Today’s JBL Bar 2.1 review proves that manufacturers can deliver a great product at a bargain. The JBL 2.1 soundbar performs like a premium model, which is a pleasant surprise given the amazing price point of this audio rig.
Because you can’t take this 38-inch JBL 2.1 soundbar through its paces before you buy it, allow this review to do it for you. Starting with unboxing and first looks.
JBL Bar 2.1 Review: Unboxing
In addition to a subwoofer, the JBL 2.1 channel soundbar also ships with a mounting bracket and the accessories you would need to do a wall mount.
This 2.1 channel JBL soundbar also ships with an optical cable, a 3.5mm aux cable and two power cords. Lastly, you will find a remote, a pair of batteries, a user manual and assorted paperwork. Despite the fact that you could never have too many HDMI cables, JBL didn’t include one in the package.
Here’s how the audio equipment looks right out of the box.
The JBL 2.1 channel soundbar looks like many soundbars you’ve seen before, except for its superior build quality. This jet-black, 38-inch soundbar has metal meshwork on the front and top surfaces. Glossy grey bands at both ends of the soundbar create an accent that stands in contrast to the textured, black uniformity of the device.
This soundbar is fairly long. If you want to place it between the legs of your TV, said legs need to sit at least 38 inches apart. Unless your TV sits flush on the tabletop of your stand the soundbar is low enough to leave a clear line of sight to the IR receiver.
You’ll find a row of rubber controls at the top of the soundbar. They allow you to adjust the volume, choose an input source and switch on the JBL 2.1 bar. The inputs are at the back.
Inputs and connectivity
The JBL 2.1 soundbar has an HDMI-IN port and a corresponding HDMI-ARC output port. It also has an optical audio port, an auxiliary port and a USB port. Bluetooth connectivity allows the soundbar to play audio from a paired device. It also connects the soundbar and the subwoofer.
Along with the power port, the rest of the inputs sit inside an inset at the back of the soundbar.
JBL Bar 2.1 Review: Subwoofer
At just over a foot high and with a footprint of nine square inches, the subwoofer is compact enough to fit in small spaces. It matches the same simple, jet-black aesthetic of the soundbar. JBL added four little legs to this subwoofer, raising it off the ground. You’ll find the bass and power ports at the back.
Set up and ease of use
The JBL 2.1 is a plug-and-play device. You only need to connect it to your TV and a power outlet. As soon as you switch in on, the soundbar will produce redirected audio from your TV. The soundbar should pair automatically with the subwoofer but if it doesn’t, press the Bluetooth pair button at the back of said subwoofer.
There’s a digital display at the front of the soundbar, behind the metal grille. It shows the active input or the status of an ongoing operation. This display makes it easy to navigate through the different sound modes of the soundbar.
As does the soundbar’s remote, which has useful controls that let you select audio presets and access the limited equalizer. Better still, the soundbar has HDMI CEC capability. This means that you can control the soundbar through the TV and the TV remote.
The JBL soundbar has two channels, each of which is powered by a pair of 2.25-inch drivers and a single 1.25-inch twitter. Four drivers and two tweeters make a total of six speakers, an impressive array for a budget soundbar.
Add to this the subwoofer’s 5.25-inch, downwards-firing driver and you have yourself a whopping 300 watts of sound.
Does the impressive hardware translate into great sound? To find out, our JBL bar 2.1 review dives into the sound quality of the JBL 2.1 channel soundbar.
Sound quality: Frequency range
With a range of between 40Hz and 19.2 kHz, the ‘sound palette’ of the JBL 2.1 bar is pretty wide. 40Hz is low as bass frequency goes for most audio devices. So expect powerful bass that adds that extra punch to your favorite bass-heavy song.
Sound quality: Sound stage and channel separation
The 38-inch soundbar creates a 38-inch soundstage, despite the ability of the hardware to do a lot more. Luckily, the subwoofer swoops in to act as a second sound source, which adds some dimension to the overall listening experience.
Then there’s the matter of channel separation. You want your soundbar to produce crisp, defined sound with different audio elements coming from different points on the sound stage. The JBL 2.1 bar is not that soundbar.
Despite having six speakers, the JBL 2.1 soundbar only manages to direct audio out the center of the soundstage. Only the subwoofer provides some extra directionality, which would count a whole lot more if it wasn’t dedicated to bass frequencies.
Sound quality: Peak volume and harmonic distortion
300 watts is a lot of power, and the JBL 2.1 bar uses it to get as loud as 99dB. To put it another way, this soundbar will be audible in a large room, during a lively party. The question is: Does audio remain clear at peak volume?
When you turn the soundbar all the way up, the bass audio components meld into each other, producing flattened, muddy sound. The same goes for treble frequencies but to a lesser degree.
A lack of channel separation limits the soundbar’s ability to blend audio while keeping the different audio components distinct. So that amazing bass riff on your favorite track? The intricate percussion that weaves in and out of that riff? You’re going to have to listen carefully to find those. More so at maximum volume.
JBL bar 2.1 review: Equalizer and audio presets
You can adjust the bass level with the remote that ships with the soundbar. That’s all the equalizing you get to do with the JBL 2.1 bar. The next best thing is a few sound presets that emphasize certain audio elements over others.
There’s movie mode, which does a good job of bringing audio to the forefront while rendering immersive sound effects. Music mode tries to create detailed, blended sound that allows you to appreciate the different elements of your favorite song. This mode has some measure of success, but it is limited by a lack of channel separation.
The soundbar also comes with night mode, which turns down the bass-heavy components of a given piece of audio. Dialog mode works well for podcasts, audiobooks and any content that relies heavily on voice.
Audio format support
Being a 2.1 channel soundbar, the JBL 2.1 is incapable of producing actual surround sound. However the JBL 2.1 channel bar does support Dolby Digital and DTS audio formats, which allows the soundbar to implement a form of virtual surround. Ultimately, Dolby and DTS support go some distance to improve the overall sound quality of the JBL 2.1 bar.
- Excellent value for money
- Solid build
- A digital display that you can dim
- Impressive bass levels
- The soundbar does a crisp rendition of treble elements
- Remote learning equips the soundbar with the ability to learn how to use TV remotes that are not immediately compatible
- Instead of coming from two different channels, all the different audio components seem to originate from the center of the soundbar
- There’s harmonic distortion at the high volume
- For a high-end, budget soundbar, the JBL 2.1 bar lacks a companion app, voice control or some other useful extra feature
JBL Bar 2.1 review verdict: It’s worth what you pay for it
To end our JBL bar 2.1 review, we ask ourselves: Is this a worthwhile purchase? There are two ways to answer this question.
The first is by matching cost and performance. By this metric, the JBL 2.1 channel soundbar is worth every penny you pay for it. The soundbar has a solid build and powerful (if not entirely accurate) sound.
That said, you could find a soundbar with better sound accuracy and crisper audio definition at the same price point. With some tradeoffs, of course. Click here to learn more about this soundbar.