STEREO GUIDE Verdict
+ a complete home theater at a moderate price
+ 3D sound thanks to Dolby Atmos and discrete rear speakers
+ powerful subwoofer for special effects full of boom
+ automatic room calibration at the touch of a button
+ Airplay 2 and Chromecast
+ 4 HDMI ports including eARC
+ Rears can also be used as Bluetooth speakers
- Bass reproduction could use a bit more contour and precision
- Music reproduction in the voice range somewhat sober
- no analogue inputs
Sound: Tonal balance / Transparency8.5
Sound: Bass / Dynamics9.3
Sound: Spatial imaging9.4
Ease-of-use / Connectivity9.6
With the new JBL Bar 1300, the US manufacturer known to a wider audience primarily for Bluetooth speakers we reviewed like the Boombox 3 enters the business of high-end soundbars. And there is something special about that concept which we had the previlige to review: For 1500 bucks, you not only get a soundbar with channel-discrete Dolby Atmos. JBL´s own channel count is culminating to a staggering 11.1.4 channels – that means four indirectly radiating immersive channels alone. The JBL soundbar in a solid metal inclusore, also comes with a wireless subwoofer and two battery-powered rear speakers included.
You can set them up at the side or behind the listening position without wires, when an extended movie night calls for some serious surround sound. During daytime, they can then attach them to the left and right of the main soundbar for recharging. Pretty strong magnets hold them securely in position. However, you then also need an impressive 1.37 meters of space under your TV. However, anyone who owns a 65-incher should be able to place the flat sound bar loosely in front of it on the corresponding base or hang it on the wall underneath.
What this flexible concept is actually offering
However, the little wireless speakers are not only adding some surround sound: They might also serve as stand-alone Bluetooth speakers. Very practical as a small music solution for the kitchen, bathroom and garden, where they can also be recharged via USB without having to be docked to the soundbar. This reduces the width of the Bar 1300 by almost 40 centimeters. Their batteries last up to 12 hours, which is a very decent value considering the size.
It should be noted that both side speakers work as a standalone Bluetooth system, so you have two of them along with rudimentary controls. Or you can pair them to form a wireless stereo system. We are impressed! The open ends of the remaining soundbar can be closed with magnetically fixed cover caps.
If you leave the rear speakers connected to the Bar 1300 in Dolby Atmos mode, each one is reproducing two channels: the surround effects plus immersive effects. For the former, there is a full 2-way combination of oval woofer plus tweeter, for immersive, indirect soundwaves we found a the full-range cone driver. In addition, there is a rectangular passive compound driver for deeper bass during stand-alone operation.
Lots of speakers plus 1,170 watts
The main part of the soundbar is similarly equipped, but it uses four discrete up-firing full-range drivers that are coming in pairs, further enhancing the directional effect towards the ceiling. The most important sonic events from the front are routed as the three main channels Left, Center and Right to an armada of oval “Racetrack” drivers plus three tweeters.
The tweeters responsible for the external signals and lateral effects are angled to the sides. For powering this pretty impressive collection of drivers, JBL uses a bunch of power amplifiers, whose power adds up to a total of 1,170 watts. The wireless subwoofer equipped with a 10-inch woofer offering 300 watts alone has a lion’s share in these performance values.
Streaming and connectivity options
Those who mainly listen to sound from TV will probably use the HDMI-eARC. In addition to that, however, the JBL Soundbar 1300 offers three more HDMI inputs for 4K sources with pass-through for Dolby Vision. This makes it a small control hub of a more serious home theater installation, for example when a Blu-ray player, receiver or video-capable server come into play.
Additionally we can use optical cable (quite useful for CD players or older TVs) or a LAN. However, the HDMI-eARC input takes precedence over the optical S/PDIF-Toslink and prevents selecting the latter. Very practical: When we played music to the Bar 1300 via Airplay 2, it automatically switched from TV sound to this wireless source. In addition, there is a USB-A input on the back, which can be used to connect memory sticks for MP3 playback. However, according to JBL, this luxury is reserved for the US version of the Bar 1300. In other regions, the socket is only used for maintenance purposes, i.e. to install software updates. There are no analog inputs, however.
Instead, there are plenty of network protocols that leave little to be desired for music streaming: Besides Bluetooth, the Bar 1300 also understands Airplay 2, Google Chromecast and Alexa Multi Room Music (MRM). Regardless of whether it is connected via LAN cable or integrated into your WiFi network.
Visual Feedback from behind the grille
The display of which source is playing is hidden a little behind the grille. Setting up and controlling the Bar 1300 is pretty straightforward with JBL´s One app . You can also use it to access additional music services, personalize the sound via a 3-band EQ, or adjust the subwoofer level. A Lipsync function to compensate for time lags between picture and sound is also available in the JBL One app.
The start of the automatic calibration function, initiated with a countdown, can be initiated conveniently with the remote control without an app. The JBL Bar 1300 offers full-featured calibration, for which it uses its own mics. The procedure requires sitting down at the listening position and running through some test signals. The wireless rear speakers have to go through the calibration process once next to the listening position on the sofa and once at their actual position in the back of the listening room. This is important insofar as the four immersive channels naturally work indirectly via ceiling reflection and can thus be automatically adjusted to the room.
How much of 3D sound do we get from JBL´s Soundbar 1300?
In the listening test, one thing got obvious immediately: With the JBL set consisting of soundbar, wireless rear speakers and wireless subwoofer, you get a full-fledged small home theater for just 1,500 bucks. Even more than the convincing spatiality, which can only be achieved in this stability and plasticity with proper rear speakers for the surround channels, the powerful, room-filling basses already stood out on the first sequences of the block-buster “Top Gun 2: Maverick”, produced in genuine Dolby Atmos. We found the night mode and the aforementioned 3-band EQ to be really usefull when it comes to bass. You might end up in a situation in which you really have to tame these forces.
Bass to the bone
However, taming might be a bit tricky with the JBL soundbar. Although the exercise is most convenient with the corresponding bass button on the remote control. Controlling the EQ via RC is a bit tricky, you might want to use the JBL One app which we strongly recommend.
Regardless of whether we set the bass to level four, five or linear: Even in the large and acoustically damped home theater test room, the bass was so hefty and deep that it could possibly be a bit too much of a good thing for some apartments or smaller houses. The JBL sub sounds pretty punchy, but bass comes in with a rather soft, voluminous character. If you like hip hop and have a home theater or party cellar to turn it up in, you’ll certainly appreciate this. Those who are very particular about precision and balance might not be quite as enthusiastic.
The JBL Bar 1300 is a Blockbuster
On the other hand, there are no two opinions when it comes to evaluating the home theater qualities of the JBL Bar 1300: In our big comparison with the Bluesound Pulse+, Bose Smart Soundbar 600, Klipsch Cinema 600 and the Nubert nuPro XS 8500 RC, no one in this illustrious round was able to beat it, at least in terms of spatiality. Not even among the other Atmos soundbars (we will link the individual tests here as soon as they are published). The JBL was the only one of these that at least began to give a sense of 3D in the room with the integrated Height channels.
As far as the spatiality is concerned, it was a good thing that you can directly influence the level of the rear channels via a button on the infrared remote control: “High”. “, “Low”, “Mute”.
Just like in an action movie, the JBL has an opponent who can put the home theater hero in his place. While films like “Top Gun” or “Avatar” flaunt his strengths demonstratively, not to say monstrously, music is his kryptonite. This was the stuff that robbed Clark Kent of his superpowers and turned the Superman into a rather inept office worker. This kryptonite is composed of voice-dominated recordings like Johnny Cash or The Style Council on the JBL Bar 1300. Here, the JBL seemed a bit sober and clumsy, simply owed some flair, vocal volume and warmth.
Conclusion and alternatives to the JBL Soundbar
If you focus on home cinema and want to really experience some 3D SFX, you will hardly find anything better than the JBL Bar 1300 at this pricepoint. And even in terms of immersive spatiality, there’s really no beating the three-dimensional sound of the JBL soundbar in this class. This makes it practically the born antagonist to Bluesound’s Pulse+: The latter is a music-only talent and reproduced voices with some tenderness and flair that you would expect from very good hi-fi speakers, but it does not come close to the JBL in terms of boom and spatiality.
If you absolutely want an Atmos soundbar but focus on music playback, you will find an alternative in the Sonos Beam 2 in combination with the Sonos Sub Mini, which also offers dry, precise bass. However, the duo doesn’t deliver convincing 3D sound effects for a long time and doesn’t make the floor shake when Hollywood ignites its special effects.
Specifications JBL Bar 1300
- Retail price: 1,500 dollars/pounds/euros
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 137 (with rear speakers, otherwise 100) x 6 x 14 cm
- Weight: 4.3 kg without rear speakers and subwoofer
- Features: HDMI(eARC), detachable wireless rearspeakers, subwoofer included.
- More at: jbl.com
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