JBL 9.1 Dolby Atmos soundbar

Among many things I bought recently, JBL 9.1 Dolby Atmos sound bar is one of the best. It is the best entry level yet really good Dolby Atmos system you can buy now. But will it be any good for you?

Let’s find out!

The plan started when I decided and started saving money to buy a Playstation 5. Then I wanted a new TV to replace my old TCL one, and then wanted to upgrade the previous Bose solo 5 soundbar into a more premium one.

I was looking into many options and trust me, there are an overwhelming number of choices.

Here are my requirements.

  1. It should have dolby atmos
  2. Should preferably be wireless, at least with less cables
  3. Don’t need to be the best sound system ever
  4. Shouldn’t break my bank account.

If you don’t know what Dolby Atmos is, it’s the next-generation surround sound technology. Normal surround sounds only have speakers on your ear level. Meaning, it will generate sounds on a horizontal plane. In Dolby Atmos, there are speakers mounted on the ceiling firing downwards, creating a 3D surround sound experience. Even though this is possible in cinemas, it’s a bit hard to do in-home theatre systems. So they have up-firing speakers where the sound is bounced back from the ceiling trying to make the same effect. It might not be super accurate, but many advanced soundbars can do quite well.

Source: https://res.cloudinary.com/lautsprecher-teufel/image/upload/c_limit,f_auto,q_auto,w_1400/v1/products/Reflekt/514-mounted-perspective-2560×1280.jpg

In order to support Dolby Atmos, I had to buy a TV which has HDMI 2.1 support and I bought Sony Bravia XH90 55 inch 4K HDR TV. I will make a separate video for that, but I just wanted to highlight the HDMI 2.1 factor.

So, I was looking a lot into an affordable solution. There were Samsung HW Q90R and HW Q950T in my list, while Q950T was super expensive.

Then there were LG ones, which were also expensive.

Something I also realized was, I don’t need a huge system because my apartment is super small. I currently have a 30m2 studio apartment, and around 8m2 for my living room area. So, I didn’t want the highest end one, most loud with tens of speakers. Maybe it applies for most of you as well.

Source: https://cdn.pocket-lint.com/r/s/970x/assets/images/152741-speakers-review-jbl-bar-91-review-image1-solaw2p9wi-jpg.webp

Then I saw JBL Bar 9.1. The most attractive feature of this system is that the rear speakers are truly wireless. Meaning, you can magnetically attach them to the soundbar and detach them when you want to experience surround sounds. They’re battery-powered and don’t need any cables to play sounds. They’re charged when docked to the soundbar, but ONLY when the soundbar is in standby mode. NOT when it’s powered on. 

When fully charged, they’re claimed to run 10 hours straight before you need to charge them again. However, this might change depending on the volume levels you’ve set. 

However, you can charge them via the micro USB port on them if you don’t like attaching and detaching them over and over again.

Source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/H3cRSa73JNo/maxresdefault.jpg

I initially thought it’s just a gimmick. I watched several videos from Audio Advice, Jonah Matthes, and Never Enough Tech and they did a quite good job in convincing me to buy one. You should totally check them out if you haven’t already, after this video!

This is marketed as a 9.1 sound system, but it’s a bit misleading as well. It truly is a 5.1.4 system. 5 ear level speakers including front left, front right, center, then rear left and rear right. Then it has one for lower frequencies, meaning the sub-woofer. Then for up-firing speakers to create the atmos effect. JBL just added 5 and 4, to market it as 9.1. 

Enough introductions. Let’s see what we get inside the box.

First of all, this is HUGE! It came on top of a wooden crate and it was hard for me to carry it by myself. The box has a bunch of accessories including the wall mounting gear, the remote controller and the side caps for the sound bar, which I will talk about later.

Contents

Then we have the detachable rear speakers. And the soundbar itself. The system also has a subwoofer with a 10-inch driver.

The entire system looks clean with it’s metallic look and will blend in with any type of furniture setup.

Setting up the system is quite easy. 

  • Plug the soundbar into power. Then it should show LOAD and then READY. 
  • Plug the subwoofer into power and press the button on the back.
  • Turn on the soundbar by pressing the power button.
  • Then attach the speakers to the soundbar or press the power button on each of them. However, I recommend attaching them.

If everything went fine, the LEDs on the subwoofer and the detachable speakers should be solid white.

Input/Output

This sound bar doesn’t lack on the IO department as well.

Source: https://cdn.pocket-lint.com/r/s/1200x/assets/images/152741-speakers-review-jbl-bar-91-review-image1-sujfasocdh.jpg

It has an HDMI eARC port supporting high-bitrate sound formats such as Dolby Atmos and DTS-X. 

If you don’t know what it means, it’s the Audio Return Channel, for HDMI connections where the TV will receive video input and return it’s audio output from the same HDMI port. It supports compressed 5.1 audio (such as Dolby Digital and DTS) upto 1Mbps. 

eARC means Enhanced Audio Return Channel which supports up to 37Mbps, which is provided only in HDMI 2.1 standard. My Sony XH90 recently received the firmware update to enable the HDMI 2.1 and I’m a happy man ever since!

You can connect the ARC or eARC input of your TV into this eARC out of the soundbar to direct all the sound into this soundbar. 

Source: https://de.tab-tv.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Port-Samsung-Q90T.png

It has HDMI input for HDMI passthrough which supports 4K Dolby Vision. Meaning, you can plug your Bluray player or console into this HDMI input and it will stream the video input to your TV through the eARC out port. There is a small tricky point with regards to this, and I will explain that in the latter part of the video. So, keep watching.

If your TV doesn’t have either ARC or eARC, you can still use the Optical Audio input, even though it will NOT support Dolby Atmos, so the whole purpose of this soundbar is ruined. Then you should only buy this soundbar if you have plans to upgrade your TV as well.

Then you have an Ethernet port to connect the soundbar to the Internet. Even though it has WiFi connectivity, having Ethernet plugged in will give you a smoother experience in audio streaming and firmware updates.

There also is a USB input, where you can plug USB sticks to play any audio files, which I haven’t tried though. And even if you play music out of them, it will still be compressed audio.

Source: https://icdn2.digitaltrends.com/image/digitaltrends/jbl-bar-9-1-dolby-atmos-soundbar-remote-500×500.jpg

On top, it has the power button, volume up down and input selection buttons. Then you have two microphones which help to do the calibration which we will talk about in a while. It also has an LED display on the front side of the soundbar, where some other soundbars have it on top, which is simply stupid!

The best thing about this is the screen, it lights up only when it needs to show some information, such as input and volume change, wifi status etc. When it’s done, it will automatically turn off to keep away the distractions. 

So, let’s talk about features!

Well, first of all, this is a 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos sound system. Unlike more expensive systems like Samsung Q950T, this only has 5 ear level speakers. But still, it manages to fill my entire room with quality sound. It is definitely enough to throw a house party, and obviously get complaints from your neighbors.

And the most attractive feature: detachable wireless rear speakers. When attached, it supplements the soundbar channels and acts as surround sound speakers when detached. It can play upto 10 hours of sound when fully charged, and you can attach them back to the soundbar when you need to charge them.

Source: https://icdn6.digitaltrends.com/image/digitaltrends/jbl-bar-9-1-dolby-atmos-soundbar-wireless-610×380-c.jpg

You can play music from TV using the eARC, from HDMI input, and Bluetooth. And, it also supports Chromecast and AirPlay to play music through wifi. It seamlessly integrates with Google Assistant and can play music with popular streaming services such as YouTube Music and Spotify.

It can create an immersive 3D audio experience with it’s 5.1.4 speaker systems. However, it might not be as powerful as other systems, but I never tried them personally. So I would never know.

One of the biggest features of this soundbar is that it has auto calibration, which some competitors don’t have. You have to press and hold the HDMI button on the remote controller for 3 seconds to initiate the calibration.

Source: https://www.sempre-audio.at/Bilder/JBL/JBL%20BAR%209_1%20True%20Wireless%20Surround%20Sound/JBL-BAR-9_1-True-Wireless-Surround-Sound-Cover_2.jpg

It has two stages. First you have to put the speakers next to you on either side of the couch, pointing the magnet sides facing outwards. Then press and hold the HDMI button for three seconds for it to start the first calibration phase. Then all the speakers  will start shooting out loud testing sounds consequently, like laser beams and receive the echo from the inbuilt microphones to calculate the properties of your room. This is the baseline for the next calibration step. And these sounds are really loud and might even scare your neighbors.

For the next stage, you have to put the rear speakers on a table or wherever you’re planning to put them. Then press and hold the HDMI button for 3 seconds until it starts the Calibration 2. It will do the same thing with those laser sounds to finish off the calibration. Calibration might fail if your room is noisy or there are obstacles between the rear speakers and the soundbar. So make sure your room is as silent as possible and there is nothing blocking the sound from the rear speakers.

If you change the position of your rear speakers, you most probably have to run the calibration again.

I have purchased some really cool but rigid speaker-stands for the rear speakers, because I didn’t have any other furniture to put them on. Later on I got some long micro USB cables to keep them charging because I won’t be changing the positions. You might ask, then what’s the point of them being wireless? Well, they still are wireless and can sell them later as wireless speakers. And also, these have a very small footprint compared to other rear speakers such as Samsung ones.

We cannot forget the nifty remote controller you get with the system. Well, it’s very simple, and one might even complain that it’s too simple. There is a power on/off button and a dedicated mute button. Then you have buttons to select the input source, increase and decrease the volume, change the rear speaker volume between low, mid, and high. Then you can change the Atmos effect also between low, mid, and high. And, you also can change the bass level from 1 to 5. From my experience, 3 is usually enough, and 4 will be the ideal level. And 5 will make your neighbors call the police.

Source: https://images.idgesg.net/images/article/2020/04/jbl-bar-9.1-remote-100839702-large.jpg

Talking about the sub-woofer: man that thing is a monster of its own! Super punchy and rumbling yet clean bass.

Overall, I found volume levels 9 to 12 is the best to experience the true quality of the soundbar, especially the rear speakers. It can however go up to 31 volume levels and god knows what happens at those levels. 

The rear speakers have a considerably low volume even when you put it as high. To clearly hear them, I had to crank up the volume around 10. But the issue is, it also increases the volumes of the front speaker and the sub-woofer, and there is no other way to change these settings. The only thing you can do is to sit a bit far from the soundbar and keep the rear speakers right behind you in order to balance the front and rear volumes.

Source: https://de.jbl.com/on/demandware.static/-/Sites-masterCatalog_Harman/default/dw1c13a65f/pdp/JBLBar9.1ATMOS_904x560_LIFESTYLE1.png

Then the Atmos effect: That’s acceptable. As I said earlier, I don’t have any other soundbar to compare this with, but I can compare it with the cinema experience as a reference. So, the Dolby Atmos effect is acceptable. I don’t have the Dolby Atmos demo disk, and also it doesn’t come with the sound system for me to test this soundbar properly. However, Netflix now has many movies and TV shows with Dolby Atmos and you can clearly hear the sounds above your head. Maybe not straight above your head, probably a bit to the front because you have the rear speakers closer to you. When there is rain, you feel there is rain inside your room. But not it’s not a strong sensation. However, there were some cases where I had to pause the movie because I thought someone was knocking on my door. 

Source: https://www.gametroniq.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/JBL-9.1_1.jpg

And playing games with surround sounds is a whole different experience. I’ve been playing Red Dead Redemption 2 on my Playstation 5, and I realized how much I was missing. You can hear people, background sounds, horses, snow storms and everything as if you’re inside the game. It’s not Dolby Atmos, but just 5.1 surround sounds. I haven’t tried PS5 games yet, but I will be trying them out soon. But I’ve seen a video from Linus Tech Tips confirming we still don’t have Dolby Atmos on PS5. Maybe they will enable it with a firmware update.

Apart from that, the soundbar 9.1 definitely fills your room. You feel that you’re in the scene rather than watching a scene. For the price, I think that’s the best you can get.

Talking about the price, it retails around 900 Euros now. I think it’s a really good price compared to the sound quality it delivers and the competitors.

Woof, this is going longer than I expected. (That’s what she said)

Well, is this perfect?

Nope. It’s not. Here are the issues and limitations I have with this soundbar.

First of all, I had to return my first soundbar because of an issue. It kept saying “Not supported” when I tried to increase the rear speaker volume. I tried everything possible including resetting it multiple times, but nothing worked. So I had to return it for a replacement.

Sometimes, the soundbar wouldn’t calibrate even if your room is dead silent and there is nothing blocking the audio. It would still produce sound from the speakers without calibrating, but it will suck! Then I had to reset it several times to get it working. However, it seems to be fixed now with a firmware update.

Remember I mentioned an issue related to HDMI passthrough? Here it is. The soundbar stopped giving any sounds when the TV was selected as the input. All other inputs work, even Chromecast, but not TV. We can increase/decrease the volume and bass, but no sound. Then I had to reset the soundbar and re-calibrate it. But it happens again when the TV is gone to sleep mode, not when turned off manually. I was super frustrated with this and almost returned the second soundbar. But then Reddit saved my life!

If you don’t have any devices plugged into the HDMI input of the soundbar, you must turn off the eARC functionality of your TV. This will still give out audio from the TV to the soundbar, but don’t expect any video signal from it. If you have an Android TV, you can simply turn off the “eARC mode” from the “Audio output” section under the “Display and Sound”. I’m not sure how to change this on LG or Samsung TVs. If you know how, please drop a comment.

Some people also have experienced that the rear speakers frequently get disconnected. It happened to me once or twice, but it never bothered me quite a lot to be honest.

It seems there are quite a lot of detected units and many issues with firmware as well. But if you face any of these issues and can’t fix it yourself, I recommend you to immediately contact JBL support and get a replacement or a refund, just like I did.

These are the issues. But here are the limitations.

This soundbar does not have any equalizer settings. There is no app to control the system nor it can be controlled via Google Home app. So, you have to trust the automatic equalizing done by JBL.

You can however turn off this smart mode, which is enabled by default, which will adjust the equalizer settings for you depending on the type of content you’re watching. But this will be turned back on the next time you turn on the soundbar. And, this setting doesn’t do anything to compensate for the lack of equalizer anyway.

Another issue is the Rear speakers have low volumes. I have to keep them right behind my couch only around 6 inches behind. However, I have to crank up the volume upto 10 or 12 to hear them properly even when they’re on high volume level. The issue comes when you have multiple people watching TV. Then you have to put the rear speakers a bit far to give the best experience to everyone. But the rear sound effect will be less with the already low volume, because they’re placed far.

One last issue, which I haven’t experienced yet, but will eventually occur is with the battery. Because this has rechargeable batteries, at some point, these will not be able hold charge for long. I’m not quite sure USB charging will be able to deliver the required power when there is no battery at all. I don’t know if we can replace the batteries by ourselves or JBL will do it for you. So, consider that before buying this.

Let’s wrap up.

I think JBL bar 9.1 is one of the best Dolby Atmos soundbars you can buy for the price. It delivers rich sounds and a good level of Dolby Atmos effect into your home cinema experience. If you are looking to upgrade your sound system and have a small space, this soundbar will definitely be a good candidate. 

Links

Here is where you can buy them:

Amazon DE: https://amzn.to/3guizsT
Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2VYVcOJ (5.1)
Amazon CA: https://amzn.to/2K9UBad
Amazon UK: N/A
Amazon AU: N/A

The speaker stand:
Amazon DE: https://amzn.to/3gybeZp
Amazon US: https://amzn.to/3m5igpz
Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/3a1Fr21
Amazon CA: https://amzn.to/37PXTHY (a different one)
Amazon AU: https://amzn.to/3n7kyWU (a different one)

The Table:
Amazon DE: https://amzn.to/3oBX8cu
Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2VZkcW6
Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/2K8nwLS (a different one)
Amazon CA: https://amzn.to/3oG50cH (a different one)
Amazon AU: https://amzn.to/3gvazrH (a different one)

Other YouTube channel worth checking:
Audio Advice: https://www.youtube.com/user/AudioAdviceTV
Never Enough Tech: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCO8KemQ7iPg3qUuFxj_Jouw
Jonas Mattes: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6n-mFd0Akf357E47qZV_tA

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