My living room offers a great media experience thanks to a large 4K Vizio display and full surround-sound audio system via Sonos. The bedroom has the 55” Vizio display I reviewed. (Read the review) Thanks to the JBL Cinema SB450 Soundbar, our bedroom offers a great audio experience; this is an impressive audio system, and I am a huge fan.
I’m a huge fan of JBL products and have been impressed by nearly every one of their products I have reviewed. Whether it is a pair of their headphones or one of their portable speakers, JBL offers great sound at a reasonable price. The JBL Cinema SB450 Soundbar was the first JBL product of its type I have reviewed, so I didn’t know quite what to expect. After using it for a few weeks, I can confidently say that, once again, JBL has delivered a product that exceeds my exceptions. While I do have one criticism that I’ll explore later in this review, I like this excellent sound bar and highly recommend it.
The JBL Cinema SB450 Soundbar comes in a rather massively large and strangely shaped box.
The odd shape is the result of the fact that the JBL Cinema SB450 Soundbar is not just a soundbar. No, inside the box is the soundbar and a wireless subwoofer. Together the soundbar and subwoofer can fill virtually any room with sound. It is far far more than I need in the bedroom, but having volume to spare isn’t a bad thing. In addition to the soundbar and subwoofer, the box contains a collection of cables that include an optical cable, an HDMI cable and two power cables. (One for the soundbar and one for the subwoofer.) The box also includes a small remote, a wall mount, a quick-start guide, a printed mounting template and a warranty card.
The JBL Cinema isn’t just any old soundbar. It was designed to “amplify the 4K ultra-HD revolution” in a way that will deliver audio that truly compliments your 4K display. As they explain, “The JBL Cinema SB450 soundbar fills your home cinema with superb JBL sound and is fully compatible with 4K Ultra-HD televisions.” Since the Vizio display is a 4K model, I was pretty psyched.
Let’s dig into the system a bit more deeply.
The Soundbar sounds good in its own right. Add in the 8” (200mm) Wireless Subwoofer, which puts out 200W of oomph, and you get room-shaking sound. In fact, the Cinema SB450 Amplifier Power is rated at a whopping 440W. And because the subwoofer has an adjustable volume control, you can mix in just enough bass for your taste or for the particular movie you are watching.
The Soundbar has plenty of ports. These include three HDMI Inputs, 1 HDMI Output (ARC) and an optical input. That’s an excellent range of connectivity options in its own right but there is an additional connection worth specific note- the JBL Cinema SB450 doubles as a Bluetooth speaker system. The Bluetooth means I no longer need to have a separate Bluetooth speaker in the bedroom. Sure, I have an Amazon Echo next to the bed, but while it will play music from Amazon Music or connect it to an iPhone or iPad and use it as a Bluetooth speaker, the Echo is passable but not great as an audio device. With the JBL Cinema SB450, I don’t need that separate speaker, and I will never again try to listen to music through the Echo. It is a nice added benefit and one that adds to the value of the JBL Cinema SB450.
There are a few other specific aspects of the JBL Cinema SB450 that deserve mention before I talk in broad terms about my experience using it.
Remote Control Learning
The JBL Cinema SB450 ships with a small remote that is designed specifically for use with this product.
It does the job, but it is small, easy to lose and, because of its size, it has buttons that are far from easy and intuitive to use. It works, so long as you have it pointed at the correct spot on the soundbar, but it isn’t great. Thankfully, the JBL Cinema SB450 doesn’t require you to use the remote. Instead, it offers two additional means of control.
First, the soundbar itself has physical buttons lining the top. All the key functions, including volume up and down, input selectionan excellent way toetc. are there. They work fine but, as one might expect, aren’t the best option if you are sitting on the couch or laying in bed. The better of the three options is the Remote Control Learning. As JBL notes, with it, you can “Keep life simple and control everything with the remote control you already use.” Setting up your television remote for use with the JBL Cinema SB450 takes a few minutes, but the owner’s manual includes a step by step for how to do it. By following this guide you can, in a few moments, ensure you never need to use the included remote. Well, almost never since there are still functions on the unique remote that can’t be activated with the one from the tv.
Clear Dialogue and Voice Enhancement
The reason to get the JBL Cinema SB450 rather than a Bluetooth speaker clearly has to do with using the soundbar with your television. But there are differences between listening to music and watching a movie with a lot of dialogue. JBL took this into account and included a function called Clear Dialogue and Voice Enhancement. This functionality lets you hear the dialogue in a move with increased clarity without the need to pump up the volume. It works and is a great way to get the most out of your television when doing a viewing session.
As previously noted, the JBL Cinema SB450 does double duty as both a television soundbar and a Bluetooth audio system. Switching between these two modes can, in some cases, but a bit of a challenge. It isn’t always as intuitive as you might expect. JBL designed the soundbar in such a way that neither of the two functions dominates the other. JBL SoundShift means you can be watching a movie one minute and switch to streaming sound from your smartphone or tablet the next. It is one of this small functions that doesn’t seem like much but will save you aggravation if you, like me, tend to switch between various functions.
Virtual Surround Sound
The other night Raina and I were watching Hacksaw Ridge in the living room. (That’s the room with the Sonos PlayBar, a Sonos Sub and two Sonos Play 1 speakers. It is, in many ways, an ideal surround sound setup but it is also rather pricey.) During one of the battle scenes, I noticed that we were completely enveloped in the fighting thanks to the impact of the surround sound experience. The main character was surrounded by the enemy, and bullets were whizzing past us not only from in front of us but from the left and the right. The experience was so powerful that I felt my anxiety go up in a way that surprised me. (It is, after all, just a movie.)
The JBL Cinema SB450 consists of a soundbar and sub. It is a serious system, but it lacks the satellite speakers that create a true 5.1 or 7.1 experience. To compensate for this fact, JBL baked Virtual Surround Sound into their system. With Harman Display Sound you can, as they explain, “Experience virtual surround sound without additional wires or speakers.” It works. It is awesome. I’m impressed.
Speaking of Sonos, a few years ago companies began taking note of Sonos’ ability to link various speakers together to either create a room with sound from every corner or a home in which the same music is streaming in a variety of different rooms. JBL’s answer to this was JBL Connect. JBL Connect lets you link multiple JBL Connect enabled speakers to one another. Both the JBL Charge 3 and the JBL Pulse 2 I reviewed are part of the JBL Connect ecosystem. That means they can be linked to one another and then placed in different areas of a room. It’s pretty neat. The JBL Cinema SB450 is also JBL Connect enabled. That means if the Virtual Surround Sound feature discussed above isn’t quite enough for you there is another option. For example, I can put the JBL Charge 3 in one corner, the JBL Pulse 2 in another and then link both to the JBL Cinema SB450 for a truly immersive experience. It is pretty neat!
Add all of this together and you get a system about which JBL has this to say:
The JBL Cinema SB450 soundbar fills your home cinema with superb JBL sound and is fully compatible with 4K Ultra-HD televisions. The JBL Cinema SB450’s Remote Control Learning feature allows you control the whole system with the TV remote you already have. A 200W wireless subwoofer delivers room-shaking bass from a compact enclosure. Three HDMI 2.0a/HDCP 2.2 video inputs you use the soundbar as the hub for your 4K system. Included wall brackets allow seamless installation in your home. Exclusive JBL SoundShift™ technology lets you instantly switch between the sound from your TV and your phone or tablet. Stream Bluetooth audio simultaneously to the JBL Cinema SB450 and any other JBL Connect-enabled device for an amplified listening experience.
I love the JBL Cinema SB450 soundbar and am glad I didn’t immediately go out and purchase something when the Vizio display first arrived for review. The fact is, had I done that I suspect I would have gone with something far less impressive and feature-packed than the JBL Cinema SB450 soundbar. JBL’s offering really has taken the sound in our bedroom to an entirely new level. Watching TV or movies is a different experience thanks to the JBL Cinema SB450 soundbar. And using it as the room’s Bluetooth speaker not only declutters the room a bit but it also offers far better sound when compared to what was there previously. I’m impressed.
But not 100% impressed.
No, while I love this system there is one aspect of it that I don’t just “not love” but that I detest. Yes, that’s strong language, but the aspect of the JBL Cinema SB450 soundbar that raised my ire did so in a profoundly, albeit “first world problem-eque” way.
The mounting system on the JBL Cinema SB450 soundbar is crap!
Yes, I said it. The mounting system on the JBL Cinema SB450 soundbar is crap!
The soundbar has feet so you can sit it on top of a media cabinet or dresser. And the subwoofer is designed to sit on the floor next to the soundbar or, since it is a wireless subwoofer, anywhere else in the room that might be more aesthetically pleasing. But I wanted to mount the soundbar directly under the Vizio display it was to be paired with; that didn’t go so well.
I followed the instructions. They were rather simple; one just finds the proper location for the soundbar, places the included template on the wall in the desired position, and secures the mounting plate to the wall with the included hardware. That sounds easy. It was. After that, one just places the soundbar in front of the mount and locks it in place by lining up the two clips extending from the mount with the holes in the back of the soundbar. Sounds easy right? Wrong. I followed the instructions to a T, but the clips on the mount refused to get a decent grip on the soundbar. At one point I thought the soundbar was secure but, once I let go of it, it came crashing down. So I removed the plate on the wall and started over. The experience was repeated with the same results. I reread the instructions and tried again. I had the same result. Raina came in and tried to help. It didn’t work. By the time I gave up on this lesson in frustration, I had completely mutilated the wall and was still unable to hang the soundbar. Eventually, I resorted to putting screws in the wall and hanging it that way. (Thank you YouTube.)
Now, to be fair, it is possible that the wall, which was redone when we purchased and renovated the house last spring, is warped. Still, the hanging mechanism for a soundbar needs to take into account that few walls are perfect; it needs to be forgiving. This one isn’t. But while the mounting system was a fail, I still recommend the JBL Cinema SB450 soundbar without reservation. I just think anyone buying it would do well to simply leave it sitting on top or a dresser or media unit, or if you are truly committed to hanging it, having a professional come do it, so that it is their problem.
The JBL Cinema SB450 soundbar has an MSRP of $499.95 but is currently listed on JBL’s site at $399.95. So while there are less expensive options out there, this system delivers a great deal for under $400. Check it out here.
Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample
What I Like: Small but packs a punch; Wireless subwoofer delivers!; 3 HDMI ports, one optical connection, and Bluetooth; Virtual surround sound; Dialogue enhancement; JBL Connect for adding speakers
What Needs Improvement: Mounting system is sorely lacking