If you want the best sound bar experience available and don't mind paying for it, reviewers say the Yamaha YSP-4100 (Est. $1,700) is the cream of the crop. It's big and very expensive, but its integrated amplifier delivers strong, clear audio and an expansive virtual surround-sound field -- after you complete an extensive setup procedure. The sound bar doesn't include a subwoofer; critics say it sounds just fine without one, but sounds magnificent with one, and Yamaha includes a kit in the box that can turn any subwoofer into a wireless model.
The other selling point for the Yamaha YSP-4100 is its features. In addition to the wireless subwoofer link kit, the sound bar sports a bevy of ports (including HDMI 1.4a with 3D pass-through and audio return channel), onboard decoders for digital HD audio, a satellite-ready FM tuner, 1080p video upconversion capabilities, an automatic speaker calibration function and the ability to stream music from iOS devices with an optional adapter.
If you don't need all the bells and whistles, the slightly cheaper MartinLogan Motion Vision (Est. $1,500) is worth a listen. It doesn't come with a subwoofer either, but experts say it produces excellent, decently chest-thumping audio just as well as the Yamaha YSP-4100. The Motion Vision has the ability to decode HD audio, but lacks HDMI ports and has a longer, slightly confusing setup.
The Yamaha YSP-2200 (Est. $800) sits at the cheaper end of the premium sound-bar spectrum. It's much smaller than the soundbars above (just 37 inches wide) and includes a discrete, wired subwoofer that's connected via a 4-foot cord. The audio is great for TV and movie viewing, and the automated audio calibration makes setup a breeze. Connectivity is generous -- including HDMI -- and a full complement of Dolby and DTS surround-sound decoders are on board. However, the Yamaha YSP-2200 isn't the best performer with music.
Products by Sonos -- a well-known manufacturer of wireless home audio solutions -- have an almost cult-like following, so it's little surprise that the Sonos Playbar (Est. $700) receives favorable reviews from both experts and owners. The Playbar's main attraction is that it supports Sonos's signature digital music software, which lets you stream music from virtually anywhere in your house. The Playbar uses lots of sonic trickery to deliver an extremely enveloping soundstage that's comparable to what premium-priced sound bars such as the Yamaha YSP-4100 can deliver. The downside is that the Playbar sounds highly processed, which experts say will not please audio purists.