JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass review: Brawny soundbar brings theater thump home

The JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass keeps things simple. It’s a single Soundbar and wireless subwoofer combination with Bluetooth streaming. There is no fancy video like that Roku Smart Soundbar or the faulty ones JBL Link Bar, no multiroom audio like that Sonos Beam, no built-in Alexa or Google Assistant like any other speaker these days. Instead, it just sounds good – in large part because of the deep bass, as you guessed it.

To like

  • Dynamic and detailed film sound
  • Big subwoofer goes deep
  • Two HDMI connections provide additional flexibility

I do not like it

  • Not so good with music
  • No Surround or Virtual: X processing
  • Economical sound control

The JBL brings more bombast to your TV than any of the sub $ 300 contests I recently reviewed, namely the Polk Signa S3 ($ 250 at Best Buy) and the Vizio V21 ($ 180 at Best Buy). The larger sub gives the JBL an impressive dynamic range, which is most helpful with blockbuster films. What this soundbar lacks in sophistication and atmosphere, it makes up for with pure muscle mass.

While the JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass isn’t as good as the Vizio V21, it definitely kicks your butt more. When you’ve got a little extra cash to spare when you’re no longer going to the movies and are craving that theatrical blow, this soundbar is the next best thing.

Small bar, big submarine

Despite having a similar name, the JBL Bar 2.1 is Deep Bass separated from (and does not replace) the former JBL Bar 2.1 and offers various functions, including a new sub and a simpler remote control. The main speaker is small, a 28-inch pole in the shape of a popsicle clad in the company’s usual reddish gray. It has a number of controls for volume, power, and source, and the grill-covered front includes an LED display, which is relatively easy to understand, especially when compared to Vizio.

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While some soundbars include Chromecast or AirPlay Wi-Fi streamingthe JBL is limited to bluetooth to play music from your phone. It also has optical digital, two HDMI inputs (one with ARC) and Dolby Digital decoding. The main soundbar speakers consist of four full-range drivers and two 1-inch tweeters.

As the name suggests, the wireless subwoofer is a monster. It’s 9 “square by 14.6” tall with a rear-mounted port, houses a 6.5 “driver, and looks not dissimilar to the new one Xbox Series X..

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Ty Pendlebury / Tips Clear

The control scheme is also bare bones for my taste. At first glance, the remote control doesn’t have to set anything, just the level and volume of the subwoofer. There are no traditional sound modes like movie, music and speech that I find helpful in other bars when listening to different types of content.

You can change a mode, but it’s not easy. By default, the soundbar is set to “Smart” mode, which offers “rich sound effects”. To turn this mode off, press and hold the mute button until “TOGGLE” appears on the display, then press the volume button. The display then shows “OFF SMARTMODE”. Unfortunately, when you turn off the soundbar, smart mode is reactivated. Unless you want to do this process every time you’re pretty stuck.

How does it sound

The speakers are governed by the laws of physics – small drivers can’t play the full audio spectrum – so soundbars fill the resulting hole in the lower midrange in different ways. The JBL compensates for this by giving its powerful bass reproduction some presence, which improves the intelligibility of the dialogue and the impression of details.

While the cheaper Vizio V21 has a wider soundstage thanks to DTS Virtual: X surround processing, it’s physically a much smaller speaker and lacks the JBL’s musculature. The Vizio can send sound effects in your room, but the JBL trumps it for home theater thrills – and all because of the large subwoofer.

Compared to the Vizio and Polk, the JBL Deep Bass 2.1 sounded most exciting when I was watching the Thanator chase from Avatar. The larger sub was able to capture more of the low-frequency effects – from the creature’s footsteps to the soft roar of the waterfall – and the jungle came to life with insects and running water. While the Vizio made the jungle appear three-dimensional thanks to Virtual: X, it couldn’t keep up with the JBL for the slam of this frenetic scene.

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Connectivity includes two HDMI ports, optical and bluetooth

Ty Pendlebury / Tips Clear

The setup was trickier than the Polk and Vizio soundbars because of this larger subwoofer. The single bass button has three levels, and I felt like another step between medium and high was needed as the top level was overwhelming. This deficiency isn’t a problem with movies, but it became apparent when I was listening to music.

With the breakout hits from Yeah Yeah Yeahs Maps, I couldn’t get a satisfactory mix between the sub and the bar. The medium setting or higher was too boomy and the midrange sounded slack and lackluster too. The problem also varied depending on the title. Switching from Karen O’s soprano to Nick Caves tenor was certainly the same problem, I thought, but the JBL actually handled Cave’s red right hand better and sounded both balanced and impressive. The bass line was a bit muffled, but it was different from Cave’s vocals, while some soundbars could put the two together.

If you really want to show what JBL can do with music, pull out a copy of Yulunga (Spirit Dancer) from Dead Can Dance. The soundbar delivered the broad stereo effects of the song, the excellent dynamics and the deep, deep bass on the big drums.

Should you buy it?

The JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass offers a decent approach to your local cineplex in the comfort of your living room – no mask required. The lack of surround sound (simulated or otherwise) is only a minor disappointment when compared to the absolute whallop its beefy sub can spend. If you want a minimum of effort, functions and set-up times, the JBL offers excellent sound quality at a reasonable price.

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