Price (RRP): $2,999
Reviewer: Thomas Bartlett
We frequently prattle on about making sure that all the loudspeakers in your 5.1 channel system match, otherwise you are going to have trouble achieving really good surround sound. An excellent way of doing that is with the JBL ES800 Cinepack surround loudspeaker system. Because this system demonstrates nicely just how good a reasonably priced, well-designed surround speaker system can sound.
A big part of the way to make all the speakers sound the same – even when they are obviously very different in size and shape – is to use the same tweeter in each. That’s what JBL has done here, except that there are two tweeters for each speaker. A 19mm titanium dome tweeter carries all the sound from about 3000 hertz up to 12,000 hertz, and then an ‘ultra-high frequency transducer’ takes over, extending the upper range to 40,000 hertz.
This provides excellent matching between the speakers, and also allows them to take some advantage of the formidable new sound standards available on Blu-ray, some of which can extend the high frequency response even beyond 40,000 hertz.
The small ES10 speakers do the surround sound job in a compact wall-mounted enclosure. They have the twin tweeter assembly next to, rather than above, their bass/midrange driver. There are wall mounting fixtures on the back and their twin bass reflex ports are actually on the top of the enclosures.
That keeps them nicely out of sight, but I do wonder about an accumulation of dust.
The front stage is covered by the ES80 floorstanders. These are tall and, unusually these days, have a dedicated midrange driver (which covers from 700 to 3600 hertz).
The 300 watt ES150P subwoofer has its enclosure tuned by a large downwards-firing port (pre-attached feet give this the clearance to breathe).
There were two especially notable things about this system. First were the wonderfully high volume levels it achieved with those movies that called for it. The system – and especially the front three speakers – combined the twin virtues of absorbing plenty of power, and making effective use of it. The net result of this was the availability of masses of volume.
The other was the excellent tonal matching between the five loudspeakers. The ‘steering’ of sound around my room was excellent, with razor sharp images to the left, right, rear and front. In other words, the speakers meshed together superbly to produce a full 360 degrees of sound field, rather than sound seeming to come from just five specific points.
This was especially revealed by the Blu-ray version of I Am Legend. One word describes the aural experience with this movie and these speakers: ‘full’. Vampires, atmosphere, whatever, it was entirely encompassing and convincing, and fully supported at the bottom end by the ES150P subwoofer.
As often happens in my room, the automatic calibration system of my home theatre receiver wanted to declare the front floorstanding loudspeakers to be ‘Small’. I overrode it, but it probably would not have made a great deal of difference because the subwoofer had plenty of capacity to keep up with the rest of the system.
Three thousand dollars isn’t, I suppose, exactly cheap for a home theatre speaker system. But that isn’t an unreasonable amount to spend on the visual interface to the world of movies – aka the display. So match your large LCD or plasma TV – or front projector – with a speaker system like this one. It will provide the other half of the real home theatre experience.