With 4K TVs becoming more affordable and with more content available, older home-theater audio-video receivers that can't handle 4K video can limit the visual fidelity your system delivers. If you're looking to update your system and are tired of all the wires that come with a traditional home theater, the JBL Cinema SB 450 is an enticing alternative to upgrading your AVR. It's simple to set up and packed with features, and it fills the room with sound. While this soundbar lacks the fine-tuning that an AVR offers, it may provide enough to meet your home-theater needs.
The Cinema SB 450 is big; at 44 x 4 x 3 inches, it's almost 10 inches longer than Yamaha's YAS-203. That makes the Cinema SB 450 a better match for TVs larger than 46 inches. But it uses the size well to fill even large rooms with sound.
The SB 450 offers several ways to connect to sources. It has three HDMI inputs and one HDMI output, something many soundbars lack, as well as an optical digital audio connection and 3.5mm auxiliary input for stereo sound. You can also use Bluetooth to play music wirelessly.
The soundbar features controls on top, including buttons for volume, input selector and virtual surround-sound mode. It comes with a small remote that is full of buttons, which makes it challenging to use. If you have a TV that supports HDMI CEC, your TV remote can control the soundbar's power and volume automatically.
At 14 x 13 x 13 inches, the wireless subwoofer is a beast, too. While many current soundbars opt for slim subwoofers, JBL went with an 8-inch woofer inside, and you can hear the difference.
Few soundbars produce a wider field of sound than the SB 450 does, and few can match its bass.
The emphasis on bass makes action scenes more engaging. When Dr. Strange crashed his car, my floor rumbled with each impact as the vehicle rolled over a cliff. The low end also provided excellent resonance in the dialog between Wednesday and Shadow on the American Gods TV series. However, in scenes with a lot of sound complexity, like a swelling soundtrack playing while actors spoke, the voices got lost in the mix.
The 4K video pass-through worked well while I watched Bosch on Amazon Prime Instant Video through a Roku Ultra. The clarity was as good as I get from directly connecting to my LG B6 4K OLED set.
The subwoofer delivered significant oomph when I listened to bass-heavy songs, like Jidenna's "Long Live the Chief" through Bluetooth. But the heavily distorted guitars on Japandroids' "Near to the Wild Heart of Life" lacked sharpness and were overwhelmed by the bass. Bruno Mars' vocals on "That's What I Like" sounded buried under the rhythm.
The SB 450 has plenty of power to fill large rooms. With the volume at about 60 percent, I measured the output at 95 decibels, enough to make me worry about damage to my hearing if I listened for more than a few minutes at the level.
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As you should expect from a soundbar, setting up the SB 450 is simple: just connect an HDMI cable from the unit to your TV. If you don't want to route your video sources through the soundbar, you can use the optical digital connection instead.
The wireless subwoofer comes paired with the soundbar, though if there are problems, you can reset the connection by pressing the pairing buttons on both the soundbar and subwoofer. The subwoofer includes several options to tweak bass output to match your preferences. You can adjust the crossover, the frequency at which the subwoofer kicks in, if you like the subwoofer to be engaged more often.
You can also change the phase of the subwoofer; this setting optimizes how the subwoofer driver works with the soundbar's driver. Most people won't need to use the phase control, but it's a nice option to have to get the most bass out of the system.
The SB 450 doesn't include autocalibration like Sonos Trueplay, so you'll need to play with the bass level until you find the right balance for your ears and your room. However, the unit does not give you a way to adjust treble or midtones, which is one of the reasons voices can get lost in the mix as you increase the bass.
The unit includes a virtual surround0sound mode that emulates a full 5.1 speaker system and works well when you're watching TV and movies. It also has a feature for leveling the overall volume, so you don't get startled when loud scenes or commercials interrupt the overall watching experience.
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There are plenty of soundbars available in the $400 range, but few offer the combination of features and sound quality found in the SB 450. If you're looking for a system that can pass through 4K video, even fewer options remain.
On top of being great for 4K TVs, the SB 450 also delivers much bigger bass than other soundbars. While its overall sound balance could be better, the SB 450 is a good match for people seeking an easy way to add big sound to their 4K-video setups.
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