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JBL Cinema Base review: Little sound base is all about that bass

MSRP: $349.00
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The Good The JBL Cinema Base offers exciting home-theater sound in a compact package. Its bass is excellent considering its small size and lack of a dedicated sub. The inclusion of HDMI ARC offers some flexibility.

The Bad The sound can be too bright for music and becomes screechy if pushed; Bluetooth quality is poorer than most; it has a terrible remote.

The Bottom Line The JBL Cinema Base is a likable smaller sound base that offers easy hookup and packs a home-theater punch.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.6 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Sound 7
  • Value 8

Review Sections

The speakers in your typical flatscreen TV have become sort of like the free toy in a box of corn flakes. They're usually an afterthought, so to get decent audio you'll need to buy a sound bar or some other speaker set instead.

The problem is, sound bars can be impractically tall if you're not planning to wall-mount your TV. A sound base solves this problem by acting as the base for your TV -- you just set your set atop it. They run about $350 in the US, £300 in the UK and around AU$600 in Australia. If you're paying around that much, there are plenty of good options available; the Sony HT-XT1 comes to mind for a start. While not quite as accomplished as that unit, the JBL Cinema Base is a plucky little speaker with plenty to offer.

The JBL is well-built, easy to set up, and has surprisingly deep bass for such a compact unit. But it's not without its downsides. Firstly, the Bluetooth implementation is pretty bad, and the addition of an HDMI output without offering an HDMI input or an onscreen display is kind of perplexing. Also, while it can go loud, it's already bright sound can become steely and unpleasant if pushed too hard. Despite these faults, the JBL Cinema Base is a solid entrant in the under-your-TV sweepstakes, especially if you love bass.

Design

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The Cinema Base is seemingly small as far as speaker bases go, but it's still a little larger than the Vizio S2121w-D0 . JBL claims the base will support televisions up to 60 inches in screen size on its 23.6-inch-wide and 15.8-inch deep top. Just make sure your TV's stand isn't bigger than the Cinema Base itself. Even if they technically fit, bigger TV stands like the one on our 55-inch Panasonic ST60 (above) look a bit more precarious than they do on bigger bases like the Pioneer SP-B03.

The front of the speaker features an attractive curved grille and above it sit the controls and "display." Like many other speakers at this price, the chosen input indicator is a color-coded LED rather than a readout.

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The JBL includes a remote, which handily comes with a separate bass control (usually these type of devices crank the bass too loudly by default). It's not much chop otherwise. All of the buttons are smooshed together, with seemingly little rhyme or reason. Hopefully you have an alternate way to control the Base, like with a universal remote, cable box or TV clicker.

Though the Cinema Base includes an HDMI output, there is no onscreen display.

Features

The JBL Cinema Base is part of a growing form of sound bar that lets you place your TV on top of it and is presented as a single unit without a subwoofer. Instead of a sub it includes two 3.5-inch bass drivers in addition to dual 2.5-inch full-range drivers. These help the Cinema Base to deliver a claimed 45Hz - 20kHz frequency response.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The speaker supports Dolby Digital soundtracks -- though not DTS -- and comes with a couple of extra processing modes, including a virtual surround mode called Harman Display Surround mode and a "night time" mode called Harman Volume. Like other modes of this kind, the latter is designed to compress the dynamic range of soundtracks so commercials aren't too loud and explosions won't wake your loved ones.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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