For absolute home theater simplicity, it's hard to beat a sound bar home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) system. One long speaker, no AV receiver required, and no long pesky wires running all over your living room. The JVC TH-BA1 does the standard configuration one better by including a wireless subwoofer, so the only cables you'll need are behind your TV cabinet. Aside from the wireless subwoofer, the TH-BA1 includes a standard assortment of features, but it stands out from the pack with its better-than-expected sound quality and ease of use. The lack of HDMI connectivity is the major knock against the TH-BA1--and you'd be wise to check out the Sony HT-CT100 if you need HDMI ports, but otherwise it's one of the best deals we've seen, especially compared with the more expensive Yamaha YSP-900 and Denon DHT-FS3.
The TH-BA1's exterior design isn't its main selling point. Its style is bland, and the red indicator lights and basic LCD display make it feel less than cutting-edge. The long polelike shape is designed to fit under your HDTV; it's worth checking the dimensions of your own set to make sure the 4.9-inch-high TH-BA1 won't obscure the screen.
There's a black speaker grille covering the drivers, although it's transparent enough that you can still make out the four 3.19-inch drivers. The TH-BA1 is self-amplified and delivers 30 watts per channel. (If that sounds low to you, don't fret, as most manufacturers inflate their power specs.)
We appreciate that the TH-BA1 at least has a basic LCD screen on the front panel, unlike some of the TV add-on speakers we review. The screen is dark in most scenarios, but lights up when you adjust the volume or switch inputs, then goes dark again once you've made your adjustments. We also liked that you could dim or turn off the blue light in the center of the unit; unfortunately, the smaller red lights are unchangeable.
The included remote is excellent. It has just enough heft to feel like a step-up from those cheap credit-card-style remotes, and the button layout is refreshingly basic. There are separate buttons for each input, a button rocker, a mute button, and individual controls to adjust speaker levels. If ease of use is a big priority, the TH-BA1 fits the bill nicely.
The JVC TH-BA1's setup chores are nice and easy. First, hook up up to three sources to the two optical digital inputs and the stereo analog input. Next, either wall- or table-mount the TH-BA1 speaker. We did the latter, placing it directly on the shelf that supports our display.
Our review sample's wireless subwoofer didn't automatically "pair" with the main speaker, so we followed the straightforward instructions on the single-sheet instruction page. It worked in about a minute.
The sub doesn't have a volume control, but you can adjust its level directly from the remote. It's not a particularly powerful sub, and it sounded too lightweight when we first started listening to it. The sub was around 4 feet from the front and sidewalls; moving it within a few inches of the front wall significantly improved its sound. That means that just because the sub is wireless, it doesn't mean you can put it anywhere; place it too far away from the speaker and you'll start to become aware that all the bass is coming from the sub. Try to keep it within 5 or 6 feet of the speaker.