Delay after delay created plenty of buzz for the JBL Link Bar review. This Google Assistant soundbar is a Chromecast-enabled smart speaker with full Android TV functionality. There’s little it can’t do. Let’s find out if this is the only soundbar your home theater needs.
Read the in-depth review by SoundGuys.
What’s it like to use the JBL Link Bar?
The Link Bar is an amalgamation of products in a modest chassis; its specialty lies in its all-purpose functionality. One of the main selling points of the JBL Link Bar is Android TV integration. This is huge for anyone without a smart TV: it turns your regular TV into a smart one because it’s just Android OS for your television. You can download TV-optimized apps like YouTube, Netflix, and Spotify to satiate your unending content-driven appetite.
Content looks fabulous with the JBL Link Bar. It supports 4K streaming through both Chromecast and Android TV. Speaking of which, Chromecast projecting was easy to use, though not the most responsive. While I found it useful for displaying guitar tabs, I shied away from casting video due to a 3-5 second audio-visual delay. Not only does this affect the time between seeing and hearing what’s happening on screen but it also affects the delay between making a command from your phone and when the command is actually executed by the soundbar (e.g. skipping tracks on Spotify).
JBL teamed up with Google to afford users full Google Assistant integration. You can access the virtual assistant by saying, “Hey Google,” and the soundbar’s microphone array will register your command. Just like using Chromecast, though, the process is slow: command execution can take as long as three seconds.
Physically speaking, it fits well under my 55” TLC TV and includes wall-mount supplies for the handier home theater extraordinaire. Atop the Link Bar lays a rubberized control module flush with the plastic panel. From here, you can cycle through inputs, adjust the volume, and toggle the microphone.
How to set up the Link Bar
Setting up the Link Bar is easy: take the included HDMI cable and hook it up to your TV’s HDMI ARC input. If your TV doesn’t have an HDMI input, you can connect it via optical cable. This still supports 5.1 surround sound but will not support smart functionality. If you have alternative sources like a cable box, hook those up too via the other HDMI inputs. The auxiliary input is a great fallback for wired audio streaming, say your Wi-Fi is out and Bluetooth isn’t working properly. After connecting the power cable, a startup menu will open on your TV.
If your home Wi-Fi isn’t great, you can connect the Link Bar with an ethernet cable.
In order to continue with the setup process you have to pair the remote, which requires two AAA batteries (not provided). To do so, hold the “home” and “back” buttons simultaneously for three seconds. Then, press the Bluetooth button on the Link Bar. The proprietary remote will pop up in the Link Bar’s Bluetooth menu screen, select it and wait 10 seconds for the devices to pair. The remote will not work until Bluetooth pairing is completed.
To make use of Android TV and Google Assistant, you’re required to sign in with your Google account. For those concerned about privacy, leave the microphone toggle on mute. As far as data collection procedures are concerned, well, JBL passes responsibility over to Google in its FAQ document.
You can’t group the Link Bar with Google Home speakers, yet
This is where things get weird, and not in a fun way. As of publication, the Link Bar can’t be grouped with other Google Home speakers. Instead, it’s recognized only as a TV and not as a smart speaker. This is perplexing; however, on the JBL Link Bar forum, a representative shared that an update should be available shortly to remedy this.
How does it sound?
Sound quality is great. Instrumental frequency separation is easy to distinguish, making scenes sound more realistic than afforded by a pair of earbuds. Sure, the low-end is weak relative to JBL’s usual sound signature, but this makes sense. The company is pushing its wireless JBL SW10 subwoofer, which is specifically designed for the Link Bar. The sub is wireless only and designed for just the Link Bar, and the Link Bar manual cites only the SW10 for pairing. As a quick experiment, I tried pairing a Polk Command Bar wireless subwoofer with the Link Bar to no avail.
It didn’t take long for me to get used to the tenuous bass response. I mainly watch comedies or stand-up specials, so accurate, clear dialogue reproduction is a priority. The Link Bar shines in this area, because voices relayed clearly when watching shows and movies, or listening to music.
The Link Bar is a discreet soundbar that outwits its peers.
If you want to stream music over Bluetooth rather than Wi-Fi, you’re afforded one high-quality Bluetooth codec: AAC. This isn’t great, but it remains a non-issue since high-quality Wi-Fi streaming is always an option. To get a comprehensive breakdown of the frequency response and how to set up the JBL SW10, head over to SoundGuys.
Should you buy it?
If you’re in dire need of a soundbar that does everything well enough, yes. The JBL Link Bar looks sleek and sounds great. Although the $400 price tag feels like a lot, it’s reasonable for all you’re afforded. Of course, this cost is easier to justify for those without smart TVs than those with them. If you already own a smart TV, you’re better off finding a standalone soundbar or putting in a bit more effort for a full-fledged surround sound setup.
Again, the most notable shortcoming of the Link Bar is its incomplete integration into the Google Home ecosystem, but this will likely be remedied in a firmware update. If you’re able to see past its slowed response time, the Link Bar is a very impressive slab of speaker and one of the smartest speakers in its class.