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Tech Review: JBL BAR Series, BAR 3.1

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For someone who has to watch a lot of movies at home (hey, it’s work, someone’s got to do it!), up until now, my greatest extravagance was a flat screen TV. Living in inner city Sydney with two young children doesn’t quite allow for the luxury of a stand-alone home theatre, so when the boom happened a few years back, I had to visit a friend’s house to understand what all the fuss is about. Admittedly, it was impressive to watch a film in a darkened theatrette with sound that shook the seats when it needed to, and dialogue that was comprehensible all the time.

So, when tasked with reviewing a new soundbar, I jumped at the chance, wondering if my movie viewing experienced could be improved, especially as the FIFA World Cup was about to kick off as well.

Setting up BAR 3.1 was relatively painless. There are two major components in the pack, with a bar that is light and around the width of a standard flat screen TV, and a subwoofer that’s chunky, but heck, it needs to be to feel the vibration. Although Bluetooth capability is easy to set up (check out our review by filmmaker Serhat Caradee), I didn’t really have the time, so just went for the wire straight from the bar into the headphone jack on the TV, and away it went. Switching to the AUX setting on the speaker, I discovered that my volume for the TV, which I controlled with the TV remote, was now being sent through the speaker, including the subwoofer, after I pressed one button to pair it with the bar. Smart tech indeed.

The sound quality difference was immediately evident as I tested it by watching Dunkirk on Netflix. Christopher Nolan’s immersive, and sometimes plain evident, sound design on the film was better than I remembered when I watched the film in the cinema, but most exciting was that I could finally understand what Tom Hardy’s character was saying, even with that pilot’s mask over his face.

Without looking into this too much, I believe that the BAR 3.1 product is enhanced by an extra central speaker which makes the dialogue pop, and truly makes this skew perfect for movie watchers.

Next up, I flicked over to the soccer, switched the bar’s setting to sport, and was immediately struck by the surround sound difference, transporting me into the stands of the packed stadium ambience.

Occasionally, I am also privy to watching unfinished films, assembly cuts that are pre-sound mix. I flicked one of these on, and the magic of BAR 3.1 and the job of a skilful sound designer was truly revealed to me. Having watched the same thing on a laptop previously, with the sound output through the one speaker, it seemed flawed but excusable, whereas watching it with sound coming out of the bar, it became obvious how complicated both the thinking behind a film’s sound architecture is, and that this type of product is necessary to do a film viewing experience justice.

As I packed away the speakers to return them to JBL, there was a part of me that was nagging away, realising that my movie watching experience can be vastly improved without having to invest in a stand-alone home theatre. I unpacked again, set up BAR 3.1 and switched on The Dark Knight Rises! Woah!!

To find out more, click here.