JBL’s 15-Channel Soundbar Impressed Me With Its Execution Of Dolby Atmos

There’s soundbars and then there’s soundbars. That is, some models make a modest attempt to improve on the built-in speakers of a television, improving dialogue clarity and making effects like explosions sound more realistic. Others, on the other hand, aim to fully replace a separate surround sound speaker system connected to one of the best AV receivers, such as the JBL Bar 1300X.
JBL’s Bar 1300X ($1,699 / £1,400 / AU$2,440) features up-firing drivers that bounce overhead effects in movie soundtracks off your room’s ceiling for a more three-dimensional presentation, just like all the best Dolby Atmos soundbars. The wireless surround speakers on the Bar 1300X, on the other hand, include up-firing Dolby Atmos drivers. This feature places JBL’s flagship soundbar system in the company of other leading models such as the Samsung HW-Q990B, another 11.1.4-channel offering like the JBL and one that is priced similarly high.

I recently decided to ditch my home theater’s 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos speaker system in favor of a soundbar-based system. One reason for this was to see how much I’d be missing in terms of sound quality, and another was to reduce the amount of gear taking up space in the room.
Since then, I’ve had a few soundbars come and go, and I can honestly say that I’ve missed the big, immersive sound that my regular speaker-based system provides. But then I connected JBL’s Bar 1300X…
JBL’s flagship soundbar system includes all of the features that a movie buff would want. It has Dolby Atmos and DTS:X processing, a 12-inch wireless subwoofer with 300 watts of power (1,170 watts total for the system), and four HDMI ports (1 with eARC) that support Dolby Vision passthrough. The wireless surround speakers’ up-firing drivers are supplemented by four more on the soundbar itself, and the entire system can be set up and automatically calibrated for best performance using the company’s JBL One control app.
The rechargeable surround speakers on the Bar 1300X are a standout feature, as they are truly wireless. Dock the speakers on either side of the soundbar to charge their lithium-ion batteries, then detach and place them in the room’s back corners for viewing/listening. The speakers have a battery life of up to 10 hours and come with USB-C charging cables if you prefer to keep them fully charged and permanently installed.

Built-in rechargeable batteries aren’t the only noteworthy feature of JBL’s surrounds, which can also be used as portable Bluetooth speakers and wirelessly paired for stereo playback. Never before have surround speakers provided as much functionality as the ones included with the Bar 1300X.

JBL Bar 1300X in the ears

The installation of JBL’s soundbar system was a breeze. I simply charged the surrounds, installed them along with the subwoofer, and then downloaded the JBL One app. The soundbar automatically connected to the other speakers via wireless, and I was prompted to go through the 3-minute sound calibration process.
JBL’s clean, well-organized app (which includes a hardware remote control) allows you to adjust the rear channel speaker level and provides three-point EQ to adjust the bass, mids, and treble. You can add Amazon Music Unlimited, Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify, and other popular music streaming services to the app to stream and control; alternatively, you can stream directly from music apps to the soundbar using Chromecast built-in and AirPlay 2. For voice control, the Bar 1300X is compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri.
Listening to some bass-heavy electronic music confirmed that the system’s 12-inch subwoofer was a powerful bass beast – even after sound calibration, I had to tone down the bass with the EQ adjustment. Following that, JBL’s sub sounded low-reaching and clean, and it blended seamlessly with the rest of the system.
When I tuned in to Super Bowl LVII, the announcers’ voices were clear and natural, and the system’s upmixing to spread the sound to all speakers gave me the impression that I was in the crowd.

But it wasn’t until I played a few familiar scenes from movies with Dolby Atmos soundtracks that I realized the Bar 1300X was a capable replacement for my speaker-based 5.1.2 system. Watching a 1917 scene in which planes fly overhead in a field that British soldiers are crossing, the sound of the planes seemed to come from above. In a later scene, when a German plane crashes into a barn where the soldiers are resting, the sound effects had frighteningly pinpoint spatial accuracy.
Another favorite speaker evaluation movie scene is one from John Wick 3 in which Wick fights a gang of thugs in an antiques warehouse. The shattered glass display cases, kicks and hits, and zing of knives thrown at torsos and heads all had a dynamic impact. There was also a sense of being wrapped in the soundtrack in this and other scenes, with no gap between the sound coming from the speakers at the front and back of the room.
I’m off to a great start with the JBL Bar 1300X, and I’ve only recently unpacked it. A full review is in the works, and at this rate, it’s a strong contender for our list of the best soundbars. While the Bar 1300X’s high price will put many people off, the fantastic array of features on offer here make it a compelling choice for anyone looking for a no-compromise soundbar system that can easily stand in for a more traditional AV receiver-based rig.

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