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Review: JVC TH-BA1 Sound Bar System

Written on Dec 1, 2009 by Steve and filed under JVC, Reviews

The JVC TH-BA1 is a 4.1-channel home theater system that consists of a 4 speaker sound bar and wireless subwoofer unit.  The system is designed for minimal hassle and easy setup with sleek styling.  With an MSRP of $399, it’s in the mid-high price range for sound bar systems.

front

We’ve seen a lot of sound bar systems this year and the general consensus is that they’re better than your TV speakers, but not quite up to the experience of full 5.1 or 7.1 systems.  The biggest advantage that sound bars have is the ease of setup.  You don’t have to worry about wiring and placing four or five speakers and they’re great for smaller spaces and secondary TVs, like in the bedroom or office.

It’s also been my experience that a subwoofer is an almost critical addition to a sound bar – there is no way you’re going to get the deep rumbling in a good movie with a simple sound bar.  The key, in my opinion, to having a sound bar with a subwoofer is that the connection is wireless.  If you have to connect a wire between your sound bar and the subwoofer, the whole argument for the sound bar — not having to wire and place speakers — goes right out the window.  Thankfully the TH-BA1 does have a wireless subwoofer unit which makes setup a breeze.

subwoofer

JVC TH-BA1 Specifications

  • Center unit speakers: 4 x 8cm cone, full-range speakers, output of 30W each, frequency range of 84 Hz to 22kHz
  • Center unit inputs: 1 analog (RCA), and 2 digital (optical)
  • Center unit dimensions: 35-7/16″ x 4-15/16″ x 3-3/8″
  • Center unit weight: 7.8 pounds
  • Subwoofer speaker: 16cm cone, with 100W output and frequency range of 45 Hz to 5 kHz
  • Subwoofer dimensions: 8-1/2″ x 13-7/8″ x 10″
  • Subwoofer weight: 11 pounds

Setup

Unpacking and placing speakers is an easy enough proposition.  There is an AC adapter for the center speaker unit and the sound bar plugs directly into the wall.  I was expecting to find at least an analog audio cable in the box, but didn’t find one.  After checking the manual, I noticed that it’s not supplied.  This wasn’t a huge deal to me and wouldn’t be for a lot of people as most of us have a few lying around.  However, for a system that’s supposed to be easy to setup, I would expect to find everything I needed to get going in the box.  While I’m on the topic – the sound bar is wall-mountable, but the mounting hardware is sold separately.

Inputs

Inputs

Once the system was powered up and audio connected, I was good to go.  I did have to re-pair the wireless connection between the sound bar and subwoofer, but the manual explained things well and I was up and running.

Usability

The settings for the TH-BA1 can be changed via buttons on the front panel of the sound bar or with the included remote control.  The settings are pretty self explanatory.  For volume adjustment, there is a “master” volume control that keeps the center, surround, and subwoofer volumes in sync with each other.  You can also modify these three “channels” independently, which is actually very handy.  Often, during movies, you need to bump up the center for better hearing of the dialog or you need to bump up the subwoofer to make you jump out of your seat.  However, if you’re watching a sports event you may want to tweak the settings so you hear the sounds of the crowd surrounding you rather than the “thump” from the subwoofer when the commentator clears his throat.

remote

There are buttons to activate the different sets of inputs if you need to switch from listening to a TV broadcast to your game system.  A fade/mute button comes in handy for when the phone rings.

The surround feature can be disabled completely, or you can choose between two modes. They’re creatively named: “Surround 1″ and “Surround 2″.  According to the manual, Surround 1 is better for reproduction of multi-channel sources while Surround 2 is better for stereo music sources.

There are two remaining buttons on the remote – one controls the brightness of the lights on the sound bar’s front panel, and the other toggles the Dynamic Range Compression (DRC) feature that enables clearer sound quality at low volumes for Dolby Digital and DTS sources.

There are plenty of indicator lights on the sound bar to let you know what you’re doing: power, input indicator, surround mode, and a 2 digit display that shows volume levels and other info as needed (like SR1 when you turn on Surround 1 mode).

Controls on front panel

Controls on front panel

Overall, the system was extremely easy to use.

Performance and Build

We used the TH-BA1 to listen to several different sources – gaming console, TV programming from satellite provider, DVDs and music CDs.  Overall, I would rate the audio quality on the high side.  The system handled the different types of audio well and definitely outperformed the built-in TV speakers – even ones that can simulate surround sound.

Audio quality remained consistent at various volume levels. I was able to hear details during quiet sections of classical music, but it also didn’t get distorted when the volume was cranked up to uncomfortable listening levels.  I would have preferred just a bit more “crispness” to the audio, but that’s a subjective sort of thing that really comes down to personal preference.

A common occurrence with sound bars is their limited listening area, for lack of a better term.  They’re really meant to work for people listening right in front of the TV, which is fine for most home theater applications.  However, if you use a sound bar to reproduce music for a party or background dinner music, the sound isn’t quite ideal.  Once you’re out of the listening bubble, the audio from the sound bar and subwoofer can become unbalanced (you’ll hear too much or too little subwoofer, depending on its relative position).  You can probably alleviate some of this by adjusting the speaker locations.  Also, while we were testing, I found that I got the best audio when the sound bar was pretty much exactly level with my ears.  I was sitting about 10 feet away from the unit and just by raising my listening level by a foot, I could tell a difference in the way the sound effect worked.

Overall build quality was very good, but I think the design leaves something to be desired.  Construction was solid, with no mismatched plastic panels or molding issues.  The sound bar unit is a plastic housing with a metal mesh front.  The subwoofer is a wooden (MDF) cabinet and had a fabric cover.  It would have been nicer to have a better housing on the sound bar, but if you’re going to wall-mount the unit, the lighter weight of the plastic housing is probably a good plan.

The design of the system seems bit dated and ordinary, although you can hide the subwoofer.  On the sound bar, the two digit display is an old school LED display and the only attempt at making the controls/front panel looking trendy is the blue light that indicates the power status.  The system doesn’t look bad, but I think there could have been a better attempt to get it to match the current design trends – sleek and minimalistic.

Bottom Line

The JVC TH-BA1 is a very capable sound bar system.  Not only does the sound bar produce quality audio, the wireless subwoofer gives you the freedom to place your speakers where you need and get a better overall sound.  The build quality was very good, but the design could be a bit more up to date with current design themes.  Separate volume controls for the center, surround and subwoofer is an excellent feature that lets the listener fine tune the output for different types of programming.  Overall, given the price of this system, I would have liked to have seen just a bit more out of it.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars


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