Top Pick: Zvox Dialogue Clarifying Sound Bar | $200
It’s been a long year. Between COVID-19 and all the horrors it’s inflicted on us—skyrocketing unemployment, incessant paranoia, excruciating isolation, etc.—you can’t blame someone for wanting to escape this hellhole for a couple of hours to watch a good flick.
Enter my dad. A good man, an honest man, and like me, a compulsive tech consumer. Every year, honest to God, it’s impossible to buy anything for this man at Christmas time. Anything he wants, he already has. But this year is an exception. A soundbar is one of those things everyone using only their TV speakers for audio output while immersing themselves in the picture shows wants but no one really wants to pay out of pocket for. In other words, it’s the perfect Christmas gift, for those who partake.
In his mid-50s, my dad is by no means a picky man when it comes to his tech. He’s no less satisfied with his iPad’s touch keyboard than with a physical QWERTY. When I told him he should buy an Xbox so we could play Forza together (and other games, probably, someday), he bought the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition, the cheapest model you can get. He has a TCL 4-Series TV in almost every room. And I don’t mean any of this as an insult! I have nothing but respect for it, honestly. Most of the time I wish I didn’t know the difference between 4K, HDR, OLED, and raytracing—it sucks to be a sucker for marketing buzzwords used to peddle overpriced gadgets.
So when I asked for recommendations of the best soundbars to buy my dad, preferably under $200, and y’all mocked me, know my dad would be pissed if I bought him the Vizio Elevate for nearly a grand. He doesn’t even let me pay for my own dinners whenever I visit! He’s a simple man with simple taste and nowhere near as fastidious as you made him out to be (to be fair, that may have been my fault for calling him a “Tech Dad™” in the opening sentence. As I mentioned in the original Co-op call for responses, he’s just looking for a speaker that sounds better than the ones built into his TVs, and meeting that criteria doesn’t have to cost more than a couple of Benjamins. To prove my point, see the best soundbars under $200 to buy my dad below.
Someone already mentioned Zvox. They have a $200 soundbar entry that gets good reviews. They also make a “base” that you simply put your TV on top of. I have a base that I really like. The [dialogue] enhancement works relatively well. More importantly, the sound is great for the price.
This second one is out of your suggested range, but for the other readers here, I highly recommend my Sonos beam. If you aren’t already bought into one of the other home audio ecosystems, you get that benefit. In addition, you can easily add a sub and even rear speakers down the road. I honestly don’t think there is any reason to do more than a Beam + Sub unless you are going for real deal home theater sound. I was honestly surprised at how good this sounded. - SmCaudata
LG SK1 2.0-Channel Soundbar | $100
If keeping the price low is the ultimate goal, LG’s 2.0 Channel Soundbar gets the job done. When I told my mother I wanted a soundbar for Christmas last year, I insisted that she not spend too much on one (I didn’t need $2,000 quality to watch bird documentaries while I cook dinner). The LG soundbar is incredibly cheap at $100 and perfectly fine for someone who’s not a audiophile. I was previously using my Vizio’s built-in speakers, and you can imagine how well that was going. It’s not life-changing step up, but movie dialogue no longer sounds like its being delivered through four feet of mud. I’m sure there are better options out there, but for the price, this is all I needed. - Giovanni Colantonio