How do we test soundbars? First we scoured online user reviews and spec sheets to find the 9 best, then we bought those 9 models and put them through a series of stringent, side-by-side tests. Most of our testing focused on sound quality, but we also assessed, how user friendly each model was, how much each allowed you to customize the sound produced, and how well each would blend in with the decor of an average living room.
To quantify sound quality we had multiple testers listen to the same movie clips, movie soundtracks, and songs on each model, one right after another. We made 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 and whether or not it became muffled. Each tester then assigned relative scores to each soundbar for bass and treble quality, dynamic range (the difference in volume of the quietest sounds and loudest sound), the presence or degree of clipping, and overall clarity. Those scores were then all averaged together to get our overall sound quality scores.
Ease of Use
Our ease of use testing and scoring centered around the designs of the remote controls and on soundbar controls, and how easy each each model was to install and set up. To test the controls we set up a "soundbar olympics" where we created a series of tasks (play music via a mobile phone, switch the input to the TV, adjust the bass level, etc.) and had each tester complete those tasks twice for each model, once using the remote control and onc using the controls on the soundbar. We also had to install and uninstall each model multiple times during our sound quality testing, so again we made sure each tester completed that process for each soundbar. We then had each tester assign relative scores to each model, and averaged those to get our overall ease of use scores.
We based our sound customization scores on how much adjustability in sound settings each model offered. First off, we scored how much each model let you fine tune the EQ. Some models provided bass, mid-range, and treble adjustments. These models earned high scores. Others only offered a bass adjustment, or even no EQ adjustments at all. These models received lower scores. We also took into account preset sound modes that each model offered. Some models have preset sound modes you can select based on whether you're watching sports, a movie, or the news. Some even offer dialogue enhancement modes if you're having trouble hearing the dialogue in a TV. Models that had these kind of presets were given a small bump in scoring.
Style is, by definition, subjective, so we tried to keep our style ratings as even-keeled and middle of the road as possible. When we assigned our style scores we weren't really 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 wanted something that would look good when you noticed, but wouldn't catch your eye when you supposed to be looking at the TV. We rated all of our models based on this aesthetic ideal.