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JBL Cinema SB350 review: Punchy sound from movies, but barred from music

The JBL Cinema SB350 produces a wide soundstage and packs a mighty wallop for maximum home-theater fun, but it can sound harsh playing music.

Ty Pendlebury Steve Guttenberg
Ty Pendlebury Editor
Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
Expertise Ty has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He majored in Cinema Studies when studying at RMIT. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast. Credentials Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
5 min read

If you're buying audio for your TV, it pays to shop around, particularly if you're paying more than a couple of hundred bucks. The features you'll get for a little more cash include Bluetooth and HDMI connectivity plus a dedicated subwoofer.


JBL Cinema SB350

The Good

The JBL Cinema SB350 sound bar offers a separate wireless subwoofer and includes HDMI ARC for easy connection to a smart TV. Its home cinema sound is expansive and packs a punch. The main speaker offers an attractive design which will blend well with modern TVs.

The Bad

Music replay is fairly harsh-sounding, especially via Bluetooth. The subwoofer loses sync occasionally and can sound a little out of step with the bar when playing music.

The Bottom Line

The JBL Cinema SB350 produces a wide soundstage and packs a mighty wallop for maximum home theater fun, but can sound harsh with music.

The JBL SB350 has all of these extras. But at $400 (£350 in the UK; pricing in Australia was unavailable at this time), it also has plenty of able competition from the likes of Pioneer and Yamaha .

We liked JBL's styling and its sound for movie playback, but it does have its flaws. Like its more affordable brother, the Cinema Base , the SB350 isn't that good when it comes to music reproduction. You might want to try one of its competitors if you're looking for a more well-rounded sound bar, but if movie bombast is your main goal, it's definitely worth considering.


Sarah Tew/CNET

From a distance the "bar" part of the SB350 looks like any other: long, thin and tapered at the ends. But close up some subtle, classy details become clear, such as the adjustable feet and the metallic trim.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The front of the bar features a metal grille that hides four 2.25-inch full-range drivers and a pair of 1.25-inch dome tweeters.The bar is one meter long, which handily is a yard plus a few inches, and it stands at a minimum three inches tall. The controls are top mounted, and the display is quite difficult to see from your seat, so some guesswork is required when switching inputs with the remote.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The separate wireless subwoofer is 9.5 inches square and a foot tall. The matte-black enclosure features a downward-firing 6.5-inch woofer with a bass extension port.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote control is so nondescript its own mother couldn't pick it out of a lineup among other credit card remote controls. It "works" for changing volume and adjusting the sub, but rivals such as Yamaha throw in better remotes with their products. Use your TV remote or get a decent universal instead.


Sarah Tew/CNET

As the sound bar version of the company's Cinema Base the SB350 has a very similar feature set, even if they look quite different. The main unit is actually wall-mountable. It even comes with an EQ switch that supposedly lets you optimize bass response between wall or table mounting, but in practical terms it made a neglible difference.

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 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

JBL is the first company we've seen that includes an HDMI output but no HDMI input. This "output" uses HDMI ARC -- which is a two-way HDMI channel -- so it can play back sound from the onboard tuner or smart apps on your ARC-equipped TV. If you want to hear anything from a cable box or other external device, you'll need to use the sound bar's optical cable input.

Like most other products at this price, the SB350 supports Bluetooth -- though at this price it's without aptX. The other inputs include a 3.5mm connector, an optical digital port and a USB port for mobile device charging and software updates.


When we first set up the JBL Cinema SB350, its wireless subwoofer refused to automatically pair with the sound bar. Pressing the pairing buttons on the bar and sub a few times didn't help, but turning the system off and on did the trick.

Once the Cinema SB350 was up and running, we had no further problems, and the blend between sub and bar was very good for home cinema use. The sci-fi thriller "Sunshine" provided its share of low rumbles and tremors that fully exercised the subwoofer. We were pleasantly surprised by the deep and powerful bass coming from this little sub.

The Cinema SB350's Harman Volume feature definitely reduced soft-to-loud volume changes for late-night listening sessions, and the Virtual Surround feature did a great job expanding the stereo sound field. The effect seemed subtle at first when we switched between stereo and Virtual Surround, precisely because the tonal character of the sound was unchanged. That's rare -- most sound bars turn anemic when you engage their surround processing, but this one doesn't.

While Virtual Surround expands the stereo image better than most bars we've tested, the Cinema SB350 can't work miracles. It can't the produce enveloping, room-filling surround characteristic of a system with more speakers. No stereo sound bar can do that.

The Cinema SB350 has Dolby surround processing but lacks DTS, so we couldn't send bitstream audio from our Oppo BDP-105 Blu ray player. That's fine, and most similarly priced sound bars and bases make do with just Dolby. Play a DTS encoded movie and you'll have to remember to switch over to PCM digital, or you won't get any sound. Rather than constantly switch between PCM and bitstream, we used PCM for all of our Cinema SB350 listening tests.

The Cinema SB350, not surprisingly, sounds similar to the JBL Cinema Base, but that model's low bass oomph exceeds the Cinema SB350's. In its favor, the Cinema SB350 sounds clearer overall.

While watching the "Titanic" Blu-ray, we switched between the Cinema SB350 and the Pioneer SP-SB23W sound bar. The Pioneer is one of the best bars we've heard, and we preferred it to the JBL. It sounds fuller and warmer, and the bass has more oomph even though the Cinema SB350 has the larger subwoofer. As the doomed ship goes down, the tremendous rush of flooding water was more viscerally felt over the SP-SB23W, so we turned up the volume and the Pioneer never faltered. The Cinema SB350 sounded less powerful.

The Yamaha YAS-203 sound bar system has Dolby and DTS, and compared to the JBL and the Pioneer it consistently produced the biggest sound fields, clearest dialogue, and also has the most powerful subwoofer. It's a matter of scale, the YAS-203 sounded more at ease pushed to the limit than the other two systems.

We like the Cinema SB350 for its clarity and spacious imaging, but the SP-SB23W's sweeter treble was less fatiguing over hours of use. CDs could sound a bit lean on the Cinema SB350, and its aggressive treble edge curtailed our music listening sessions. The Yamaha YAS-203 was clearer than the Cinema SB350 and SP-SB23W for movies and music.

Compared against the Pioneer, the JBL SB350 sounded boxier and thinner when playing Bluetooth music. We also detected distinct delay from the JBL's subwoofer, which also cut out at times.

The SB350 is still better than the JBL Cinema Base for Bluetooth, however. The bar didn't exhibit the same distortion issues as the Base with the falsetto voices on Arctic Monkey's "Do I Wanna Know?" For that reason, the SB350 would seem the better of the two if you stream music from your phone.


Are good looks and clear dialogue enough to warrant the $400 outlay? Ultimately the choice is yours, but we would suggest checking out the rival SP-SB23W or Yamaha YAS-203 first. They offer much better bang (and crash and whisper and wallop) for the buck.


JBL Cinema SB350

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Sound 7Value 7
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