THE GOOD: The JBL Cinema SB 450 offers home theater thrills in a stylish package. The sizable subwoofer is capable of providing meaty bass. The three HDMI inputs offer 4K compatibility.
THE BAD: Sounds a little too harsh with music. The remote control can be a little confusing to use.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The JBL Cinema SB 450 scores big with a massive, powerful subwoofer, but the bar’s brash demeanor might not wear well.
JBL is known for pro audio and Bluetooth speakers, but the company also has a history of making sound bars geared toward movie bombast at the expense of musical refinement. The SB450 continues in this vein, thanks in part to a booming subwoofer that sounds (and looks) enormous by sound bar standards.
Beyond that big box, the SB450 adds a couple of features missing from previous sound bars. The most obvious is the four HDMI ports that will pass 4K signals, but the sound bar will also enable Bluetooth restreaming to other JBL devices.
Despite its big sound the $500 the JBL comes up a little short against competitors such as the Vizio SB4551-D5 and the LG Sh7B, which offer better overall performance and features.
The JBL Cinema SB 450 might not seem all that different than a slew of other sound bar systems crowding the market until you take notice of its 8-inch, 200 watt wireless subwoofer. At 13 inches square, it’s a beast of a sub, one of the biggest we’ve seen in a midprice sound bar system. It’s a definite step up from the one that comes with the cheaper SB350, as long as you can find a place to stash it.
The sound bar that accompanies the sub looks essentially the same as the SB350’s — 44 inches wide and covered in a fine steel mesh. This opaque mesh conceals an undisclosed number of 2.25-inch transducers inside. At the top of the bar are controls, while at the bottom sit adjustable feet.
The credit-card-style clicker is way too complex and packed with tiny, tiny buttons. Program your TV or cable box remote for volume or buy a universal model instead.
While it’s not quite the all-singing, all-dancing gadget monster as some of its competition, the SB450 nonetheless offers a strong selection of features. As an step-up model to the existing SB350, the SB450 quadruples the number of HDMI ports to a hefty four, three of which are 2.0a/HDCP 2.2compliant — which means watching 4K HDR movies on the JBL is now a thing. Other connections include optical, 3.5mm auxiliary and USB for firmware updates.
The sound bar includes Bluetooth connectivity and a feature the company calls JBL Connect, which shares your Bluetooth wireless connection with other compatible products, such as the JBL Charge 3. Multiroom Bluetooth is a weird concept because your device doesn’t automatically reconnect with other Bluetooth speakers when in range, so if you leave the room to listen to speaker two, for example, your connection is in danger of dropping out. Wi-fi speakers solve this problem quite elegantly.
The sound bar includes audio modes such as Harman Volume (reduces dynamic range for listening at night), JBL SoundShift (for switching between TV sound and your mobile voice) and Harman Display Surround (virtual surround).
Play the Cinema SB 450 loud and the sub’s rear port will pump out a lot of air, so make sure you give it plenty of breathing room! Don’t even think of shoving this bad boy in a corner, and not just because of the port; you may need access to its backside from time to time to adjust the sub’s volume control knob.
In other words, you can’t change the sub’s volume with the remote. The sub is seriously powerful, and we had to set its volume knob almost all the way down to blend with the sound bar. You can adjust the system’s overall bass balance with the remote, but we’d really like a sub volume control on there too.
To take full advantage of the Cinema SB 450’s home theater prowess, we dialed up the “Mad Max: Fury Road” Blu-ray, and reveled in the fury. The Cinema SB 450 shook the walls of the little CNET listening room when the post-apocalyptic road-rage machines blasted across the desert; the sound was dynamically alive and very exciting.
Downsides? The soundstage wasn’t wall-to-wall, but it was wide enough. Dialogue sounded thin, but at least it was clear. Switching over to the LG SH7B sound bar system, however, the soundstage opened up and dialogue and treble sounded more natural, even if the mayhem was less visceral than the JBL. The Cinema SB 450 sub’s uber power was missed, but in the smallish CNET listening room that sub’s bass had a tendency to turn muddy. The less powerful SH7B sub didn’t get into as much trouble down there.
Continuing with the “Deepwater Horizon” Blu-ray, the JBL scored a direct hit when the offshore oil drilling rig disaster flick’s action heated up. The explosion of mud, oil and fire felt immensely powerful, the SB450’s skills in that area exceed other similarly priced sound bars.
With music the Cinema SB 450 wasn’t in its element. The sound veered toward harsh to the extent that it sounded better at low to medium volume. Compared to a less excitable sound bar like the Q Acoustics Media 4, the JBL just wasn’t able to capture the same level of warmth. When it came to home cinema though, the Media 4’s chops were no match for the Cinema SB 450’s.
The JBL Cinema SB 450 will delight home theater buyers craving big, bold sound. We credit the sub for most of the Cinema SB 450’s sound appeal, but we also wished the sound bar was a little less harsh with movies and music. At $500 the JBL has plenty of competition — the LG SH7B most of all — and these alternatives offer both more refinement and even better feature sets.