CNET follows a rigorous, unbiased evaluation process for all of its soundbar and AV system testing, from simple stereo speakers to Dolby Atmos systems. In the CNET AV Lab, I do comparative testing, pitting similar systems against each other side by side.
I evaluate the performance of each system with a number of different types of content, including movies, music, TV shows and games. I use a number of test scenes — including the opening of Mad Max: Fury Road for playback of the spatial audio standard Dolby Atmos for systems and soundbars that support it. I also use the Thanator Attack scene of Avatar (26.53) to test a product’s dynamics and detail retrieval.
When it comes to music, I use a number of CNET test tracks which you can find here in a Tidal or Spotify playlist. Tracks such as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Red Right Hand, with its deep bass and tenor vocals, help determine a system’s ability to track male voices in particular, without sounding congested. The song also helps with uncovering hidden details and the relative dynamics a speaker system is capable of. Using both types of content — movies and music — I then grade the sound quality of each product. I evaluate characteristics such as speech clarity, dynamics/volume, bass response and musical playback.
CNET’s dedicated audio lab in downtown New York includes a selection of 2022 and 2023 televisions (with HDMI eARC), plus Apple TV 4K streamer and Roku Ultra streamers, a Microsoft Xbox Series X and an Oppo UDP-205 4K Blu-ray player. I also use Roon music software to stream to individual devices or the Oppo player as needed.