Plus what to look for when buying one
When hearing the word “soundbar,” you might think of TVs, but this speaker form factor is becoming more popular for desktop computers. If you’re sick of your built-in screen speakers or don’t have space for that big 2.1 subwoofer PC speaker setup anymore, it might be time to embrace the modern soundbar.
What To Look for in a Soundbar
The basic definition of a soundbar is a stereo speaker device in a roughly rectangular bar shape, designed to sit under your television. Beyond that, any two soundbars can be drastically different from each other.
The most important thing to look out for when looking for the best PC soundbar is how many speakers your soundbar has. At the very least, it should have two drivers that handle mid-and- high-range sound and at least one subwoofer speaker to handle bass.
High-end soundbars can feature even more speakers angled in different ways with their unique sound chambers, which work together to reproduce detailed, clear, and balanced sound.
Some soundbars work via USB and therefore have their sound card built-in. This can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the quality of that soundcard. If the soundbar also offers a standard 3.5mm input, you can try both your own soundcard and the internal one to choose the best.
Soundbars also use internal amplifiers, which can have a big impact on sound quality. The rule of thumb is that heavier soundbars have better amps, but that’s a quick and dirty simplification. Also, remember to look at the RMS (root mean square) wattage number of the soundbar’s output instead of PMPO (Peak Music Power Output). That will give you a more realistic idea of how much clean audio power the unit can produce.
1. Best Budget Soundbar: Redragon GS560 Adiemus RGB Desktop Soundbar (Approx. $50)
- Low price
- Attractive Design
- Dynamic RGB Lighting
- A good general-purpose off-headset alternative to integrated speakers
Redragon is a good budget option for gamers who can’t splash out the cash for the big brands.
Given that you can pick up the Adiemus for well under $50, this seems like a warning sign, but it turns out that this is a decent soundbar if your expectations are adjusted accordingly.
It offers built-in RGB audio sync that dynamically changes with the sound playing, making it an interesting choice for budget game streamers looking to spice up their stream’s visuals. Also, you get analog and USB connections and two full-range drivers totaling 4W of power.
This is not a soundbar that you’d want to use for immersive gaming or watching movies, but rather a good supplement to your gaming headset. It’s perfect for watching YouTube videos.
2. Best Mainstream PC Soundbar: Creative Stage 2.1 Channel Under-Monitor Soundbar with Subwoofer (Approx $100)
- Compact, professional design
- Extensive range of connection options
- Wall-mountable (kit included)
Unlike the Katana speaker system reviewed further down, this Creative Labs soundbar and subwoofer combo don’t bear the legendary Sound Blaster name. The good news is that Creative maintains its reputation as a quality audio hardware maker with the Stage 2.1 under-monitor.
At around the $100 mark, it’s not exactly cheap. Still, it’s in a comfortable position for budget-conscious users who want to save desk space but substantially improve their audio quality, at least compared to integrated or bundled speakers.
This is a 2.1 system with only two drivers in the soundbar and then the subwoofer. Creative has tuned these drivers to provide a good balance between high- and mid-range audio. It has input options that include HDMI ARC input from a TV, USB MP3, optical in, standard 3.5mm analog, and Bluetooth. That’s an incredible value at this price point. Best of all, this unit is wall-mountable, giving you many options for both connection and placement.
3. Best Gaming Soundbar: Razer Leviathan (Approx. $200)
- Great gaming-focused virtual surround gaming audio
- Beautiful design
The Razer Leviathan gets around the general issue of weak bass in soundbars by, well, cheating. It has a separate dedicated subwoofer that goes on the floor, preferably somewhere it won’t get in the way.
This somewhat defeats the minimalist elegance of a soundbar, but at least when it comes to your desktop arrangement, you’re getting the same space-saving design.
The Leviathan accepts a 5.1 surround signal and then reproduces it as a virtual surround-sound experience using the four directional drivers in the desktop unit.
It supports Dolby Digital, Virtual Speaker, and Pro Logic II and can work with a PC, console, or television. Still, we wouldn’t recommend using it for anything but a PC since apparently, it doesn’t have essential features such as auto power-on when you switch on your TV or console.
Since we’re reviewing this as a PC soundbar, that’s not too important. And given the very competitive price here it’s a lot of (loud) bang for your buck.
4. Best Overall PC Soundbar: Sound BlasterX Katana (Approx. $300)
- Exceptional audio for the price
- Good selection of input options
It’s wonderful to see the Sound Blaster name still doing the rounds. Since integrated sound cards became the norm, Creative Labs’ star has dimmed somewhat. These days they make discrete high-end sound cards and quality speaker systems like this Katana.
Just like the Razer Leviathan, the Katana X has an external subwoofer that should go on your floor, but the flat slimline soundbar itself contains five drivers. One more than the Leviathan!
This makes it a more generally-rounded audio product that doesn’t have such a strict gaming focus. So if you’re looking for something that will do well for music and movies in addition to games, this is the better choice. It’s about 30% more expensive than the Leviathan, although if you’re patient, you can pick one up at a decent discount.
The Katana also offers a great selection of inputs, including low-latency Bluetooth, USB, and optical cable. Then, it has onboard sound processing hardware that benefits from decades of Creative’s audio engineering experience, and that’s worth the price premium by itself.
5. All-In-One Bass: YAMAHA SR-C20A Compact Sound Bar (Approx. $125)
- Good bass from a relatively small unit
- Sounds better than you’d expect for the money
The Yamaha SR-C20A doesn’t have the snappiest name, but Yamaha has a peerless reputation for audio engineering. The SR-C20 is promoted as a compact TV soundbar, but Yamaha also shows off their soundbar nestled within PC gaming setups. Thanks to an analog input, you can use this soundbar with any computer that will take external speakers or headphones, so it’s definitely eligible.
The soundbar is 23-5/8” inches wide, which means it should go well with most larger monitors, but maybe a little wide for smaller setups. With a built-in subwoofer and passive radiators to boost the low-end of the range, this is an excellent option for those looking for a soundbar that’s got decent bass but doesn’t want to have a whole separate unit on their floors.
But don’t expect room-shaking bass. Instead, you’ll get a well-rounded full-range sound, rather than the thin, toppy sound of soundbars with only full-range drivers and no separate bass hardware.
Another pleasant surprise is that you can use optical inputs in addition to standard analog audio. PC users with optical outputs may find that this makes better quality audio with less interference possible.
6. For Punchy Gaming Audio: Panasonic SoundSlayer Gaming Soundbar (Approx. $300)
- ONLY Supports Optical in or HDMI Passthrough
- Multiple sound modes for different game genres as well as cinematic content
- Dolby Atmos virtual surround
Usually, products marketed at gamers as the SoundSlayer end up being less than impressive. However, the Panasonic SoundSlayer is worth a look at this price, considering that it has built-in subwoofers, supports Dolby Atmos virtual surround sound, and has multiple profiles tuned specifically for various game genres.
In addition to Atmos, this soundbar also supports DTS:X and DTS: X virtual surround. The main downside to this soundbar as a PC device is that you are limited to either optical input or HDMI passthrough. Panasonic says their 4K HDR passthrough is lossless, but there’s always the outside chance that some issue can arise passing your GPU’s signal through to the monitor. This is why we think having a standard analog input is a good idea as a fallback. We doubt anyone will have issues in practice, but it’s a point worth keeping in mind.
The SoundSlayer comes with remote control and Bluetooth connectivity. So if you want to take a break from gaming and listen to music from your phone, it’s as easy as clicking a button.
7. Best Budget Laptop Soundbar: SOULION R30 (Approx. $25)
- Very cheap
- Better sound than most budget laptops
If you’re a student or a laptop user with an entry-level system, the onboard speakers are probably not very loud and don’t sound very good. Sadly, when it comes to built-in laptop speakers, you need to buy quite an expensive laptop before you’d think of actually using the built-in sound.
Thankfully, you can “upgrade” your basic laptop sound to something much better with the Soulion R30. It’s USB-powered, so you don’t have to worry about plugging it in. Thanks to two full-range drivers it will almost certainly provide much better sound than your laptop can produce.
If you don’t mind throwing this small soundbar into your backpack with your laptop, it can easily travel with you. Alternatively, if you only want to use it at home when you put your laptop on a table, it’s small enough to stow almost anywhere. It’s also a decent little speaker to add audio to a monitor with USB ports and a headphone jack.
8. Best Portable Gaming Soundbar: LG Ultragear GP9 (Approx. $500)
- Optical, ISB-C, and analog inputs
- Five hours of battery life
- Virtual surround in a portable package
- Clean digital headphone signal
- Built-in microphone
This soundbar may be a little too expensive for what you get, but it’s a good soundbar in its own right, especially if you’re a gamer who likes to attend LAN parties or has a gaming laptop and likes to play while traveling. If at all possible, this is worth adding to a wishlist and waiting for a price drop during big annual sales such as Black Friday.
If you’re already rocking gaming gear with the same aesthetic as LG’s Ultragear products, you’ll love the color and lighting style of the GP9. It’s also solidly built for transport and has several gaming-specific features that make it more attractive for gamers in particular.
This is NOT a soundbar for those who want to consume music or movies, but a tool to improve your gaming experience. This soundbar has a built-in microphone so you can engage in voice chat while you play. Based on what users of the speaker have said, this microphone is pretty good at picking up the player’s voice, but the actual quality is just okay.
Connect your headphones to the port, and you’ll get a hiss-free amplified signal with a virtual 7.1 surround. If the price were a little lower, this would be easy to recommend to serious gamers as a whole, but if the price doesn’t matter to you and you’re all about that PC gamer life wherever you go, the GP9 is a good choice.