JBL Bar 1300: Other soundbar makers need be (very) worried

As a one-box solution to getting probably one of the best surround sound experiences from a soundbar, the JBL 1300 would not disappoint and should live up to its promise to blow you away sonically.

THE surrounds should be placed at the back of the listening room, but they are shown here with the subwoofer (the cube in front of the TV) for scale. | Photograph by John Henry Dodson for the Daily Tribune

Pro and consumer audio giant JBL has launched five new soundbars to fit most budgets and specific needs, from a full-blown Dolby Atmos home theater system at the top of the totem pole to a desktop unit that’s going to make gaming exceptionally immersive aurally.

At EDSA Shangri-La where members of tech media recently got to take a listen at the JBL soundbars, the most impressive was naturally no other than the flagship Bar 1300.

As a home theater enthusiast for decades dating back to the time when Dolby Pro-Logic was the only consumer surround platform available, I can say that with the Bar 1300, JBL indeed raised the bar on soundbars.

JBL Bar 1300’s main bar, two surround speakers and subwoofer are truly wireless. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF HARMAN


During the launch, we asked Raymond Lauchengco of the “Bagets” movie fame if he found the JBL 1300 as satisfying watching movies as when enjoying well-recorded concerts through his home set-up. How about audio-only streams?

According to Raymond, one can close one’s eyes not only to pinpoint the members of a jazz quartet on the musical soundstage, but even the array of orchestra members in a concert hall.

As JBL’s signature pro sound tends to be brawny — great for movies and when employed in live concerts — it was interesting to hear an artist, who had experienced the JBL 1300, say that it’s musically nuanced as well.

Audiophiles, the ones like me who still listen to vinyl and who swear by high-res audio, would surely take note if they are on the market for a soundbar.

And so after Raymond, we, here at Daily Tribune, got first dibs testing the JBL 1300 right in the comfort of our home, with the people at Harman delivering a week-long loaner unit so I can test the mettle of their very best offering under real-world conditions.

Having removed my own Samsung Dolby Atmos soundbar, I ran the JBL 1300 through a wide gamut of movie genres, from popcorn, edge-of-your-set action flicks, to atmospheric numbers and musicals. I also heavily used Youtube Premium because I wanted to hear the bar play two-channel PCM and even some lossy audio file formats.

Expensive, expansive

I watched old reliable movies like Saving Private Ryan and Ying Yang Master only because I’m so familiar with their aural qualities, especially how their surround effects, as heard from very expensive systems, sound.

As a one-box solution to getting probably one of the best surround sound experiences from a soundbar, the JBL 1300 would not disappoint and should live up to its promise to blow you away sonically.

The bass of the Bar 1300 satisfies even at mid-level, but for a punch-in-your gut experience, you’d need separates for that (receiver, separate speakers scattered all over the listening space, and multiple — or huge — subwoofers). If you go the “separates way,” be ready, though, to contend with complicated set-ups like speaker wires running under carpeting or tacked on the wall.

The JBL Bar 1300, as all soundbars for that matter, has a card up on separates and that’s — for those with a better half at home — the dreaded wife-acceptance factor or WAF. Simply put, WAF means if it’s an equipment that’s going to ruin her decorations at home, then you’re not buying that.

There are a lot of Dolby Atmos soundbars that do not come in with wireless surround speakers, and they fare dismally in bouncing sound off the ceiling and the sides of the room to mimic real surround speakers. Stay away from those.


MULTIPLE speaker drivers and passive radiators occupy space in the soundbar and surround speaker units. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF HARMAN


The JBL Bar 1300, with its price, had those dedicated wireless surround speakers already provided, not something you have to buy separately. Whatever soundbar you are buying, get one that has the rear speakers already included in the box, and then thank me later.

The JBL Bar 1300’s wireless surrounds are docked to the main bar for charging (about 10 hours of movie-watching per full charge). They are part and parcel of an 11.1.4 set-up that refers to 11 individual speakers in the main sound bar, one subwoofer and two speakers each per surround speaker.

Was it a USB type-C port that I saw on the surround speakers? For charging, without docking at the main bar I supposed. Pressed for time, I left that for your own validation. For connecting the soundbar to your TV or content source, there are multiple HDMI ports, including of course ARC/EARC and optical.

Mighty loud

At Shangri-La, the JBL 1300 turned a mini events room into a theater with dynamically enveloping surround effects (thanks to the multiple speaker drivers, including up-firing and sound-firing ones now associated with Dolby Atmos). Volume, according to the tech guy, was at maximum.

In my 5-meter by 7-meter living room, there’s hardly any need to go past volume level 23 with 30 being maximum because the JBL 1300 is plenty loud. But since there’s no way we’d baby something that’s supposed to be the best of the best, I cranked up the volume, too, to max in many action scenes like that epic street shootout in the Al Pacino and Robert De Niro-starrer “Heat.”

We were unable to distort the sound coming from the JBL 1300 at full throttle, and I suspect it’s because JBL engineers had left a lot of headroom so that at full volume, the system — the amplifiers and speaker drivers — are still running within their comfort zones.

I wish I still had my analog sound-level meter, but I had to settle with app-based decibel meters that consistently showed maximum sound pressure level, or SPL, of 89 decibels at my listening position. That’s not silly loud, but going past 90 decibels can already result to hearing damage.

Dolby Atmos has managed to spread sound not just in front, sides and rear, but also at the ceiling, and so movies and music encoded with it should provide people — if played in really good systems like the JBL Bar 1300 — not just with a music wall but an aural cocoon.

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