You’ve got a new audio product. You’re just about ready to send it into the wild. You may even be planning to ship a few review units out in the leadup to the launch. Before you do, though, you want to be as prepared as possible—for reviewers’ scrutiny, for the whims of consumers, and for the uncertainties of the marketplace.

 

To steel yourself for those known unknowns and unknown unknowns, here are five basic tests—some obvious, some a little less so, but all relatively cheap and easy—that you should run on any new audio product before it leaves your hands.

 

1. If it makes sound, run frequency response measurements on it. This is a no-brainer for hi-fi speakers, but I would argue that even if you’re dropping a new $299 Bluetooth speaker, you should measure it as if it were a $29,000 audiophile tower. And doing so isn’t as difficult as you might think. There are some great tutorials online for how to measure frequency response without investing in an anechoic chamber and expensive gear.

 

Mind you, you shouldn’t expect the measurements of your Bluetooth speaker to look the same as those of a larger audiophile tower. But you should at least be aiming for relatively neutral and balanced midrange performance. If you want to give your product its own distinct sonic signature, do it up in the upper treble or down at the bottom end of the audible spectrum. If the midrange isn’t decently flat, make some adjustments before you go to market.

 

The midrange may not be as sexy as sparkling highs and rumbling lows, nor as fervently discussed, but it’s what people listen to first and foremost, whether they know it or not, so you need to get it right. With powered products, this is as easy as making some tweaks to your DSP or having your OEM/ODM do it.

 

2. If it makes bass, run CEA-2010 analysis on it. Again, a no-brainer for big subwoofers, but arguably a more important test for itty-bitty bass-makers, like soundbars and wireless speakers. No one expects a six-inch paper cone to crank out room-pressurizing bottom-end like a 12-inch ported beast, but reviewers and shoppers alike will give you the stink-eye if your bass is flabby and distorted, no matter how big it is or how loudly and deeply it plays.

 

Use your preliminary CEA-2010 results and reprogram your DSP so your amps aren’t pushing your drivers harder than they ought to be driven. It’s a lot easier to forgive underwhelming bass than gross and bloated bass, after all, and you may not even need to measure the product to find these flaws. Just play the CEA-2010 test tones, which you can find online for free, crank the volume, and open your ears.

 

3. Go buy the products of your closest competitors. If you’re releasing a video streamer, you would expect for reviewers and shoppers to compare you to Roku. A voice-activated digital assistant? Yeah, you’re going to be put head-to-head against Alexa and Google Home.

 

The same applies for audio gear. Go find out what the top sellers are in your category, as well as the best-reviewed products, if they’re not the same. You don’t necessarily need to rip them off, but if they have big features or performance advantages that your product lacks, it may be time to go back to the drawing board. Or at least rethink your messaging.

 

4. Take your product home with you. I can’t tell you how many audio products I’ve reviewed that worked great in my home-office test lab, but just couldn’t fit into my living space in any meaningful way. Sometimes it’s ergonomics interfering with usability. Sometimes it’s room interactions affecting sonic performance. Either way, you need to get your product out of the engineering department and into a handful of real-world environments before calling it done. You’ll likely find problems that you had no clue existed during the design process.

 

5. Have your mum or dad try to work it… Without assistance. These days, most people are accustomed to carrying around pocket-sized super-computers that a toddler could operate without instructions. As such, our tolerance for convoluted UIs, complicated setup procedures, and confusing remote controls has hit rock bottom.

 

Ask yourself who your target audience is. Find someone in your family or circle of friends who fits that demographic. Put your product in front of them and leave them alone. If they’re not making beautiful music without your help in a reasonable amount of time, good luck. You may make it past super-nerdy reviewers who play with these sorts of toys for a living, but you’re not going to get far with the audio-buying public.

 

Dennis Burger spends most of his free time watching Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Critical Role. He also somehow manages to find room in his schedule for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. In addition to serving as senior editor for HomeTheaterReview.com, he also contributes to Cineluxe and Residential Tech Today. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who’s convinced he’s a Pomeranian.