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Review: JBL Bar 5.1 Surround – confusing name, great product

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The JBL Bar 5.1 Surround is a capable soundbar that probably has its name – but make no mistake: this is not a successor to the previously launched Bar 5.1 and is in fact a different product series. We take a closer look at the broad speaker in this review. The soundbar has a suggested retail price of 599.99 euros.

Before we start the review, it is important to make a distinction clear. The JBL Bar 5.1 Surround has nothing to do with the JBL Bar 5.1 that we tested early last year . Both products are a soundbar from the same manufacturer, but that's about where the similarities end. They do not belong to the same series and this product is also not a successor to the previously launched Bar 5.1. They are two separate sound bars. A representative could not explain why JBL chose these names.

Review: JBL Bar 5.1 Surround – specs and design

The JBL Bar 5.1 Surround is a complete soundbar with a good sound level, that combines sleek looks with a range of functions. The sleek, dark gray design ensures that you can place the speaker under almost any television. Moreover, it is nice to see that the logo is not on the front, but on the top, so that it cannot distract from the aesthetics of your own (home cinema) setup. However, there is a small LED screen in front of which you can read information for a pleasant use.

On top we find four buttons for direct operation: the on-off button, two volume buttons and a button for changing the input. For other things you have the remote control. The system consists of a soundbar and wireless subwoofer, which is automatically linked to the soundbar. In total there is a power of 550 watts: 250 watts in the soundbar and 300 watts in the subwoofer. There are seven different drivers in the bar: five spread over the entire width and also two on both sides.

At the back we find different connections. There is one for the plug. This is a standard connection, since the plug block is incorporated in the Bar 5.1 Surround. We also have an optical connection and two HDMI ports. One is hdmi-arc, so you can also operate the soundbar with the remote of your television. The other is HDMI-in, so you can connect a game console or Blu-ray player to it. The USB port cannot be used for playing music in the Netherlands.

Fortunately, music can also be played via the internet. You can connect the soundbar to your phone or computer via Bluetooth and thus play music. But you can also use Apple Airplay or Google Cast, so that you can stream wirelessly without too much hassle. You connect the soundbar to the network and install it via the corresponding apps, such as Google Home, and you can immediately start listening. Furthermore, the soundbar is able to transmit 4k and hdr signals (HDR10 and Dolby Atmos).

Review: JBL Bar 5.1 Surround – installation

So there is quite a lot possible with this extensive soundbar and luckily you have this does not bother you during installation. In no time at all, the system runs like a charm, whether you go for the hdmi or audio cable. If you do the latter, do not forget to switch off the speakers on your television, otherwise you will hear the sound twice. You also have to check whether your TV automatically takes the JBL Bar 5.1 Surround as the source of the sound, but if it is right, this is set correctly on your own television as standard.

Linking to the internet went well right away. We have done this through the Google Home application, so that we have been able to include the soundbar in our Cast and Google Assistant network. You set up the speaker via the Google Home app by going to the button for setting up a new device. You turn on your location, follow the steps you see and the internet connection works in no time. You can then also operate the JBL Bar 5.1 Surround with your voice, but the Assistant is not on it himself.

Review: JBL Bar 5.1 Surround – in use

You operate the JBL Bar 5.1 Surround in three ways: via the supplied remote control or your own (when you use HDMI arc), the buttons at the top or via the voice (when you have a Google Assistant speaker at home). The last two options work fine and offer functions that you are used to from sound bars and music controls in general. It is also nice that everything works right from the start and has had no further problems. We therefore have nothing to criticize.

However, the supplied remote control is a downside. It is compact, fits comfortably in the hand and won't get in the way easily. Moreover, there are not many buttons on the accessory. A representative of JBL told us that this format and design were deliberately chosen, so that the operation can be kept fairly simple. We understand that idea, but it may well get in the way of experience. For example, it is not at all clear what extra things you can do with the soundbar on top of the rest of the functions.

For example, there is the audio synchronization option. You can use this to ensure that the image and sound return to the same level, should you encounter this problem in daily use for whatever reason. The enclosed manual does not describe how you can achieve this; you must download the manual from the website ( download the pdf file here) if you want to find out. Here it is described that it is a) possible and b) how it works, but these seem to us to be functions that should be clear beforehand. The far too expensive Harman Kardon Citation Bar has shown that it can sometimes be difficult to properly handle different sources and automatically switch between those sources. But that didn't bother us at all with the JBL Bar 5.1 Surround. This really works perfectly. If you switch to a connected HDMI source via your TV, such as the Nvidia Shield with us, you don't have to do anything else with the settings of your soundbar.

Review: JBL Bar 5.1 Surround – audio quality

With a With a power of 550 watts, the JBL Bar 5.1 Surround can fill a decent space with sound. The question then is whether that sound is pleasant and the short answer is: sure! For those 599 euros you get a very capable soundbar that can carry a wide range of music genres, films, series and games. Despite the power of 300 watts, the subwoofer is not widely present. If you do, you can adjust the level with the supplied remote control. In any case, the sound does not boom through very much.

The sound field is quite wide. The low tones therefore come out nicely without dominating. The bass layers get more than enough room for their often supporting role, while the higher tones nowhere sound measured or limited anywhere. There is a clear limit, but only when you set the soundbar too loud. Then the quality can deteriorate and sound shrill. Fortunately, you can control that yourself by not setting the volume to the maximum number, although we understand that it is best to do so.

The JBL Bar 5.1 Surround has something called Multibeam technology. This is the standard sound mode of the soundbar, one that ensures that the sound can move through the room. We got a demo of this in Amsterdam and it sounded very good. With some songs or film scenes it does indeed sound like the sound comes from a different corner of the room. The same applies to specific sound effects. The question is always to what extent you can imitate those results at home.

We can safely say that the soundbar does a great job even in a less optimized environment. The sounds, sound effects, instruments, voices – in some cases it seemed as if they were coming from another side of the room. And you don't have to sit in front of the soundbar in front of it. Although it may be that you hear the effects on the left a little less when you sit too far to the right, for example, but fortunately that has not turned out to be a major irritation point for us.

You can Also switch off multibeam mode (see the manual for that, there is no separate button for that), if you prefer that. Then you will hear the sound in 2.1. The same applies when you play music via Bluetooth. The spatial effects then of course disappear, but the quality does not diminish. We are generally very pleased with the sound quality: it is warm where it must be warm, hard where it must be loud and actually always wide in its range. And you do not pay the grand prize for this.

Review: JBL Bar 5.1 Surround – conclusion

We are very enthusiastic about the JBL Bar 5.1 Surround. The most important aspects, the sound and the user-friendliness, are very good. You will rarely find a soundbar with this power and display that is put on the market for this price. Add to that the possibilities with regard to audio streaming (the choice of Apple Airplay and Google Cast) and you have a soundbar that passes the competition in the same segment. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.

For example, we find the remote control too compact and we miss buttons that make various functions accessible. We understand that you give a smaller model and add fewer buttons (especially if these are buttons that you often only use once), but now you can use the product without downloading the digital manual. It may also be a shame that you do not have sound modes, but the standard settings of the Multibeam technology are good enough for us to enjoy all kinds of content.

Cons

  • Too compact remote control
  • Digital manual a must
  • No other sound modes. Wesley Akkerman product

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