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JBL Bar 3.1 soundbar review

Castle Knight 2 Speakers


Jan 21, 2013
Last time I was looking for a soundbar it was 2012, almost gone for Harman Kardon SB26 but I got diverted while researching here and other AV forums; I bought Denon AVR and Polk Tsi400 series 5.1 speakers currently taking care of my audio requirement in home theater.

This time I was again looking for a soundbar, for my living room. Wanted aesthetically pleasing soundbar with wireless subwoofer and should complement my home theater experience while watching TV and listening to music. I am not an audiophile as such, so I was just looking for balanced vocal, highs and lows. JBL fits the bill both in sound quality and price. This soundbar felt good for my listening style of Bengali, Bollywood and English music of mixed genres. Skipped JBL Bar 5.1, as I have dedicated home theater already and did not want 5.1 for casual TV watching, however those looking for soundbar as main audio setup and for full blown movie watching experience with preferable 5.1 setup must go for JBL Bar 5.1 and this is no less, may be somewhat better than most HTIB, with both Dolby and DTS support and more than enough input options and audio controls (you get an idea of all features from below review as these two soundbars are similar in hardware) and of course wireless surround/rear speakers. Lets go back to JBL Bar 3.1; my 2nd requirement was deep bass, and this having a 10 inch subwoofer, JBL Bar 3.1 was natural choice (sometimes I feel this 10 inch sub in some scenarios is better than Polk 10 inch sub). There are are very less review of soundbars in this forum, so written down the review how I felt using it for more than two months now, hope this helps someone.

Movie: Sound quality for movie is room filling and bass is accurate. As many people complained in many forums about mid is muddled, is somewhat true, even with dedicated center channel its not as clear as I would like, but don't look away reading that, its far better than any other soundbar. This observation is based on real 5.1 home theater setup. Auditioned other Sony, Samsung sound bars also Polk Magnifi mini and max, JBL Bar 3.1 outperforms all. Yamaha YAS 207 comes close, but bass and movie lovers would love JBL.

Music: listening music is pleasing, produces good and balanced high, mid and low in 2.1 (music being stereo). This soundbar's length is little bigger than a 43 inch TV, that helps spreading the sound stage and sound fills the room with clear instrumentals and vocals.

Subwoofer: 10 inch driver reproduces low accurately, not only YouTube bass test audios, but also netflix's and prime video's Dolby in movies can shake your room as it goes down to 40Hz, see how it vibrates in the slo-mo video (cannot upload video, so the link). Subwoofer is fuss free, needs only power connection and it connects wirelessly with soundbar automatically when powered on.

Bluetooth: One of the things that is must this days. However it supports only one connection at a time. Means, if it is connected to one device, others cannot connect. But it was fine for me, as my primary need of Bluetooth is to connect with Amazon Echo Dot.

Equalizer: Sound bar has couple of preset equalizer - movie, music, voice, sports, standard and enough for day to day use, and good that its not customizable saving complexity. There is subtle differences between those modes, I would say they are tuned well for their purpose.

Dolby and center channel: It can detect Dolby audio(HDMI/optical) and use 3 channels while playing in Dolby 5.1 down mixed to 3.1. Center channel even plays when PCM 5.1 is given as input (Kodi pass-through). Center channel helps a bit to increase the voice level in movies. But there is no dedicated buttons to control center channel. There is a surround option that can be enabled from remote, but did not find surround effect any good as such, of course after listening in dedicated home theater, expectations increases.

Remote: Remote has all controls of the soundbar, including dedicated bass level control. And direct Bluetooth source select button is really handy. Remote build quality is little light and could have been better.

Buttons: Has basic 4 buttons to power on, volume up, down and select source.

Input: It has 3 HDMI-in and 1 ARC/HDMI-out with 4k/3d pass-through. Also it has USB, aux-in and optical-in. USB can be used for pen drive to play music, also USB has enough power to drive Amazon Fire TV Stick.

Firmware: Firmware can be updated through USB, hopefully JBL will provide updates as and when required.

One negative that hurts most is, time taken to detect/lock on sound. It's mostly audible when you change song in YouTube app (luckily not noticeable in Netflix or in regular Bluetooth) and most annoying if you use it with Echo/Alexa. There would be 1 sec missing audio at the beginning, hoping for JBL to release a fix with firmware update. You have to experience it to understand it, however this should not be a deal breaker. Misses on NFC for easy pairing and it has limited bluetooth connectivity - one device at a time, you need to disconnect from one to connect another (repairing is not required though as it remembers previously connected devices). However these also should not be a deal breaker for most like me.

Overall a highly recommended soundbar, good looking and sleek, matches your modern living room and complement any slim bezeled LED TV. 10 inch subwoofer is a killer. This soundbar out performs, in both movie watching and music listening experience, any other soundbar in this price range and in some cases above it.


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