Our Soundbar Connectivity Tests

Updated
Score components:
  • 10% Audio Format Support - ARC
  • 10% Audio Format Support - Full HDMI In
  • 10% Audio Format Support - Optical
  • 1% Latency
  • 10% Wireless Playback
Score distribution

Whether you like listening to music or watching movies and TV shows, soundbars are a great way to create an immersive listening experience in your home. However, to listen to your audio, you'll need to connect your soundbar to an audio source like a TV, PC, or gaming console. Our connectivity tests evaluate the physical inputs available and any wireless playback options like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Depending on the media sources you plan to use and the type of media you like to listen to, you may prefer a soundbar with certain connectivity options.

We test several different factors to evaluate a soundbar's connectivity performance: physical inputs, audio format support and latency via ARC, Full HDMI In, and Optical, wireless playback, high-quality passthrough, and subwoofer and satellites connectivity.

Test results

When It Matters

Your personal preferences are important for understanding the connectivity options you'll want from your soundbar since they'll determine the type of media devices you'll want to connect it with. You may want to take a look at the connectivity options available on your TV as well as any other media devices you plan to connect to your soundbar, like Blu-ray players, PCs, or gaming consoles. Also, the type of audio content you like to listen to plays a role in the connectivity options you'll want out of your soundbar. Some listeners may prefer to watch certain surround sound movie formats like Dolby Digital or DTS:X, while others may only want to play music from their smartphone.

Our tests

To evaluate a soundbar's connectivity options, we perform a variety of tests. While we can simply look at the bar to see which physical inputs it offers, we also test its performance over some of those inputs to see which audio formats are supported and the amount of latency over these connections. Also, we look at the wireless playback options that the bar supports and how many subwoofers or satellites connect to the bar. If there's a Full HDMI In port available, we also test to see if it supports high-quality passthrough.

You can find more information about how we perform each of these tests below.

Physical Inputs - Bar

What it is: All the physical inputs on the soundbar, except the power cable and service ports.
When it matters: When playing sound through the soundbar using a high quality wired connection.

If you want to connect your soundbar to your gaming console, PC, TV, and more, you'll want to see which physical inputs are available. Most soundbars we've tested have ARC and Optical In ports, commonly used to connect the soundbar to your TV. However, a Full HDMI In port can also be helpful for some listeners since it allows you to use your bar as a hub between different devices and may also support high-quality passthrough. That said, you may also want to get your audio from other sources like older devices or USB drives, so other ports like AUX In or USB In may be important to you.

Audio Format Support - ARC

What it is: Whether the soundbar can decode and play audio sent in each specific format, over an HDMI ARC connection. Note that in many cases, if the TV detects that the soundbar doesn't support a specific audio format, it will transform it into something that the soundbar does support. Here ARC refers to both standard ARC and the new eARC standard.
When it matters: When playing surround sound from the TV, when the TV supports HDMI ARC. ARC has more features than optical (more possible formats, power on and off with the TV, etc).
Score components:
  • 0% eARC
  • 0% Dolby Atmos
  • 6% Dolby Digital
  • 0% Dolby Digital Plus
  • 1% DTS
  • 0% DTS:X (eARC only)
  • 0% Dolby TrueHD (eARC only)
  • 0% DTS-HD MA (eARC only)
  • 0% 5.1 PCM (eARC only)
Score distribution

If you plan to connect your soundbar to your media device via ARC, you'll want to make sure that it supports the audio formats you like to watch. Dolby Digital is the most common surround sound format on the market, and you can often find it on Blu-ray discs and streaming platforms. DTS is a competitor to Dolby Digital, often used as the fallback for the higher-quality DTS-HD MA format. However, ARC doesn't support more than a 5.1 channel setup, so unless it has an eARC standard built-in, it can't support more advanced audio standards like Dolby Atmos or DTS:X.

During our testing process, we plug the soundbar into the HDMI Out port of our testing TV. Then, we plug our testing PC into the HDMI In port of the TV. We play the audio formats to see if the soundbar reproduces it clearly. It's important to keep in mind that the soundbar doesn't always tell us if it's playing the correct audio format or downmixing it, so it can be hard to know what the soundbar supports.

Audio Format Support - Full HDMI In

What it is: Whether the soundbar can decode and play audio sent in each specific format, over a direct connection to its 'HDMI In' port.
When it matters: When playing surround sound with the soundbar, using its 'HDMI In' input.
Score components:
  • 0% Dolby Atmos
  • 0% DTS:X
  • 6% Dolby Digital
  • 0% Dolby Digital Plus
  • 1% DTS
  • 0% Dolby TrueHD
  • 0% DTS-HD MA
  • 0% 5.1 PCM
Score distribution

A Full HDMI In port is another option for connecting media devices like TVs to your soundbar. Unlike ARC ports, Full HDMI In ports can support 7.1 formats and above, making it easy to watch object-based formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. That said, depending on the audio formats you prefer, you may want a soundbar that supports certain formats. Dolby Digital is the most popular surround sound format, commonly found on Blu-ray discs and streaming platforms.

We use a splitter to send the same audio format to both the soundbar and the receiver. We make sure that the receiver is also displaying the correct format and that the soundbar is reproducing sound properly. However, if the sound is choppy or if the bar is silent, we know that the particular audio format isn't supported.

Audio Format Support - Optical

What it is: Whether the soundbar can decode and play audio sent in each specific format, over a digital optical audio connection. Note that in many cases if the TV detects that the soundbar doesn't support a specific audio format, it will transform it into something that the soundbar does support.
When it matters: When playing surround sound with the soundbar, using its optical audio input. Optical has fewer features than HDMI or ARC but is a decent fallback when those two can't be easily used.
Score components:
  • 6% Dolby Digital
  • 4% DTS
Score distribution

If you want to connect devices like your TV to your soundbar, you may want to use the Optical In port. Compared to Full HDMI In and ARC ports, Optical has fewer features available. It doesn't support 7.1-channel surround formats like Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD, or Dolby Digital Plus, so you can only use it for 5.1 formats like Dolby Digital and DTS if they're available.

We perform the audio format support test for Optical using the same procedure as our Full HDMI In tests.

Latency

What it is: The delay between the image on a TV and the sound coming out of the soundbar. This test is always done on the same TV. The video shows a slowed-down to 20% version of the latency test we do (reference video by dayjoborchestra). The ping in the video should be synced with the moment the ball touches the white moving bar. A negative latency indicates that the sound comes before the visuals, while a positive latency indicates that the visuals come before the sound. The video could be less representative if you are listening to it with a higher latency audio device.
When it matters: When watching videos or movies and playing video games to have a good synchronism between the image and the sound. High latency can be noticeable mostly with lip sync during speech.
Score components:
Score distribution

Latency is a measurement that shows the delay between the audio you hear and the video you see. You may have noticed latency issues while watching videos before, especially if the words you heard didn't seem to be in sync with the character's lip movements. If you plan on watching a lot of videos over devices connected via ARC, Full HDMI In, and Optical, you'll want to make sure that your audio and video match up correctly.

We evaluate the latency over the Full HDMI In, ARC, and Optical In ports. We connect the same Samsung Q80T TV for consistency and set up a tripod 5.75 feet away from the TV to record the results. Then, we play an audiovisual latency video and record the results. However, it's important to keep in mind that some TVs and some apps can compensate for latency differently, so your experience may be a bit different from our results.

You can learn more about our soundbar latency tests here.

Wireless Playback

What it is: Whether the soundbar can play content wirelessly from your device.
When it matters: When you want to play content on the soundbar without having a direct cable connection to it, such as when using a smartphone.
Score components:
  • 60% Bluetooth
  • 20% Wi-Fi
  • 10% Chromecast built-in
  • 10% Apple AirPlay
Score distribution

Mobile devices like smartphones and tablets can be convenient locations to store audio content like music, podcasts, and audiobooks. You may be able to wire some of these devices to your soundbar for audio playback, but many listeners find it more convenient to connect wirelessly. For this test, we look to see if the bar supports Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Chromecast built-in, and Apple AirPlay, which are some of the more common wireless playback options on the market. Bluetooth can be especially useful since it doesn't require an Internet connection to work. However, your device may offer other connectivity options depending on their brand, like Apple's AirPlay or Google's Chromecast built-in. It's important to keep in mind that we don't test the performance of the wireless playback options, and we only report what the soundbar supports.

Other Input Specifications

What it is: Any other connectivity specs and features the soundbar has that can impact your usage.
When it matters: When using advanced connectivity features of the soundbar, such as video passthrough.

If you like to use your soundbar as a hub between different devices, you may want a soundbar that supports high-quality passthrough. Some soundbars support video passthrough, which lets you connect your media device like a PC or Blu-ray player to the soundbar and then connect the soundbar to your TV without losing video resolution. As a result, images on your TV look vivid and bright, and text appears clear and crisp. Your audio on the soundbar will be clear, too, and you'll have fewer unsightly cables around.

Our team uses an HDMI cable to plug our testing PC into the soundbar's Full HDMI In port. We then connect the soundbar's HDMI Out port to our testing TV's HDMI In port. We attempt to playback the different formats, using the Windows Advanced display settings to confirm whether or not the display information is correct. Keep in mind that if a soundbar doesn't have a Full HDMI In port, you won't be able to use it for high-quality passthrough.

Connectivity - Subwoofer

What it is: How the subwoofer connects to other devices (usually just the soundbar).
When it matters: When setting up the subwoofer.

Depending on how your room is set up, you may want to position your subwoofer in a specific place. Some listeners may find that their listening experience is enhanced by positioning the subwoofer in one location, while others may be more concerned with keeping a bulkier sub out of sight. Also, a sub with many wires could be distracting or unsightly and may even pose a tripping hazard if you can't place it out of the way.

For this test, we evaluate how the subwoofer connects to other devices. Most of the time, your subwoofer connects to your soundbar wirelessly, meaning that you only have to plug it into an outlet to get it to work. In rare cases, you may need to wire your subwoofer to the soundbar; this could be limiting for some listeners.

Connectivity - Satellites

What it is: How the satellites connect to other devices (usually just the soundbar).
When it matters: When setting up the satellites.

For many listeners, it's important to have a lot of flexibility when placing their satellite speakers in their room. For example, you may want to position them beside or behind your couch to feel more immersed in your audio content. However, depending on how your soundbar is designed, you may have some limitations on where you can place the satellites.

Samsung HW-Q850A Back photo - satellites

The Samsung HW-Q850A's satellites are partially wireless, so you just need to wire them to their wireless receiver module to get them to work

JBL Bar 9.1 Style photo - satellites

The JBL Bar 9.1 has truly wireless satellites that are advertised to last up to ten hours off a single charge

For this test, we evaluate how the satellites connect to other devices. In most cases, you'll need to at least plug the satellites into a power outlet to get them to work. However, you may also need to plug them into the subwoofer, the soundbar, or a special wireless receiver unit, which can limit where you place them in your setup. In unique cases, like with the JBL Bar 9.1, you may be able to find truly wireless satellite speakers that can be placed anywhere in your room after charging them.

Conclusion

If you want to listen to audio on your soundbar, you'll want to make sure that you can connect it to the audio source of your choice. Our connectivity tests look to see which physical and wireless inputs are available for audio playback. Also, we evaluate the performance of some of the most common physical inputs, including ARC, Full HDMI In, and Optical, to see which audio formats they support and whether they have low latency. Depending on how you want to use your soundbar, you may want a soundbar with certain connectivity options.

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