JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam review

JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam review: Compact soundbar with better bass, worse controls

JBL has a long history in audio, but its recent soundbars have been a bit inconsistent, ranging from ambitious but deeply flawed JBL connecting bar to the essentials but excellent sounding JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass. The JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam has ambitions of its own, tackling compact, streaming-focused soundbars like the Sonos Beam. The JBL looks good, delivers superior bass to Sonos, and can sound particularly impressive with movies. I also like that JBL is virtual Dolby Atmos, extensive Wi-Fi connectivity and a second HDMI port offer extra flexibility.

Contents

Like it

  • Excellent sound quality, especially for movies
  • Numerous streaming features
  • Two HDMI inputs

I do not like

  • Relatively expensive
  • Needs tweaks to sound best.
  • Controls make configuration difficult

However, some of JBL’s design decisions are a little perplexing. There is no dedicated app, like that from Sonos, and the incongruous button input mechanics make it harder to properly tune the system. Also, there is no upgrade path to add an additional subwoofer or speakers. There is also the fact that it costs a little too much for what you get.

In the end, I liked the JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam quite a lot, but the counterintuitive controls and higher price are off-putting. I think most buyers will be better served by buying rivals like the sleeker or cheaper spoke Polk React.

JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam review
JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam review

What’s in the box?

The Bar 5.0 shares a similar look and feel to all recent JBL soundbars – they remind me a bit of tongue depressors – and the Bar 5.0 is also very similar in size and shape to its rival Sonos Beam. The top of the gunmetal bar includes a number of controls for volume, power and source, and the grille-covered front includes a relatively easy-to-read alphanumeric LED readout.

There is a lot of “stuff” aboard the MultiBeam, but the most unusual is its ability to use Amazon Multi-Room Music. JBL is the second soundbar manufacturer to implement it after Polk. Unlike the cheaper Bar 2.1 Deep Bass, the MultiBeam also includes Wi-Fi streaming from Chromecast integrated as well as AirPlay. Ports include optical digital, Bluetooth, and two HDMI inputs (including an ARC).

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Ty Pendlebury / HDOT

The main soundbar speakers comprise five 2-inch by 3-inch 48mm (hence the name) track drivers: three along the front and two mounted on the side. Although the speaker offers Dolby Atmos processing, there are no ceiling-pointing height drivers on this product which is a shame. Instead there are two 3-inch wide passive radiators.

Unlike the cheapest Polk React, Sonos and numerous other single speaker soundbars, the JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam is sadly not upgradeable. Polk lets you add rears and a subwoofer if you want, while the JBL doesn’t have the capability. It’s something the otherwise inferior JBL Link Bar allowed, with its dedicated SW10 subwoofer, and it would have been great to be able to add that powerful sub to the MultiBeam as well.

Simple and complex remote configuration

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Ty Pendlebury / HDOT

The remote looks nice but is just too gaunt. The scarcity of buttons makes some configuration tasks too complex, requiring long presses and other non-intuitive actions. It’s as if JBL wanted to take the Apple route and present a simplified experience, but it got it all wrong.

For example, there are no traditional sound modes like Movie, Music and Voice, just one control for Dolby Atmos – which adds Atmos-like effects to non-Dolby Atmos material – and a hidden switch for always-on Smart mode. To turn it off you have to hold the mute button for four seconds, then press Volume Up. The display will then show “Off Smartmode”. Unfortunately, Smart Mode will reactivate if you turn off the soundbar, so it’s a good thing it doesn’t hurt the sound.

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Don’t expect too much help from the controls on the bar itself. Ty Pendlebury / HDOT

Likewise, the remote hides its ability to allow you to adjust the bass: you have to press and hold the “TV” input button for 3 seconds and then “-“. You read that right, and yes, it’s just weird. The only good thing is that once it’s set up, you won’t have to touch the bass control anymore. Finally JBL claims that the remote has the ability to calibrate the sound – by holding down “HDMI” until “Calibration” is displayed – but I’ve never been able to get it to work properly.

Speaking of things that didn’t work, it’s worth mentioning that I had two separate JBL Bar units, the first of which was far less cooperative than the second. For example, the first model was not updating to the latest firmware no matter what I was trying, and I also encountered other technical issues with it. After many comings and goings, I swapped it for the second unit, which worked as expected.

How does it sound?

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Ty Pendlebury / HDOT

Once I managed to subdue this soundbar, it was able to produce a very good sound. The JBL is at its best with an action movie like The Matrix, where it can help suspend disbelief better than any compact soundbar I’ve tested. Compared to the Sonos Beam, the film’s lobby scene filled the room with bouncing bullets and shell casings. The synth bass soundtrack was never overshadowed and helped drive the kinetic feel the film demanded. In comparison, the Beam was a bit thinner, particularly when it came to dropping casings, but it lacked the cohesion of the JBL and didn’t have the same deep bass response.

Smart mode can really add depth to the sound of a movie, something I heard during Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (42:40) when Spider-Man and Miles decide to team up to turn off the collider. After walking the walls for a while, Peter Parker walks along the alley wall, towards the viewer and out of the frame, and the sound follows him. You may feel this effect with Smart Mode on, but not when it’s off.

While the soundbar is good with out-of-the-box movies, it needs a bit of tweaking to accommodate the music, especially if you like heavier styles like dance or rock. Most of the songs sounded good with excellent instrument separation, but this was canceled out when I played Alt_J’s 3WW. By default, the bass drum sounded really weird, like someone beating wet sheets with a wooden spoon. By contrast, the Beam didn’t have the ubiquitous bass base that the JBL could capture, but as a counter attack the drum didn’t sound distorted and broken. I managed to fix the JBL by changing the default bass from level 3 to level 2, but as noted above, making that adjustment wasn’t as easy as pressing a volume button.

Should you buy it?

Most of my hesitation in recommending the Bar 5.0 MultiBeam comes down to the controls. The remote is counterintuitive in the way it makes the necessary adjustments to get the best sound. Also, it would have been great if what appear to be ceiling-pointing height drivers actually were, as this model has Atmos capability.

With persistence, the JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam is capable of reproducing excellent sound but in the end it is not very easy to set up and is more expensive than models with subwoofers such as the JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass.

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