How to judge a Soundbars performance?

We had an email earlier in the week from Scott, asking if one was to judge a soundbar’s performance, what criteria should you look at?
There are certainly a lot of factors that you can consider – problem is how many you can consider before tying yourself in knots!

Clearly there are loads of things to consider when purchasing a soundbar. Some of the top ones would be things like what you need to connect, what ports you need, size and what your budget is. These things are relatively straightforward.

On the more technical side are all the performance numbers…

I think the main thing to look out for is how the power is described. Is it described in Watts or Watts RMS? Watts is often the ‘peak’ power while the RMS figure tells you that a system can sustain that power level. This is important as a system may be described as 100 Watts but only be able to sustain half that…. (As a side bar the purist will tell you that technically RMS is all about volts and not sound. This is true but RMS is pretty much universally used to mean sustainable audio power output even if it is technically incorrect)

One thing to be cautious of – several manufacturers are now describing their systems power output in terms of ‘Total System Power’. This method typically adds all the speakers powers to give one figure – often a peak figure which would be noticeably distorted. Be careful…

Many “experts” suggest that it good to look out for is the S/N or signal to noise ratio. If you can find a manufacturer who provides this number then great – higher numbers are what you want here. Unfortunately very few manufacturers provide it. I looked up my ‘dream soundbar’ the Yamaha YSP4100BL on Amazon and there was nothing listed for S/N. Nor on the website. I had similar luck looking at a few other soundbars.
Dynamic range is another of those things that I wish manufacturers would quote more  often. Unfortunately its pretty rare.

Our summary of things to look out for is;

Choose a soundbar that has its power described in Watts RMS

Be cautious of systems described only in terms of ‘Total System Power’

Some soundbars just provide stereo sound not surround sound. Don’t just assume that all are surround sound.

Can the system  self tune or be manually tuned – in other words adjust the angle of the sound beams to adapt to the geometry of your room.

Does the system have a separate subwoofer or can one be added? It can make a big difference. (See our post further down the page on this)
If you get a chance to listen to the soundbar that you’re interested in then take it. Whatever the numbers say the ultimate test is how it sounds to YOU!

I’ve also noticed that amazon sell a number of books on the topic of choosing audio systems and home theater. I’ve not read any of them myself so don’t know how good they are but Home Theater for Everyone: A Practical Guide to Today’s Home Entertainment Systems looks good and gets a five star review.


Good luck with your research!




Leave a Reply