The JBL SB 300 doesn't look quite like any other sound bar we've reviewed. Sure, the basic set of components is the same (wireless subwoofer, long cylindrical sound bar), but JBL has given the SB 300 an idiosyncratic style, with a twisting look to the speaker grilles and plastic cabinet of the sound bar, plus a subwoofer that looks more like Darth Vader's helmet than a piece of home audio equipment. You can't knock JBL for churning out a run-of-the-mill design, although different isn't always better.
The distinctive design is our main hang-up with the SB 300 (street price: $500), which delivers exceptional sound quality for a sound bar (second only to the Harman Kardon SB 16) and a basic, but sufficient, set of features. The best light to view the JBL SB 300 in is that you get almost all the performance of the excellent Harman Kardon SB 16 for $100 less. That's a relatively good deal if you're looking for a high-performance sound bar; just make sure you're willing to put up with the SB 300's in-your-face looks.
Design: Not another face in the crowd
Choosing a sound bar over a traditional home theater system would seem to indicate a desire for a home audio system that doesn't call attention to itself, which is what makes the look of the JBL SB 300 a bit puzzling. The sound bar itself is full of sharp angles and a glossy black finish, while the jumbo subwoofer will not only crowd small rooms, but its funky look won't be for everyone. The aggressive styling on both components isn't really our taste, but it's a matter of personal preference.
Looks aside, the busy front panel of the sound bar doesn't have a display. That's unfortunate, as it's nice to get some visual feedback as to how loud the volume is or what input you're on. It's definitely not a critical feature, but most recent sound bars include a display these days.
The JBL SB 300 thankfully includes a remote, although it's of the thin, credit-card variety. Quite a few sound bars don't include a remote (which can lead to frustrating issues), so we appreciated the thin clicker, even though we'd recommend picking up a quality universal remote to control your system with.
Connectivity is around back, and it's as simple as it gets. There's just a single analog audio input and there's an optical digital audio input--that's it. Even a basic home theater will likely have more than two devices, so JBL is counting on you to connect your gear directly to your TV, then connect the output of the TV to the sound bar. As long as your TV has the proper output, the arrangement should work pretty well.
Setup: Fully tweakable subwoofer
The SB 300 can be wall-mounted with the included brackets or placed in front of your TV. Once you've decided where you're going to put it, move the speaker's EQ switch to Wall or Table to optimize the equalization for your chosen placement scenario.