We see a fair number of soundbars that cost as much as the $499.95 JBL Bar 3.1 and don’t include a subwoofer. JBL does, and even better, the sub is wireless. Bass lovers will be thrilled with the system’s performance, but the lows can also be adjusted to reasonable, non-house-shaking levels. For the price, the Bar 3.1 delivers some of the better overall rumble in the lows balanced with clarity in the highs we’ve tested, earning it our Editors’ Choice award.
The soundbar element of the Bar 3.1 measures 2.3 by 40.0 by 3.1 inches (HWD) and weighs 5.1 pounds. An LED display shines through the metallic speaker grille that covers the front and top faces of the speaker and, in large letters, tells you what sound source you’re listening to. Behind the grille, there’s an impressive array of drivers—six 2.3-inch drivers and three 1.3-inch tweeters, for a total of 450 watts of power.
Across the top panel of the soundbar, there are buttons for power, volume down, volume up, and sound source. There are quite a few connectivity options. The Bar 3.1 has connections on the rear panel for HDMI ARC output, as well as three HDMI inputs (an HDMI cable is included), an optical input (no cable is included for this connection), a 3.5mm aux input (a cable is included), and a USB port for playing music stored on USB devices. The speaker can stream audio via Bluetooth, as well. In addition to the cables, JBL includes mounting brackets and a guide for wall mounting.
The wireless black subwoofer is pretty hefty at at 12 by 12 by 17.3 inches and 26.7 pounds. Internally, it houses a 10-inch driver. Not everyone will enjoy having a speaker the size of a small trash can in their living room, but if you can get past the size, it delivers some serious rumble. A power cable connects to the rear panel, where there’s a pairing button to connect it with the soundbar. This process is supposed to be automatic, but we had to pair them manually using a sequence of button presses on the remote—this process is detailed in the manual.
The included remote is large enough that it probably won’t get lost in the couch, and it features a wide range of controls. There are buttons for power, sound source, audio sync (plus and minus buttons to adjust delay with the video), bass boost/cut (levels range from 0 to 30), mute, sound mode (choose between Standard, Movie, Music, Voice, or Sports), Bluetooth, soundshift (this allows for quick switching between sound sources when a Bluetooth device is paired), shuffle (for the USB audio mode), surround (a virtual surround effect), night mode (for decreasing transient louder sounds in a mix), and dim display (which makes the LEDs less bright). There’s also a central playback pad for controlling play/pause, volume, and track navigation.
On Chapter 13 of the Pacific Rim Blu-ray, there are explosions and massive robotic stomping sounds that provide a good chance to test out the bass depth of the Bar 3.1 and its subwoofer. In Standard mode, the audio is intense, with plenty of powerful bass rumble. Switch to Movie mode, and the subwoofer gets even more power. Luckily, the soundbar itself delivers excellent clarity through the high-mids and highs, which keeps things balanced. Boosting the bass beyond level 15 delivers rumble that literally shook the walls of our testing space. Bass lovers will not be disappointed.
On Chapter 3 of the Casino Royale Blu-ray, the Bar 3.1 delivers the punches, gunshots, and explosions of the soundtrack with exciting power. With the bass levels at 20, the rumble in these moments is fantastic, and never overshadows the clarity of the highs. Voice mode can also be employed to boost the dialogue a bit, but we found Standard and Movie modes to be the best for films, and speech clarity was never an issue.
For music tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Bar 3.1 delivers a solid bass response with some definite subwoofer presence. With the bass level at 15, the audio sounds quite powerful. Should bass lovers crave even more power, the sub sounds insane at level 30. Even with the overall volume level at a relatively modest setting, the sub shook the walls when at maximum. It’s a ridiculous amount of bass, too much really, but dialed back, it provides an impressive amount of thunder. For music especially, we recommend keeping the bass at 15, or just a hair above if you want some added oomph.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the Bar 3.1’s general sound signature. With the sub at 15, the drums on this track sound reserved—round and full, but not nearly as powerful as the sub can make them sound. Boosting to about level 20 give the drums some added rumble without making them sound ridiculous. And regardless of the sub, the soundbar does a great job of keeping things crisp and clear—the vocals, guitar strums, and higher register percussive hits are delivered with notable brightness. Some might find the overall sound to be a little bit scooped out in the middle—all treble and bass, less mids. It’s a fair gripe, but most listeners will find the Bar 3.1 to be balanced and vibrant.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the drum loop gets an ideal amount of high-mid presence, allowing its attack to remain sharp and slice through the layers of the mix. Meanwhile, the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with mega thunder, even at level 15. Once again, we heard our walls rattle.
For orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, the lower register instrumentation sounds excellent—it can be dialed back to a reserved status, or pumped up to over-the-top presence. Somewhere in the middle, the lows sound rich, full, and complementary to the bright presence of the higher register brass, strings, and vocals.
The JBL Bar 3.1 sounds fantastic whether you’re watching a movie or listening to classical music, and the subwoofer delivers some serious power that is quite impressive for the price. Bass lovers will be especially pleased, but the fact that you can adjust bass levels means just about anyone will be able to find a sound that suits their taste. In this price range, we’re also fans of the Sony HT-NT5, the LG SJ7, and the sub-free Focal Dimension. But the Bar 3.1 delivers the most power for your money, and that earns it our Editors’ Choice award.