JBL Bar 5.1 soundbar packs a 510W knock-out punch (review)

We have had the pleasure of using the JBL Bar 5.1 soundbar for the past month as part of our premium TV testing regimen. It packs 510W of excellent sound and impressive bass starting at 40Hz.

This sound bar is unique. It has a 3.1 (Left/Centre/Right) soundbar, wireless subwoofer and two rechargeable wireless satellite L+R speakers. It also passes through 4K Ultra HD sound. After launch, it was so popular that it is sold out until September!

All that it is missing is Dolby Atmos sound. But that is reliant on 4K Blu-ray content that supports it. It will decode it to 5.1 anyway.

Review: JBL Bar 5.1 soundbar

Australian website

In the box (the nice L-shaped box that may fit in a small car)

  • Soundbar
  • Wireless subwoofer
  • 2 x Wireless surround sound speakers
  • Remote control with battery
  • Power cables for unit and subwoofer
  • HDMI cable
  • AUX cable
  • Optical cable
  • Calibration microphone
  • Wall mount bracket kit
  • Quick start guide
  • Warranty card

JBL Bar 5.1 SoundbarThe first impression is, well, like almost any soundbar. It is nice, but in the basic perforated gunmetal grey, it could pass for any brand.

Where it gets interesting is that you plug the wireless satellites into each end to recharge. You can use them to provide 3.1 wider surround sound or unplug and place them behind you for 5.1 sound. The satellite batteries last about 10 hours between charges. Charging takes about three hours on the soundbar dock.

We did ask JBL if there was a separate left and right charging dock so that the satellites could be left in place.

Well no there is no dock, but there is a micro-USB port. So, you can charge and use at them separately at the same time- Eureka – that is great. We did not test full recharge time this way, but we expect a 5V/2A (or 3.4A) would be similar to the dock. There is also a screw hole mount (unsure of size – looks about 10mm) at the back.

The speakers go into standby when not used and automatically reconnect when the soundbar is turned on. There is also a reconnect button if for any reason it does not do so.

The subwoofer also automatically pairs once it has power.

Setup is uber easy

Soundbars are simple to set up. Either plug it into the HDMI ARC cable from the TV or use an Optical Toslink cable. The main difference is that HDMI ARC can usually use the TV remote to control volume and power to the sound bar.

We experimented with layouts. The subwoofer can be anywhere in the room as it provides the deep, floor-shaking sub-bass. It is best on either side of behind where you are sitting.

JBL Bar 5.1 SoundbarThe satellites are good placed closed to ear height slightly behind where you are sitting.

How do we know? The unit comes with a calibration microphone to set automatically up your room for the best sound. No app is needed – press a button on the remote.

Expansion options take this beyond a typical soundbar

The JBL Bar 5.1 soundbar can act as a hub of a home entertainment system.

It has three HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 inputs as well as the HDMI ARC port. It has an Analog 3.5mm jack, USB (5V/1A with MP3 and WAV support)), and Optical. You can connect devices and pipe them to the TV.

Add Bluetooth 4.2 (single point only –  one smartphone at a time), and you have quite a media centre.

How does it sound? Amazing

Let’s look sound specs first

  • Total power 510W (3 x 50W for the sound bar, 1 x 300W for the subwoofer, 2 x 30W for the satellites)
  • Soundbar (3.0 left/centre/right) has 6 x 2.25-inch racetrack drivers and 3 x 1.24-inch tweeters.
  • Each satellite has 1 x 2.25-inch racetrack driver
  • The subwoofer has a 10-inch down-firing speaker
  • Frequency response 35Hz-20kHz
  • Max SPL is 104dB

We set this up on a range of premium TV’s using the HDMI ARC port. No issues.

Sound varied according to the TV output and content, but we managed at least 90dB (loud) and on occasion over 100dB (painful).

Total harmonic distortion is not stated. But we expect it is <.01% at 80% volume rising to single figures at full volume.

The frequency response graph below shows the orange line at full volume, and the white line is 50%.

 

JBL Bar 5.1 soundbar

So, what does that mean?

JBL Bar 5.1 SoundbarBass starts at 40dB for that room shaking feel. It goes right up to 260Hz before handling over seamlessly to the mids that extend to 3kHz. Treble takes over and is responsive until 15kHz and then drops off.

This is a warm and sweet sound signature and perfect for movies and music. For a sound bar, it is incredible. JBL demonstrated this sound bar ‘as is, where is’, at a special showing of Mad Max Fury Road. It filled a 56-seat theatre.

GadgetGuy’s take. Raise the roof and annoy the neighbours

The JBL Bar 5.1 soundbar is by no means the most powerful bar on the market. There are some with double the output, Dolby Atmos and up to double the price. I have listened to many of these, and I am more impressed with this. I think it is because of the low bass cut-in and the novelty of the satellite speakers.

Sound quality and volume are excellent. I heartily recommend this or its 3.1 sibling for anything but the largest lounges.

Pro

  • JBL pedigree and quality
  • Warm and sweet sound can’t be beat
  • The option of using the satellites to add more surround separation or as a full 5.1 system
  • Bone-shaking bass – among the best I have heard

Con

  • None, zero, zip, nada

Rating

Rated as a 3.1 or 5.1 soundbar (not Atmos)

  • Overall: 4.7 out of 5
  • Features: 5 out of 5 – got it all with lots of connection flexibility
  • Value for Money: 5 out of 5 – Good value but look at the 3.1 version for $699 if you don’t need satellites
  • Performance: 4.5 out of 5 – Almost perfect sound and copious volume
  • Ease of Use: 5 out of 5 – Plug and play and the calibration mike is excellent
  • Design: 4 out of 5 – Nice gunmetal perforated finish but not a ‘trendy’ product like the Sonos

Price

$999 from JBL or resellers. It’s out of stock now until early September.

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