear speakers, brought the magic of true surround sound and soundstage depth to a $300 soundbar. That counts for a lot.

The Yamaha YAS-106 was just a great all-around contender—good on music, good on movies, though with the expected limited bass output and spatial characteristics. Still, for just 200 bucks, it wowed me with its sensational value. Utilizing its sub out for a decent $100 subwoofer (think Monoprice/Dayton Audio, for example) would make for a terrific low-budget combo.

Finally, the Zvox SB500, for $500, was downright astonishing for its bass output and dynamic headroom on both music and movies, and delivered the best virtual surround and biggest image of any of the bars save the rear-speaker-assisted Vizio. If you can’t have or just don’t want the extra subwoofer box, you really won’t miss it with this one-piece solution.

So there you have it. All perfectly recommendable at their price, and perhaps perfect for your unique situation and tastes. I wouldn’t have thought it going in, but it would appear that cheap home theater can be good home theater, after all.