The trick to consolidate the number of boxes under your TV is getting a smart soundbar. The best ones let you combine a voice assistant, music streaming and maybe even video streaming. You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for great quality either, with prices starting at about $130.
Before I show you the picks, it’s worth making a distinction between a smart soundbar and a smart TV. While a smart TV means the screen has onboard streaming apps, a smart soundbar usually means the speaker has an onboard voice assistant — usually either Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. The main exceptions here are the Roku Streambar and Streambar Pro (previously the Smart Soundbar), which do have streaming apps and an optional always-on assistant.
Of course, all soundbars are designed to be used with most TVs, whether either device is smart or not. But if you’re looking for an all-in-one streaming speaker and voice assistant, these are the soundbars to buy.
How I test soundbars
At CNET I test audio equipment from compact soundbars though to surround sound speaker systems, but regardless of the device my methodology is largely the same. I always compare products against one or more reference devices which offer the best performance at a similar price.
When it comes to soundbars, I want to see how well a system performs with music as well as with movies, as most people will want to do both. I watch from a handful of test scenes from 4K Blu-ray or streamed from a 4K streaming service (Vudu, for example) and evaluate aspects such as bass performance and dialog clarity. I also use a number of test music tracks and evaluate any streaming features such as
and Wi-Fi. Systems that can perform well with both types of entertainment that inevitably score the highest.
See my how to buy a soundbar for more of the features and other things you should consider when looking for a new system.