Want to consolidate the number of boxes under your TV? The answer is to go smart. For example, a smart sound bar lets 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.
Read more: Best Smart Speakers for 2023: Alexa, Google and More
The compact Roku Streambar plugs into your TV’s HDMI ARC port and works as both a 4K streamer and a soundbar. We’ve found the Streambar easy to set up, and it sounds good for the size, particularly with dialogue. To make the soundbar truly smart, the $30 Voice Remote Pro adds an always-on voice assistant that’s handy for finding new shows, and even the remote itself.
Read our Roku Streambar review.
The Polk React with DTS Virtual Surround Sound is a single soundbar update to one of my favorite smart soundbars, the Polk Command Bar. While it misses the subwoofer you can always buy an add-on one, and rears too. The 3D surround sound technology offers excellent sound quality and the Alexa onboard is responsive. But the Yamaha YAS-209 is worth considering for its subwoofer and additional HDMI port, and it can often be found for the same price or less than the Polk.
The Yamaha YAS-209 offers excellent sound quality in a compact soundbar with Amazon Alexa voice control built-in. The mics work well in loud environments and you can use them when you’re streaming music. The soundbar offers DTS Virtual:X surround sound processing and a wireless subwoofer. The YAS-209 doesn’t use the company’s MusicCast system, though, so you can’t sync up with other Yamaha speakers. It’s currently on sale for $230.
Read our Yamaha YAS-209 review.
With the addition Dolby Atmos, the Sonos Beam Gen 2 is now the midpriced smart sound bar to get. It offers a choice of either Alexa or Google voice assistant, and the Sonos ecosystem is one of the best music streaming platforms around. You may be missing out on deep bass without a sub, but this compact speaker makes your movies sound huge with its virtual surround capabilities.
The Sonos Arc is the grown-up version of the Beam and offers a number of upgrades for the extra cash. The first is the use of dedicated, upfiring Dolby Atmos speakers which gives it an edge in movies, and the second is more drivers and a bigger cabinet for better bass performance. Otherwise this is another great Sonos offering with the choice of voice assistants and the best music streaming ecosystem.
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.
Smart soundbar FAQs
What does a smart soundbar do?
While a smart soundbar is usually used to describe a soundbar with an onboard voice assistant, but it can also mean a soundbar that has video streaming capabilities, such as the Roku Streambar. A smart soundbar is often used both as a streaming device and to control other smart home devices via voice. The two assistants that are commonly included with soundbars are Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
It’s worth noting that adding a separate Google Nest mini or Amazon Echo device to an existing, internet-connected soundbar can often give the same capabilities as a smart soundbar. The added advantage is that it doesn’t tie up your soundbar when you ask it a question.
Can you use a smart soundbar on any TV?
As most TVs these days are smart TVs it doesn’t really matter if the soundbar is smart or not, the combination should still work great. A smart soundbar will add voice capabilities to any system. The Roku Streambar will also work with an existing smart TV, and you can choose either the TV or the soundbar as your main streaming device.
Can you choose which voice assistant a smart soundbar uses?
There are two types of smart soundbar — one which offers a single voice assistant (usually Amazon Alexa) and one which offers a choice of either Google Assistant or Alexa. The Polk React and the Yamaha YAS-209 are two examples of Alexa-only soundbars, while Sonos products offer both assistants.