JBL Cinema SB450 Review: Big sound, Big Bass & 4K Ultra-HD

April 10, 2017 - Written By John Anon

If your TV system is lacking punch, bass, or definition, here is the solution

JBL is one of those brands that many automatically associate with quality. Which does mean that any JBL-branded products that come to market, will likely come with an added element of expectation. Lately, JBL has been really pushing into the Bluetooth market and now offers a wide range of products that are Bluetooth-enabled. The upside from the mobile user’s perspective, is that all of these Bluetooth-enabled products are also now compatible with your smartphone. The JBL Cinema SB450 is one of the newer products to come from the JBL stable and while this is a home setup system designed for your TV, thanks to its Bluetooth capabilities it offers much more than just your average movie playback experience. For reference, the JBL Cinema SB450 comes with a $499.95 retail price.

Specs

In terms of the specs, the JBL Cinema SB450 sound system offers a total output of 440-watts, broken down over two aspects – a soundbar and a subwoofer. The frequency response is listed as 40 Hz – 20 kHz while the Max SPL is listed as 103 dB. The subwoofer houses an 8-inch driver which has the potential to output 200-watts (with the soundbar accounting for the additional 240-watts). The subwoofer pairs with the soundbar wirelessly, while the whole system is able to connect to source devices via Bluetooth – with a Bluetooth range of 32 ft (10m) on offer. Although physical connections can also be made via the included HDMI and optical ports.

In terms of the physical dimensions, the soundbar measures 44-inches in length, 3-inches in width and 4-inches in height, and weighs in at 7.5 lbs (3.4 kg). In contrast, the subwoofer measures 3-inches in length, 13-inches in width, 14-inches in height, and weighs in at a hefty 21 lbs (9.5 kg).

In the Box

In the box you get just about everything that you will need to get immediately up and running. So in addition to the actual soundbar and the wireless subwoofer, you can also expect to find a 5 ft optical cable, a 3 ft HDMI cable, a power cable for each main unit, a remote control, and wall-mount brackets. As well as the usual level of paperwork including a quick-start guide and the warranty card.

Design & Hardware

With a model number like the SB450 you might be forgiven for thinking this is a follow on device to a previous model. Like for instance, an SB350. And you would be right, as this is exactly that, an upgrade to an already existing line of cinema-oriented audio solutions from JBL. So in terms of the design, the Cinema SB450 does not superficially differ that much from the Cinema SB350. Or for that matter, the Cinema SB250 that came before it or the SB400 (which also came before the SB350). So if you are already familiar with either of these devices, then you will already have some understanding of what you can expect with the Cinema SB450 – at least in terms of the design.

For those new to this range, the Cinema SB450 is basically broken down into two distinct units. On the one hand you have the main soundbar, which like any sound bar, is elongated and stretches across the front of the TV. This is a fairly sizeable soundbar (44-inches) which does mean that you need adequate surface space on a TV stand to place the soundbar. For instance, if you are planning to use this with say a 32 inch TV and only have a stand that is similar in size to the TV, then this option will not work for you as the soundbar is unable to rest on the main portion of its body. The two feet, which are a few inches in from either end (shown above), must rest on a flat surface. So in reality, you do need at least a 40-inch stand or table to really be able to use this product as intended. As mentioned, this system also comes equipped with a second unit, a dedicated subwoofer. So for those looking for that extra bass punch, this is the type of unit that will provide it.

Soundbar

The soundbar really does continue the same design ethos as the previous models and adopts the use of metal accents here and there to provide a more premium look and level of presentation. So for instance, the feet on the soundbar are all metal, as are the plates protecting the curved sides of the soundbar.

The rest of the design is largely made up of a typical metal mesh design with the only notable element being the center-positioned JBL logo and a plaque which runs along the very top of the soundbar. Here you will find most of your on-board controls, including the main power button, volume up/down, Bluetooth pairing, JBL Connect, source, and so on.

Flipping the soundbar over will  reveal the depth of the soundbar’s connectivity features as it does come with a surprising number of ports including four HDMI ports, an optical port, a 3.5 mm jack port and a USB port.

Subwoofer

The subwoofer on the other hand stands in somewhat stark contrast to the soundbar, as it largely lacks any notable elements. Which is somewhat understandable as this is generally designed to be a box that is hidden from view – unlike the soundbar which will likely take pride of place in your TV home setup. So in all reality, the subwoofer is best thought of as just a big black box.

On the back of the subwoofer, you will find a basic back plate which houses the main power supply port, the power switch, a pairing button, a dial crossover and a phase alignment switch. As for the driver, the subwoofer makes use of an 8-inch driver which is located on the bottom of the subwoofer. So for those that have a preference – this is a downward firing subwoofer.

Overall, the design of the Cinema SB450 is an extension of the design process that the company has been rolling out over the previous generational SBs. So if you are planning on upgrading from an older model to the SB450, then you will be right at home here and should expect a very similar designed unit to what you are upgrading from, barring a few design refinements and improvements. For those picking this up as a new product, you can and should expect a typical JBL level and quality of build here, this is a nicely-designed and put-together system.

Sound Quality

While the general look, presentation and style, of the SB450 is in line with previous models, the one notable area of difference is with the sound quality that is on offer. The first thing that becomes clear is that the SB450 is extremely loud. This is a unit that is rated to offer a total of 440-watts (with the sub alone outputting 200-watts). So as far as home sub/soundbar systems go, this is one powerful little unit and you will hear that power. In fact, in most instances, the SB450 is too powerful. During testing, it did have to continually keep being turned down. Which on the face of it, is a strange problem to have and more often than not, a welcomed problem. As you can always turn volume down, but you can’t always keep turning it up. So if pure volume and noise is what you are after, then the SB450 is unlikely to disappoint.

In terms of the general quality of that sound though, the SB450 is a great little addition to a home system and the quality outputted is certainly good enough. In particular, when it comes to its key purpose – cinematic playback. On this point there is very little to criticize the sound on – with the exception of the power. If you are planning to run this setup with your TV in a small room then you might find it is just a bit too powerful, and even at its lowest setting. Although the greater the size of the room, the more the SB450 starts to come alive and when used in an open space, its use as an accompaniment to the big screen, is little short of excellent. The bass is significantly present and picks up even the lowest of tremors present in a soundtrack. Which does mean that you really are getting a heightened and atmospheric sound quality.

And the same can be said for the soundbar. While it is very clear that the subwoofer has the ability to overwhelm the soundbar, the soundbar does an excellent job of holding its own and balancing out the sound overall. Voices come across well and so does the extra elements you are likely to hear in a video soundtrack that are not naturally picked up at the lower end of the frequency spectrum. Speaking of which, the subwoofer does come equipped with a dial crossover – which allows you to somewhat adjust the output of the sub and bridge the gap a little between the soundbar and the subwoofer. Likewise, for those who have more than one speaker, the subwoofer does also come with a phase switch and so you can adjust the subwoofer to ensure that it fires in the same direction as your other speakers.

However, where a criticism could be made is that due to the nature of this unit, the sound quality on offer is not equal in all instances. For example, this is a unit that can be paired with any Bluetooth source, like your smartphone or your tablet. When used as a paired smartphone output, you are losing a little bit of the quality and range. It is just not as well suited to general music playback as a general playback music system would be. While that might seem like an unfair criticism (as it is not specifically designed for that use case), it does intend to cater to that use case as well – so it is something worth pointing out. If you are primarily looking for a device that will just play music over Bluetooth, then there are other options which not only offer a better quality sound, but are much cheaper. In fact, a number of those solutions can also be purchased from JBL.

Overall, while the sound quality is pretty good, there are some minor issues which should be noted. First and foremost, this is a very loud unit and secondly, the bass can feel a little overwhelming at times. On the positive though, there are some minor adjustments that can be made to the system to further fine tune the sound to a more personally palatable level. While not massive adjustments, they certainly do help to balance out the sound. So while you should expect some degree of customization, do not expect the sort of customization you would get from a more EQ-focused product.

Connectivity & Performance

Connectivity is quickly becoming one of the most important aspects to consider before buying. It is no longer just about the sound, as regardless of the quality of that sound, if you cannot establish and/or maintain a connection, then the sound becomes a redundant feature. The JBL Cinema SB450 is not a product that suffers in this respect. On the one hand you have the wealth of physical connections that are on offer. So choice is in abundance here, if you prefer to use an optical connection, you can. If you prefer to use HDMI, you can. Speaking of which, the SB450 comes loaded with no less than four HDMI ports. Which is a point worth noting as these are 2.0a HDMI ports. So they do offer support for 4K HDR playback – at least for three of those HDMI ports. In either case, you are not short on HDMI connections and should expect to be able to connect multiple devices at the same time, even if you have multiple 4K HDR-compliant products.

Of course, then there is the wireless nature of the SB450. On top of all the physical connections that are on offer, the SB450 also comes equipped with Bluetooth 4.0. Allowing users to connect a plethora of devices to the SB450 wirelessly. On this note, there are no major issues with the quality or the reliability of the wireless connection, and consistent with what you will find with most JBL products, Bluetooth connections remain stable during lengthy periods. If all that was not enough, as this is a JBL speaker, it is also one which comes with JBL Connect support. Now, this will only be of use to those who already have other JBL speakers, but for those users, the SB450 has the ability to share the Bluetooth connection with those other JBL Bluetooth speakers. And this is without even mentioning that the subwoofer wirelessly connects to the soundbar. On the back of the subwoofer you will find the pairing button which allows you to connect the subwoofer to the soundbar. Although, the chances are good that you won’t have to do any setting up with this system, as it does seem to be set to connect as soon as it is turned on out of the box.

Overall, the JBL Cinema SB450 is an excellent performing device. Taking away the issues mentioned in the sound quality segment, the actual performance quality is flawless. This is a system that is clearly designed to be reliable, and regardless of which connection type employed. It just works and works well.

Remote Control

With a device that comes with so many included access points, it makes sense that you should expect a remote control to be included in the package. And there is. However, this is a bit of a limited remote control. On the positive side, the remote control does include all the major and main control aspects that you would expect. So you can adjust the overall volume, initiate a number of the processing features (like virtual surround sound or Harman Audio), as well as switch between source points. So there is nothing majorly wrong with the remote control.

That said, it is just not the most exciting of remote controls. At the aesthetic level, the remote control is extremely thin and small – which although makes it compact, means it is not the most hand-friendly of remote controls. Likewise, due to a lack of on-screen feedback from button presses, the user is often left unsure of whether a command has been registered by the remote. For instance, when turning up the volume, there is no measurable way to know by how much the volume is turning up (or down). While arguably you will hear the volume level, you just never know what volume you are actually at. Which does make it a little difficult to understand and decide on preset volumes. For instance, if you know you typically like the volume of your TV around ‘30’, there is no way to have such an understanding with the Cinema SB450 – it is more a matter of trial and error each time you turn it on. Likewise, the buttons are not the most tactile or premium, which is also a criticism that can be made for the remote control overall, with the remote contrasting the rest of the package you are getting and especially at the price point asked.

The bottom line on the remote – you will probably revert to using your existing TV remote instead of the included remote control.

Wrap Up

As is the case with most products like this, depending on what you expect from the SB450 will largely determine whether it will be a worthwhile purchase for you. If you are mostly focused on a system for your TV that can seriously fill a room, while picking up even the most delicate of soundtrack elements, then the SB450 is a very good choice to consider. Yes, it can connect to your smartphone and tablet and does work as a dedicated music outlet – but it is best to think of this feature as an extra-added feature and not necessarily the reason to buy the system in the first place. The clue is in the name here, this is a product that is designed to bring a cinema-like audio experience to the home and on that final note – the JBL Cinema not only achieves what it sets out to do, but does it effortlessly.

Buy the JBL Cinema SB450 Buy the JBL Cinema SB450 (JBL)