JBL Bar 9.1
What Hi-Fi|January 2021
This transforming Dolby Atmos soundbar is a neat alternative to a full speaker package, but how does the sound quality measure up?

Soundbar | ₹79,999

Imagine a sliding bar between quality and convenience, with a soundbar at one end and a full home cinema speaker package and amplifier at the other. Somewhere in the middle is a space that the JBL Bar 9.1 is aiming to occupy.

It looks like a single soundbar and sub, but this is more akin to a Transformer toy. Remove the two ends of the bar and place them behind and to the side of your seating position and they become the dedicated, true wireless, battery-powered rear speakers in a surround-sound set-up. It’s the sort of thing Optimus Prime might have at home.

Complete with upward-firing speakers on both the main bar and the satellites, it represents a real effort to fill your room with AV audio. So are we looking at the new normal for modern TV sound?

As easy as Atmos gets

This is as easy as Dolby Atmos surround sound gets. The main bar is a practical 88cm across and, at just 6.2cm high, it’s short enough to sit at the feet of most TVs without obscuring the screen.

Inside, there are four oval-shaped midrange drivers facing forward and arranged into the front three channels of the surround along with three 20mm tweeters. On the top surface, facing upwards, are two full-range drivers for the front section of the Atmos effects.

The removable rear speakers on each end are attached by a set of magnets. When docked, they charge up their 10-hour battery in three hours, during which they will still operate if you are watching TV or listening to music.

Detach them with a firm tug and the fun begins. They are best placed on a solid surface, just over a metre off the floor. You can wall-mount them, but the joy of this bar is in its flexibility. The speakers can be perched on the back of your sofa, up against the wall, on a window ledge or wherever is convenient.

The JBL’s flexibility means you can avoid rearranging your furniture or purchasing the speaker stands associated with a traditional home cinema set-up. Within these satellites are four more channels. Each has an upward-firing, full-range driver for the final two Atmos speakers as well as another 20mm tweeter apiece for the surround effects. The missing midrange speakers on the rears seem like a bit of an odd omission.

The subwoofer is massive, at 30cm tall and 44cm deep. It takes up a lot of space, but the bulk gives room for a hefty 25cm down-firing drive unit. In total, these drivers amount to a 5.1.4 arrangement.

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