JBL Cinema 500 Home Theater Speaker System - Product Review

JBL Cinema 500 5.1 Channel Speaker System
JBL Cinema 500 5.1 Channel Speaker System. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

Original Post Date: 05/21/2011

Updated 06/13/2015: This product is no longer in production and may not be available via traditional brick-and-mortar or online retailers.

Introduction to the JBL Cinema 500

There are a lot of budget-priced home theater speaker systems to choose from. However, most of the time, what you save in money comes back to bite you in terms of poor sound quality. On the other hand, if you are looking a modestly priced loudspeaker system that sounds good to complement your HDTV, DVD and/or Blu-ray Disc player, check out the stylish, compact, and affordable, JBL Cinema 500 5.1 Channel Speaker System.

The system consists of a compact center channel speaker, four compact satellite speakers, and a uniquely-shaped 8-inch powered subwoofer.

After reading this review, for additional perspective and closer look, also check out my supplementary Photo Profile.

The Center Channel Speaker

Here are the features and specifications of the Center Channel Speaker:

1. Frequency Response: 120Hz to 20kHz.

2. Sensitivity: 89 dB (represents how loud the speaker is at a distance of one meter with an input of one watt).

3. Impedance: 8 ohms. (can be used with amplifiers that have 8-ohm speaker connections)

4. Voice-matched with dual 3-inch midrange and 1-inch-dome tweeter.

5. Power Handling: 100 watts RMS

6. Crossover Frequency: 3.7kHz (represents the point where signal higher than 3.7kHz are sent to the tweeter).

7. Enclosure Type: Sealed (Acoustic Suspension

8. Connector Type: Push-spring terminal

9. Weight: 3.2 lb

10. Dimensions: 4-7/8 (H) x 12 (W) x 3-3/8 (D) inches.

11. Mounting options: On a counter, On a wall.

12. Finish Options: Black

The Satellite Speakers

1. Frequency Response: 120Hz to 20kHz.

2. Sensitivity: 86 dB (represents how loud the speaker is at a distance of one meter with an input of one watt).

3. Impedance: 8 ohms (can be used with amplifiers that have 8-ohm speaker connections).

4. Drivers: Voice-matched with dual 3-inch midrange and 1-inch-dome tweeter.

5. Power Handling: 100 watts RMS

6. Crossover Frequency: 3.7kHz (represents the point where signal higher than 3.7kHz are sent to the tweeter).

7. Enclosure Type: Sealed (Acoustic Suspension)

8. Connector Type: Push-spring terminal

9. Weight: 3.2 lb each.

10. 11-3/8 (H) x 4-3/4 (W) x 3-3/8 (D) inches.

11. Mounting options: On a counter, On a wall.

12. Finish Options: Black

The Sub 140P Powered Subwoofer

1. Downfiring 8-inch Driver with additional down firing port.

2. Frequency Response: 32Hz - 150Hz (-6dB)

3. Power Output: 150 watts RMS (Continuous Power).

4. Phase: Switchable to Normal (0) or Reverse (180 degrees) - synchronizes in-out motion of sub speaker with in-out motion of other speakers in the system.

5. Adjustable Controls: Volume, Crossover Frequency

6. Connections: 1 set of stereo RCA Line inputs, LFE input, AC power receptacle.

7. Power On/Off: Two-way toggle (off/standby).

8. Dimensions: 19-inches H x 14-inches W x 14-inches D.

9. Weight: 22 lbs.

10. Finish: Black

For a visual look at the speakers, subwoofer, and their connections and control options, check out my supplementary JBL Cinema 500 Home Theater Speaker System Photo Profile.

Audio Performance - Center Channel Speaker

Whether listening at low or high volume levels, I found that the center speaker reproduced good distortion free sound. The quality of both movie dialog and music vocals were good, but high frequencies, seemed a little subdued. This was evident in some vocal performances, such as Norah Jones on the Come Away With Me album where the breathiness in her voice was not as pronounced as on the comparison system used.

Audio Performance - Satellite Speakers

For movies and other video programming, the satellite speakers assigned to the left, right, and surround channels delivered a wide surround sound image, free of obvious dips between speakers.

However, in a similar manner as the center channel, some of the distinct details in surround effects (glass breaking, footsteps, leaves, the wind, motions of objects they travel between speakers) seemed to be slightly subdued.

Also, I found that the satellite speakers were somewhat subdued with piano and other acoustical musical instruments. An example of this is the Norah Jones album, Come Away With Me, Al Stewart's Uncorked, and Sade's Soldier of Love.

Specific criticisms aside, the sound reproduction of the satellite speakers was not distorted, filled the room, and displayed both an immersive feel and enough directional location cues to provide a good surround sound movie experience and music listening experience for a speaker system in its design/price class.

Audio Performance - SUB 140P Powered Subwoofer

The subwoofer provided for this system (SUB 140P) had more than adequate power output across most of the low frequency, dropping off on the mid-bass end beginning at about 120Hz and on the low-frequency end at about 50 to 60 Hz.

I found the subwoofer to be a good match for the rest of the speakers, providing a good transition in the upper base range with the low-frequency range of the center and satellites. The subwoofer also provided strong bass output (in terms of volume) down to about 50Hz, but the texture of the bass response was not as tight or distinct as on the comparison system. On the other hand, the SUB 140P was not overly boomy. The 140P performed well on movie soundtracks containing prominent LFE (Low-Frequency Effects), such as Master and Commander and U571.

The JBL Cinema 500's subwoofer also provided a good bass response in most music recordings played, such as with the bass tracks in Norah Jones' Come Away With Me and Sade's Soldier of Love.

However, in another test example, the subwoofer did come up short on the famous sliding bass riff on Heart's Magic Man. This cut is an example of extremely low-frequency bass not typical in most music performances. The subwoofer volume dropped off as it approached the lowest bass frequencies present in the climax of the recording, leaving me with wanting more impact at the bottom of the slide that the SUB 140P provided. However, it must be noted that even larger, more expensive, subwoofers have trouble with the bass slide in this recording, the results of this test with the JBL Cinema 500's subwoofer was not unexpected.

What I Liked About the JBL Cinema 500 System

1. For its design and price point, the JBL Cinema 500 provides a good listening experience, especially in a small to medium size room. (in this case a 13x15 foot space). However, this system may not be the right choice if you have a large room.

2. The JBL Cinema 500 is easy to set up and use. Since both the satellite speakers and subwoofer are compact, they are easy to place and connect to your home theater receiver. In addition, their stylish design integrates well into a variety of room decor.

3. A variety of speaker mounting options. The satellite speakers can be placed on a shelf or mounted on a wall. I liked the easy slide-in shelf stands. Also, since the subwoofer employs a down-firing design, you don't have to place it in the open. However, be careful not to damage the down firing speaker cone as you move the subwoofer to find the best location.

4. All needed speaker wire, as well as a subwoofer cable, are provided. However, wall mounting hardware not included.

5. The JBL Cinema 500 is very affordable. At a suggested price of $699, this system a good value, especially for novice users, those desiring a system that sounds good without taking up a lot of space, or those looking for a system for a second room.

What I Didn't Like About the JBL Cinema 500 System

1. Vocals reproduced by the center channel speaker sounded restrained and lacked some depth, reducing their intended impact somewhat.

2. Although the subwoofer provides plenty of low-frequency power output, the bass response is not as tight or distinct as I would have preferred.

3. The subwoofer has LFE and Line audio inputs only, no standard high-level speaker connections provided.

4. Although I like the performance of the provided subwoofer, I felt the "pyramid-cone" styling was not that appealing to me.

5. The push-in speaker connectors do not fit well with thick-gauge speaker wire (I would have preferred screw-in terminals). The provided speaker wire works best with the system as far as set-up goes, but it would be great to have better ability to use thicker gauge speaker wire if desired by the user.

Final Take

Although I would, by no means, consider this an audiophile speaker system, I found that the JBL Cinema 500 Home Theater Speaker System provided an overall good surround sound listening experience for movies and stereo/surround listening experience for music that many consumers will appreciate for the price. JBL has delivered a stylish and affordable surround sound speaker system for a more mainstream user who may also be concerned about size and affordability.

The JBL Cinema 500 provides well-styled center and satellite speakers that do not overwhelm room decor. However, the "cone-pyramid" styling of the SUB 140P may look a little odd to some. The JBL Cinema 500 Home Theater Speaker System can function well as a modest home theater speaker system for the budget and/or space conscious.

The JBL Cinema 500 Home Theater Speaker System is definitely worth a look and a listen.

For full details on setting up the system, you can also download the User Manual.

For a further look at the JBL Cinema 500 5.1 Channel Speaker System, including frequency response graphs, Check out my supplementary Step-by-Step Photo Profile

For more loudspeaker system reviews and profiles, check out my continuously updated listing of Home Theater Surround Sound Speaker Packages.

Additional Hardware Used in This Review

Home Theater Receivers: Onkyo TX-SR705 and Anthem MRX700 (On review loan).

Source Components: OPPO Digital BDP-93 and OPPO DV-980H DVD Player Note: The OPPO BDP-93 and DV-980H were also used to play SACD and DVD-Audio discs.

CD-only Player sources included: Technics SL-PD888 and Denon DCM-370 5-disc CD Changers.

Loudspeaker System used for comparison: EMP Tek E5Ci center channel speaker, four E5Bi compact bookshelf speakers for left and right main and surrounds, and an ES10i 100 watt powered subwoofer.

TV/Monitor: A Westinghouse Digital LVM-37w3 1080p LCD Monitor.

Additional Level checks made using a Radio Shack Sound Level Meter

Additional Software Used in This Review

Blu-ray Discs: Across The Universe, Avatar, Hairspray, Inception, Iron Man 1&2, Kick Ass, Megamind, Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Shakira - Oral Fixation Tour, Sherlock Holmes, The Expendables, The Dark Knight, The Incredibles, and Tron: Legacy.

Standard DVDs used included scenes from the following: The Cave, House of the Flying Daggers, Kill Bill - Vol 1/2, Kingdom of Heaven (Director's Cut), Lord of Rings Trilogy, Moulin Rouge, and U571.

CDs: Al Stewart - Sparks of Ancient Light, Beatles - LOVE, Blue Man Group - The Complex, Joshua Bell - Bernstein - West Side Story Suite, Eric Kunzel - 1812 Overture, HEART - Dreamboat Annie, Lisa Loeb - Firecracker, Nora Jones - Come Away With Me, Sade - Soldier of Love.

DVD-Audio discs included: Queen - Night At The Opera/The Game, Eagles - Hotel California, and Medeski, Martin, and Wood - Uninvisible.

SACD discs used included: Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon, Steely Dan - Gaucho, The Who - Tommy.