Published on May 29th, 2021 | by Chris O'Connor
JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam Soundbar Review
Summary: For a small, compact unit there's quite a lot of oomph!
I will start this with the context of where I’m coming from, my day to day sound system is an 7.1 receiver with individual speakers placed around the room… so I was very curious about Soundbars in general and especially at claims of providing Dolby Atmos (even if it is virtual).
My first impressions upon opening the box were that it was well packed and has a very nice sleek look to it. There were however minimal instructions… though not a huge issue as the brief notes (mostly in pictographic form rather than spelled out in detail), made it fairly clear how to plug things in. After a little bit of fiddling (my cabling set ups issue… nothing to do with the unit) I had my Bluray player connected to the soundbar and the sound bar then to the TV.
The first movie I watched was Aquaman 3D and even just from the menu screen I was surprised at how much presence the soundbar had… I mean you pay attention when it puts out sound. For a system that doesn’t claim a decimal speaker (ie the .1/subwoofer of many set ups), it does a decent job of the bass frequency. It won’t rumble your room like a dedicated subwoofer, but you will definitely notice when explosions occur on screen.
It wasn’t until I’d finished Aquaman that my curiosity got the better of me and I checked online to see if there were any more details about setting the unit up and sure enough there was a far more detailed manual and instructions for updating the firmware (which I naturally did straight away via the simple process of connecting a usb stick in the back of the unit and pressing a set button combination). That’s when I learnt/was reminded that this unit actually has it’s own autocalibration (maybe do this during the day though as it can get quite loud). Following the firmware update and the calibration I have Suicide Squad 3D a try as I was curious to test the Atmos soundtrack. My impressions were that the autocalibration had helped with the surround sound distinctiveness and I think I noticed the sound of rain drops coming from above (more on that later).
My third viewing was of 1917… again I was curious to hear the Atmos soundtrack but this time when I played the disc the front panel display only mentioned it was in DD surround rather than Atmos (which it had mentioned for Suicide Squad)… I’m not sure if I had somehow changed a setting either in the soundbar or my bluray player but I wondered if maybe it had switched to PCM (which I’m lead to believe will not provide a Dolby Atmos soundtrack)… certainly on the menu screens it did display PCM on the front of the unit.
My fourth (partial) viewing was Batman Begins… part way through this movie I decided to switch back to my usual set up and I’m glad I did as it gave a good contrast in the experiences. So what is my take away from all of this? Well I think soundbars are a little bit like the resurgence of Vinyl… it’s somewhat a trend and many people jump on the bandwagon because that’s what they see others doing but ultimately the audio quality is not as good as other options. But also like Vinyl there are situations in which it might be better (in the case of Vinyl if you like the audio aesthetic… just don’t try and claim it’s a superior format). Soundbars, as best I can tell, are really best suited to small rooms. If you are in an apartment or have a smaller room dedicated to your movie viewing then a soundbar is probably a decent option. If like me, your viewing is in an open plan room then you may find there are some issues… not least of all because our room somewhat doubles as the children’s play room so objects can end up in the path of the sound that requires angles to stay the same for optimal bounce directions etc. That point I made earlier about thinking I could detect the sound of rain drops coming from above… it was cool to get that impression, but the lack of clarity of the sound coming from there is my issue. I aspire to a true Atmos set up with individual speakers at some point and the main benefit of that will be the distance between speakers making it extremely clear and distinct where the sound is coming from, you just can’t get that with a single location unit.
Don’t get me wrong, this particular sound bar has some very impressive sound producing ability both in terms of the quality of the sound and the simulation of surround (and even Atmos)… but for me, I really want that clear distinction of where the sound is coming from. Batman Begins being a good example of that, I have my side speakers exactly where you’d expect… to the sides (then the rear’s are basically level with my seating position (that’s a limitation of our couch positioning otherwise they would be more behind)… the distinction between where sounds in those channels come from with separate speakers compared to the soundbar is pretty clear. But, if you prefer a neater set up (not everyone is happy enough to have speakers dotted throughout their room)… or if you have limited space then the JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam is a good option for some audio with weight. Even with my room set up… the soundbar still made me feel like the sound was encompassing me… it felt quite engaging, just not super distinctive in it’s location.
Ideally find somewhere you can listen to the unit before buying… it really does put out impressive sound… just make sure it’s sound you like (because the only flexibility is in the bass). For my first Soundbar experience I would still say I was quite impressed. If you are set on getting a Soundbar I would say definitely look at the JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam.