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Soundbars to avoid buying

Check 1, 2? These models set the bar lowest in our lab tests. 

worst soundbars
Last updated: 01 April 2022

Need to know

  • We tested more than 30 popular soundbars from Bose, LG, Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, Sonos, TCL and more
  • Our experts assess key factors such as stereo and multi-channel listening, ease of use, remote control and more
  • Consider joining CHOICE to access full reviews and best performers

A great soundbar can take your TV's audio to the next level, but the opposite is just as true: bad bars can turn an epic Hollywood blockbuster into a tinny B-grade mess or make your favourite sport sound like you've been sent to the sin bin. 

As our tech expert Peter Zaluzny explains, "Inferior models with issues like limited bass, poor balance across frequencies and distortion can really ruin your movie night." 

Inferior models can really ruin your movie night

Peter Zaluzny, CHOICE tech expert

To sort the best soundbars from the worst, Peter and other CHOICE experts in our audio lab tested more than 30 popular models (ranging in price from $80 to $4000) against key criteria including stereo and multi-channel listening, ease of use, remote usability and energy consumption. 

To save you buying a dud and copping an earful, here are the models that scored worst in our test. Become a CHOICE member to access our full reviews and see the best performers. 

Lowest rated soundbars

1. TCL TS9030

tcl ts9030 soundbar

TCL TS9030.

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 56%
  • Stereo listening score: 47%
  • Remote score: 60%
  • Price: $499

Here's the thing: 500 bucks isn't exactly expensive for a soundbar – you can quite easily drop in excess of $1000 on one. But when literally every single other soundbar in this review – whether it costs $129 or $4000 – scores higher than this one, you have to wonder why this particular model is selling for so much. 

Not only will your wallet cop it, your ears will too – our tests revealed sub-par stereo sound and barely passable multi-channel listening. On the brighter side, our testers found it easy to use, but given its lacklustre performance, you probably won't want to.

For the same price or lower, we found plenty of other models that sounded far better in our tests. Read our full TCL TS9030 review.

2. Panasonic SC-HTB688

panasonic-sc-htb688_1

Panasonic SC-HTB688.

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 63%
  • Stereo listening score: 67%
  • Remote score: 50%
  • Price: $479

This soundbar and subwoofer set comes with a raft of issues – music to your ears it ain't. Our testers noted that its overall sound was somewhat "flat and dull", with boomy, inconsistent bass and thin high frequencies. Plus, it rated just average for standby energy use score and borderline for its remote control.

For the same price or lower, there are plenty of other models that performed better in our tests. Read our full  Panasonic SC-HTB688 review.

3. Polk Magnifi Mini

polk-magnifi-mini_1

Polk Magnifi Mini.

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 63%
  • Stereo listening score: 69%
  • Remote score: 50%
  • Price: $339

Our audio experts noted some positive signs with this Polk – crisp vocals, a decent high end and strong bass – only to find it was undone by a flat, uneven mix. 

The model also lost marks for ease of use thanks to its mediocre remote, plus very hungry power consumption when on standby. Read our full Polk Magnifi mini review.

4. TCL TS3010

tcl ts3010

TCL TS3010.

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 63%
  • Stereo listening score: 59%
  • Remote score: 50%
  • Price: $149

Poor stereo sound, a sub-par remote and a woeful standby energy score… not exactly what you're looking for in a new soundbar.

This model may be almost a third of the price of the other mediocre TCL model already mentioned, but it receives the same dismal score. Read our full TCL TS3010 review

The good news is that our experts found other soundbars in the same price range that scored much better for both sound and features. Consider joining CHOICE to see the full test results and the best performers. 

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.