The JBL soundbar 9.1 Review

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Is JBL 9.1 Soundbar any good?

This is a 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos and DTS x enabled soundbar system. It consists of a single bar as well as a wireless subwoofer that features a 10 inch driver. The JBL 9.1 soundbar’s party trick is that the left and right ends of the soundbar detach, and they become truly wireless surround sound speakers; this is something I’ve never seen done before. 

And this gives you the flexibility to place them virtually anywhere in your room. The internal battery inside the speaker modules themselves is good for about 10 hours of playback. When you need to recharge them, simply attach them to the bar itself and after about three hours you’re going to be good to go.

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Of course you can always leave the surrounds in their attached position effectively making the bar look and sound larger for non surround sound content like music or broadcast television. Any way you choose to configure the bar you have to admit that for a soundbar, the JBL is pretty flexible, design wise the JBL is very reminiscent of our LG soundbar though the LG is better looking and better constructed. 

The JBL materials just don’t look as refined or dare I say feel is high end. While both bars are constructed from plastics ,the Jbl soundbar looks and feels it whereas the LG simply doesn’t. And the same is true of the subwoofer. I do like that it has a 10 inch woofer and that they went with a more vertical design but it just doesn’t feel all that terribly polished. 

Now you can disagree with me but I have to tell you of all this, the JBL 9.1 soundbar just isn’t going to win any style awards with me. Performance is a different story. But before we get into that, we connected the bar to our 8k LG TV via a single HDMI cable into the soundbars HDMI input that supports ARC, as well as, eARC. 

It does have a second HDMI input that you could connect another device to say for instance, a game console. You can also stream to the JBL via Bluetooth airplay, as well as Chromecast and we tested all three. And after testing all three we didn’t really find any discernible or life altering differences between the three so choose whichever one you like best. 

Setting up the JBL 9.1 is easy and straightforward but before you settle in for a movie, there are just two things that you’re going to want to make doubly sure that you do. First you have to place the subwoofer in the right spot within your room for best results. I know this should go without saying but I’m going to go ahead and say it, because even though this is a soundbar subwoofer, you should adhere to proper subwoofer placement, it’s even more important for this particular sub because there just isn’t a great deal of adjustment provided by the company to better tune, or change its performance apart from level up or down. 

And even then the differences between steps is somewhat dramatic. If you’re not sure how to properly place a subwoofer in your room, be sure to check out videos on subwoofer placement. Calibration is the next step, it’s pretty simple and straightforward. It takes about two or three minutes but when you’re done, it is essentially tuned to your room and post calibration, the sound of the JBL 9.1 soundbar is rather good if not somewhat unique among sound bars, at least the ones we’ve tested. 

Most soundbars have a smile frequency response, whereby you know your punchy bass, average mid range and accentuated highs. The JBL 9.1 doesn’t really follow this trend in our tests; it definitely has deep bass but it also has a rather full or full bodied mid range. It is its high frequencies that sound lean, or rolled off. As a result, this is a richer somewhat warmer sounding soundbar which isn’t a bad thing, especially when it comes to music, but I’ll explain what this does to movies in just a bit. 

Let me just get one thing out of the way, I prefer its surround modules to be detached and resting behind me on my sofa and I prefer this for both movies and music in this configuration, I do find that it is more balanced and when listening to music comes closer to approximating a traditional stereo setup.

Diving deeper into its music playback artists ranging from Diana Krall to Robin all sounded terrific, though I was not prepared for the more laid back middle of house soundstage. Most sound bars tend to have a more forward or linear soundstage and yet the JBL was tapered, there was still a good amount of localization and centre focus but it did extend back several feet which was kind of cool. 

The bass and mid range when listening to music was very much in line with what I’ve come to expect from JBL; weighty, punchy, a little rounder around the edges but still very engaging. The crossover frequency between the sub and soundbar was shockingly seamless making the entire presentation far more coherent. 

What did surprise me was just how rolled off the high frequencies were; a lot of sound bars lack weight, especially in the mid range and as a result high frequencies can seem overwhelming. The JBL 9.1 soundbar is the polar opposite of this, it’s high frequency rendering is detailed but in no way is it extended or airy.

It is exceptionally dry with virtually no shimmer or metallic spark to be found, so it never becomes fatiguing which is good but it also lacks some Sonic contrast. As a result, a little top end energy is not a bad thing and yet the JBL just doesn’t have any. Now when watching movies, the nine excels when fed a true surround sound soundtrack. If you can feed in an Atmos signal, things improve even further.

The high channels go a long way in making it sound positively huge, but approximating surround sound from a stereo signal for example; news broadcast, just doesn’t go as well. In these instances or with this type of signal, I turn the surround speakers off as they just created more of an echo like effect rather than helping with the ambience. 

But when watching a movie with a Dolby Soundtrack, it is very captivating if you like action movies with a fair amount of bass. I think you’re really going to dig the JBL 9.1. You can also throttle this bar and it just keeps its composure. Now, dialogue has good presence and is grounded in the action and that during a close up, the sound that you hear from the nine feels appropriate to the scale of the actor on screen. 

That said, because the JBL is rolled off in the high frequencies, some vocal inflection and delineation is lost and as a result, dialogue just isn’t always as clear. And this high frequency roll off has an effect on dynamics as well. It has all of the low end grunt and energy you can ask for. I truly believe that it’s capable of a real gut punch but it just lacks the sting. So some crescendos and cinematic hits feel unfinished.

When Iron Man’s suit springs to life, that mechanical crunch of the gears and moving parts are somewhat lost and the suit just doesn’t always feel metallic. And that’s what I mean when I talk about Sonic contrast. Sometimes you just need a little bit of spice in your life and yet the JBL walks around like it has IBS and it just can’t handle the spicy. 

Packed with thoughtful features. They feature a compact omnidirectional capsule with an integrated swivel that enables you to point it directly at the sound. Now I absolutely love the nines mid range and bass prowess, but there were definitely times during our review period where I was left wanting for more. 

And while I also consider the JBL design and truly wireless surround speakers to be inspired, they’re just not the greatest when it comes to hanging on to a signal. The detachable surrounds are the worst offenders with respect to dropouts, or signal loss.

Out of all of the soundbars we have in house, I was unable to make it through a single film without experiencing at least one or two dropouts, sometimes more. And this makes me question the surround speakers’ battery life because four or five hours in, the dropouts become far more frequent. So, either they are losing power, or the receivers inside the speaker’s themselves are really that bad. 

For me personally, I found its house settings to just be off the mark. And I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t save the settings I preferred inside the device itself so I always had to recall them both for movies and music and that got to be annoying. For example, out of the box the JBL sets the subwoofer In my opinion, too loud, it also sets the surrounds at their maximum which makes them distracting. 

So for music, I liked the surrounds at their highest volume but I liked the sub and medium to low, but for movies I liked the surrounds at low and the sub to medium or high and well at this price point I have expected to be able to save those settings and frankly, I just wasn’t able to.

Which is a better Soundbar ? JBL 9.1 vs Samsung Q950t 

In comparison to another Harman design or codesign soundbar, Samsung’s q950t, there really isn’t much to compare. I wouldn’t be surprised if the drivers or parts from the JBL are used inside the Samsung and yet the Samsung just sounds night and day different from the JBL 9.1. It definitely has more of that smile light frequency curve we talked about earlier but it still retains a good portion of the JBL’s wanting mid range. 

Honestly, it kind of sounds like someone took all of my criticisms about the JBL soundbar and addressed each and every one of them in order to come up with a q950 t. It’s simply better built, it sounds better and manages to sound more surround-like even without its surrounds connected compared to the nine fully kitted out. 

That said, I think I may still prefer the JBL 9.1 soundbar for music but as of right now, I do think that I prefer the Samsungi over the JBL.

Which Soundbar is best? JBL 9.1 vs LG SN11RG vs Klipsch Cinema 600 vs Sennheiser Ambeo

 As for how the JBL stacks up to our LG SN11RG, I think the LG is more stylish and made from slightly better materials. The LG also has better surrounds that hold a signal better. I like the greater level of adjustability the LG SN11RG provides, even if in the end, it has a leaner mid range and less linear overall response between its subwoofer and the bar itself. 

The JBL is more musical but the LG is more clear and more dynamically involving. That said, the LG can be more expensive depending on which model you choose to get into. The JBL has a lot more in common with Klipsch’s cinema 600 bar and that’s with or without the cinema 600s optional surrounds.

Both have weight to their mid range and both as of this review are somewhat lacking in user adjustability. Although I have been told that this is going to change with a future update to the 600. That said, while the Klipsch is a little bit more polite, up top it’s not nearly as rolled off and thus just feels more balanced and more neutral on a whole. 

Now I know the cinema 600 isn’t a true Atmos enabled bar the way the JBL 9.1 is but it manages to sound as big as the JBL, even without those upward firing drivers. However if you want an apples to apples comparison, you’re going to have to step it up to the soon to be released to cinema 1200. 

And as for our reference soundbar the Sennheiser ambeo, we’re not even really going to compare the two because the ambeo is just better. So in the end the JBL bar 9.1 is an inspired design that makes for a good sound bar, just not a great one. It has so much promise and the voicing really is unique among sound bars. It’s 100% A JBL product and like a lot of their branded products right now, the sound quality is there but the build quality isn’t what it used to be. So in the end you’re left with a good sounding sound bar with a unique and interesting design concept that should be leading the pack, but ends up finishing somewhere in the middle. 

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