(Pocket-lint) - If you've got a medium-to-large size telly and want some extra audio grunt then there are plenty of soundbar or soundbase options to choose from. Many are complex and expensive though.
The JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam, on the other hand, takes a simple approach: it's an all-in-one box solution - so no fuss with separates or a subwoofer - complete with Dolby Atmos pseudo surround enhancement via MultiBeam technology. It's reasonably priced, too.
If that kind of all-in-one neatness is exactly what you're looking for then just how well does the JBL Bar 5 deliver upon its audio-enhancement potential - and can the Dolby Atmos mode truly deliver additional dimensionality from such a speaker arrangement?
Design & Setup
- Ports: HDMI In, HDMI Out (HDCP 2.3 compliant, eARC & 4K HDR passthrough), Ethernet, Optical
- Connectivity: Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay, Google Chromecast, Amazon Alexa / Google Assistant
- Controls: Included physical remote, four-button top-of-'bar panel
- Dimensions: 705 x 100 x 58mm / Weight: 2.8kgs
Much of the JBL Bar 5.0's appeal is that it's an all-in-one solution. Pull the 'bar out of the packaging, plug it in using the included fig-8 power cable and then you've got various options on how to plug-in your A/V devices.
With both an HDMI input and HDMI output, supporting eARC (enhanced Audio Return Channel), you can use a single cable solution from 'bar to TV and it'll deliver your other audio sources with ease.
Our setup, for example, has a PlayStation 5 plugged into the TV's HDMI 1 (as it's 4K/HDR compliant), the JBL Bar 5.0 plugged into the TV's HDMI 2 (as it's the eARC appointed slot; thus our BT TV box is plugged into the soundbar's HDMI In to passthrough to the telly via its HDMI Out), with Nintendo Switch and Chromecast sitting in the TV's HDMI 3 and 4 (as neither of those sources/ports can handle 4K).
The JBL Bar 5.0 supports HDCP 2.3, which is the latest High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection protocol - i.e. the method that permits it to pass protected content signals from a variety of sources. That'll ensure no issue with your Blu-ray player, games console, streaming box, PVR, and so forth. Whatever you plug in, it's going to work, and it'll auto-switch to the correct source too.
All those cables connected and the JBL Bar 5.0 sits tidily atop our A/V cabinet setup. The 'bar measures just shy of 60mm tall, making it a near perfect fit under the stand of our 55-inch Panasonic 4K FZ800 OLED TV. It's 700mm long, so leaves a spare 260mm either side of the telly in this setup. It's not a massively long soundbar compared to some out there, which is just the kind of scope we want - nothing too dominating or distracting.
Visually the JBL's build is pretty straightforward: a black enclosure with rounded edges that's covered entirely by a mesh to the front; up top there's the same black finish, which isn't too glossy and therefore saves from TV panel reflections, complete with a built-in four-button control section. We like our soundbars unobtrusive, so this does just the job.
Source is reflected by the small panel hidden behind the mesh to the front left - it's not an especially large panel, as it has to scroll to display the full information, but as it's LED based when it's off it's well and truly off. Again, that means no unwanted light pollution (we have our PlayStation 5 to take care of that job, sigh) or reflection.
In addition to that up-top control section - for volume up/down, source, on/off - there's also a bundled remote control in the box. It's a simple remote, which takes 2x AAA batteries (also included) and, frankly, you'll never really need to use it once you've set things up as you like - because your standard remote controls will take over control of volume, settings and source.
What you will need this controller for, however, is adjusting the bass level - there's five levels to select from - and for calibration. However, neither of these are obvious to access: one is a three-second hold of the 'TV' button; the other a five-second hold of the 'HDMI' button. Not even the manual explains how to do this (unless the shop-worthy products have an updated quick-start manual).
We found the bass level was actually a little too ripe and therefore pushed it down one notch (to 2/5) for best overall balance. Calibration - which sends out signals to measure your setup position and soundwave reflection from nearby surfaces - is also an essential to match the best sound profile to your physical setup. As there's no on-screen menu system, however, it wouldn't be able to randomly do this upon first activation as a proper setup is required first.
- Adjustments: 5-level bass control / Automatic MultiBeam Calibration (AMC) / virtual Dolby Atmos mode
- Speakers: 5x drivers (48x80mm) / 4x passive bass radiators (75mm diameter)
- Frequency range: 50Hz - 20kHz / 5x 50W output (250W total)
As we don't have the TV on in the day, our first use of the JBL Bar 5.0 was as a speaker. It has Bluetooth, Chromecast, AirPlay and plays nice with all kinds of sources, so we've been typing away listening to our favourite tunes. And this 'bar is really musical in its delivery - able to deliver a chunky sound that, if you were in the market for a living room speaker, might entirely change your mind. Just buy the soundbar and you've got the double benefit - plus it's Multi-Room Music compatible if you have other speakers.
The JBL Bar 5.0 has, as the name helps define, five main speakers housed within. It's the ".0" that tells you there's no separate subwoofer, otherwise it would be a ".1" for the separate bass channel. There are, however, four bass radiators (or "woofers" if you prefer) to pump out ample low-end - which is why there's a mesh to the top of the soundbar, to release the air.
It's important to note that the mesh up top has nothing to do with upward-firing speakers, because this 'bar doesn't have any. The 5.0 arrangement covers centre, left, right, surround left, surround right - helping to push sound out across a wide soundstage. It does this amply, but lacks a certain amount of verticality - which is perhaps its most noticeable detriment when, as is our case, paired with a 55-inch telly. There's just a certain lack of height.
However, the Dolby Atmos mode does enhance audio. Don't think of it as insta-surround when you click it on, not if your source is basic stereo (as so often from TV) anyway. It will add roundness, building up greater impact from bass and giving a stronger sense of placement to audio.
Feed the JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam a decent source, however, and you'll really begin to believe in what Dolby Atmos can do - even from just the five speaker arrangement. Watching Lupin on Netflix and the rain scenes took on a whole other life, pushing around the room and really enhancing the sense of immersion.
That can sometimes go a little awry - far left/right speakers can ping off sounds that reflect a bit too abruptly - but, in general, if you've got a 48/50-inch TV it'll bring real rich enhancement. No, it's not true surround, it couldn't be in this arrangement, but it's decent nonetheless - as it the whole point of MultiBeam technology and why, of course, it's featured proudly in the product's full name.
There are some minor issues though. The passthrough is rather slow, so it takes a number of seconds for source and signal to kick in. We've had rare issues with lip-sync too, which is likely a software issue - eARC carries a mandatory lip-sync provision, so it shouldn't be an issue - which has been easily fixed with the usual "turn it off, turn it on" solution.
The other point, of course, is that the Bar 5.0 isn't future expandable. You can't add a subwoofer later, as this system isn't designed for that. You can't add other separates for true rear/vertical enhancement either. Which is perhaps less criticism than simply pointing it out: after all, JBL also makes the Bar 5.1, which comes with a subwoofer, and therefore has all its bases covered (there's the Bar 9.1 if you want to go all-out too).
So while the 50Hz low-end quota of the JBL Bar 5.0 is decent for low-end punch, it can't distribute this with quite the cinema-going movie-tastic guttural slap of a separate sub. Those pitch-down "wommmms" won't quite make your furniture vibrate anyway. But they will certainly be a lot tastier than baseline TV audio, that's for sure.
The JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam is a neat all-in-one soundbar solution that delivers sonic grunt, well-balanced musicality, and can passthrough all the necessaries - 4K HDR via eARC (albeit slowly on start-up) - to play nice with any up-to-date A/V setup and add roundness to your TV's audio.
No, there's no separates or subwoofer, but that's half the point of this solution (other options exist within the range to cater if you'd rather splash out). And while it's not fully, truly surround sound, feed this 'bar a decent source - namely Dolby Atmos from Netflix - and it does a convincing job of adding extra wideness and immersion to your viewing experience.
If you're looking to enhance your TV's audio prospects and don't own a super-massive screen, this unobtrusive single box solution does a sterling job for an affordable price - with only a few minor hiccups along the way.
Polk Signa S3
This affordable and effective solution is not only cheaper than the JBL, it comes complete with a separate subwoofer too. It's not as smart when it comes to pseudo surround though - as there's no Dolby Atmos certification (but there is Dolby Digital 5.1).
If you want to go cheaper still, then Yamaha's all-in-one solution - which has the option for a sub to be added later - is a sturdily built box that delivers sturdy audio to boot.