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JBL Cinema SB 250 soundbar review: A great speaker for the cinema lover on a budget

  • Sun, 13 Aug 2017 22:46

JBL’s Cinma SB 250 is an entry-level soundbar to be sure. But unlike many of its competitors, this kit consists of a soundbar and a wireless subwoofer. The soundbar handles the midrange and upper frequencies, while the sub carries the load of reproducing deep bass notes.

Measuring 32.7 inches wide, 3.1 inches high, and 2.5 inches deep, the Cinema SB 250 will complement any modestly sized HDTV or 4K Ultra HD TV. Its curved and tapered ends make it seem even smaller than it is.

You can mount the SB 250 to the wall above or beneath your flat-screen, or you can set it atop a cabinet. JBL provides round rubber feet for the latter scenario, so the speaker doesn’t scratch your furniture. The speaker is rather tall, however, so if you set it in front of your TV, there’s a good chance it will block the TV’s infrared receiver.And at this price point, JBL couldn’t afford to build an IR repeater into the SB 250.

Wireless sub included

If you’ve had disputes with your significant other over the aesthetics of audio equipment and unsightly cables, the SB 250’s small size and wireless connectivity should help. The 6.5-inch subwoofer connects to the main soundbar via Bluetooth, and it can be placed just about anywhere in your room, provided its within 33 feet and in line of sight of the soundbar.

The subwoofer is a ported design, with a phase switch on the back that helps the subwoofer blend with the main soundbar based on room placement. Props to JBL for including this important—yet basic—control in their subwoofers (you'll also find it in the larger Cinema SB 450 kit). It’s surprising how few soundbar manufacturers do.

So how do you use the phase switch? As a rule of thumb, if you're placing the sub near your soundbar at the front of your room, then you want to keep it in its default position. If you are placing the sub behind your seating position, you want to switch it to the alternate position. On most subwoofers, default is zero degrees and the alternate position is 180 degrees. If you’re not sure which is which, play some bass-heavy material and put the phase position wherever it sounds louder. If there’s no difference in either position, keep it on normal.

JBL lists the SB 250’s total system power as 200 watts, but it doesn’t specify how that wattage is split between the amp in the soundbar and the one in the subwoofer. The system’s total frequency response is a respectable 45Hz, which puts the JBL Cinema SB 250 right in line with what you’d get with larger bookshelf speakers.

The SB250’s subwoofer is a rear-ported design and has a phase switch to help tailor the sub’s phase JBL

The Cinema SB 250’s subwoofer is a rear-ported design with a phase switch to help tailor the sub’s phase response based on room placement.

The subwoofer carries a significant share of the audio load. Don’t ever think you’ll be able to get by with the soundbar alone. When I played the SB 250 without its sub, the speaker sounded thin and anemic. The subwoofer is likely crossed at a higher frequency to the soundbar, so I would recommend keeping the two units relatively close together; otherwise, your brain might begin to localize the sub’s frequencies. Human acoustic perception has trouble identifying where frequencies below 80Hz are coming from. Above that threshold, your brain becomes adept at it, and the separating between the origin point of low and higher frequencies will spoil your listening experience.

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