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How we test sound bars

By Haddi Browne

 A sound bar can be an easy way to revitalise a dull-sounding TV. We take you through our testing process.

Put us to the test

Our Test Labs compare features and prices on a range of products. Try Which? to unlock our reviews. You'll instantly be able to compare our test scores, so you can make sure you don't get stuck with a Don't Buy.

Which? tests dozens sound bars a year, from all the major brands that you'll find on the high street. 

We test a range of models, from compact single-bar types to those that come with a separate bass-boosting subwoofer speaker. We select sound bars styled for different TV and room sizes, so whether you want it for a big screen TV or need something smaller, you'll find something to suit you. 

The best sound bars deliver:

  •  Top-quality audio, so films and TV will be more exciting
  •  Clear dialogue, so you won't miss a crucial line
  •  Versatile features that are easy-to-use, so you can get the most out of your sound bar.

Real-world sound testing

Sound quality is rated by a panel of five audio industry experts listening to a set programme of audio content. This includes TV dramas, room-shaking action sequences and quiet scenes where you should be able to hear a pin drop.

But this being a Which? test, we don't stop there. We listen to every model from different distances and angles. This checks for any issues that may arise if you’re not sitting directly in front of the sound bar, such as when watching a film with a group of friends who are sitting around the TV. This often comes up as a flaw in even some of our high-scoring models.

Finally, we put bold claims of big volume and impressive-sounding specs, such as '300 watts', to the test by checking how loud you can push each sound bar before distortion kicks in. 

How does a sound bar fare against a full surround-sound system? Find out in our investigation.

We give every product individual ratings, such as those for sound quality at different angles and distances, and at louder volumes. These are given alongside overall sound quality ratings and individual scores for music, movies, TV and Dolby Atmos (the latest type of surround sound technology). See how each compares to other models over at our expert sound bar reviews.

Once we have all our test results in, we evaluate the data to determine the total test score for each sound bar. Our audio tests were updated in June 2018 and all scores on models reviewed after that date are made up of the following criteria:

  • Sound quality: 70%
  • Ease of use: 20%
  • Features and connectivity: 10%
  • Our scores ignore price

Those models that score 70% or more are awarded Best Buy status. Prior to June 2018, models had to score 75% to obtain Best Buy status.

How we choose products for testing

Dedicated researchers carefully select the products Which? tests, scouring the market for the latest releases. And, while we do test some premium products, we avoid testing those products that you would need a second mortgage to afford. We take the following criteria into account when choosing soundbars:

  • Popularity - we test soundbars that are the biggest sellers
  • Brand reliability - we test more soundbars from brands that are reliable and tend to do well in our testing
  • Innovation - we test new and innovative soundbars, such as those that have the facility to slot into your multi-room speaker set-up
  • Cost - we typically test soundbars that cost between £50 and £900.
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