If that old chestnut is correct about the simple things in life being the best, then the JBL Bar 1300 soundbar is right up there at front of the queue. Much of its charm lies in just how stress free it is to get things up and running and then to keep on going. The most difficult task is disentangling it from the considerable amount of packaging as both the subwoofer and the bar are awkwardly packed together in the carton.
The Bar 1300 comes from one of the world’s largest and oldest audio brands, covering everything from extremely affordable portable speakers and earphones through to massive concert and cinema systems and JBL is one of several brands that sit within the Harman group.
Out of the box, the 1300 has presence for sure. It’s ideal for sitting under a 55in screen (or larger) but would look a bit overpowering with a smaller TV. The rear surround speakers come attached to the bar and these simply unclip for use and are replaced by covers. There’s a clever feature here we’ll come to later with regards to powering up the surround speakers.
The dimensions are in part a result of the considerable amount of firepower the 1300 contains; six 46x90mm drivers, five 20mm tweeters, and four 70mm up-firing full-range drivers (plus one in each of the rear speakers) take care of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X 3D surround sound. With the sub in the system, you are looking at a total power output of just under 1200W which is more than enough for even a large living room.
JBL bill the 1300 as a full sound system rather than just an improver for your basic TV. And given the combination of the 3D surround tech within the bar and the proliferation of Dolby Atmos music tracks currently being released, you can see the logic.
Besides Dolby Atmos and DTS: X object-based technologies that steer the output to provide highly effective wrap-around sound, there are two proprietary technologies worth highlighting. JBL’s MultiBeam technology is an electro-acoustic system designed to replicate the surround sound effects that you expect from a multi-channel audio system by creating beams of sound and reflecting them off the walls and surfaces of the room to help create a totally encapsulating sound.
There is also JBL Purevoice – a technology that attempts to address one of cinema’s most frustrating features: clear dialogue. This voice enhancement technology uses digital signal processing (DSP) to detect human speech within a TV program or movie and improve its intelligibility, thus making rewinds to understand what has been said a thing of the past.
Control of the 1300 is via either the small remote that comes in the box, or the JBL app. Both are simple and straightforward to use.
As you would expect from a bar of this price point and specification, the main connection is via HDMI eARC that supports uncompressed and object-based 3D audio such as Dolby Atmos passing straight from broadcasts, streaming apps, Blu-ray players, or game consoles to the soundbar. In support are three HDMI sockets and an optical connection.
As is often the case in this household, there’s a schoolboy tendency to turn up a new bit of kit just to see what it can do. This is not the way to treat the 1300 and a more moderate approach is the key to the best performance, particularly with regard to the bass from the highly effective subwoofer. For my room, choosing a setting of 2 possibly 3 on the scale from 1 to 5 delivers far and away the most ‘listenable’, cohesive results with the bass – anything higher can obliterate higher frequencies and subtleties in the soundtrack
The settings for the detachable surround speakers and Dolby Atmos effects are limited, with just three settings of low, mid, and high for each. But it doesn’t take long to discover that’s really all you need. For me, the best results were with both features on a mid-setting.
With the bar, sub and rears in place, you are immediately aware of the improvement in dialogue clarity on any transmission from streaming, terrestrial or disc, compared to listening through a TV alone or even a pair of small speakers. The superb production values of Reacher on Netflix and Slow Horses on Apple+ TV come to the fore, thanks not only to the excellent surround effects but also the clarity of speech and therefore, engagement. The already knock-out ITV 4-parter, Mr Bates vs the Post Office was even more engrossing with the 1300 doing justice to the script.
Switch to 4K Blu-ray and the sound ratchets up a notch with the 1300 performing a fantastic role when delivering the cohesive Dolby Atmos effects of the Oscar-winning film, Dune – result: two-and-a-bit hours of rapt attention!
Dolby Atmos music recordings were not quite as universally well received, although this is more down to the recordings than the 1300’s musical abilities. Listening to Atmos tracks on Tidal (these need to be streamed via Airplay or Wi-Fi, not Bluetooth) some hang together better than others. In the “great fun” category I’d put Talking Heads: Psycho Killer; in the “Dolby Atmos doesn’t add much to the enjoyment” would sit Rhiannon Giddens’ You Louisiana Man and in the category of “best avoided”, Rice by Young Fathers.
Once in place, with the bar beneath the TV, sub tucked away to the side and surround speakers slightly behind your seating position, you fine tune the sound to suit your environment with the built-in calibration software via the remote or the JBL One app. It takes less than five minutes, its super easy and effective.
A nifty practical feature comes with the positioning of the battery powered surround speakers because they don’t rely on being near a power socket or need cables to charge. Simply attach them to either end of the sound bar when you aren’t using it and that takes care of charging. When you’re ready to watch, just put the speakers back in the rear position and you are ready to go.
You can also use the soundbar with the rear speakers attached and, in this case, it delivers an impressive amount of sound (although power is not something that’s ever in short supply here) – but it increases the size of the bar to gargantuan proportions.
The system is at its most impressive with the speakers placed adjacent to, or slightly behind, the listening position.
“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” is a perfect way to sum up the 1300’s appeal. Rather than a Eureka-moment when I first started listening to the bar, it was only after I disconnected it that I really noticed how flat and one-dimensional the original sound had been.
The rear speakers don’t intrude but they do provide a warm, satisfying background – highly impressive on Dolby Atmos and comfortably enjoyable on even the most basic transmissions.
Performance aside, the great attraction of the 1300 lies in its simplicity. There’s little to do by way of fiddling except for some minimal adjustments to the levels of Dolby Atmos effects and the bass, for example, and of course the volume. If you are the type of soul that likes to muck around with output levels and the like, you may find this frustrating; I didn’t.
Slow Horses (series 3) Apple+ TV
A very different take on MI5 activities and all the better for it. Great cast of misfits including Gary Oldman who turns ‘making odours’ into a weapon of mass distraction. Death shouldn’t be funny but the cataclysmic, chaotic, finale breaks all those rules in a hugely entertaining, sonic maelstrom.
Dune 4K Blu-ray
It’s no surprise that this sci-fi extravaganza based on the novel by Frank Herbert won 2022 Academy Awards for best sound and for Hans Zimmer’s music. Loud, detailed and involving, these are the true stars of the film. A textbook lesson on cohesive, immersive sound that makes a huge contribution to the plot, rather than creating a distraction
Fascinating, if overlong, insight into “Lenny” Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) and his lifelong relationship with Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein (Carey Mulligan); great soundtrack and an excellent example of not needing explosions and carnage to demonstrate the high engagement factor of a surround sound system
You like watching TV and getting involved with the video but have the feeling that things could, and should, sound better. With the 1300, the job is done. Simple to set up, a doddle to use and provides countless hours of sonic enjoyment and satisfaction.