The JBL SB200 is a chunky beast of a lozenge, and at 11cm tall it may obscure the bottom edge of your TV's picture if sat just in front of the screen. Mounting on a separate shelf may be needed or it can be wall-mounted via a supplied bracket. A slider switch is provided for setting the EQ to whichever mounting position you choose.

There’s no separate subwoofer but strictly speaking this is a 2.1 system, thanks to the presence what JBL says is a built-in passive woofer. This is complemented by twin 3.5in mid/bass cone drivers and a pair of 1in dome tweeters. The power output is a claimed 120W, which should provide enough aural muscle to fill the average front room.

Connectivity is a bit on the sparse side. There’s no HDMI input, hence no means of decoding hi-res surround sound, and the sole digital connection is of the optical variety. With many BD decks featuring a coaxial digital output rather than optical, your best bet would probably be to hook up the SB200 to a screen using the TV’s optical output. That way, all external sources as well as the screen’s internal tuner should be routed to the soundbar. A 3.5mm line-in (with supplied phono-to-mini jack lead) offers an alternative means of wiring the SB200 to a deck or PVR. Bluetooth capability makes it possible to stream audio from a smartphone or tablet.

There’s no LCD display window, just a row of backlit buttons on the top for altering volume, selecting the input, boosting bass and engaging the faux surround mode. The viewing angle of the controls, which face the ceiling, can make it hard to discern what the status of the 'bar’s settings are. All controls are replicated on a credit-card sized remote, which, like the 'bar itself, is solidly built. Conveniently, you can control the volume of the 'bar using your TV’s remote, after completing a short programming sequence. Further system integration comes in the guise of automatic powering on and off.

Performance

Sound quality is good but not stellar. With Mad Men’s theme tune (Dolby Digital, Sky Atlantic HD) the bass is expansive but Don Draper and Pete Campbell’s voices aren’t quite as resonant or refined as I expect. Similarly, with lossless music tracks, vocals and percussion are slightly swamped by the thumping drums and bass. Even Walter’s voice in The Big Lebowski pushes the bar to the edge of boominess. The surround sound effect should be used judiciously, too, as it succeeds in isolating dialogue but gives it a swirly edge. The Iron Lady’s Mrs Thatcher can end up sounding almost as drunk as her husband.

With a DXD recording of Mozart’s Violin Concerto in D Major the results are more even; clear violins are balanced beautifully with the oboes and horns.

Overall, compared with any flatscreen’s speakers, the SB200 offers a clear sonic improvement with impressive stereo imaging and a powerful sound - and is well priced, too. Yet its articulation is perhaps a little on the rough side, and low-end frequencies can dominate at the expense of dialogue.


HCC VERDICT

JBL SB200
Price:
£250 Approx
www.jbl.com

Highs: Powerful sonics; good imaging; simple operation
Lows: Slightly unrefined; bass-heavy; no HDMI or coaxial input

Performance: 4/5
Design: 3.5/5
Features: 3/5
Overall: 3.5/5