Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Soundbars

Monday April 18, 2022

How do we test soundbars? First, we scour online user reviews and spec sheets to find the best, then we buy those models and put them through a series of stringent, side-by-side tests. Most of our testing focuses on sound quality, but we also assess how user-friendly each model is, how much each allows you to customize the sound produced, and how well each could blend in with the decor of an average living room.

soundbar
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Sound Quality


To quantify sound quality we have multiple testers listen to the same movie clips, movie soundtracks, and songs on each model, one right after another. We make sure to use some test tracks with high notes so we could see if there was any clipping (premature cutting off of high pitched sounds), and with booming low notes so we could see how powerful the bass was and whether or not it became muffled. Each tester then assigns relative scores to each soundbar for bass and treble quality, dynamic range (the difference in the volume of the quietest sounds and loudest sound), the presence or degree of clipping, and overall clarity. Those scores are then all averaged together to get our overall sound quality scores.

Ease of Use


Our ease of use testing and scoring centers around the designs of the remote controls and on soundbar controls, and how easy each model is to install and set up. To test the controls we set up a "soundbar Olympics" where we create a series of tasks (play music via a mobile phone, switch the input to the TV, adjust the bass level, etc.) and have each tester complete those tasks twice for each model, once using the remote control and once using the controls on the soundbar. We also install and uninstall each model multiple times during our sound quality testing, so again we made sure each tester completes that process for each soundbar. We then have each tester assign relative scores to each model, and average those to get our overall ease of use scores.

soundbar
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Volume


Our easiest to measure and most objective metric, Volume scores are determined using our decibel meter while playing a 1khz tone through each soundbar at max volume. The most powerful models topped out at 105 dBa and can easily fill a large room with sound. Volume only accounts for 15% of each score.

soundbar
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Style/Design


Style is, by definition, subjective, so we try to keep our style ratings as even-keeled and middle of the road as possible. When we assign our style scores, we weren't exactly thinking about how good each model looked, but rather how well it would blend into the average living room. Our ideal soundbar has a sturdy build that looks high quality, and a rather unassuming design that doesn't readily catch your attention. We want something that would look good when you noticed but wouldn't catch your eye when you're supposed to be looking at the TV. We rate all of our models based on this aesthetic ideal. Additionally, we consider the materials that each soundbar is constructed from in terms of durability and how easy or difficult they are to keep clean.

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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

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