Ever since the 1980s, it seems that JVC never has managed to get back into the first cut of the consumer electronics hierarchy. Sure, the company has produced quite a few very significant inventions and products in its 83-year history, among them the VHS, S-VHS, and D-VHS formats. JVC also helped pioneer the camcorder industry, and has even won an Emmy awardfor its efforts in that field. And the company, much like Sony, Panasonic and other Japanese consumer electronics companies, seems to have product offerings in almost every category imaginable. But JVC has never ascended beyond an almost "me-too" brand. In the grand scheme of things, that matters much less than the quality of its products and service, which seem to have remained strong overall even as others get the headlines and bright lights.
JVC has jumped into the compact loudspeaker solution market with seven soundbar and HTIB-type systems, ranging in price from $199.95 to $649.95. Second from the bottom in this lineup is the TH-BA1 Soundbar Home Theater System ($299.95 MSRP). A two-piece, 4.1-channel system, it consists of the typical horizontal multi-channel soundbar and wireless subwoofer, along with a remote control. The soundbar contains all of the system's processing, connectivity, and controls. It employs four 3.1875-inch cone drivers driven by a four-channel 30-watt amplifier, within a bass-reflex enclosure measuring 35.4375-inches wide by 4.9375 inches high by 3.375 inches deep and weighing 7.8 pounds. The 2.4-gHz wireless subwoofer employs a 6.3125-inch cone driver driven by a 100-watt amplifier, within a bass-reflex enclosure measuring 8.5 inches wide by 13.875 inches high by 10 inches deep, and weighing 11.1 pounds. The system provides two optical digital inputs and one RCA stereo input (no HDMI), and decodes Dolby Digital, DTS, and Dolby Pro Logic II, but no HD audio formats. The system also comes with a remote control. The front panel contains push-button controls and the following display lights: Power/Standby, Input, Surround Mode 1-2 (for multi-channel or stereo sources), Dolby Digital, DTS, PCM, and Volume Level (in an easy-to-see red). The remote is simple and straightforward but offers a lot of control: Master Volume, Sub/Center/Surround Volume, Input, Display Dimmer (handy), Fade Muting (cool), and a three-position DRC, which clarifies the sound from Dolby Digital or DTS tracks when listening at low volumes. The fit and finish of the TH-BA1 is average; the soundbar has some heft and the grill is solid enough, but the overall look is a bit old-fashioned and clunky. The subwoofer mirrors this, as its cheesy foam grill and boxy shape do little for the imagination, although by no means is it lightweight or lacking substance.
With music material, the TH-BA1 sounded surprisingly rich and detailed, with a nice low end presence adding terrific punch and weight. On large scale classical tracks, the system really did a nice job conveying the sense of space and overall volume projection required for decent fidelity. Rock and electronic tracks had sparkle and speed up top, although a bit more was needed in this regard, especially since the midrange and bass delivered surprisingly good warmth and pacing. The mids, while occasionally a bit canned sounding, had a genuinely musical character usually missing from systems of this type. The system's relatively big drivers and powerful sub amp probably play a role in the very good overall level of substance and speed the system puts forth. This really helped with movies and games, where the system excelled with intense action scenes and bass-heavy mixes. Given the minimalist "soundbar" profile these types of systems deliver, the big sound and refined midrange refreshingly exceeded expectations. Other than the very slightly rounded off top end and occasional honk in the mids, the sound of the TH-BA1 stood out from the usual tradeoffs systems of this type deliver, many of which are more money than the TH-BA1.
Competition and Comparison
To compare JVC's TH-BA1 soundbar against its competition read our reviews for Sony's HT-CT150 3D soundbar and Vizio's VHT-120 soundbar. You can find more information by visiting our Sound Bar section or our JVC brand page.
� The TH-BA1 offers a solid array of features, including a hefty remote with useful controls, and an easy-to-read digital display.
� The TH-BA1 decodes Dolby Digital, DTS, and Dolby Pro Logic II, an attractive combination not a given in the category.
� The TH-BA1 sounds terrific, with crisp highs, warm mids and a fat, punchy bass.
� The TH-BA1 is a little bit pedestrian looking, with hard edges and an overall boxy cosmetic that is not very interesting and far from modern.
� The TH-BA1 lacks a bit of speed up top, and had some honk in the midrange on occasion.
� The TH-BA1 does not provide video switching, or decode any HD audio formats.
The TH-BA1 offers a compelling value proposition in this interesting and competitive category. While it isn't exactly exciting looking (the boxy sub is really basic in profile), the feature set is more than good enough. It's hard to find Dolby Digital and DTS decoding together, especially at this very affordable price. The sound is way better than its price would indicate, and indeed surpasses quite a few of its more expensive competitors. The beefy remote is a nice touch, with intuitive controls. The wireless sub works great. Frankly, there's not much to complain about with this system...it really delivers on a lot of fronts. Cosmetics aside, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better value for the money. This category truly is about tradeoffs - move up $100 and the looks get a lot better, the features a little cuter, and - sometimes - the sound moves up a bit. At $299.95, however, the TH-BA1 sets a really high bar.