Sound Enhancement Features
Soundbars

Updated
What it is: Digital features and effects that will allow you to customize and modify the sound of the soundbar to some extent. This may include room correction, dialog enhancement, EQ, and bass/treble adjustment.
When it matters: When you want to adjust and customize certain aspects of the sound of the soundbar to make it more to your liking.
Score distribution

Sound enhancement features are a series of tools that let you have more control over the way your product sounds. While many soundbars offer balanced sound profiles suitable for lots of different types of audio content out-of-the-box, more premium models have many sound enhancement features that give you the ability to customize its sound more to your liking.

For this test, we look to see if a soundbar offers some of the more commonly used sound enhancement features, like dialogue enhancement and auto-volume modes, as well as more premium features like room correction.

Test results

When It Matters

If you like to customize the way your soundbar sounds, you'll want a bar that offers lots of sound enhancement features. Most of the models we've tested offer a basic selection, like a bass adjustment feature, a dialogue enhancement mode, and a few EQ presets. However, more premium soundbars come with features that give you more control over the bar's sound, like full graphic EQs and room correction features.

That said, depending on your listening habits, you may prefer some sound enhancement features over others. For dialogue-centric content like TV shows, audiobooks, and podcasts, you may only want a bar that offers dialogue enhancement and auto-volume modes since there usually isn't much bass mixed into those programs. However, music and movie fans may prefer to have a lot more control over their bar's sound profile using tools like bass and treble adjustments as well as graphic EQs and preset modes.

Our tests

To understand which sound enhancement features are available, our testing team looks at the user manual and the remote to identify what's offered. They'll also take a look at the companion app if the soundbar has one. Our tests look for some of the more common features available on soundbars, but we'll also take note of any additional features not listed below.

Room Correction

What it is: A digital processor that uses a microphone to analyze the acoustic characteristics of your room, and will apply corrections based on that to improve the sound quality of the soundbar. When available, we use the room correction to obtain our testing results
When it matters: When you care about the sound, especially bass and dialog performance, of your soundbar. All rooms will benefit from a certain amount of correction, but rooms without any acoustic treatment will gain more benefit from digital room correction.

Room correction features automatically adjust audio reproduction based on the unique acoustic characteristics of the room you're listening in. The shape, size, and contents of your room can all affect the way sound is perceived, so your audio content could sound a bit different if you move the bar to a different room. Room correction uses microphones to analyze different sounds reproduced in the space and adjust the sound to get closer to a predetermined "target curve," which should be more pleasing for listeners. Many Sonos and LG soundbars come with room correction features, including the Sonos Arc and the LG SP9YA. It's a more premium feature, so you won't find it on every soundbar we test. That said, if a soundbar offers a room correction feature, we perform our stereo frequency response tests with it turned on.

Dialogue Enhancement

What it is: It emphasizes dialogue clarity and volume without noticeably changing the background level.
When it matters: When you have difficulty understanding dialogue in general, or when you want a clear sound at a low volume. This way you can hear the dialogue clearly even at a low level.

Dialogue enhancement features adjust your audio, letting you hear the frequencies associated with the human voice more clearly. As a result, dialogue is easier to understand, and voices sound more crisp and distinct. This feature can be useful if you listen to a lot of dialogue-centric content, like TV shows, podcasts, and audiobooks. However, we don't evaluate its performance.

Auto-Volume/Night Mode

What it is: It applies a dynamic range compressor to the sound to reduce the volume change between different programs (like the difference in level between a TV show and commercials) or within a program (like the difference between dialog and an explosion). In other words, it makes the volume more steady.
When it matters: It matters when dramatic changes in volume within or between programs bothers you. This can also be useful when you want to lower the volume and still be able to hear all the sounds in a program.

If you like to watch TV at night, an auto-volume or night mode may be an especially useful feature. Night mode features apply a dynamic range compressor to your audio to reduce the volume change between different programs. As a result, the louder portions of your audio, like explosions, aren't dramatically louder than the rest of your content, and the quiet parts of your audio are still audible. Auto-volume modes, however, level out the average volume to keep it roughly the same across different programs while still allowing for a difference in volume between the loudest and quietest parts of your audio. An auto-volume mode is handy for watching TV when you don't want your commercials to be dramatically louder than your show. We report whether a soundbar includes these features; however, we don't evaluate their performances as part of our testing process.

Subwoofer Level Adjustment

What it is: Allows you to adjust the level of the subwoofer. This differs from bass level adjustment in that it won't change the amount of bass produced by the soundbar or the satellites.
When it matters: When you want to adjust the amount of bass the subwoofer is producing without changing the bass amount globally.

A subwoofer level adjustment feature can help you add more thump and punch to your audio by adjusting the amount of bass that the subwoofer reproduces. However, unlike bass adjustment features, it doesn't change the amount of bass reproduced by the soundbar and the satellites. Fans of bass-heavy music may want to increase the subwoofer level to feel more rumble, while listeners who prefer a more neutral sound may want to reduce the amount of boom in their audio. This tool is useful for users who listen to a lot of music and movies, but it won't matter much for dialogue-centric content like TV shows since there typically isn't much bass mixed into that content.

Bass Adjustment

What it is: Allows you to adjust the amount of bass (thump and punch) in the sound. This will mostly affect kick drums and bass instruments.
When it matters: When you want more or less bass (thump and punch) from your soundbar.

A bass adjustment feature is a common sound enhancement tool that lets you adjust the amount of bass in your audio content. Unlike the subwoofer level adjustment, this feature adjusts the amount of bass reproduced by the bar, the subwoofer, and the satellites all at once. If you like to feel the thump and punch in bass-heavy music and action-packed movie scenes, you may want to increase the bass level. However, you may want to reduce the bass level when watching dialogue-centric content like TV shows since there isn't usually much bass mixed into those programs. We usually tweak the bass adjustment feature when creating our stereo frequency response with calibration graph.

Treble Adjustment

What it is: Allows you to adjust the amount of treble (brightness and clarity) in the sound. This will mostly affect vocals and lead instruments.
When it matters: When you want more or less treble (brightness and clarity) from your soundbar.

The treble range is where vocals and lead instruments get their brightness and clarity. A treble adjustment feature lets you adjust the amount of treble in your audio, so you can increase it to make those instruments brighter and sharper or decrease it to get a warmer, less detailed sound. This tool can be helpful for music fans who want to customize the bar's sound profile more to their liking. We usually tweak the treble adjustment feature when creating our stereo frequency response with calibration graph.

EQ

What it is: It allows you to adjust the balance between the frequencies of sound. Depending on the type of the EQ, you may have control over a broad band (like adjusting bass/treble), be able to adjust individual frequencies (like boosting only 60Hz), or get presets (like movie mode).
When it matters: When you want to manually customize the sound of your soundbar.

An equalizer, or an EQ, is a tool that gives you even more control over the bar's sound profile. Many soundbars offer EQ preset modes, which are predetermined by the manufacturer to enhance certain listening experiences like watching TV or listening to bass-heavy music. However, more premium soundbars come with graphic or parametric EQs, which let you personalize the sound profile by adjusting specific frequencies and augmenting or reducing them based on your preferences. Many Samsung soundbars, like the Samsung HW-Q800A, come with a graphic EQ, as well as other premium bars like the Sennheiser AMBEO Soundbar.

Surround Level Adjustment

What it is: It adjusts the level of the surround channels without changing the level of the other channels.
When it matters: Increasing the surround level tends to increase the size of the soundstage and makes the sound more immersive.

If you like to watch movies, a surround level adjustment feature could be helpful for you. Increasing the surround level typically increases the size of the soundstage, resulting in a wider, more immersive sound that makes audio seem like it's coming from all around you. Keep in mind that we don't evaluate this feature's performance as part of our testing process.

Virtual Surround

What it is: A series of digital processes that use psychoacoustic principles to create an immersive sound from conventional non-immersive content.
When it matters: When you want an immersive sound from a regular mono or stereo audio content. However, depending on the implementation, a virtual surround feature may or may not sound very natural.

A virtual surround feature is helpful for movie lovers who want to feel immersed in their favorite movies without adding lots of additional speakers to their setup. This tool uses specialized psychoacoustic techniques to convince your brain that audio is coming from all around you, even if the bar lacks extra satellite speakers. However, some soundbars have an unnatural sound with this feature turned on, like the Sony HT-S350. That said, we don't evaluate this feature's performance.

Conclusion

Many soundbars on the market offer neutral, balanced sound profiles suitable for listening to lots of different types of audio content out-of-the-box. However, you may still want to use sound enhancement features to get the most out of your listening experience. They can help you adjust the sound profile, make voices clearer, and even immerse you in your favorite movies. Depending on the type of content you listen to most, you may prefer some features over others.

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