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The sound of Synthesis
JBL Synthesis is a one-stop-shop for extraordinary home cinema audio. Adam Rayner investigates
any years ago, I was lucky enough to get a demo of early JBL Synthesis technology. It was the era when the first Jurassic Park movie was all the rage, and I recall with great clarity just how excited JBL was about its £27,000 system. The PR man gleefully screened the sequence where the huge T-Rex skeleton falls out of the ceiling; there is this tiny moment when the bracket the skeleton is chained to snaps. He was as evangelically delighted by this absurd level of pin-sharp detail as I was, and when we met again recently for this exclusive audition of JBL Home Cinema Choice
Synthesis’ newest hardware, he was chuffed to find I recalled the JP clip some ten years later. Does that make us a pair of sad gits? Possibly... For those who don’t know, Synthesis is intended to be JBL’s most ‘signature’ statement product line, and there’s a large slice of Hollywood aristocracy that swears by it. The line comprises amplifiers, passive subwoofers, loudspeakers and a brace of processors, all arrayed into no fewer than nine ranges of kit. They vary in size, might and looks, but the whole lot can be married and blended range-from-range to fit with whatever
Access all areas 3 room size and channel set up your cinema requires. And the big deal is that all the
speakers are voice-matched to perfection and have enough power handling to work with all the amplifiers. Furthermore, all the systems are tuned by the Harman Audio Test System (HATS). Essentially, when you install a JBL Synthesis system, you also get the services of a JBL factory-trained technician to fine-tune the array to your room. This means that your system will be bespoke to you (as permutations and combinations are vast) but that the performance is guaranteed.
Scaleable systems In a room at JBL’s UK distributors CSE in York, HCC got to experience a £68,000 system (not counting the screen and projector), yet this was only part-way up the ladder. A Synthesis setup starts at around £35,000 and can be scaled until you have spent £210,000 at its priciest. What we heard was a front stage of Project Array 1400s for L&R, with a Project Array 880 centre channel and four Performance Series PT800 surfacemounted surround speakers.
A A: A JBL Synthesis system is driven by the brand’s own amps and processors, ensuring a perfect match of brains and brawn B: The Project Array 1400 left/right speakers feature a distinctive horn that disperses HF effects from a 3in compression driver and 1in UHF compression driver C: This setup houses the LCR enclosures behind the projector screen, and places a subwoofer in each corner of the room
There were also two 18in and two 15in passive subwoofers, run from full-sized rack amplification under the processors. That made it a 7.4 channel system, which, incidentally, provides enough THX-approved bass to make explosions visceral and the very concrete structure of the building at CSE shake under your feet to an estimated 2.6 on the Richter scale! At the heart of these systems are the electronics. Our setup utilised JBL Synthesis’ SDP-40HD processor, along with the two-box digital equaliser/crossover device called the SDEC 4500. Between them, and a serious eight-microphone auto-EQ software system with real power and excellent resolution, you get a magnificently accurate room correction, which makes this stuff sing. Power came from three S820 stereo amps driven bridged into each of the three front enclosures at some 800W apiece, with two more S820s to give the subwoofers some grunt. Then, a six-channel S5165 amp was called upon to drive the four PT800s lining the rear and side walls. Whereas the PT800s look kind of cute with their grilles off, revealing their inverted dome
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Lovely JBL-y Tracing the blue-blooded lineage of the first speaker used in film Back in 1928, James B Lansing, who gave his initials to JBL loudspeakers, was the designer of the speaker used in Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer, the very first ‘talkie’. Since then, JBL has remained speaker royalty and its hardware used by all kinds of Hollywood luminaries both in production and in theatres.
D: The passive S1S-EX subwoofer packs a massive 18in cone underneath a threesome of ports. The £68,000 setup HCC auditioned uses two of ‘em! E: JBL Synthesis’ PT800 surrounds are wall-mountable enclosures. Take the grille off to get a look at the three-way driver array
What you might not know is that it’s also so deeply ensconced within the Disney Theme Parks organisation that merely wearing a JBL T-shirt will get you treated as though you are a valued technician. In fact, the sound design used in Disney World is incredible, from the Parade soundtrack and the ambient music to the different sound systems on the rides. But it is in movie houses and upon huge rock concert stages that the magic really happens, and JBL has been a leader in big, bad professional audio for an age. Its speakers may have began as plain ugly boxes, but in time, pretty veneers and shiny finishes have been applied and the professional milieu tamed enough to make the big cat into, well not a kitten, but at least something that won’t literally eat you alive... Home Cinema Choice
access all areas 5 titanium cones, the sadly hidden-behind-thescreen Project Array enclosures are big, bad and purposeful-looking, with that typical professional audio feel of a gangster dressed up in a smart suit. The logo plate and the lustrous look are gorgeous, but they still appear dangerous, as do the plain rectangular subwoofers. These have large ports and ribbed paper cones in the front that seem a bit old school, but nowadays they have insane motors on their behinds. Having been sensible and done all my notetaking first (just in case I came over all excited and useless once I’d had my demo) it was finally time to fire up some multichannel material. JBL chose a scene from Pixar’s Ratatouille – the intro sequence with the old lady with the shotgun – which is probably what I’d have picked, too. The first thing I noticed from the Synthesis setup was an incredibly taut yet unstrained snap and attacking front edge to all the bangs, crashes and tinkles of glass. Then there was its breathtaking dynamism (or ability to get suddenly louder) and absurd panache when resolving detail in the midst of mayhem. All things a home cinema system demands, in fact.
Then, when the sequence moves onto a sewer as the rats all escape, the watery noises and placement were mind-blowing – the sheer wetness of the effect had me ducking. It must be in the performance of the high reaching compression drivers, called Ultra High Frequency transducers, that makes this happen. All I know is it made every hair on my body stand up.
And as for the bass end of the system – well, it was stupefying.
Massive and effortless in scale, yet tight and visceral, so that the whole experience had the professional bent of a ‘real’ high-end commercial cinema, but different. That difference was that it was simply better...
Top of the pile If you can afford one, a JBL Synthesis system is at the very top end of home cinema audio. The build, technology and level of service provided is first-rate, and the overall experience of hearing one of these setups in full flow is phenomenal. This isn’t about bird song and tinkling streams – it’s more soaring eagles’ cries and thunderous waterfalls
➜ Specifications JBL Synthesis 1400 Project Array BG L/R (£4,250 each) Drive units: 1 x JBL 14in bass; 1 x 3in compression driver; 1 x 1in compression driver Enclosure: 3-way ported Frequency response: 32Hz-40kHz Sensitivity: 89dB Power handling: 10-300W Dimensions: 394(w) x 1181(h) x 483(d)mm Weight: 52kg Connections: Binding posts JBL Synthesis 880 Project Array BG centre (£2,800) Drive units: 2 x JBL 8in bass; 1 x 3in midrange; 1 x 1in compression driver Enclosure: 3-way sealed Frequency response: 70Hz-40kHz Sensitivity: 90dB Power handling: 10-200W Dimensions: 730(w) x 311(h) x 279(d)mm Weight: 21kg Connections: Binding posts JBL Synthesis PT800 Performance Series surrounds (£1,250 each) Drive units: 1 x JBL 8in bass; 1 x 4in midrange; 1 x 1in tweeter Enclosure: 3-way sealed Frequency response: 80Hz-22kHz Sensitivity: 91dB Power handling: 50-250W Dimensions: 343(w) x 610(h) x 152(d)mm Weight: 17kg Connections: Binding posts JBL Synthesis S2S subwoofer (£1,400) Drive units: 1 x 15in bass Enclosure: Front-firing quad-ported Frequency response: 25-80Hz Sensitivity: 94dB Dimensions: 533(w) x 699(h) x 401(d)mm Weight: 50kg Connections: Binding posts
F F: CSE’s audition room features luxury seating and acoustic treatments to match the high-end hardware G: With its grille in place, the surround speaker blends in seamlessly with the décor
JBL Synthesis S1S-EX Everest subwoofer (£2,200) Drive units: 1 x 18in bass Enclosure: Front-firing triple ported Frequency response: 20Hz-200Hz Sensitivity: 97dB Dimensions: 533(w) x 876(h) x 559(d)mm Weight: 58.6kg Connections: Binding posts Five x JBL S820 Amplifiers and 1 x S5165 Amplifier SDP-40HD system processor SDEC 4500 for digital EQ and crossover Cables by Straightwire
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Exclusive look at JBL's flagship home cinema speakers, from Home Cinema Choice magazine