JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam soundbar review

hcchighreccomendFor a couple of years now, I've had a bee in my bonnet about JBL's soundbar lineup. Generally, they sound good and offer great value for money, but I can never quite keep track of what's what.

The new Bar 5.0 is a case in a point, as you might think, as I briefly did, that it's basically the Bar 5.1 model but without the external subwoofer. Then you remember 
that the Bar 5.1 was a soundbar with detachable speaker modules that could be used for 5.1 surround sound, and 
the model you were actually thinking of is JBL's Bar 5.1 Surround, which doesn't (oddly) come with dedicated surround speakers. And then you realise that the main soundbar part of the Bar 5.1 Surround isn't the same as 
the Bar 5.0 at all.

So, yeah, JBL. Please rethink the naming strategy...

JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam design and features
With that over with, let's look at what the Bar 5.0 actually is: a single-box system, priced £350, and suited to TVs around 40in and above thanks to a width of around 70cm. This makes it relatively compact compared to some of 
the competition, but still big enough to leave you anticipating a decent sound performance.

The 5.0 assignation is based around the number of drivers deployed. There are front-facing left, centre and right, plus additional angled drivers at each end which handle surround. All are 48mm x 80mm racetrack drivers fed by independent 50W amplifiers.

This array combines with JBL's MultiBeam processing technology to – it's claimed – create an authentic multichannel experience from 
a single enclosure. More importantly, this soundbar packs Dolby Atmos decoding with virtual processing – a new addition to the JBL armoury. Virtual is the key word here, as despite the soundbar having additional speaker grilles on its top surface, these don't indicate the inclusion of upfiring Atmos drivers. Instead, they give breathing space to the unit's quartet of 3in passive radiators (two top-mounted, 
two down-firing), which are on hand to bolster bass performance. It's those two side-firing drivers, 
are used to reflect audio off your listening room's walls, 
which do the Virtual Atmos heavy-lifting thanks to some clever DSP.


The Bar 5.0 is well-stocked in terms of features. Physical connections are HDMI eARC and an additional HDMI input, plus optical digital audio, and these are joined by a phalanx of wireless options: Bluetooth (v4.2), Apple AirPlay 2, Google Chromecast and Alexa Multi Room. 
It's quite a good haul, although note there's no onboard microphone to let you shout your music demands.

As with previous JBL soundbars I've auditioned 
(such as the Bar 9.1), this model comes with 
a slim remote that's easy to get to grips with in terms 
of adjusting volume and source selection (HDMI, TV, Bluetooth), should you not favour letting your TV's zapper take over. Yet, once again, the Bar 5.0 also has some 'hidden' features that are accessed via the remote but aren't labelled as such – nor mentioned in the supplied Quick Start menu.

One of these is the Auto Calibration mode (hold down the 'HDMI' button until the bar's display changes to 'Calibration'), which emits a brief series of test tones to get a measurement of your room's acoustics to tailor the MultiBeam processing. The other is adjustment of the Bar 5.0's bass (hold down the 'TV' button for three seconds), through five levels. This is a useful feature, and why it couldn't have been handled by a simple button on the remote is anybody's guess.

JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam performance
In use, the Bar 5.0 MultiBeam reminds me of previous JBL soundbars, which is a good thing. There's an element of maturity in the way it goes about putting a soundstage together, achieving an agreeable balance between highs and lows and never letting anything become too dominant. Dialogue 
delivery isn't swamped by an unruly low-end (helped 
in this instance by the lack of a dedicated subwoofer); 
Foley effects don't sound too harsh on the ear. It goes loud without fuss, providing a dramatic accompaniment to your bigscreen entertainment.

The inclusion of Virtual Dolby Atmos proves a success, and reminds me how smart DSP has become. Obviously, this forward-facing soundbar is never going to convince you that audio objects are moving fluidly about above 
and behind your head, but the JBL's driver quintet makes 
a good fist at unravelling some of the artistry in Dolby Atmos bitstreams.


As an example, the soundmix for Godzilla: King of the Monsters (4K Blu-ray) sounded far more involving and expansive with the Atmos mode in play. Rodan's fire-filled attack in Mexico begins with panic in the streets, the sound of warning sirens in the air, and helicopters flying up high. It's remarkably immersive, causing something of a double take on my part. Likewise, the subsequent aerial battle between fighter jets and kaiju at times startles with its uncanny effects placement.

With stereo content – such as news programming 
and regular TV fare – the Atmos post-processing is less appealing. But switching it on and off is just a touch of a button, so it's easy to experiment from show to show.

Bass is a predictable shortfall compared to (most) subwoofer-assisted systems. JBL quotes an entirely reasonable 50Hz response 
from its passive radiator/midbass mashup, and the bass performance 
is exactly that – entirely reasonable. Actually, it's better than that, with a solidity 
to its low-end sorties that avoids muddiness 
and conveys the size and weight of events onscreen. However, when the action calls for real LFE bombast, this budget 'bar can't quite provide it, and there were times 
– the Oxygen Destroyer bomb drop on Godzilla, for instance – when I would have appreciated more bass belligerence even if it came at the cost of a lack of composure.

Of course, what we all want from a TV audio add-on 
is effective dialogue presentation. The Bar 5.0, via its dedicated centre channel driver, impresses in this regard, keeping chatter clear and well separated from the rest 
of the mix, albeit with a touch of extraneous boom to 
male voices.

Streaming music is a side dish to the main event. 
Via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, Atmos post-processing isn't supported, and the soundbar's performance both shrinks and loses its sense of togetherness (although it sounded better via Chromecast than 'tooth). There are more musically-minded soundbars around, even at this price.

JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam verdict
While music isn't this bar's bag, movies are. Maybe I got lucky with my room dimensions, but the Virtual Atmos delivery of this compact one-piece was really quite something. It's not a pitch-perfect performer, but definitely one that should be on your shortlist.

HCC Verdict

JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam

Price: £350

We say: Small enough to partner second-room sets but with the sonic chops to fulfil main room duties, JBL's soundbar puts its Atmos talents to thrilling effect with movie mixes.

Overall: 4.5/5


DRIVERS: 5 x racetrack drivers (40mm x 80mm); 4 x 3in passive bass radiators ONBOARD POWER (CLAIMED): 5 x 50W CONNECTIONS: 1 x HDMI input; 1 x HDMI eARC output; optical digital audio input DOLBY Atmos/DTS:X: Yes/No SEPARATE SUB: No REMOTE CONTROL: Yes DIMENSIONS: 709(w) x 58(h) x 101(d)mm WEIGHT: 2.8kg

FEATURES: Virtual Dolby Atmos processing; JBL MultiBeam technology; Google Chromecast built-in; Bluetooth (v4.2); Apple AirPlay 2; Alexa Multi Room; Auto Calibration; five-step bass adjustment; 50Hz-20kHz claimed frequency response; claimed 92dB max SPL output; dual-band Wi-Fi; wall-mount bracket supplied; USB service port