This JBL 5.1 soundbar review is an interesting read for the person in the market for a shape-shifting sound system. If the soundbar’s detachable satellites aren’t enough to grab your attention, maybe the impressive soundstage will.
Let’s get the soundbar out of the box and find out what this 5.1-channel audio rig can do.
JBL 5.1 soundbar review: Unboxing
The packaging that holds the soundbar is large and ungainly, a quality that becomes evident when you have to lug the package from point A to B. Unpacking the contents also takes some ingenuity, but the good folks at JBL furnished a helpful unboxing manual.
Inside the box, you will find a fairly large subwoofer, the base soundbar, and two satellites that attach to the base. There’s also an accessory box that contains a remote, batteries, an HDMI cable, and a pair of power cables. You may or may not find an optical cable in the package. The accessory box also contains a small microphone that you would need to calibrate a 5.1 surround configuration.
Lastly, you will find the wall mount accessories that you’d need to put the soundbar on your wall.
Design: Soundbar and satellites
The JBL 5.1 is a four-foot, charcoal-grey soundbar with silver accents where the base and the satellites connect. Metal mesh covers the front and top surfaces while the sides, back, and bottom are made of textured plastic. A dimmable LED readout shines through the metal grille at the front of the soundbar. Two insets at the back house the adequate selection of input ports.
Each of the satellites has a power button and a charging port, just in case you choose to charge them away from the main bar.
Like the base bar, the satellites are covered in metal grille on two surfaces and sturdy, charcoal-grey plastic everywhere else. The outer ends of the satellites have a silver finish that matches the soundbar’s trim. LED indicators shine through the grill, just like in the main bar. The battery and magnet in each satellite speaker add a little heft.
As for the subwoofer, it matches the soundbar in terms of color. Except that its chassis is made of sturdy plastic with no metal in sight. This subwoofer holds a ten-inch, downward-firing driver with an outlet at the bottom of the cabinet. As such, four short legs elevate the subwoofer an inch off the floor. This downward-facing driver is designed to effect maximum resonance when combined with its bass port.
The back of the subwoofer holds said bass port, a power/pairing button, and a power port.
JBL 5.1 soundbar review: Inputs and connectivity
The back of the JBL 5.1 bar has two inlets that house an array of inputs, namely:
- An optical port
- Three HDMI ports
- An HDMI-ARC port
- A 3.5mm auxiliary jack
- One USB port that also doubles as a service port
- A power port
The soundbar also has Bluetooth connectivity, which is necessary for the pairing of the wireless subwoofer and the detached satellites. You can also use Bluetooth to cast music from your mobile devices.
Setup and operation
To get the JBL 5.1 running, simply connect the soundbar to your TV and a power source. Your TV should detect the soundbar and send an audio signal through the connected port. An HDMI-ARC connection is your best option. It would allow you to use the TV remote to control and operate the soundbar.
Have the satellites and subwoofer powered on and situated when you start the soundbar for the first time. The base bar of the JBL 5.1 soundbar should pair with the different components via Bluetooth. It will automatically begin to send audio to the different components.
Remember the mini microphone that ships with the soundbar? You can plug it into the base soundbar and run the auto-calibrate function. This will balance the surround soundstage based on the location of the two satellites.
There’s a flaw or two in the execution of this audio rig: One, the main soundbar will charge the satellites, but only when it’s on standby. Two, there’s something in the soundbar’s software that makes it a little flaky. Hopefully, JBL releases an update that fixes this.
JBL 5.1 soundbar review: Features
There are good reasons to consider this soundbar. The first is the detachable speakers that widen the soundstage; creating something close to true surround.
The second is convenient Bluetooth playback. Let’s say the show you’re watching goes to commercial. You can simply play a track on your phone and the JBL 5.1 will automatically play the audio and mute the commercial.
Third, the batteries in the satellites are good for 10 hours of playback though they take three hours to charge. Lastly, the JBL 5.1 supports Google Cast and Apple Airplay2. The soundbar’s companion app allows you to make the most out of these features.
JBL put care and effort into this 5.1 channel soundbar. They used five 2.25” racetrack drivers to take care of treble and mid-range frequencies. Three of the drivers sit in the base bar. One sits in the left channel, one inside the center channel and another on the right channel. The satellites have one driver each, making a total of five drivers.
The soundbar also has a pair of 1.25” tweeters that fire out the side of the soundbar. Each of the soundbar’s five channels outputs 50 watts.
The 10-inch driver in the subwoofer has a peak output of 200 watts.
Performance and sound quality
Hardware goes a long way in determining the sound quality of your audio rig. That said, putting that hardware to good use makes all the difference. Here’s how the soundbar performs:
1. Sound quality: Bass and treble range
The JBL 5.1 soundbar covers the full range of audible frequencies, pretty much. Counting the subwoofer, the bass gets to lows of 40Hz, which is amazing. Treble extends all the way to 19.2Hz. While the soundbar does a great job of reproducing the higher and lower frequencies, it struggles with mid-range audio.
It’s as if the color palette is packed on both ends of the audio spectrum, but sparse in the middle. The inability of this sound rig to accurately reproduce mid-range frequencies creates an emptiness in your favorite song. If your favorite guitar riff falls within that range, you’ll have a hard time detecting its finer details.
Despite this shortcoming, dialog remains refreshingly distinct across all sound presets and volume levels.
2. Sound quality: Detail and distortion at high volume
The JBL 5.1 soundbar executes crisp sound on the low and high ends of its frequency range. For audio (usually music) that falls in the mid-range, the limited palette will lead to some loss of detail as the soundbar tries its best to reproduce the input signal.
At high volume, the sound quality remains unchanged except for a little muddy bass. This particular downside is moot because you don’t want to push the system to its peak volume of 104dB. Not even when you’re having a loud party.
3. Sound quality: Audio presets and equalizer
The soundbar’s only attempt at an equalizer is the bass adjustment. All other equalizer calibrations are pre-programmed into several audio presets. There’s movie mode which does a great job and music mode which does a passable job.
Standard, sports, and voice modes work fine.
4. Audio format support
The JBL 5.1 soundbar supports a good selection of audio formats. For starters, the soundbar allows for 4K pass-through. It also supports Dolby Digital and DTS formats.
- Great design and build quality
- The detachable satellites allow for a bigger soundstage
- A good attempt at surround
- The soundbar enhances dialog in all audio settings
- Crisp, detailed sound; even at high volume
- The sound palette is rich in low (bass) and high (treble) frequencies, but limited in mid-range frequencies
- Your equalizer options are limited to bass adjustment
- Few audio presets
- The soundbar could use a stabilizing software update
- This is a convincing attempt at surround, but it’s still not the type of immersion you get with actual tower speakers
JBL 5.1 soundbar review verdict: You’ll get your money’s worth
The JBL 5.1 soundbar review reveals a transformer soundbar that will add power and dimension to your sound stage. This rig is great at movie night and you’re assured of clear audio even as the world crashes around the protagonist.
Should you buy this soundbar? It is a good purchase. Can you get more performance at the same price? It’s possible, with time and effort. Click here to learn more about this soundbar.