JBL entered the soundbar game a few years ago, but their output to date has invariably paled in comparison to the likes of Sonos, Sennheiser, and Bose. The JBL Multibeam 5.0 is a swift, impressive change to that, bringing the notoriously party-minded audio brand and shaping it nicely for a home cinema experience.
The Dolby Atmos (there’s a caveat, we’ll get to it below) soundbar may have nothing on the Sonos Arc, but at almost half the price it offers an above-average performance and a range of highly customisable features that, when dialled in right, positioned the Mutibeam 5.0 as one of the best streaming-centric soundbars released in 2021.
JBL aren’t taking any risks with the design here. The Multibeam 5.0 looks almost exactly like every soundbar JBL has put out in the past. There’s function over form here, looking rather plain but featuring a number of clever positionings to help achieve the bar’s key feature – virtual Dolby Atmos.
Yes not real-deal Dolby Atmos like on the Sonos Arc, for example, but rather a digital recreation of the immersive soundstage, achieved mostly with front-firing left, centre and right speakers which effectively use the setting’s dynamic to expand the soundstage synthetically. The result here is Atmos content that can often sound a bit too heavy on the front, and thinner on the sides, but is still an impressive enough recreation that makes the price point of $600 seem inexpensive in comparison.
The black, 2.8kg soundbar is quite compact in design and easy to move around. It should fit snugly under most TV units and isn’t wide enough to look too imposing when wall-fixed. The nice, rounded edges help with this soft and gentle look, while most of the hunk is saved for a recessed area at the back of the bar – where you’ll find all the connections which allow for Gigabit LAN, optical, a USB port, HDMI 2.0b eARC out, and HDMI 2.0b in.
On the top of the bar are the two speaker grilles for woofers, flanked around a clean panel of touch controls for volume, input, and power. The included remote is what you’ll be using most though, with handy HDMI and Atmos buttons so you can control the speaker’s performance at whim.
I used the JBL Multibeam 5.0 with a 65″ LG CX TV, which supports HDMI 2.1 and has an eARC dock. Given how feature-rich the soundbar is, it should be fine just for about any modern TV and home cinema set-up you can possibly think of, as well as any WiFi ecosystem you’ve got set up in your modern smartphone. JBL has included Apple AirPlay 2 for iOS devices, Amazon works well with the Alexa Multi Room Music support, and Google has got built-in Chromecast to milk out its max powers. Streaming pretty much anything onto the Multibeam 5.0 is not going to be an issue, especially with the sturdy Bluetooth 4.2 connection holding up the other end.
Given I’ve been out of the Apple ecosystem for a few years now, I can’t speak to how well streaming over Apple Airplay 2 is, but I had absolutely no problems switching between my Alexa and Google driven ecosystems.
Performance comes from 5 48mm x 48mm drivers and 4 75mm passive radiators, with sound invariably sounding impactful and rich. There’s a real vibrancy at all levels, from the scraping of cutlery against a plate in a drama, to the exaggerated rustling of leaves in a horror. The Bar 5.0’s ability to pick up those more subtle, granular details is impressive, but there’s a noticeable bluntness to the smaller details in more crowded scenes, when comparing with my Sonos Arc. Granted, I had to rely on nitpicking memory rather than actual set-up, as I don’t have two TVs I can use at the same time.
There was a similar issue with action films where many things are happening at the same time. Dolby Atmos is valuable because it can process many individual layers of sound at once and construct them in a way that’s layered, logical, and distinctive. When there’s too much going on, the JBL 5.0 isn’t as strong at prioritising something like dialogue. In these cases, the soundbar is not much better than the actual TV speakers itself, although there is an undeniable advantage.
Low-end is unsurprisingly a strong credit for the Bar 5.0. After all, JBL are known for their finesse when it comes to the low-end, and while this isn’t exactly a substitute for no subwoofer, the Bar 5.0 holds its own when it comes to the deeper sounds like choppers buzzing overhead or the low hum or a car engine.
The sound is noticeable wider with Dolby Atmos Multibeam technology turned on, and for the most part you’d want to leave this in-tact for that wider, more dynamic soundfield.
Verdict & Value
The JBL 5.0 is a soundbar well worth considering if you don’t want to push above $1,000 for one of the higher-end offerings from the likes of Sonos, Samsung, or Sennheiser. As far as the price point goes, it’s one of the best soundbars you can buy right now, and completely validates JBL as a brand that’s much more than just party speakers and wireless headphones. With a compact design that can fit under most TVs, and great sound quality despite no true Dolby Atmos, chalk this up as a clear winner.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Very impressive job at recreating Dolby Atmos experience; nice and compact design; inexpensive and easy to set up.
Lowlights: Not as nifty when it comes to sonic density; dialogue can be drowned out by louder details.
Device supplied by JBL for review