Our expert testers and listening panel put the latest soundbar models – such as Yamaha, Sony, Sonos, LG and Samsung – through rigorous testing to rate sound quality, ease of use, dialogue clarity and how well they work in real life; so you'll know exactly what to expect.
Soundbars are one of the fastest growing audio categories due to the limited sound quality delivered by many flat panel TVs. So, we look for as wide a range of products as possible. This test is carried out over some time and continues to grow as we add more models.
- If you're thinking about buying a soundbar, consider the quality of your existing TV sound first and don't expect a cheap soundbar to automatically give you a better audio experience compared to the TV speakers.
- Generally speaking however, a soundbar will improve audio quality.
- We mostly test mid-range soundbars, as these fit the budgets of average consumers looking for better audio. However, we also look at a few high-end models, to determine whether upmarket options are as good as the price tag suggests.
A panel of experience CHOICE staff assesses how each soundbar handles multi-channel surround and stereo surround, using film, music and spoken-word audio. The speaker is positioned about two metres away from the listener, with the panel assessing overall quality.
- Excerpts from Blu-ray movies, including chapters from Star Wars: Episode I (such as the podracing sequence), are used to asses 5.1 multi-channel surround and dialogue clarity.
- We further test dialogue clarity by listening to a newscast in stereo mode.
- "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman and "New Dorp. New York" by SBTRKT and are used to assess music quality in stereo mode.
The 5.1 test results make up our multi-channel listening score, while average results across newscast and music test create our stereo listening score.
Ease of use
We check how easy it is to use the:
- calibration options
- on-screen and front panel displays
- the manual and any other instructions that come with the product.
We assess the remote control to determine how easy it is to use for common functions.
- While not as crucial as with other home entertainment devices such as a Blu-ray player or PVR, the remote is still an important part of the functionality of any home entertainment unit.
- We look at button size, shape, colour and grouping for ease of understanding.
We measure the amount of power the soundbar uses when in standby mode.
We give every soundbar a CHOICE test score so you can see at a glance which are the best and worst performers, plus how the models compare to each other in features and specifications. The overall score ignores price and is based on the following criteria:
- Stereo sound quality (40%)
- Multi-channel sound quality (30%)
- Ease of use (20%)
- Remote control (5%)
- Standby energy (5%)
Our testers have years of expertise in testing audio equipment – and, unlike most reviewers, we don't rely on one individual's perception to rank products. Instead we use a listening panel with experience in sound appraisal, who've consistently ranked audio products for their sound quality.