The Yamaha YAS-101 (*Est. $250) is showered with praise from critics and users alike. The sound bar delivers solid, clear audio with a respectable amount of punch and a decent envelope of virtual surround sound, although the integrated subwoofer can't match the chest-rumbling power of sound bars with a discrete subwoofer. To be fair, though, the Yamaha YAS-101 allows you to connect a separate subwoofer.
The simple setup takes next to no time and is utterly painless. Experts also love that the sound bar functions as an infrared repeater; if it blocks the IR signal for your TV, the sound bar will pass it along through an IR emitter on the back of the bar. The major Achilles heel for the Yamaha YAS-101 is its skimpy connection options, which are limited to a single coaxial digital audio connection and a pair of optical ports.
If you need a few more connection options, the Sony HT-CT150 (*Est. $250) is another star in the budget class. The sound bar has three HDMI 1.4a inputs that support the latest 3D pass-through and audio return channel technologies, along with a coaxial and two optical digital audio connections and a pair of analog ports. The Sony HT-CT150 also has a discrete subwoofer that helps it pump out some of the smoothest, clearest audio found in a low-cost sound bar. On the negative side, the subwoofer connects to the sound bar via a short 10-foot proprietary cable, and the sensor for the system's remote is on that subwoofer, limiting placement flexibility.
The sleek Vizio VHT215 (*Est. $270) has nearly as many ports as the Sony HT-CT150 and delivers solid audio and especially clear dialog. The major point of differentiation is its subwoofer, which connects wirelessly. However, while the small subwoofer can pump out plenty of bass quantity, its quality comes in for some criticism.