Earlier this year, we reviewed one of its premium speaker systems and ended up thanking JBL for offering us a little of the rumble and spectacle we’ve missed since cinemas shut their doors last year.
But thankfully for those who cannot afford to spend nearly a five-figure sum on a sextet of speakers you’d struggle to get through the front door, JBL has taken that same big-screen approach and distilled it into an affordable and compact soundbar.
There's nothing about the JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam to immediately explain why the price tag is so reasonable. Take a glance at its impressive features list, or indeed pick it up in your hands, and you’ll be reassured that the company has put as much care into its entry-level soundbars as it does with its home cinema products costing 20 times the amount.
In short, this is a solidly built machine. It is only 71cm wide and, at nearly 6cm tall, will sneak under pretty much any TV. However, its seemingly bulletproof construction immediately suggests we’re dealing with a serious piece of audio kit, regardless of its size.
It packs a lot into that frame, too. There are five 48 x 80mm racetrack drivers complemented by four 75mm passive radiators, and a grille that runs from ear to ear with two more drivers on the hood to deliver height effects. In fact, so much of the soundbar is dedicated to emitting sound that there’s only room for a small strip of controls across the top – for power, volume and source – and a neatly packed array of connections to the rear.
There is also plenty of technology on board that makes the Bar 5.0 MultiBeam sound much bigger than it is. The first is present in the soundbar’s name: MultiBeam – a technology we have previously heard in action on the Harman Kardon Citation MultiBeam 700.
Inputs HDMI in, HDMI out (HDCP 2.3 compliant, eARC & 4K HDR passthrough), Ethernet, Optical
Frequency range 50Hz - 20kHz
Power output 5x 50W (250W total)
Connectivity Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay, Google Chromecast,
Voice control Alexa, Google Assistant
Dimensions (hwd) 5.8 x 71 x 10cm
This tech aims to provide an immersive listening experience by aping surround sound but without the additional speakers. That’s paired with Virtual Dolby Atmos, which should do the same for height channels. You’re unlikely to find a decent Atmos soundbar at this price, but with good implementation, its imitation cousin can do a worthy job filling the airspace in your front room.
Of those physical connections, there are two HDMI ports – one input and one eARC-enabled output – alongside optical and USB ins. The Bar 5.0 MultiBeam also accommodates 4K pass-through with Dolby Vision, meaning you can pair the JBL’s sound with the best picture that’s currently available.
Apple AirPlay, Alexa Multi-Room Music and Chromecast built-in are also included for easy music streaming and multi-room compatibility, as well as Bluetooth should you want to follow that route. There aren’t any mics on board, but this JBL works with voice control if connected to a compatible device.
It’s a long list of features, but JBL is not content only impressing with its specs. Considering its size, the Bar 5.0 MultiBeam positively kicks down the door and tramples the furniture as it announces its presence in your living room.
It’s worth saying straight away that you aren’t going to mistake this soundbar for a full surround system with Atmos speakers in the ceiling – its virtual technologies are noticeable and fun without expertly placing effects around the room – but you do feel awash with sound. For those with a big room to fill, but space for nothing bigger than a soundbar, this could be the ideal solution.
There are no rough edges at all, even when you turn it right the way up. We could ask for a little more clarity and detail, especially in the considerable bass frequencies, and a more open treble response, but this is a full-bodied presentation that’s unlikely to fatigue you, even when listening at high volume.
As ever, though, excess power really leads to a lack of precision. In this JBL’s case, that means a real lack of dynamic expression. It can go from quiet to loud without problem, but dialogue can often sound quite lifeless, bereft of its emotion and rhythm.
It isn’t a quick sounding soundbar, either, with a slovenly sense of timing that struggles to get us up dancing during music playback. Instruments sound warm and full, and there is a richness to vocal tones, but timbre and rhythm are lost somewhat in this muscular but ill-defined mix.
It’s a shame because a little more chiselling and refinement could make the Bar 5.0 MultiBeam a real contender, but then this is a soundbar ripe for the mass market and safe in the knowledge it won’t irk many of its purchasers. At this price, we would opt for the better all-round sonic performance of the Sonos Beam, despite its relative lack of features, but that isn’t really comparing like for like.
For anyone wanting big sound, or hoping to fill a big room with a small bar for a reasonable amount of money, the JBL Bar 5.0 MultiBeam could be just the ticket.
- Sound 4
- Features 5
- Build 5
Read our guide to the best soundbars
Read our Sonos Beam review