JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam is $599.95 making it one the lowest cost Dolby Atmos capable soundbars with Dolby Vision passthrough to a suitable TV. It is ideal for smaller spaces that need far better TV sound than the TV itself can provide.
To be clear, the JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam provides virtual Dolby Atmos – typically, that would be 5.1.2 or more. It uses psychoacoustic trickery (that is not a derogatory term – see later) to forward-fire left, centre, and right front speakers at you (3.0) and then bounces left and right surround (2.0) off adjacent walls and ceilings. So, when you have Dolby Atmos content, it gives a downmix to a faux 5.0.2 sound stage.
Add to that room calibration, BT, Chromecast and AirPlay audio streaming, Gigabit LAN, HDMI 2.0b eARC out, HDMI 2.0b in, Voice Assistant (Google, Siri and Alexa) – it is very flexible. It may not excite audiophiles, but the sound is typically JBL and way better than 99% of TVs.
JBL (Est. the mid-40s) is short for James B Lansing (Yes, he was the Lansing in Altec Lansing as well.) Now it’s part of the Harman group of companies owned by Samsung.
You can read more GadgetGuy JBL news and reviews here.
First impression – small
It is 709x 58x 101mm x 2.8kg – but it packs a lot of punch. It can be wall-mounted (brackets supplied). It also has a basic remote control. The manual is comprehensive – probably overkill.
PS – We will abbreviate DV for Dolby Vision and DA for Dolby Atmos.
Setup is easy – no app required
Plugin the power, connect the 1.2 metre HDMI cable supplied (or use your existing one if it is 2.0b or 2.1 standard) from HDMI OUT/eARC/ARC to the TV HDMI eARC/ARC port and the TV should recognise the soundbar and let it take over. If not, you adjust the TV settings to use external audio instead of the TV speakers. Finally, press the calibration button to tune it to the room.
DA downmix only works in two cases.
The first scenario – you must have 4K DV/DA content from a 4K Blue-ray player plugged into the HDMI IN port on the soundbar. It will then decode DA sound and pass the DV signal (it also passes through 4K@60HZ HDR/HDR10) to the TV. If your TV has HDMI eARC and supports DV decoding, it will display great DV content. If it does not, it will downmix DV to HDR10, HDR or failing that SDR – whatever the TV supports.
The second scenario – you have a DV/DA TV and subscribe to a 4K streaming service like Netflix. The TV decodes the DV and displays it, and passes the DA signal to the soundbar where it decodes and downmixes the signal. Otherwise, the soundbar will decode mono, stereo (PCM 1.0, 2.0) and Dolby Audio (up to 5.1). There is an Optical SDPIF port if you have an older TV, but it only handles PCM.
Bluetooth 4.2 setup is simple – the remote enables BT pairing, and you can connect to a smartphone. However, it only supports one pairing – otherwise, you need to pair again with another device.
Internet setup via the Ethernet LAN is simple. Plugin the Ethernet cable (not supplied) to your router LAN port. Wi-Fi 5 AC dual-band requires you to use Google Home, iOS Airplay or Alexa to set up the bar. There is no option to add Wi-Fi via a WPS switch manually.
Dolby Atmos (DA) Virtual
You would expect a perfectionist like me to eschew virtual (faux) DA, but it is pretty good if you have the correct type of room that the soundbar can bounce sounds off.
Interestingly JBL realises that the soundbar will more often play free-to-air or streaming, so all it needs to do is process non DA sound. So it provides a switch to turn on/off DA to reallocate resources to the 5.0 digital surround sound (no processing power wasted on 3D spatial height).
If you use the DA setting on non-DA content, the sound is slightly hollow – tinny – as it is trying to create phased sound (psychoacoustic trickery) when none exists. Perhaps that is why there is a DA switch.
Speakers – 5 x 50W amps total 250W @1% THD (Total Harmonic Distortion)
5 x 48 x 80mm racetrack drivers (3 front-facing and two side-firing)
4 x 75mm passive bass radiators
The total wattage sounds impressive, especially when compared to a typical TV that may have 10-20W 2.0 speakers. It will fill a good-sized room.
Technically it is possible to reach over 90dB @1% THD. However, we found the sweet spot to be about 65-75dB with negligible THD – a 20 volume setting with lots more volume to go during our tests.
How does it sound? Superb JBL sound signature
JBL claims 50HZ to 20kHz. Our tests show strong mid-bass building early to 64Hz (excellent). It is then pretty flat (excellent) to 10kHz and drops gently to 20kHz. Its Bass won’t shake the room as a separate sub-woofer can. But it does add some gravitas by covering all the musically important Bass. And it has just enough upper treble to define the sound character – its absence makes the sound dull. You can read more about sound signatures here. It is a balanced JBL signature that neither adds nor subtracts from the original content – as we have come to expect of JBL.
The sound stage (Left to Right width) depends on your room size and shape. In 5.0 mode, the stage focuses on coming from the TV. It is about 2-3m wide at 2-3m out. In Virtual DA mode its focuses on ‘bathing’ you in sound.
Does it succeed at DA?
Yes and no. It cannot compete with true 5.1.2 DA with dedicated rear speakers, but there is enough spatial sound to satisfy people that will buy this. As far as an all-in-one soundbar goes, I have heard no better – well, apart from the $4K Sennheiser Ambeo 9.5/10 – seven times the price. Let’s not forget the Sonos Arc 8.8/10 at $1399 – twice the price but upgradeable to a separate subwoofer and rear speakers for a total of $3,000.
If you want the real thing, you need to spend $1,500 for the JBL Bar 9.1 that is actually a 5.1.4 DA system. It scored 9/10, but remember for 1/3 of the price, the Bar 5.0 is pretty good. I would also strongly consider the new LG SP9YA 5.1.2 at $1319 (not reviewed yet).
The term Dolby Atmos is so much used and abused – you can get it on a toaster! – that we had to write not one but two guides to Dolby Atmos. The first is technical and clearly above many readers paygrades. The second is a 1-pager, and yet we still get questions about DA.
In essence, DA is a minimum of 5.1.2 (Left/centre/right forward-firing (3.X.X), left/right surround (takes it to 5.X.X) and left/right up-firing (X.X.2). Then add a subwoofer to shake the room (X.1.X) or 5.1.2. Personally, 5.1.4 is my minimum, and 7.1.4 or 11.1.4 is even better.
We use the term psychoacoustic trickery to describe any all-in-one soundbar that can decode DA and phases sound between speakers, bounce it off walls and ceilings etc., to create faux Dolby Atmos.
JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam is what you should buy to get faux Dolby Atmos on a budget (if you have a DV/DA TV). In fact, it is also what you should buy if you have a low-cost non-Dolby Atmos TV, as it adds so much to a typical 10W crappy stereo TV.
If money is tight, then the $224.95 JBL 2.0 compact soundbar will make said TV sound so much better. You can see the range here, and you may like to consider one with a subwoofer as well. Add to that it is multi-voice assistant capable, Chromecast, AirPlay and more, and you have a nice stereo speaker to stream music to.
OK, it is virtual Dolby – to get the real thing, you need to spend around $1,500 – but for 1/3 of the price, the Bar 5.0 is pretty good.
JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam
While it is strictly a 5.0 all-in-one soundbar it can decode Dolby Atmos to give a faux spatial experience.
Value for money
Ease of use
Great value for a faux Dolby Atmos soundbar
Small and compact for smaller homes and apartments
Equally good sound reinforcement on TVs with/out DV and DA
Great centre clear dialogue reinforcement
Needs the right room to deliver Virtual (faux) Dolby Atmos
No app or EQ for adjustable Bass, treble enhancement etc