While a great soundbar can take your TV's audio to the next level, 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 home entertainment 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 nightPeter Zaluzny, CHOICE tech expert
To sort the best soundbars from the worst, Peter and other CHOICE experts in our audio lab tested over 35 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 from 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. Bauhn soundbar
CHOICE Expert Rating: 48%
"The worst in the test by a long shot," is how our home entertainment expert Denis Gallagher described this Aldi home-brand buy. Our audio tests found its mid and high frequencies sounded harsh and hollow, and the bass barely audible, with some distortion and crunch thrown into the mix, too.
"It sounds like an old radio at times," our testers noted. Avoid this one next time it's on sale. Read our full review.
2. TCL TS9030
CHOICE Expert Rating: 56%
At least Aldi's Bauhn soundbar is cheap so we can blame that. This soundbar and sub set costs a whopping 10 times the price, but didn't rate that much better in our test results.
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 bright 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 review.
3. Panasonic SC-HTB688
CHOICE Expert Rating: 63%
This soundbar and subwoofer set comes with a raft of issues – music to your ears it ain't. Our testers noted its overall sound was somewhat "flat and dull", with boomy, inconsistent bass and thin high frequencies.
For the same price or lower, there are plenty of other models that performed better in our tests. Read our full review.
4. Polk Magnifi Mini
CHOICE Expert Rating: 63%
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 thanks to its average remote and very hungry power consumption when on standby. Read our full review.