JBL has generated some excellent soundbars lately filled with nice features and enough capacity to their models offering nice affordability. Recently we reviewed another soundbar from JBL, the JBL Bar 5.1, which left us with very good impressions sporting a modular design and good performance so whenever we learned that people will be reviewing another of their models we were again excited to see what’s available from such a good company which is currently owned by HARMAN, a global leading audio tracks company that was recently acquired by Samsung.
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This time we are reviewing less tier model within their soundbar lineup and we were curious what sort of performance a more affordable model can provide us. Also having no real surround functions is always limiting these kind of soundbars to offer any sort of real immersion despite the fact that many of them come built with various virtual surround technologies. Can this soundbar perform better? Does it provide proper immersion during viewing? And could it be powerful enough for the purchase price asked? Each one of these questions and more are answered inside our JBL Bar 3.1 review.
Design, Inputs and Features
The JBL Bar 3.1 soundbar includes a fairly standard design that may probably pass unnoticed by most. It’s neither fancy or bad looking and so will have the ability to keep a minimal profile in the area which will be placed. Measuring 40” x 2.3” x 3.1” / 1018 x 58 x 78mm (W x H x D) and weighting 2.3 Kg / 5 lbs, the Bar 3.1 is neither a monster soundbar nor the tiniest we’ve seen. Usually big soundbars have problems fitting under smaller TVs but that one can sit comfortably even under a 43″ panel without rendering it appear to be it extends a whole lot from both sides.
A lot of the soundbar front and top sides is covered in a dark grey metallic speaker grille with the colour as an odd choice because so many other equipment is normally matte black and because of this it makes color combo somewhat off. Center front we find the JBL logo while on it’s right beneath the grille there exists a big, bright display showing which input you’ve chosen. The display light closes after some time in order never to become bothersome during viewing. At the top center we find four circular control buttons within a row for power, volume up, volume down and input source selection.
The trunk is where we find all connections in two separate inset sections. Our guess is that was manufactured in purpose so as to help with cable management as having all ports at the same place would make the connections, especially of the thick HDMI cables, a genuine pain. As such in the proper inset JBL has put the power connector in addition to two HDMI IN ports within the left inset section we get another HDMI input, an HDMI OUT port with ARC support, 1 digital optical input, 1 3.5mm analogue input and a USB port for playing placed music from external devices like flash drives or hard disks.
So as to feed it’s three channels JBL has equipped this soundbar with 6 x 2.25″ racetrack drivers accompanied by 3 x 1.25″ tweeters. There are no sideways or up-firing drivers and therefore there is no capacities because of this soundbar to playback the new object-oriented audio tracks tracks like Dolby Atmos or DTS:X.
With the soundbar comes a radio subwoofer that is built with a 10″ down-firing driver. Measuring 12” x 12” x 17.3” / 305 x 305 x 440mm (W x H x D) and weighting 12.1 Kg / 26.6 lbs the sub is very anything but subtle. Getting the size of a tiny trash can, this sub will surely deliver some much desired bass to the entire experience. On the trunk we only find the energy connector and a tiny button to pair it with the soundbar. Normally both come linked from the factory but regardless if you need to do it yourself following a manual instructions is straightforward and fast.
In total both soundbar and sub provide 450 watts of power which is plenty of because of this category and pricing. But is power enough to provide an excellent acoustic result? We will have this just a little further down inside our testing section.
The included remote is quite like the one we saw in the JBL Bar 5.1 soundbar with only some different buttons because of different functionality leading to us getting the same judgment as before. The remote can be an ugly little bit of plastic that will complete the job but won’t offer other things. It looks cheap, it feels cheap in fact it is as though JBL forgot to invest some time creating a good looking remote for all it’s soundbars. Buttons on the remote include controls for all it’s functions and is simple to use and know very well what each one is likely to do.
The JBL Bar 3.1 includes 5 different sound modes being Standard, Music, Movie, Voice and Sport. Standard will give a balanced result and is wonderful for mixed viewing while Music is quite similar to standard and you may desire a trained ear to identify any major audio tracks differences. Now Movie you will surely want to make usage of it as it enhances the reduced frequencies making them stick out more so that you can provide a more dynamic result. Voice gives priority to the guts channel to be able to enhance dialogue while at the same time dials back the bass but we wouldn’t utilize this for other things other than some Television show or something. Lastly Sport mode again enhances the bass while also adding somewhat of an echo for a far more dramatic effect.
Another sound feature available is JBL surround which tried to make a pseudo-surround feeling with just leading channels. We were somewhat skeptical how this feature will perform in that affordable soundbar and the email address details are pretty much what we expected. The surround feature manages to expand the sound stage somewhat more towards us and gave it a bit more depth but in no chance did it have the ability to give us a feeling of real surround sound so anyone who expect something similar to which should keep their expectations at check.
Lastly there is support for Bluetooth streaming to help you hook up any device just like a smartphone and stream music to the soundbar. Remember that this works only 1 way as you cannot stream music from the soundbar to your Bluetooth device.
JBL has equipped the Bar 3.1 with a good feature set that’s consistent with it’s price. It has enough ports and the main features needed as a way to create a good setup for your movies and music enjoyment. But features could be a very important factor with performance being another so let’s observe how that one performed in the next section.
Unlike the JBL Bar 5.1 here we don’t have any surround speakers and so you don’t have for just about any calibration for the surrounds to be achieved. Connecting the soundbar can be achieved either through the HDMI ports or the optical port but we find the HDMI one. Really the only calibration that can be done may be the Sound mode selection and the bass calibration so things are pretty simple something very good and practical for folks that are not quite definitely into calibrating such devices or maybe want to keep things simple.
JBL created a soundbar which has some very characteristic advantages but also some glaring drawbacks. On the main one side its’ simplicity helps it be suitable for everyone that wants a fairly easy to create system that may offer better performance than any integrated TV audio tracks system. Also the included subwoofer offers ample bass for the lovers of low frequencies. Connection ports are enough to hook up your favorite devices while controlling the soundbar cannot be easier as it’s functions and features are simple to understand and manage. Finally movies performance is quite good and will definitely offer an improved experience than without this soundbar at all.
Alternatively mid-range is lacking which may well not be so clear during film viewing as a result of low frequencies becoming more apparent but during music reproduction this becomes more audible. Also there is absolutely no sense of depth behind the viewer together with above as having less dedicated surround and height speakers is undermining it’s effectiveness to provide such immersion. Lastly the remote is poorly designed and even though it can complete the job we were expecting something