You can use your soundbar to listen to lots of different types of audio content, including TV shows, music, and movies. All audio content is mixed and arranged to sound a certain way, but not all soundbars can reproduce this content with fidelity. Our sound quality tests show how accurately a soundbar can reproduce audio content as intended by the audio engineer.
We perform several different tests to get a better understanding of a soundbar's sound quality. This includes stereo frequency response, stereo frequency response with calibration, stereo soundstage, stereo dynamics, stereo total harmonic distortion, center, surrounds, height, and sound enhancement features.
Sound quality is important for all listeners. Regardless of the type of audio content you like, you'll want a soundbar that can reproduce all of the frequencies found within your audio content. For example, if you want to feel the deep thump and rumble in action-packed scenes, it's important to get a soundbar with an extended low-bass.
That said, your personal preferences can also play a role in the sound quality tests that matter most to you. Movie fans will want a soundbar that offers immersive surround and Atmos performances, while TV enthusiasts will want to check out the center channel. If you need to turn up the volume to fill up a large space, you may want to prioritize the stereo dynamics performance of your soundbar. You can also see what sound enhancement features the soundbar offers if you want more control over how it sounds.
We conduct our sound quality tests in a room that's 18' (L) x 16' (W) x 9' (H), with one couch and minimal sound treatment to better represent a typical living room. We place the soundbar on a table, and they're both positioned 7.5 feet away from our microphone array. We also test the soundbar when it's 6.5 feet and 8.5 feet away from the microphone array to get a better understanding of the sound profile from different places in the room. We use a laser measuring tool to ensure that the microphone array, table, and soundbar are at the appropriate distance from the side walls, as well as the subwoofer and the satellites if they're included in the setup.
Some soundbars come with a room correction feature that automatically optimizes audio reproduction based on the unique acoustic characteristics of the room you're listening in. If a soundbar comes with this feature, we turn it on for our sound quality tests to better represent the typical user experience. Also, if a soundbar has a selection of different EQ presets to choose from, we set it to the preset that's closest to our target curve.
Our stereo frequency response tests show how accurately the bar can reproduce sound at each frequency. Whether you like to listen to music, movies, or TV shows, it's important to get a soundbar that can reproduce all of the frequencies found in your audio content, from the low-bass to the high-treble. For example, if you like to feel the deep thump and rumble in bass-heavy music and action-packed movies, you'll want a soundbar with an extended low-bass.
The frequency response graph allows us to get a better understanding of the soundbar's sound profile. A more neutral, balanced sound profile is considered suitable for most types of audio content. However, depending on your personal preferences and the types of audio content you want to listen to, you may prefer a different sound. Some listeners prefer a more bass-heavy sound profile that adds extra thump and punch to the mix or a v-shaped sound that adds some brightness and sparkle to instruments and vocals.
You can learn more about our stereo frequency response tests here.
Our stereo frequency response test is designed to test the soundbar with its default, out-of-the-box sound profile. However, many soundbars come with sound customization features like EQ presets or bass and treble adjustments that let you adjust its sound more to your liking. If you prefer a different sound, you may want to see how effective these features are at customizing the audio reproduction.
For this test, our testing team measures the bar's stereo frequency response after calibrating it. We use the bass and treble adjustments to try and get the bar's frequency response closer to our target curve if they're available. If not, we try to calibrate the bar using the subwoofer level adjustment feature. Our results show the settings that get the bar's slope closest to zero while also improving or matching the overall stereo frequency response score.
The soundstage is the imaginary three-dimensional area that makes up the height, width, and depth of your audio as it's reproduced by the soundbar. For example, if you were at a concert and closed your eyes, you would still be able to pinpoint where each instrument was coming from in the space around you. A good soundstage performance allows you to feel immersed in your audio and helps you accurately locate where sound objects like voices, footsteps, and instruments are coming from in the sound image. However, if your soundbar struggles in this regard, sound may seem like it's coming from a more general area in front of you.
Our stereo soundstage score is subjectively evaluated by a group of testers. Keep in mind that we perform this test with the soundbar in a stereo setup, so if it's possible, surround channels aren't active for this test.
You can learn more about our stereo soundstage tests here.
If you like to listen to music at loud volumes, you'll want to take a look at our stereo dynamics test. For this test, we evaluate how loud a soundbar can get when it's pushed to its maximum volume. This can be especially useful for listeners who want to turn up the volume to fill up space in a large room or at crowded parties. We also test to see how the soundbar performs when it's pushed to its max volume. Too many compression and pumping artifacts could make your audio quickly louder, then quieter, which could take away from your listening experience.
You can learn more about our stereo dynamics tests here.
Total harmonic distortion, or THD, evaluates the number of unintended frequencies reproduced alongside the intended frequencies of your audio content. Essentially, this measurement compares the audio content as it's been mixed by the engineer to the output reproduced by the soundbar. It's important for listeners who want their soundbar to maintain the fidelity of sound reproduction so that their content sounds clear and pure. Ideally, your soundbar has a very low amount of THD at both normal listening volumes and max volume, as this means that your audio content is reproduced the way it was intended by its creator. Most soundbars see a jump in distortion when they're pushed to louder volumes, but this may not be very noticeable with real-life content.
You can learn more about our stereo total harmonic distortion tests here.
While our stereo sound quality tests are designed to test the bar's left and right channels, some soundbars come with an additional third channel known as the center channel. A discrete center channel can significantly improve the quality of dialogue in TV shows. We also test for the center channel's frequency response, dynamics, and total harmonic distortion performances.
That said, not all soundbars offer a discrete center channel. In these cases, the soundbar may use its left and right channels to simulate a phantom center channel. Unfortunately, this doesn't sound as clear or as real as the audio reproduced by a discrete center. A phantom center can be especially disappointing for listeners who like to listen to a lot of dialogue-centric content like TV shows, podcasts, and audiobooks since it won't make the voices in your content sound very clear or crisp.
You can learn more about center channel sound here.
Surround sound is becoming more and more popular for movies found on Blu-ray discs, streaming platforms, and other content. Our surrounds test evaluates how accurately the soundbar reproduces audio on its fourth and fifth channels, also known as the surround channels. We also test for the surround channels' frequency response, dynamics, and total harmonic distortion performances.
Soundbars with a 5.1 setup and above come with discrete surround channels specifically designed to reproduce surround content clearly and accurately. These discrete channels may be built into the bar, or they may be located on satellite speakers that you can place anywhere in your room. Other bars have front-firing or side-firing speakers that create a phantom localization to represent surround objects in the soundstage. However, a phantom surround isn't going to sound as clear or as real as a discrete setup.
Unfortunately, soundbars with fewer than five channels don't offer a discrete surround localization. Instead, they may have to downmix surround content into stereo to play it. This doesn't offer a very immersive listening experience, as sound may seem like it's just coming from in front of you rather than from speakers placed all around you.
You can learn more about our surround 5.1 tests here.
Dolby Atmos is an object-based surround sound format often used for movies. It's considered a more immersive listening format, as it allows audio engineers to assign sound objects like voices and footsteps to a more specific place in the sound image. Not all soundbars we test are capable of decoding audio in this format. However, if a soundbar supports Atmos content, we test for it, alongside its frequency response, dynamics, and total harmonic distortion performances.
For this test, we compare the soundbar's height channel performance to home theater setups, which often come with dedicated down-firing speakers that you can install in your ceiling to improve the listening experience. While soundbars don't come with down-firing speakers, they may come with up-firing speakers that bounce sound off the ceiling and back down toward you to simulate height. Other soundbars may downmix Atmos content into surround or stereo formats, which unfortunately doesn't sound as immersive.
You can learn more about our height channel tests here.
Our sound quality tests are designed to test how the soundbar performs out-of-the-box. If you prefer a different sound, it can be helpful to find a soundbar with lots of sound enhancement features. These tools allow you to customize a soundbar's sound more to your liking, so you can add more thump and punch in the bass or more brightness and sparkle in the treble. Depending on the type of audio content you like to listen to, you may want a soundbar with certain sound enhancement features. For example, a dialogue enhancement feature can make voices in TV shows and podcasts more clear and crisp, while a virtual surround mode can help expand the soundstage when you're watching movies.
You can learn more about sound enhancement features here.
Audio engineers and producers arrange audio content like music, movies, and TV shows to sound a certain way. Our sound quality tests evaluate a soundbar's ability to reproduce that content accurately, whether it's pushed to loud volumes or played on different channels. Ultimately, sound quality impacts how your audio content is perceived when you listen to it, which can either add or detract from the immersiveness of your listening experience. Depending on the type of content you want to listen to as well as your personal preferences, you may want to pay more attention to certain sound quality tests that we perform.