Whether it's too-loud commercials or mumbly dialogue, sometimes the speaker in your TV just can't cut it. While there are some things you can do to make your TV sound better without spending a dime, buying a new soundbar designed to improve vocals is a sure-fire fix.
Most brands offer soundbars with a speech mode, but some do it better than others. One company that really stands out is Zvox — it specializes in dialogue, and most of its products have at least one voice enhancement mode (and as many as 12). Competitor Polk is also notable for its excellent VoiceAdjust feature, while Yamaha makes an affordable option, too. These are three of CNET's favorite soundbars for making your home entertainment all that much more intelligible.
Best soundbar for TV dialogue
CNET TAKE: If you're looking for a soundbar that offers plenty of bass as well as crisp dialogue without using a subwoofer, then the Zvox SB500 is a great buy. Since we reviewed the SB500, the company has added more levels of sound enhancement, which should make it even easier to dial in the dialogue the way you want it.
Best for features, including Alexa
CNET TAKE: The Polk React is a follow-up to the Command Bar — the first soundbar that had Amazon Alexa on board — and it offers an excellent mix of features and performance. Polk's VoiceAdjust is one of the better dialogue enhancement systems, and it's put to good use on this speaker.
Best for tight budgets, newer TVs
CNET TAKE:The Zvox soundbars are great, but they lack HDMI connectivity. The compact Yamaha SR-C20A not only offers the ease of HDMI ARC hookup — which is found on most newer TVs — but also has a dedicated Clear Voice mode to make dialogue a little easier to understand. It's also the least-expensive option on this list.
Get smart: 8 ways to boost your home’s tech intelligence
Simplify cooking with a smart oven
This is one of our favorite new tech developments: smart gadgets that take the hassle out of cooking and deliver high-end meals at the perfect temperature.
A smart oven is a must because it combines the simplicity of an Instant Pot with a touchscreen interface, healthy recipes and heating technology that knows exactly when everything is ready. The game-changer here, however, is the versatility that smart ovens bring: They can handle fish, meat, pizza, veggies and breads — and produce incredible results. Make frozen meals and processed food a thing of the past.
Use a smart garage door opener
A smart garage door opener might not sound like a big deal, but there’s nothing quite like the feeling of your garage door automatically opening up to greet you when you get home. Sure, the added security is nice: You can set your garage to automatically close if you accidentally leave it open, or even open it from your smartphone if you need to let someone in while you’re away.
But the best part is seeing your garage open as you approach or watching it close behind you as you drive away. (Pro tip: Installing or replacing a garage door opener isn’t exactly trivial, so we recommend working with a qualified contractor when upgrading.)
Upgrade to smart plugs
If you’re interested in setting your lamps up with some smart lighting but you’re not keen on smart light bulbs, you can use smart plugs and control your lighting from your phone or use voice commands with a digital assistant. Smart plugs are the perfect way to make sure your lamps are included in your lighting scenes, and they make it easy to set up voice-activated routines. Our favorite starter routine: setting it up so when you say, “Alexa, I’m home!” all of your lights turn on.
Get a robot vacuum
This one is a no-brainer: Smart vacuums are affordable and handle everything from mopping to animal hair on their own. There are dozens of different models available, many designed for specific use cases, so even if you’ve got an unusual layout or pets that shed a ton, there’s a robot vacuum out there for you.
Stay organized with a kids’ smart speaker
If you’ve got kids, consider getting them a kids’ smart speaker. You can use it to help them manage their daily routines with alarms and reminders while supporting their learning with educational apps.
Kid-friendly smart speakers also come with built-in peace of mind: They include filters and parental controls, so you can curate their experience based on their age or needs. They’re plenty of fun, too (yes, Alexa will fart if you ask) — but our favorite feature? They keep kids off screens.
Make life easier with a smart assistant
Smart speakers are great, but if you like to cook, or you need a dead-simple, hands-free way to have video calls with friends and family, you’ll want to get one with a screen.
Smart assistants with screens take the experience a step further: You can ask for recipes and get step-by-step video cooking walkthroughs, or instantly chat with a loved one face-to-face. All you have to do is use a voice command to ask. Truth be told, our favorite thing about smart assistants is how they fit in anywhere: Most people use them in their kitchens or on their nightstands, but we wouldn’t blame you if you wanted one in every room.
Close curtains from anywhere with a smart curtain motor
While you can already buy motorized curtains, most are incredibly expensive, require their own remote controls and must be purchased with window coverings themselves. Now, smart curtain motors are changing everything: They’re affordable, easy to set up from your smartphone and work with your existing curtains so you don’t have to completely redecorate.
The smart tech on board is where it gets cool: For example, with the right smart assistant, you can create an automated routine to automatically close your curtains at sunset and open them at sunrise, which will likely save you money on heating and cooling bills.
Customize your lighting with color smart bulbs
Smart bulbs that can change color are fun for everyone, no matter what age. You can use them to turn a room haunted-house red for Halloween or bring a party to life with active patterns that continually change. There’s really no limit to the number of scenes you can create, and they’re also perfect for scheduled routines.
Set your lights to cool, soothing tones, or use vibrant colors to change the look of a room entirely. Dial in new scenes from an app, or use a smart assistant to change the lights with voice commands. (Pro tip: If your WiFi network has a guest network, connect your smart home devices to that instead of your primary network so they don’t interfere with web speeds to your more important devices.)
Jaime Vázquez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product-review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
The following CNET staff contributed to this story: Editor Ty Pendlebury and Copy Editor Jim Hoffman. For more reviews of personal technology products, please visit www.cnet.com.