The entry-level soundbar delivers an impressive performance from a single box and an agreeable price point
From the same range as JBL's multichannel-capable Bar 5.1, only less ambitious, comes the Bar Studio. A subwoofer-free, 2.0-channel design aimed at mid-size flatscreen owners, it arrives in the UK with a £150 ticket, meaning it joins an already crowded market of budget 'bars.
Aesthetically, it's very clearly a baby brother of the Bar 5.1, featuring the same curved-edge perforated grille chassis and circular top-panel controls. It measures 61cm wide, making it a good fit for screens as small as 28in up to around 55in, and it's not particularly deep or tall, either. You should have no trouble finding space for it.
The Bar Studio's left and right channels each get a 2in woofer and 1.5in tweeter, with a claimed 30W of amp power feeding the array. Frequency response is rated down to 60Hz.
Connections include optical digital audio, 3.5mm, USB, Bluetooth and HDMI ARC (but no HDMI inputs for external sources). Not a bad selection considering the asking price.
A diminutive, slender remote is supplied that gives all functions equal-sized buttons. It does at least highlight the volume and bass level adjustment keys with a glossier finish, but is still the kind of zapper you need to peer at before using.
A sound mode button on the handset cycles through five preset EQs (Standard, Movie, Music, Voice and Sports). Only a vertical line of LED status lights on the bar's left edge denotes which you are currently using – this same row also rises and falls with volume/bass changes.
There's also a surround mode, which kicks into life with a curious (and rather loud) bleepy sound effect. I'm normally wary of faux surround, especially from a two-channel device, but found this was able to noticeably expand the soundstage – skilfully casting a background police siren wide-left at one moment in The Dark Tower (Ultra HD Blu-ray) – without making a phasey, echoey mess.
Alternatively, JBL's Movie preset is less concerned with width, instead favouring a more forceful, full-on presentation by bumping up the levels of atmospheric FX.
Even sticking to the Bar Studio's Standard EQ, it's straight-up 2.0 presentation is pretty impressive. An expected lack of scale (and no matter which preset you opt for, this budget offering is limited in this regard) is countered by a pleasing heft to its output and well-projected dialogue.
With The Dark Tower, the various inflections and accents of the cast are easy to discern, and the soundtrack's frequent use of lower frequencies (either for earthquake rumbles or moments of drama) have a genuine dynamic impact.
There's good separation too; the film's orchestral score, Foley and dialogue are cleanly delivered, rather than as a mush. Some treble details can exhibit a raspy edge at high volumes, though.
Multichannel may be off the menu, but the Bar Studio can still create a sense of immersion from a source. A dream/vision sequence in Chapter 3 of The Dark Tower, where Idris Elba and Dennis Haysbert turn and twist in a mist-shrouded forest, teases the playful sound design of its Atmos/TrueHD origins. And when Matthew McConaughey suddenly commands 'Stop breathing!', all close-mic'd and menacing, the effect remains spooky.
That there's no subwoofer isn't a major drag. Certainly it means an absence of genuine LFE, but on other hand it lets this single-enclosure system show a good balance and cohesion between bass and mids. And it's one less box to think about.
Overall, the Bar Studio is a neat proposition, and ripe for a no-frills second-room setup.
JBL Bar Studio
We say: Connectivity is solid on this budget 'bar, as is overall sonic performance. Virtual surround is worth playing with too
Drivers: 2 x 2in woofers; 2 x 1.5in tweeters Amplifification (claimed): 30W Connections: 1 x HDMI ARC; optical digital audio input; 3.5mm minijack input; USB Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD MA: No/No Separate subwoofer: No Remote control: Yes Dimensions: 614(w) x 58(h) x 86(d)mm Weight: 1.4kg
Features: 60Hz-20kHz claimed frequency response; Standard, Movie, Music, Voice and Sport presets; Bluetooth; wall-mount fixings supplied; Surround mode
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