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Hands-on review: JBL Bar 5.1 Surround

03 Aug 2020

I’ve been having more fun with the JBL Bar 5.1 Surround than an MP with a mobile phone, enjoying the set up (which took absolutely seconds to do) and then grooving along to some of my favourite sounds. Yes, you guessed it. I’ve been glued to John Wick 3: Parabellum followed by some Neil Young, Meghan Trainor, Bee Gees, Beatles, T REX, Four Tops and Pink.

Set up

This proved to be the simplest thing, consisting of connecting the HDMI cable to my television, and eventually reading the instructions. So far I’ve run every device I have with Bluetooth through it and both my sweetheart and I have enjoyed the sound experience, although I did get “the look” when I played “Baby Shark” for the zillionth time. 

The Bar 5.1 Surround has easily proved to be the most user-friendly soundbar system I’ve used. The sound quality, enhanced by the wireless subwoofer, generates a customisable and easy-on-the-ears sound quality whether you’re listening to Spotify on your mobile, your favourite tunes on the music channels, or listening to your favourite news programme. Even one nameless sports journo has a nice bass timbre added to his rants about what will happen when he leads the National Party. 

Once set up and connected to my television, the TV remote handled the volume. The Bar 5.1 Surround remote enables you to choose the level of Bass you want from Level 1 – 5. My litmus test for bass is Neil Young’s Hey, Hey, My My, the Live Rust version, which reminds me a little of what happens when Marty McFly connected to the Doc’s supersized speaker in BTTF. Crank it all the way up and wait for the windows to start rattling. 

On the subject of setting up, I was relieved that all I had to do was connect a couple of power leads and one HDMI cable, although there are options for ethernet, optical as well as the ubiquitous Bluetooth, which by the way made connecting my homes devices a breeze. There was no scientific placement of antennae or measuring the distance from the wall. The Bar 5.1 is simplicity itself, even though the sound quality rises far beyond simple. 

JBL’s website provides a downloadable spec sheet, which truthfully promises a “cinematic experience,” with the 500W of output power promising an “immersive, powerful sound to match your viewing experience”. With built-in WIFI and compatibility with AirPlay2 and Chromecast, you can “stream all your favourite audio with a simple finger-tap.” I drove my darling slightly crazy switching from Android to iPhone to iPad to MacBook Pro to Windows laptop, just to prove I could.

The only instruction I needed to read was the one that says to hold down the Bluetooth button for three seconds. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that JBL has made connectivity and control so simple that even Boomers feel like digital natives (as long as they don’t stray too far from the user manual). 

Audio

I tested the cinematic experience with John Wick 3: Parabellum, an amusing little foray into what happens when the High Table makes you ex-communicado and offers a healthy bounty on your head. The non-stop action is matched with suitably meaty sound effects, and I’m still having to work hard to stop quoting Wick’s now-famous one-liner which has passed into immortality in the meme world. More on that in my conclusion. 

[Editor's note: Spoiler alert below. If you haven't seen John Wick 3, please skip the next paragraph, direct your eyes to the image below, then carry on reading...]

Spoiler: Suffice to say that his scream when he chops off his finger in fealty to the High Chair was bloodcurdling enough to make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. 


I recommend downloading the spec sheet. For me, it was enough to see “Dolby Digital 5.1” displayed to know that I was dealing with a better than average sound system.

I am a layperson when it comes to sound quality, but I did notice the lack of any EQ control, sneaking a look at my esteemed fellow reviewers’ comments, I was not alone. Despite what my purist colleagues say, I found the surround sound effect to be quite effective. With more time, I might have experimented with the placement of the 10” wireless subwoofer. Purists will doubtless demand much more than what this mid-priced system offers, but purchasers who commented on PriceSpy seemed as happy as I was with the sound quality and the experience. 

Conclusion

To quote John Wick, if you were to ask me if I’d want one of these as part of my home entertainment, my answer would have to be, “Yeah.”

Let’s face it. Every time I muck around with EQs and too many knobs and buttons, I get lost. The Bar Surround 5.1 is simplicity itself to operate, and it simply offers great sound. I’m off to sulk now before packing this up and sending it back. Then I’ll be pleading my case for buying one with you-know-who.