Our Soundbar Sound Tests
Stereo Dynamics

Updated
What it is: How loud the soundbar gets and whether its sound quality degrades at loud volumes.
When it matters: If you tend to listen at loud volumes or if your environment is large, crowded, or noisy, it's important to have a soundbar that can get loud.
Score components:
Score distribution

Our stereo dynamics tests are ideal for listeners who like to crank up the volume when listening to their favorite music and movies. If you're looking to fill up a large space or listen to music at crowded parties, you'll want a soundbar that can get pretty loud. However, your soundbar must maintain clean and pure audio reproduction when it's pushed to loud volumes. Otherwise, noticeable pumping and compression artifacts could take away from your listening experience.

We test for two factors that influence a soundbar's dynamics performance: how loud it gets and how much compression is present when pushed to its maximum volume.

Test results

When It Matters

If you like to crank up the volume, you'll want a soundbar with a good dynamics performance. A soundbar that can get loud is especially useful for listeners who need to fill up a large room or a crowded space, like a party. However, not all soundbars perform well at loud volumes. Some models have noticeable pumping and compression artifacts at max volume, which reduces the quality of audio reproduction. If you want your audio to sound the same at max volume compared to normal listening volumes, you'll also want a soundbar without a lot of dynamic range compression at max volume.

Our tests

To measure a soundbar's dynamics performance, we record its Sound Pressure Level @ Max Volume and its Dynamic Range Compression @ Max Volume. These measurements give you a better understanding of how loud the soundbar gets and whether or not the audio reproduction noticeably degrades when listening at max volume.

We perform our dynamics tests during our stereo frequency response accuracy and stereo soundstage testing. We use a room that's 18' (L) x 16' (W) x 9' (H), with one couch and minimal sound treatment to represent a typical living room. The soundbar and the table it sits on are placed 7.5 feet away from our microphone array. We use a laser measuring tool to ensure that the microphone array, the table, and the 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.

ST SPL @ Max Volume

What it is: The SPL (sound pressure level) produced by the soundbar with its volume set to maximum.
When it matters: When you want a soundbar for a large, crowded, or noisy environment, so it needs to get loud, but you don't necessarily care about how much the frequency response is degraded in the process.
Good value: >92 dB SPL
Noticeable difference: 1dB SPL
Score distribution

The Sound Pressure Level @ Max Volume is a measurement that shows how loud a soundbar can get when it's pushed to its maximum volume. This measurement is recorded in decibels (dB) using a microphone array. It can be helpful for listeners who like to crank up the volume, especially for listening to audio in large rooms or at crowded parties.

While we set the "good" value for this measurement at 92 dB or higher, you may have different preferences depending on your listening habits and how large your listening space is. It can be helpful to keep in mind that the SPL measurement system was designed with the human ear in mind, so a ten-decibel increase in volume is perceived as doubling the loudness of the soundbar. For example, a soundbar at 92 dB is perceived to be twice as loud as a soundbar at 82 dB and four times as loud as a soundbar at 72 dB. Most of the products we've tested have an SPL @ Max Volume between 82 and 100 dB SPL, but you can find even louder setups like the Samsung HW-Q950T, which reaches 101.1 dB SPL.

ST DRC @ Max Volume

What it is: The amount of difference between the soundbar's frequency response at 80dB SPL and at Max Volume. Too much compression will result in pumping and compression artifacts in the sound.
When it matters: If you enjoy loud music or if your environment is large and crowded, you may need to set your soundbar to its maximum volume. Too much dynamic range compression at this setting will introduce pumping and compression artifacts which will mostly be noticeable on music and sound effects, but not as much on dialog.
Good value: <2 dB
Noticeable difference: 0.5 dB
Score distribution

A soundbar that can get loud is helpful for listeners who like to crank up the volume. However, some soundbars can't reproduce audio content with the same quality at max volume, which may negatively impact your listening experience. At louder listening volumes, some soundbars have pumping and compression artifacts. This can quickly make your audio louder, then quieter. As a result, your audio content isn't reproduced as purely or clearly as it does at typical listening volumes. This is most noticeable with music and movies, but it may not be as obvious with dialogue-centric content like TV shows.

Dynamic Range Compression @ Max Volume is a measurement that compares the soundbar's stereo frequency response at a normal listening volume to its stereo frequency response at max volume. For this test, we record the bar's frequency response at a regular listening volume of 80 dB SPL and again at its max volume, using the microphone array. The DRC @ Max Volume represents the amount of difference between the two measurements, recorded in dB.

The lower the DRC @ Max Volume, the better since it represents less of a change in the audio reproduction when the bar is pushed to max volume. That said, a DRC @ Max Volume measurement of less than 2 dB likely won't be too noticeable for most listeners.

TCL Alto 3 Dynamic Range CompressionDenon Home Sound Bar 550 Dynamic Range Compression

The TCL Alto 3 has a DRC @ Max Volume of 0.38 dB, so there isn't a lot of compression present, except in the low-bass range.
The Denon Home Sound Bar 550 has a DRC @ Max Volume of 5.50 dB. There's noticeable compression in the bass and treble ranges.

Conclusion

Love to crank up the volume? For many listeners, it's important to find a soundbar that gets loud without noticeably degrading the quality of the audio content. Our stereo dynamics tests can give you a better understanding of how loud a soundbar gets, as well as how much compression there is when you play it at max volume. Most listeners will want something that gets loud without a lot of compression. Depending on your listening habits, you may not need a bar that gets very loud.

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