I tried JBL’s 15-channel soundbar and it’s Dolby Atmos done right

JBL Bar 1300X on TV stand
(Image credit: Future)

There are soundbars and then there are soundbars. By that, I mean some models make a modest attempt to improve on a TV’s built-in speakers, boosting dialogue clarity and causing effects like explosions to sound more realistic. And then there are others that strive to fully replace a separate surround sound speaker system connected to one of the best AV receivers – the JBL Bar 1300X, for example.

Like all the best Dolby Atmos soundbars, JBL’s Bar 1300X ($1,699 /  £1,400 / AU$2,440) features up-firing drivers that bounce overhead effects in movie soundtracks off your room’s ceiling for a more three-dimensional presentation. With the Bar 1300X, however, the system’s wireless surround speakers also feature up-firing drivers for Dolby Atmos. That specific feature puts JBL’s flagship soundbar system in the company of other leading models like the Samsung HW-Q990B, another 11.1.4-channel offering like the JBL and one that sits at a similar high-end price tier.

I recently made the decision to break down my home theater’s 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos speaker system and rely on a soundbar-based one instead. One reason for this was I wanted to see how much I’d be missing from a sound quality perspective, and another was I simply wanted to minimize the amount of gear taking up space in the room.

I’ve had a few soundbars rotate through the space since, and can honestly state that I’ve missed the big, immersive sound that my regular speaker-based system provides. But then I hooked up JBL’s Bar 1300X…

JBL’s flagship soundbar system provides all the key features a movie enthusiast would seek out. It has processing for both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X formats, a sizeable 12-inch wireless subwoofer powered by 300 watts (1,170 watts total for the system), and 4 HDMI ports (1 with eARC) that support Dolby Vision passthrough. Those up-firing drivers on the wireless surround speakers are augmented by an additional 4 on the soundbar itself, and the entire system can be set up and automatically calibrated for best performance using the company’s JBL One control app.

A unique feature of the Bar 1300X is its rechargeable surround speakers, a design that makes them truly wireless. You dock the speakers on either side of the soundbar to charge up their lithium-ion batteries, and then detach and position them at the rear corners of the room for viewing/listening. The speakers run for up to 10 hours, and they also come with USB-C charging cables if you prefer for them to remain fully powered and more permanently installed.

But built-in rechargeable batteries aren’t the only notable thing about JBL’s surrounds, which can also be used as portable Bluetooth speakers, and can even be wirelessly paired for stereo playback. Never has a surround speaker offered so much utility as the ones included with the Bar 1300X.

JBL Bar 1300X soundbar on TV stand and a hand holding a wireless surround speaker

The JBL Bar 1300X soundbar's rechargeable battery powered surround speakers can also be used as portable Bluetooth speakers. (Image credit: Future)

Ears on with the JBL Bar 1300X 

Setup of JBL’s soundbar system was an incredibly smooth process. I just charged up the surrounds, put them and the subwoofer in place, and then downloaded the JBL One app. The soundbar automatically made a wireless connection with the other speakers, and I was prompted to step through sound calibration – a 3-minute process.

JBL’s clean, well-organized app (a hardware remote control is also provided) lets you tweak the rear channel speaker level and provides three-point EQ to adjust bass, mids, and treble. You can add Amazon Music Unlimited, Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify, and more of the best music streaming services to stream and control from the app; alternatively, you can stream directly from within music apps to the soundbar using Chromecast built-in and AirPlay 2. The Bar 1300X also works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri for voice control.

Listening to some bass-heavy electronic music confirmed that the system’s 12-inch subwoofer was a powerful bass beast – even after sound calibration, I needed to tone the bass down using the EQ adjustment. Afterwards, JBL’s sub sounded low-reaching and clean, and it was smoothly integrated with the rest of the system.

Checking in on Super Bowl LVII, the voices of the announcers were clear and natural, while the system’s upmixing to spread the sound to all speakers gave me a sense of being in the crowd. 

But it was really when I checked out a few familiar scenes from movies with Dolby Atmos soundtracks that the Bar 1300X revealed itself to be a capable replacement for my speaker-based 5.1.2 system. Watching a scene from 1917 where planes fly overhead in a field that the British soldiers are crossing, the sound of the planes believably seemed to be coming from overhead. And in a later scene where a German plane crashes into a barn where the soldiers are resting, the accompanying sound effects had scarily pinpoint spatial accuracy.

Another go-to speaker evaluation movie scene for me is one in John Wick 3 where Wick fights a group of thugs in an antiques warehouse. The smashing of glass display cases, landing of kicks and hits, and the zing of knives tossed at torsos and heads all had a dynamic impact. In this and other scenes there was also a sense of being wrapped in the soundtrack, with no gap between the sound coming from the speakers at the front and rear of the room. 

I’m off to a very good start with the JBL Bar 1300X and have really only just unpacked it. A full review is in the works, and at this rate, it’s a likely contender for our best soundbars list. While the Bar 1300X’s high cost will be a tough sell for many, the fantastic array of features on offer here make it a compelling choice for someone seeking a no-comprise soundbar system – one that can easily stand in for a more traditional AV receiver-based rig.

Al Griffin
Senior Editor Home Entertainment, US

Al Griffin has been writing about and reviewing A/V tech since the days LaserDiscs roamed the earth, and was previously the editor of Sound & Vision magazine. 

When not reviewing the latest and greatest gear or watching movies at home, he can usually be found out and about on a bike.