The Best Budget Soundbars on Amazon for Your Smart TV in 2021

The Taotronics TT-SK023 and the Polk Signa S2 are the two best-selling soundbars on Amazon. Why is that? And do you need one?
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Soundbars are pretty popular additions these days to our sweet, sweet 4K TVs. But why? I mean, if those TVs are so great, shouldn’t they have good sound built in? No. They sound terrible across the board.

Today, I’m going to tell you why these TVs sound so terrible. And by the end of this video, you’ll be armed with the knowledge that you need to go out and find the right soundbar for you to add onto your TV setup.

TaoTronics vs. Polk Signa S2 Soundbar comparison
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TaoTronics TT-SK023 SoundbarView on Amazon
Polk Signa S2 Soundbar with SubwooferView on Amazon
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Top Amazon budget soundbars for the Average Joe, not audiophiles

And by the way, when I say you, let me be clear that I’m not really talking to the audiophiles out there. I’m not doing a super technical review of these soundbars. A little technical, but not a ton. Really, this is more about making sure that the average user, like me, knows what they’re getting into. So let’s dive in.

Soundbar test baseline

Now, before we get to comparing the best soundbars on Amazon, let’s establish a baseline for our sound, so we have something to compare them to. This, over my shoulder, is the TCL 65S525, or in other words, it’s the 65-inch Roku enabled TCL Smart TV that I keep here in my studio. And it sounds awful. The volume is faint. If I do crank it up, I can at least hear it, but it comes off really sharp, very tinny, with almost no bass response at all. And it’s just really tough to listen to.

So why is that? Well, historically, TV’s have put their speakers on the front of the TV, like this 15-ish year old Vizio that I keep around in my basement.

Now speakers are put on the back of the TV and they do that for a simple reason, to get rid of those bulky bezels. These are the thick borders that you see on those older TVs, that used to be where a lot of the TVs components were located. Now, the teeny tiny speakers are in the back.

And the idea here is that the sound will bounce off the wall behind the TV and back to you, so you can hear it. Sometimes, that works okay. Sometimes, your wall is covered in sound absorbing foam. Well, what? You don’t cover your walls in foam? Just me, I guess. Anyway, the backfiring speakers are only part of the problem. The other problem is that those backfiring speakers, well, they suck.

My 65-inch 4K TCL TV comes with two speakers, each of which has an output of 8 watts for a total of 16 watts. What does that mean? Well, if you’re listening to something on little headphones that are right next to your ear, 16 watts would be more than enough. But to fill up a room with a well-rounded sound, yeah, that’s not happening. And you might be thinking, “Yeah, that’s TCL. That’s a budget brand. But the sweet new Samsung I’m looking at is going to be way better.”

Well, think again. Even the mega 85 inch Samsung TU8000 series only has 20 watts of output. Not much better than this TCL. Okay. So that’s the baseline.

TaoTronics TT-SK023 soundbar review

And now it’s time to bring in the competition. This is the TaoTronics TT-SK023, which sounds more like a stormtrooper designation than a soundbar. TK-421, why aren’t you at your post?

Now this is the budget option that we’re going to be talking about here. The price does vary, but it’s going to be the cheaper of the two that we’re going to talk about today. So this budget soundbar has an output of 40 watts. Were you keeping track before? That TCL is 16. So already, we’re getting more than double the wattage than what the TV is giving me. And wouldn’t you know it, it actually shoots the sound forward so I can hear it.

Compared to the TV sound, how does the TaoTronics soundbar do? Pretty well, actually. I set up a test in which I watched about 60 seconds of the motorcycle chase from Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

It’s a plenty loud scene, which I can’t show you because you know. Anyway, I sat on the couch with a decibel meter on my phone, which I know is not going to be a scientifically accurate decibel measurement. But hey, as long as I’m using the same bad tool across all the tests, it should work okay.

According to that app, at the same output of about 33% of volume, the built-in TV speakers gave me 61.2 decibels of sound, while the TaoTronics soundbar spit out 61.7 decibels. Now that doesn’t sound like much maybe, but decibels are measured logarithmically, not linearly, which is just a fancy way of saying that 0.5 decibels really does make a difference. But it’s not just about how loud it can get. What about the quality of the sound that we’re getting here?

The TaoTronics bar does have a little more bass, but it doesn’t do a ton to change the character of the sound you’re hearing, mostly just its loudness and its presence. So it does better than the TV speakers. No doubt about that. But the bass is still lackluster and the high sounds can still be a bit piercing, but that’s where the Polk bar comes in.

Polk Signa S2 Soundbar with Subwoofer review

The Polk Signa S2 is bigger, badder, pricier, and it comes with a subwoofer. In that same sound test, the Polk came in at 64.4 decibels, 2.7 higher than the TaoTronics.

Now to give you an idea of the difference, consider this. Every 3 decibels of increase means that you’re doubling the sound output. Now that means you’re getting almost double what you’ve got from the TaoTronics bar with the Polk Signa S2 soundbar, and more than double the sound as you got from the TV speakers. And again, it’s not just about the amount of sound we’re getting, it’s also about the quality as well. The sound from the Polk was much more rounded.

In fact, even though it was significantly louder, you’ll also perceive it as significantly easier to listen to than either of the other two options because of the subwoofer’s bass, which you can adjust to your taste. But whatever you adjusted to, chances are, it’s going to round out that sound a lot better. If you’re budgeting for a new TV, I’d say it’s not just a good idea, it is vital to also budget in the cost of a soundbar or some other speaker.

Behind me on my Roku TV, I’ve got the Roku speakers. So just for fun, I tested those out and they were even louder than the Polk for a little bit less cost. But I do think the Polk ekes out a slight win in sound quality over those speakers. But anyway, it doesn’t have to be the TaoTronics or the Polk.

Wrap Up: TaoTronics best for budget, Polk Signa S2: Excellent step up

There are a lot of soundbars out there. But I would say there’s a reason that these two are the top sellers on Amazon. The TaoTronics really is a great budget soundbar option. It’s not going to light any audiophile’s hair on fire, but it’s a good budget option. And the Polk soundbar sounds light years ahead of the TV speakers or the TaoTronics. You will pay a fair bit more for it. And as the price goes up, you’ll get even better soundbars than that one.

Ultimately, I’m hoping this video gave you a little more insight into why you definitely need a soundbar and what you should look for when you’re shopping for one. And now you know what to do. If you like this video, give it a like. And don’t forget to subscribe and hit the comments with your thoughts below on your favorite soundbar if you’re using one.

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