Home Cinema Choice|March 2020
This soundbar's predecessor, the JBL Bar 5.1 [see HCC #283], partnered a three-channel enclosure with wireless rears and subwoofer for a native 5.1 presentation. JBL's new and confusingly named Bar 5.1 Surround ships without those additional surround boxes, but still claims a 5.1 performance...
One one level, this is a bit of a shame, as the battery-powered surround cabinets on the Bar 5.1 worked well at delivering multichannel immersion, provided you could place them accurately and remembered to recharge them. But here JBL is making a play for 'the ultimate cinematic experience... no extra speakers or wires are needed' – suggesting that the previous model perhaps didn't set the buying public's imagination alight. It will, however, be returning to the concept with its imminent Bar 9.1, although as a Dolby Atmos/DTS:X model (with four upfiring drivers in total) those 'extra speakers' are more to be expected.
What we have here, then, is a standard soundbar/ subwoofer combi system, but with onboard Dolby Digital 5.1 decoding and a driver array (and processing) designed to create a multichannel experience.
The soundbar uses five, full-range racetrack drivers, for its L/C/R channels, and adds side-firing tweeters. These combine with JBL's MultiBeam technology to shape-shift your source to its five-channel output.
Don't look now
Styling is fine and the build quality solid. In truth, there's not much need for eye-catching aesthetics from a device that wants to sit below a TV (or be wall-mounted) and not distract from the onscreen action, but with its full-wrap perforated grille, round edges and 5.8cm height, the Bar 5.1 is agreeable enough. Buttons on the top panel cover power, volume and source, while a scrolling LED display provides all the info you'll need.
The soundbar is joined by a sizeable wireless subwoofer, styled to match in nondescript grey. It's a rear-ported, down-firing design, with a 10in woofer and claimed 300W amp that, on paper, raises it above much of the competition.
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