By Matt Chen

I freely admit that I am a total tech geek. In fact, a hefty percentage of my salary goes into purchasing whatever latest gadget hits the market. So it goes without saying that I was stoked when I got the opportunity to spend the last two weeks with the JBL Bar 9.1 True Wireless Surround sound system.

Before we start, what exactly is a 9.1 surround sound system? Simply put, it’s your 7.1 surround sound system (ie – 3 front, 2 side and 2 rear speakers along with one subwoofer) with an additional two speakers usually mounted on the ceiling to add an additional dimension to the sound.

Now the good thing about the JBL Bar is that it only comes in two pieces (well four if you count  the two detachable wireless rear speakers from the bar), an elegantly designed main soundbar and a minimalistic looking 10” bottom firing subwoofer.

With modern technology and some acoustic wizardry, JBL has managed to simulate a 9.1 Surround Sound system with just the sound bar and it’s two detachable surround sound speakers by adding speakers to the top of each of the speakers and bouncing the sound off the ceiling to give you that incredible experience of feeling like the sound was coming from all around you, even from above.

Truly wireless

Only the main soundbar and the subwoofer needed to be connected to a power outlet, with the two detachable surround sound speakers coming with their own inbuilt battery capable of lasting for up to 10hrs of continuous playback and automatically recharge once docked back onto the main soundbar.

Aside from the HDMI cables in and out of the main soundbar (and an optical cable for good measure) the system was truly wireless. No worrying about running cables to the subwoofer and each of the surround sound speakers or where to mount each of the speakers, it’s as easy as detaching the surround sound speakers and placing them ideally behind your sofa when watching dolby atmos content.

The Setup

Now before you can kick your legs up and enjoy the brilliant sound from the JBL 9.1 Bar, you need to do a little setup and find the optimal placement and settings for your room. In my case it was my living room and after placing the surround sound speakers on the dining table just behind my sofa, I used the remote control to calibrate the sound and it was as easy as that. 

Watching movies

I no longer have a bluetooth player and I think most people don’t these days, but thankfully if you own a relatively new LG OLED TV ( 2017 onwards) or Sony Bravia (2018 & newer) or failing that, an Apple TV 4K or an XBOX One your in luck when it comes to Netflix.

Just search for Dolby Atmos on Netflix and you will get all the Atmos content (you will need to upgrade to a Premium Ultra HD account on Netflix if you haven’t already). You can also find plenty of Dolby Atmos content on Youtube which you should technically be able to play using the inbuilt chromecast in the soundbar.

So why didn’t I list the Chromecast Ultra as one of the devices on which you could watch Netflix with Dolby Atmos? It’s because at the time of writing this, it still wasn’t supported on the Netflix App (Chromecast’s can technically support Dolby Atmos as it supports E-AC-3 passthrough – if you’ll pardon the jargon).

The movie experience was truly breathtaking, you really felt like you were in the thick of things, especially with action flicks like Extraction on Netflix, you really felt like the helicopter was spinning out of control above you and when in the jungle the crickets were chirping all around you. The explosions and gunshots really packed a punch from the subwoofers. Overall the the experience was awesome though at times with certain other TV series and movies, the dialogue tended to get overpowered if the scene had a lot going on in it around the actors or if the background music was particularly loud for that scene.

Games

I’m an FPS fan and Battlefield is my game of choice and I was pretty disappointed that Battlefield V didn’t come with Dolby Atmos support, instead, I had to test the sound using Battlefield One which strangely did come with Dolby Atmos support. Once I started playing the game though, I quickly got over my initial disappointment and was soon lost in World War I as the sound was just brilliant. I felt like I was really there in 1918, on the battlefield running towards the German outpost.

Music

While there is Dolby Atmos music content out there, I must admit that I only really tested it using your traditional music on Spotify. Spotify and Youtube generally converts all music to stereo (2 channel) as most albums are released on stereo sound. Having said all of that, the sound from the sound bar was excellent, although personally, I felt that the subwoofer (which worked great with other content) was good, but not great with the bass. 

The verdict

This is a tough one. While I enjoyed myself immensely with the JBL Bar 9.1 Surround Sound system, finding the Dolby Atmos content and then the devices to play it on (I primarily use my PS4 which doesn’t support Dolby Atmos content) can be frustrating.

And furthermore, in order to experience the Dolby Atmos content you had to use the HDMI ARC cable for the content coming into the Bar, if you had a Dolby Atmos capable TV and an XBOX one or Apple TV 4K, you would have to choose which one to plug into the sound bar at any given time as it only has one HDMI ARC input and the sound through the optical cable doesn’t support Dolby Atmos unfortunately.

However, if you are looking for a great looking, great sounding compact and wireless 9.1 surround system, then I would definitely recommend this. The number of Dolby Atmos titles are only going to increase so you are definitely future proofing your sound system.

Priced at $1,799 (inclusive of GST), the JBLBar 9.1 is available online at the JBL Official Store on Lazada and Shopee and at all JBL authorised retailers.