Before you get excited at the prospect of 9.1 Dolby Atmos – it is not. JBL Bar 9.1 with Dolby Atmos refers to the number of audio channels, so it is a 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos soundbar.
The JBL Bar 9.1 with Dolby Atmos is also one of the lower-cost ‘genuine’ Dolby Atmos soundbars as it has separate left/right rear up-and-front-firing speakers. None of that psychoacoustic trickery here!
That trickery applies to most soundbars that get the five Dolby surround channels and two/four height channels from the one soundbar. Confused? Our Dummies Guide to Dolby Atmos is mandatory reading before you buy an Atmos anything!
So, we expect a lot from this soundbar, and so far it has delivered in spades.
Elevator Pitch: Add Dolby Atmos and DTS to any Dolby Vision/Atmos capable 4K TV
Country of Manufacture: China
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.
We use FAIL, PASS and EXCEED against test paradigms suited to a soundbar of this style and price.
What is the JBL Bar 9.1 with Dolby Atmos?
Despite the 9.1 nomenclature, it has a separate 300W (0.1.0) 10” sub-woofer, a 400W (3.0.2) soundbar and a pair of detachable 60W (2.0.2) rear speakers. If you add those numbers up, it is 5.1.4 or a step up from the basic 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos. It offers a massive 820W at 1% THD.
Speakers include 4 x racetrack drivers and 3 x 20mm tweeters in the soundbar and two each up-firing drivers and tweeters in the detachable rear speakers.
It is capable of decoding
Dolby Atmos Dolby Digital subsets like 5.1 (most streaming is now 5.1) with full 4K Dolby Vision/Atmos and HDR10+ passthrough
DTS:X 3D sound and subsets
PCM 1.0, 2.0 and multichannel
Wi-Fi 5 AC 2.4 and 5Ghz bands
BT SBC and AAC – A2DP V1.2/ AVRCP V1.5 Tx/Rx
Chromecast and Multi-room playback via Google Assistant
Voice assistant via smart external speaker and smart TV
HDMI 2.0 eARC out – HDCP 2.3
HDMI 2.0 in with passthrough
Ethernet (Over the air firmware updates via this or Wi-Fi)
Now, it may not be as big or heavy as some soundbars, but it punches well above its weight as a Dolby Atmos soundbar.
In the box – EXCEED
2 x 240V power cables
Remote control and battery
Wall mount bracket kit (supplied)
HDMI 2.0 cable
It is relatively light (3.64kg) and small (884 x 62 x 120mm) plus each detachable speaker is 173 x 60 x 120mm (.72kg). It should fit under most TVs or between the stand legs. The 10” sub-woofer is 305 x 440 x 305mm x 11.1kg – that is nice bass.
Setup – EXCEED
It comes in a ‘chair’ style box that opens on one side to reveal the bar and sub-woofer. Keep the box just in case you need to get a warranty or move home.
First are calibration tones to set up your room. For example, it can compensate for various ceiling heights, sound-absorbent materials etc. Once set up, you can change the 3D effect from low to mid to high – not that you need to.
You can then link it to Google Home (Chromecast) or Apple Airplay. This is really the setup app to connect to Wi-Fi or Ethernet!
Those rear speakers – EXCEED
They are detachable. They can work attached to the soundbar using psychoacoustic trickery or detached and placed behind you.
The Catch 22 is that they require charging (about 3 hours) for 10 hours use. Charging is automatic when docked.
What you don’t know is that they each also have micro-USB port so you can place then permanently behind you and power from a standard 5V/2A charger.
The remote – simple but all you need – EXCEED
The remove is uber-simple. TV/HDMI, Atmos height (low/mid/high), Bass level (1-5) and rear speaker levels. Pressing longer on keys invokes calibration etc.
Another feature is the smart mode that turns the system into a 5.1 soundbar if you are watching non-Dolby Atmos content and do not want any faux height or rear effects.
How does it sound? – EXCEED
My daily drive is a Samsung Q90R 7.1.4 2019 soundbar, 512W with separate rear speakers. It is hard to beat, and it is a shame Samsung doesn’t have a 2020 replacement. The 2020 model uses psychoacoustic trickery to get 9.1.4 from the soundbar. The only issue with that is that room layout has too much impact on the Atmos effect.
Volume: It reaches 85dB – exceedingly good for large room-filling sound. There is a little harshness at full volume – 9back off a notch or two.
Bass: Superb with five levels. I started on five and backed off to two for TV viewing. It is quite amazing what the 10” sub-will produce.
Stereo separation: As it is a soundbar, you expect it to suit typical TV viewing areas. The sound stage is wider than most – at least 150°. You can detect separate L/R5 out to about 5 metres. After that, it is just a background sound source.
2D Surround separation (coming from left and right from and rear): You can hear Atmos objects coming from about 2 metres either side.
3D Height channels (overhead front and rear): You can hear an Atmos object starting at the front (e.g. an aeroplane), and it will fly overhead and past you.
Overall this passes all Dolby Atmos tests for sound object placement when you have the detachable rear speakers behind you. When they remain attached to the soundbar, they are OK, but the sound stage and sound depth reduces quite dramatically.
JBL Bar 9.1 with Dolby Atmos Sound Signature. You can listen to music on this – EXCEED
Tested on standard settings with Dolby Atmos 5.1.4 metadata. As there is no app (Google Home has a basic EQ), all adjustments via the remote. JBL claims 34Hz to 20kHz frequency response.
Deep Bass: 20-40Hz – starting to build and climb – more than hints
Middle Bass: 40-100Hz – flattening at 64Hz and very satisfying
High Bass: 100 to 200Hz – flat (good)
Low-mid: 200-400Hz – flat
Mid: 400-1000Hz – flat
High-mid: 1-2kHz – flat
Low-treble: 2-4kHz – flat
Treble:4-6kHz – flat – flat
High Treble: 6-10kHz – slight dip to avoid harshness but it does not quite work as it peaks up again too fast
Dog whistle: 10-20kHz – flat and strong to 14kHz then drops off
This is a typical JBL warm and sweet sound signature (nirvana for movies and music). The treble harshness needs a slight EQ tweak. It is more than enough for a large Aussie lounge.
We also tested with streaming audio PCM 2.0 content, and the Signature was still warm and sweet. It is quite satisfying to listen to.
GadgetGuy’s take – JBL Bar 9.1 with Dolby Atmos is unique at the price
At $1499.95 it is easily one of the best 5.1.4 systems you can buy – quite possibly the only one with separate rear speakers.
It does not have quite the gravitas of my superseded 7.1.4 Samsung that has 17 speakers to get that. But it does a terrific job as a 5.1.4 – highly recommended.
Probably only the LG SN11RG 7.1.4 (review here 4.6/5) at $1899 – $400 more for a no-compromise soundbar with an app and some serious music cred.
If money is the issue, then this is a more ‘serious’ soundbar – the one that I would buy. Having said that Joe and Jane Average will get everything they both need and want from the JBL Bar 9.1 with Dolby Atmos.
I am a little conflicted. It exceeds all paradigms for a 5.1.4 soundbar with dedicated rear speakers at $1499. If that is your budget, then it gets the tick.
But I have experienced Dolby Atmos on the Samsung HW-Q90R (2019 model – now HW-Q950T 9.1.4 $1665), Sonos Arc/Sub/One ($2930), LG SN11RG (that if you shop around you will find at under $1700) and the Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar ($3999). I know there is more to Dolby Atmos than meets the ear – app, EQ, more modes etc. So if you have more funds, the LG SN11RG is the best price/performer under $2000.
Value for money
Ease of Use
Reader Rating0 Votes
Unique 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos category with separate rear speakers at the price
Excellent Dolby Atmos decoding and sound object placement
Chromecast and AirPlay 2
Not as sophisticated as more expensive soundbars – no App or EQ
Basic bass, rear and Dolby adjustments - adequate for the task