If a soundbar, a surround system and Bluetooth speakers were all in some way magically stirred together in a technology kettle, the JBL Bar 5.1 would be the outcome.
For your hard earned money, you get a transforming soundbar. The JBL looks like a 2.1 system in bar-and-subwoofer setup, but the ends of the soundbar are removable, battery powered speakers.
The suggestion is that you put them at the back of the room and use the whole system as a 5.1 surround sound system. If you want to use the setup with headphones, connect your smartphone with Bluetooth and just do it.
This soundbar is interestingly cheap-looking for its selling price. It’s mainly plastic in its design, and while it feels sturdy, the buttons and display screen aren’t as slick as you’ll find on the Bose SoundTouch 300 for example.
The main body of the soundbar is covered in a cut mesh, and conceals a tiny display that is placed directly below it, to the right of a small JBL logo.
On top of the soundbar are four manual buttons for power, volume and input source. Around the back are a variety of inputs, three HDMI ports, one USB, one AUX, and one optical.
The satellite speakers connect at the ends of the soundbar effortlessly, making a strong magnetic connection, and conform to the same design language as the rest of the system. When they’re connected the whole product looks convincingly like a regular soundbar.
The soundbar stands at 58mm tall, which means it will easily fit in front of most TVs, even though it’s clearly designed to be connected to a wall below a tv screen. Provided with the package is everything you should need to attach the JBL Bar 5.1 to the wall surface.
There are even brackets to connect the satellite speakers to the wall, but as these being detachable is the unit’s primary selling point, we can’t imagine why you would like to.
When connected as one unit, the JBL Bar 5.1 is 45 inches long, which is pretty wide for a soundbar, so if you are thinking of buying this unit, make sure you got the space for it.
The subwoofer is 440 x 305 x 305mm and has the uniform ‘black box’ look that we expect from subwoofers. On the rear, just above the power input, is a single-button for wirelessly syncing up the subwoofer to the soundbar.
JBL Bar 5.1 – Features
The main feature of the JBL Bar 5.1 has to be the modification between a 2.1 and 5.1 sound system. This is fantastic – it works.
As a soundbar with a subwoofer this system is fine, giving a room-filling sound for those who want to keep the setup super-minimal. But if you want real surround sound then you simply pull out the end speakers, held in place via magnets, and place them at the rear of the room.
The system comes with a calibration mic, so you can let it auto-setup the sound within seconds. You need only do this once if those rear speakers will always be placed in the same spot at the rear of the room. These speakers are battery-powered, and go into 5.1 mode as soon as you detach them – you don’t need to do anything.
The only concern in the 10-hour battery life. However, in reality you’re likely to only use 5.1 mode for a movie or that latest HBO drama that needs full audio effect. Pop them back into the soundbar and they charge automatically.
Also, reverting back to 2.1 for normal TV makes a movie feel more special – that simple setup process really helps add to the excitement of what’s about to happen.
Why buy the JBL Bar 5.1?
If you want the minimalism of a soundbar but the immersion of a surround sound system, plus a Bluetooth speaker, the JBL Bar 5.1 is for you. It’s capable of a big, bassy sound that makes action movies more intense and sports more immersive. Plus, if you find yourself regularly jumping between TV and smartphone music, this is the ideal setup.
Those who are looking for a more subtle, balanced sound should look elsewhere.
If you have a slim TV and need a means to make the audio bigger and better, the JBL Bar 5.1 is a really great option that will continue to give on many levels.
A high-priced sound bar, or a low-priced surround sound system. The JBL Bar 5.1 is a do-it-all solution ideal for those who want minimal clutter but maximum audio effect.
For movie lovers with a shortage of space, the JBL Bar 5.1 4K Ultra HD 5.1-Channel Soundbar offers a seriously appealing prospect: totally wireless surround sound from a soundbar. The sound palette that it offers isn’t as rich as some of its competitors, but its transforming surround sound capabilities are impressive.
Truly wireless 5.1 surround sound
Easy to set up and use
Impressive vocal clarity
Gap between mids and bass