Be it tech, cars or anything for that matter – when it comes to comparing products on the market, we’re forever wondering which will be most value for money. How does the lowest-tier stack up against the middle-tier? Is the most expensive product necessarily the best?
We got our hands on three different JBL soundbars in three different price ranges to figure out which is the most value for money. I won’t go over how significantly soundbars change the viewing and listening experiences in the home, because here at EFTM we have covered that extensively.
$495 – JBL Bar 2.1
The Bar 2.1 is one of JBL’s cheapest soundbars, outputting around 300W and dealing out quite a nice sound. It comes complete with a wireless subwoofer and remote control that allows you to toggle through input methods, adjust the bass level and scroll through preset sound settings (movie, music, etc). The Bar 2.1 accepts a range of inputs from aux and bluetooth to HDMI. Setup is as easy as plug-and-play and JBL’s SoundShift tech makes switching from inputs a quick and painless process.
$695 – JBL Bar 3.1
Going into this comparison I didn’t know what to expect. But as I unplugged the Bar 2.1 and lugged over the supersize wireless subwoofer to accompany the Bar 3.1, I realized that I was in for one hell of an experience. JBL boast the Bar 3.1 as being 4K and Ultra HD but in all honesty, neither I or the people I listened with could detect much of a change in sound quality coming from the bar. I work in radio and spend all day every day listening to high quality audio through all sorts of speakers and headphones – but I wouldn’t say the bar itself was that much more impressive.
However what did change the listening experience drastically was how much more present the subwoofer was in the room. Dragon roars and big bass hits vibrated the lounges and immediately upgraded our viewing experience to one reminiscent of a cinema. The volume didn’t change, the bass level didn’t either, but boy did the Bar 3.1 impress.
$995 – JBL Bar 5.1
Upgrading from the Bar 3.1 to the Bar 5.1 saw a slightly different experience. The 5.1 operates a very similar subwoofer to the 3.1, the difference is in the bar itself. Pictured below is one of the two detachable, battery powered surround sound speakers. The speakers charge while attached to the bar and can be easily removed for use as portable surround sound.
Before using the Bar 5.1 system I was incredibly excited for it at a conceptual level. Wireless bluetooth speakers aren’t revolutionary, products like the UE Boom and the Sonos speakers have been around for quite some time and are great at what they do. But it’s no secret that any product to make me feel like a super spy or otherwise Iron Man is a product that’s stolen my heart – by whipping the surround sound speakers from the Bar 5.1 and bringing them with me back to the lounge, all the while listening to their ambient sounds certainly captured this feeling.
As far as operational effectiveness however I can’t be as optimistic. The surround sound speakers for the Bar 5.1 aren’t designed to be permanent fixtures nor are they strong enough to properly fill a room as you’d typically enjoy from a traditional 5.1 speaker setup. For the individual sitting alone watching a show, this product is absolutely phenomenal. Again that’s with the condition that you’re both alone and are able to place the portable speakers somewhere effective. In my case I struggled to balance them either on the edge of the lounge or on the frame where they’d be most effective.
When trying to watch a movie with others, they proved ineffective as either only one person was in the optimal position for the ambiance or they were too quiet at distance to compete with the main soundbar.
All three soundbars from JBL are exceptional products and for anyone listening through TV speakers, I highly recommend giving one of these a go.
Unlike a primary school athletics carnival, this series refuses to give everyone a prize for participating and the most value for money is the Bar 3.1. At $695 AUD with big bass presence and really nice crisp sound quality, I found it made for a very satisfying listening experience.