Although TV manufacturers have simultaneously decided to ditch and embrace sound performance on their modern screens, at the end of the day there just is no replacement for a dedicated soundbar with or without a subwoofer.
And despite the fact that the TV manufacturers make soundbars themselves, the best ones are still made by dedicated audio companies. One such company is JBL, and they have really nailed what a soundbar should be with their new, simply monikered Bar Series.
There are 4 distinct flavors: Bar Studio, Bar 2.1, Bar 3.1, and the transforming Bar 5.1.
We’re starting with the look of the JBL Bar Series first. Why? Because you have to stare at a soundbar every time you watch TV…and for 90% of consumers the look (and price) are the deciding factors over the sound quality. Sorry audiophile. You’ll have to keep reading…
JBL has made some bold design decisions in the not too distant past in some of their soundbar designs. The have decided to go back to basics with the new Bar series, and we think this is an improvement. Gone are the cloth accents of yore, replaced by seamless pieces of powered coated aluminum grille across the whole lineup. It is not prone to fingerprints and is very easy to keep dust off of as well.
This minimalist and understated design should get the all important wife approval…before she realizes there’s a big subwoofer in the box too. Compromise honey!
You have a few different sound configuration options when it comes to the JBL Bar Series. As you move up the line you get different performance and features.
The top of the line, the JBL Bar 5.1 boasts 510W of power at 104dB. A 10″ subwoofer delivers deep bottom end. Unique to the system are the detachable wireless surround sound rear channel speakers.
Like the Bar 3.1, the soundbar of the 5.1 has a dedicated center channel to help deliver clear dialog, especially during loud action scenes. In our testing of these units it worked very well. It makes the jump from the 2.1 to the 3.1 or 5.1 worth the extra money.
The two main reasons to reach for the top of the lineup with the 5.1 is the incredible volume output and the detachable wireless surround sound speakers. Lets look at them for a second.
The 5.1 Surround Speakers
There are a few cool things about the Bar 5.1 Surround sound speakers to note. First, they are completely wireless. That’s right! No power our audio cables required. They use a low-latency audio protocol so you aren’t getting speech shift during viewing.
They have built-in batteries that provide about 10 hours of playback time. When they need charging, they attach to the sides of the soundbar to get powered up in less than 3 hours.
They sound great. Lots of output. There is a directionality of the sound but they disperse pretty widely so you have some flexibility about how or where you use them.
The JBL Bar 5.1 system has multiple setups that you can do, though these are limited by the two wall mount brackets that are included:
- The brackets can be used for the main bar speaker, while the 2 detachable surround speakers have strong magnets that you can use to attach to a wall with a metallic surface.
- The main bar speaker can sit on a flat surface, while the brackets can be used to wall mount the surround speakers.
- Everything can lay on a flat surface.
- You can wall mount the entire setup, though you would need to order two more new brackets through JBL customer service.
The Bar Studio
We haven’t said much about the Bar Studio 2.0 sound bar. For $149.95 it’s one of the best sound solutions you can get without a subwoofer.
If you have a 27″ iMac or PC screen, the Bar Studio fits perfectly underneath and makes a fantastic computer speaker. Use the aux or HDMI input to avoid the latency you’d get with a Bluetooth connection.
The Bar 5.1 and 3.1 are True 4K systems, and can connect to other 4K devices such as TV’s and Video Players.
3 HDMI inputs on the 5.1 and 3.1 and 1 HDMI input on 2.1. All units including the Bar Studio have 1 HDMI ARC output.
All the units come with the same Audio inputs: 1 Analog, 1 Optical, Bluetooth, USB.
The pricing for the 4 different soundbars:
- JBL Bar 5.1 : $699.95
- JBL Bar 3.1 : $499.95
- JBL Bar 2.1 : $299.95
- JBL Bar Studio : $149.95
Where to get one
Direct from JBL.com: Free shipping & returns
BestBuy.com: Free shipping & pick-up in store
So which one do you get? The Bar Studio makes a great computer speaker as we mentioned, or spare bedroom sound bar.
The Bar 3.1 center channel and improved output hits the sweet spot with price to performance.
If you can wing the extra bucks for the 5.1 you’ll get one of the best soundbars on the market, certainly one of the best priced.
Consider the JBL Bars as upgrades from the Vizio bars or any other bar made by a TV manufacturer. JBL is an audio company, and their focus is top notch sound for the best price. This certainly is the case with the Bar series.