Sound bar buying guide: What you need to know

The affordable Polk MagniFi Mini is capable of a much bigger sound than its minuscule size suggests. The package is compact and will fit easily into most living room setups. (Handout/TNS)
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The affordable Polk MagniFi Mini is capable of a much bigger sound than its minuscule size suggests. The package is compact and will fit easily into most living room setups. (Handout/TNS)

Sound bars are the cheapest and easiest way to get better sound in your living room. Here are four of them that are the best in their price range.

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Samsung HW-K950

Product Review: https://www.cnet.com/products/samsung-hw-k950/review/#ftag=CAD187281f

CNET rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 (Outstanding)

The good: The Samsung HW-K950 is one of the best sound bars we’ve ever heard for both movies and music. The dedicated rear speakers deliver increased immersion compared to single-speaker designs. It’s cheaper than buying a Dolby Atmos receiver and speakers.

The bad: It’s expensive for a sound bar, and Dedicated to Sound (DTS) support is limited. Dolby Atmos is only available on a limited number of titles compared with other surround formats.

The cost: $1,497.99 to $1,499.99

The bottom line: The Samsung HW-K950 combines the discreet looks and simple setup of a sound bar with truly impressive sound for both movies and music.

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Sony HT-NT5

Product Review: https://www.cnet.com/products/sony-ht-nt5/#ftag=CAD187281f

CNET rating: 4.0 stars out of 5 (Excellent)

The good: The Sony HT-NT5 gets nearly everything right: design, features and sound for music and home theater.

The bad: Sound quality, while excellent, is not twice as good as a $400 sound bar. Setting up rear speakers is expensive and a little frustrating.

The cost: $798.00 to $799.99

The bottom line: The Sony HT-NT5 offers distinctive good looks, a superlative feature set and generous performance, making it our favorite sound bar for the price.

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Polk MagniFi Mini

Product Review: https://www.cnet.com/products/polk-magnifi-mini/review/#ftag=CAD187281f

CNET rating: 4.0 stars out of 5 (Excellent)

The good: The affordable Polk MagniFi Mini is capable of a much bigger sound than its minuscule size suggests. The package is compact and will fit easily into most living room setups. The ability to Cast directly from your phone simplifies music streaming.

The bad: The Wi-Fi connection on my test unit was unreliable, and the ARC-only HDMI input limits connectivity somewhat.

The cost: $299.95 to $299.99

The bottom line: The Polk MagniFi Mini’s mix of features, performance and compact size makes it one of the best sound bars for the money.

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Zvox SB500

Product Review: https://www.cnet.com/products/zvox-sb500/review/#ftag=CAD187281f

CNET rating: 4.0 stars out of 5 (Excellent)

The good: The Zvox SB500 sound bar offers great sound quality and a simple setup process. Bass is plentiful despite the lack of a subwoofer. Styling is chic and the unit seems well put together.

The bad: It doesn’t include a wireless subwoofer or subwoofer output jack. Deep bass can cause the sound field to collapse into mono. The bar is taller than most and may block your TV’s IR sensor if you’re not wall-mounting.

The cost: $499.00 to $499.99

The bottom line: The SB500 sound bar is easily the best-looking and -sounding Zvox we’ve ever tested, and among the best for the money, period.

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The following CNET staff contributed to this story: CNET contributor Steve Guttenberg, Senior Associate Editor Ty Pendlebury and Senior Editor Laura K. Cucullu. For more reviews of personal technology products, please visit www.cnet.com.

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