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How we test soundbars

Our rigorous testing means you can be confident you're buying the best soundbar for your needs. Here's how we do it. 

Polk MagniFi Max AX soundbar

Our expert testers and listening panel put the latest soundbars from Yamaha, Sony, Sonos, LG, Samsung and more 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.

How we choose what we test

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. Our testing 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 – don't expect a cheap soundbar to automatically give you a better audio experience compared to your TV speakers. Generally speaking though, a soundbar will improve audio quality.

We mostly test mid-range soundbars, as these fit the budgets of average consumers looking for better audio. But we also look at a few high-end models to determine whether upmarket options are as good as the price tag suggests.

Our expert testers

Our testers have many years of expertise testing audio equipment and, unlike other reviews or comparison sites, we don't rely on one individual's perception to rank products. 

Instead we use a listening panel where each participant has experience in sound appraisal and has consistently ranked audio products for their sound quality over many years.

How we test soundbars

Sound quality

A panel of experienced CHOICE staff assesses how each soundbar handles multi-channel and stereo surround, using film, music and spoken-word audio. The speaker is positioned about two metres away from the listener, with the panel reviewing overall quality.

  • We use excerpts from Blu-ray movies, including chapters from Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (such as the podracing sequence), to assess 5.1 multi-channel surround and dialogue clarity.
  • We further test dialogue clarity by listening to a newscast in stereo mode.
  • We use "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman and "New Dorp. New York." by SBTRKT 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 tests create our stereo listening score.

Ease of use

We check how easy it is to use the:

  • connections
  • calibration options
  • on-screen and front panel displays
  • manual and any other instructions that come with the soundbar.

Remote control

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 like 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.

Standby energy

We measure the amount of power the soundbar uses when in standby mode.

Annual standby energy cost

We determine how much the soundbar costs to run per year based on 40c/kWh with the soundbar in standby mode for 19 hours per day.


The panel consists of music and voice assessments which are used to create the stereo listening score. We provide separate music and voice results which contribute to the CHOICE Expert Rating (or overall score).

The CHOICE Expert Rating is based on the following criteria:

  • music quality (30%)
  • multi-channel (movie) quality (30%)
  • ease of use (20%)
  • voice quality (10%)
  • remote control (5%)
  • standby energy (5%).

The Polk Magnifi Mini and Panasonic SC-HTB688 were not assessed for voice performance. Weighting for these models is as follows:

  • music quality (35%)
  • multi-channel (movie) quality (35%)
  • ease of use (20%)
  • remote control (5%)
  • standby energy (5%).

Models discontinued before October 2022 have not been re-scored.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.