JBL SB200 review

Pros

  • Discreet design
  • Chunky, well-balanced sound
  • Built-in Bluetooth

Cons

  • Display Surround & Bass Boost modes
  • No HDMI inputs
  • Fiddly remote

JBL’s modestly priced Cinema SB200 soundbar is one of three in its latest range, sandwiched between the range-topping SB400 (which comes with a separate subwoofer) and the entry-level SB100.

It’s not one of those all-singing, all-dancing affairs with a built-in Blu-ray deck and shedloads of features – it’s a simple stereo bar designed to make your TV’s audio sound bigger and better. But there are a couple of tasty features on board, including Dolby Digital decoding and built-in Bluetooth.

Design and features

With the Cinema SB200 JBL has fashioned a smart-looking and sturdy soundbar, but it’s not a product that rams its design down your throat.

The understated black finish, chunky cloth mesh and curvy back section is a good look but won’t stick out like a sore thumb – exactly what you want from a soundbar.

A discreet control panel on top of the bar allows you to control volume, change surround mode and source input.

On the back, JBL provides optical digital input for connection to a TV or Blu-ray deck, and a 3.5mm minijack input for MP3 players and other portable devices. In the box is a 3.5mm-to-RCA adapter cable, which you can use to hook up a TV’s analogue outputs.

Some may bemoan the lack of HDMI inputs but they’re not essential given that it’s not designed as an HD audio hub.

Like most soundbars you can mount it on the wall using the supplied bracket or place it on top of your TV stand, with rubber pads on the bottom to cushion it.

Its dimensions make it suitable for 32in TVs and up, but a word of warning for wall-mounters – at 103mm deep it’s rather chunky and will stick out much further than most slimscreen TVs.

The SB200 boasts built-in Bluetooth, which makes it simple to enjoy music from phones and compatible MP3 players. Pairing is easy – just push and hold the Bluetooth button and a blue light tells you it’s connected.

It’ll also decode a raw Dolby Digital stream from a TV or disc player, but as a stereo soundbar there isn’t a great deal of benefit. HDMI input with HD audio decoding would have brought a boost in audio fidelity, but would have upped the price.

In a bid to compensate for the lack of rear channels, JBL has included Harman’s Display Surround technology, which attempts to create a wider, surround-like effect.

A Bass Boost mode gives low frequencies a kick, while a switch on the back of the unit lets you choose between two EQ modes optimised for tabletop and wall-mounting.

Unlike the step-up SB400, the SB200 doesn’t come with a separate subwoofer – two built-in 89mm woofers and a port on the back are charged with the task of delivering deep bass tones. This single-unit setup makes this a more living room-friendly proposition. Meanwhile, two 25mm tweeters handle high frequencies.

Operation

However, there’s no display panel showing which input is selected, or the volume level. The buttons on top of the unit light up in different colours to denote their status, but you can’t see them from the sofa.

The remote features just seven buttons to cover all functions, but its compact size and fiddly blister buttons make it uncomfortable to use. To compensate for this, the SB200 will learn the volume and mute commands from your TV’s remote – a very handy feature.

Performance

In action the SB200 delivers a sound that’ll blow any flatpanel TV out of the water – exactly what you want from a soundbar. Its 120W sound is powerful and blessed with excellent dynamics, but displays admirable composure with rowdy action scenes. It has no trouble filling a room either.

The SB200 also renders high frequency detail crisply, resulting in an open, textured sound, and dialogue is clear and authoritative. You’ll get more finesse from pricier soundbars like the Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 2, but for the money the SB200 displays admirable sonic smoothness.

Like Bass Boost, it’s best to leave Display Surround alone. It brings an uneasy balance to the sound that singles out dialogue too much. It does conjure up a slightly wider stage, but I prefer the solid, focused sound of the standard setting. If it’s a convincing sense of envelopment you’re after, try Orbitsound’s M9.

The SB200’s coherent sound also makes music sound great. Bass notes are fast and agile, while instruments and vocals are reproduced with impressive clarity. Bluetooth streaming was consistent during the test, with no drop-outs.

Verdict

It might not blow you away like the very best soundbars, but the SB200 delivers a beefy, exciting sound with tightly integrated bass and plenty of detail – all delivered with admirable poise. Add Bluetooth support and a stylish design into the mix and you’ve got yourself a very appealing soundbar for the money.

Specifications

Manufacturer and model

JBL SB200

Quoted power

120W

Channels

2

HDMI output

No

HDMI inputs

No

Component video output

No

Composite video output

No

Ethernet

No

Digital audio inputs

1 (optical)

3.5mm minijack input

Yes

Analogue stereo input

No

Dolby TrueHD decoding

No

DTS HD Master Audio decoding

No

Dolby Digital decoding

Yes

Bluetooth

Yes

DTS decoding

No

USB port

No

Built-in Wi-Fi

No

Smartphone control

No

iPod/iPhone support

No

DLNA media streaming

No

Online content

No

Radio tuner

No

Audio Return Channel support

No

3D ready

No

Sound processing

Spatial Stereo Technology

Dimensions W x H x D

901 x 116 x 103mm