JBL Stage A170 loudspeaker Page 2

As my "Mystery Train" obsession lifted, editor Jim Austin posted a YouTube link on Facebook that immediately rekindled my love for the most colorful and iconic band of New Orleans in general and Mardi Gras in specific: the Wild Tchoupitoulas. I went immediately to their eponymous album, featuring the Meters and the Neville Brothers, which I bought when it blasted onto the downtown art scene in 1976 (LP, Island ILPS 9360). I have played this well-recorded vinyl disc 100 times, but now I was enjoying it in streaming digital (44.1/16 FLAC, Island Records/Tidal).

Halfway through "Meet de Boys on the Battlefront," I concluded that, no matter where I placed the A170 speakers, or how much I did or did not toe them in, with Schiit's Aegir amplifier, the Stage A170s played fat through the upper bass and lower midrange. I felt a constant 3–5dB bump centered around 120Hz. It was likely my room. Or maybe the July humidity. Whatever it was, it was coloring this recording.

Overall though, the 20Wpc Aegir driving the Stage A170s sounded rich, lively, and dynamic. Beats and melodies were well presented. Midrange detail was extraordinary. The A170s stomped some sonic rump while playing "Meet de Boys . . ."—but! When I turned that rump-stomping up, the Schiit amp crapped out, clipping noticeably.

Time for more power.

Listening (Rogue Stereo 100)
This was the moment when the Stage A170s stopped sounding soft and overly full. I learned quickly that the JBLs needed more power to open up and soar. Installing the 100Wpc Rogue Stereo 100 amplifier ($3495) worked like a shot of pure oxygen to the JBL's woofers. The A170s especially liked the Stereo 100 in Ultralinear mode, which added leading-edge transient bite. They liked tubes, too, which enhanced their spatial renderings and brightened up their top octave. They liked Isabelle Faust playing Bach's D minor Chaconne in high-resolution digital, from Bach Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin, Vol. 1 (24/96 FLAC, Harmonia Mundi/Qobuz). Not once during this recording, or at any time using this amplifier, did I wish for sharper focus, greater transparency, or tighter bass. The 100Wpc Rogue delivered genuine bass punch, greater high-frequency clarity, and sharper midrange focus than the Schiit Aegir.

And on that Wild Tchoupitoulas album, there was no clipping or smearing during even the loudest rump-stompings. Music (and food) are always good in the Big Easy.

Listening (Rogue Sphinx)
When I installed Rogue Audio's overachieving 100Wpc hybrid tube/class-D Sphinx integrated amplifier ($1495), I became instantly happy. Even cold, the Sphinx made the JBLs and the 24/96 Bach Sonatas dance and swing. The Sphinx/A170's soundstage was smaller than with the Stereo 100, but images were distinct. Isabelle Faust's Bach stretched out and danced like Ballets Russes Stravinsky. To my complete surprise, switching from the Rogue's KT120 tubes to the Sphinx's class-D Hypex output module actually enhanced the ease and poetic fantasy aspects of Faust's violin mastery.

In a strict comparison to the Rogue Stereo 100, the Sphinx reduced Isabelle Faust's bow-on-strings bite. Tone colors became less pronounced. Dynamic contrasts were softened, but not by much, especially considering the price. Despite a slight softness, I really enjoyed the Rogue Sphinx with the Stage A170s. It imparted a beguiling sense of motion and scale that enhanced Led Zep, Pink Floyd, and Jimi Hendrix. The JBLs made classic rock feel good.

Folks, this is a $2000 amp, preamp, and loudspeaker system that could give me a lifetime of audio-sonic and musical satisfaction. Plus! The Rogue Sphinx has a phono stage, so you can add a $699 Pioneer PLX-1000 turntable with a $300 moving-magnet cartridge—plus a $199 AudioQuest DragonFly Red USB DAC—and be living like a high-tone audio star.

Compared to Klipsch RP-600M
Driven by the Rogue Sphinx, the Klipsch RP-600M loudspeakers ($650 + stands) sounded clean, solid, and uber-responsive—more precise and microdetailed than the combination of Sphinx and JBLs. But ultimately the Sphinx is not an amp I would choose for the Klipsch speakers, which love pure tubes.

Both of these modestly priced speakers offer high levels of nuance, tonal fidelity, and musicality, but each will appeal to a different type of audiophile. The JBL Stage A170s played loud and large-in-the-room. They played all genres of music with surprising aplomb. They made more and deeper bass—and bigger soundstages—than the Klipsch RP-600Ms. But they needed a powerful (50-200Wpc) amplifier to sound their best.

Conversely, the Klipsch RP600Ms exhibit a dynamic life and a crisp, detailed precision that eluded the JBLs. The RP600Ms never get slumpy, dumpy, or slow—not even with low-feedback, low-power amps, nor even with a 9Wpc single-ended 300B amp like the Elekit KT-8600.

Compared to Wharfedale Linton
The $1198/pair ($1498/pair with stands) Wharfedale Lintons have departed the bunker. But I will never forget their refined, elegantly detailed, full-range sound, which made me want to play records. The JBL Stage A170s reminded me a lot of those Wharfedales. Both make music that occupies the room in an open, generous way. Both have broad dispersion, allowing for a couch-sized sweet spot. Both deliver detailed, true-of-timbre midranges. Both play every genre of music in a relaxed, satisfying way.


The important differences between the Lintons and the A170s are: the Lintons generate a smoother, more balanced energy that makes violins sound richer and pianos feel more solid. And the Lintons offer a greater sense of textural refinement through the midrange. Consequently, the Lintons are especially fond of music by classical composers of British ancestry—meaning that the Lintons may appeal to a slightly more "pipe and slippers" crowd than the younger, still-up-partying JBL crowd.

Compared to Magnepan LRS
Magnepan's $650/pair LRS quasi-ribbon panel speakers are supertransparent, low-distortion, and feel Tesla-coil quick in their responsiveness. They do midrange timbre like old Quads. Their top octaves are never strained or closed in.

Unfortunately, the Magnepans develop substantially less bass and midrange energy than the JBL Stage A170s. Consequently, their soundstaging and imaging powers can seem a little diagrammatic—especially on deeply, resoundingly atmospheric programs like "Beachy Head," from Throbbing Gristle's first "easy on the ears" recording, 1979's 20 Jazz Funk Greats (24/96 FLAC, Mute/Tidal). I never understood the Sex Pistols (they seemed faux-punk), but Throbbing Gristle's Genesis P-Orridge's vocals made perfect sense to my New York City art-rock sensibilities. Even today, Gristle's music seems worldly, intelligent, and timeless.

The littlest Magnepans and the JBL Stage A170s both excel at projecting large, distinctly detailed soundstages, but the Magnepans' stage is light and bright and crisply rendered, while the Stage A170s' space is dark and deep and vaporous. This is an important difference.

On "Beachy Head," the JBLs delivered an electronically generated soundspace with an expressive, richly colorful fullness that made the rough art of Throbbing Gristle more human and poetic. The Magnepans, on the other hand, made "Beachy Head" and the same album's "Still Walking" seem detached and mechanical. On those same tracks, the Stage A170s brought singers and musicians to stage front—emphasizing rhythms and the earthbound intimacies of the composition.

If you haven't guessed already, the JBL Stage A170s favor big, dynamic, expansive music like Pink Floyd's The Wall (44.1/16 FLAC, Capital/Qobuz). The little Maggies are more intimately inclined.

What I realized
One of the systems I used for this review consisted of a Chord Qutest DAC ($1895) connected to Rogue's hybrid RP-7 line-level preamp ($4995) and my reference Rogue Stereo 100 tube power amplifier ($3495). Total cost: over $10,000 (without cables). That system sounded powerful and sophisticated. Late at night, candles lit, stemware in hand, the Stage A170s sounded like $5000 speakers.

So far this year, I have reviewed four high-value audiophile loudspeakers: the Wharfedale Linton, the Klipsch RP-600M, the Magnepan LRS, and now JBL's Stage A170. Each had its own distinct (and musically satisfying) sound character. Therefore, potential buyers must choose carefully the one that suits their temperament, room, and listening habits. To my ears, none of these loudspeakers would bring down a $10,000+ system.

Meaning: Now might be the best time ever for audiophiles on a budget.

JBL division of Harman International Industries Inc.
8500 Balboa Blvd
Northridge, CA 91329
(800) 336-4525

mtrot's picture

Looking around online, the price seems to be $600/pair.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be the tariffs are the reason for the price increase? :-) ........

invaderzim's picture

In an age where everyone and their uncle is a 'reviewer', that just talks about how great each product they get sounds, this is what a real review is. I was there listening to them with you and can tell which speakers you mentioned would likely do best with which amp I'd use.

And at the same time it is reviews like this that make me want to go out and listen to more speakers, to experience them in person. I miss the days when audio stores were all over and I could stop by and check them out. I spent a couple hours picking out the first speakers I ever bought and I still have them and use them daily, thirty years later. No online purchase has ever lasted me that long.

philipjohnwright's picture

No not the speakers, Herb. He knows his stuff for sure, it's the quality of his writing that shines through though. Words crafted like a true artisan, meaning conveyed by how he writes as much as what.

Art's quite good too :-)


AaronGarrett's picture

That might be the first time Beachy Head was ever used in an audiophile review! I hope you listened to "Hot on the Heels of Love" as well.

Ortofan's picture

... might be the Studio 590 speakers, presently on sale for $1,000/pair.


mtrot's picture

Yes, I saw that when checking on the A170!

Anton's picture

And beautiful!!!!

Zavato's picture

Definitely $600 a pair

tonykaz's picture

Your darn Toot'n!


1.) Loudspeakers are expensive to ship properly, wreaking havoc on their re-sale values. My Oldest Son just purchased a Mint Pair of OHM Walsh 2 Loudspeakers, at a Garage Sale, for $125. Another Son bought a nice pair of 3.3 Magnepans from a Pawn Shop where they collected dust for a few months.

2.) There are closets full of useful Electronics made available on eBay.

3.) High Quality Music Sources are now easily accessible for any Library Member.

4.) A dam nice "Audiophile" Grade Audio System is within reach of anyone that has a stable home and time to listen. ( not having to work 3 jobs )

5.) All for dirt Cheap!!!

I can recall when any decent System would have a Starting Price of $5,000.

6.) Now, an Apple Computer, Schiit Asgard 2, a $100 DAC and a Pair of Sennheiser HD600 headphones will reliably achieve $50,000 Big System Sound Quality. ( without the chest thumping bass, of course )

This is the "best time ever" , no doubt about it, especially compared to what we had to go thru from 1950 to 2010.

Now we even have reliable guidance from Stereophile's best writers & reviewers. We NEVAH had that before.

It's a Great Time to be an Audiophile!!!

Tony in Venice

Long-time listener's picture

"Now, an Apple Computer, Schiit Asgard 2, a $100 DAC and a Pair of Sennheiser HD600 headphones will reliably achieve $50,000 Big System Sound Quality."

Your points are mostly very well made. But: The Sennheiser HD600s don't have any deep bass at all (whereas a good pair of $100 in-ears will), and I disagree about the $100 DAC. I think it will be OK with headphones but in a setup with speakers it won't get you anywhere near the resolution, tone and timbre, bass, or soundstaging you'll need. Best regards, LTL

tonykaz's picture

Of course, I might have been exaggerating or even Extrapolating ( considering what Schiit are turning out, quality wise )

I own Sennheiser HD600s that can reproduce the ultra Low frequencies that Bob Katz puts into his Bombay Dub Orchestra Mastering . ( under 10hz ) But, of course, they don't deliver Chest thumping Bass, as you accurately describe.

You might be right about those $100 DACs but I rather doubt that the average Audiophile could sense or perceive much difference until a comparison is made directly with one of PS Audio Ted Smith DACs. Then, get out the American Express Card and kiss your next year's disposable income good-by, adios!!!


I contend that the average Citizen is a Music Loving Audiophile with only a Sound Bar and not even knowing that they have a $100 DAC built into their Music Device or/and a Car with multiple speakers as part of a $5,000 Dash package option.

Back in 1970 we needed a Stereo Speciality Shop to buy Mac Tube Amps and Bozak Loudspeakers. Now we only need an internet connection, a few dollars and 125 VAC.

Audiophiles have Won Life's Lottery.

Tony in Venice

ps. I'll help those working on getting Health Coverage as freely accessible as Music has become.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

See the review of the Devialet Expert Pro integrated amp with the SAM (speaker active management) technology, in the recent issue of TAS ........ It can be useful with passive speakers ........ It is somewhat different from the DSP currently being used in some active and with some passive speakers :-) ........

AJ's picture

Tony, Harmans other brand Infinity was making similarly well engineered/cost effective speakers in the late 90s. These JBLs are obviously a bargain.
Btw, just fyi now that you are in Venice, the Suncooast Audio Society (tampa/st pete) is host a touring Brazilian cellist and pianist - playing on hosts home Steinway baby grand this weekend. The performance will be digitally and analog recorded in situ, then played on the hosts stereo system (Einstein/Hegel/Quad ESL63/Gradient subwoofers) afterwards.
If you are interested in that sort of thing. If not, enjoy the weather ;-).

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Sony is introducing '360 Reality Audio' and Dolby is introducing 'Dolby Atmos' audio ....... Both formats are intended for audio only .... not for video and movies ....... Both formats are intended to deliver 3-D sound ...... Both formats can also be heard through headphones/IEMs .......... See S&V website :-) .........

tonykaz's picture

Can you purchase that Sony System and do a nice review for us?

We've been hearing claims like this for the last 5 Decades, haven't we.

We should inquire with Kal who just abandoned reporting on these things.


I suppose it's up to you to fill in the empty spaces, read between the lines, do an in depth investigation and write up a proper 5,000 word report/review.

I promise that I'll read each and every word and even make a few opinionated comments.

You could be our next Stereophile Reviewer. for gods sake !!

Tony in Venice

tonykaz's picture

Can you purchase that Sony System and do a nice review for us?

We've been hearing claims like this for the last 5 Decades, haven't we.

We should inquire with Kal who just abandoned reporting on these things.


I suppose it's up to you to fill in the empty spaces, read between the lines, do an in depth investigation and write up a proper 5,000 word report/review.

I promise that I'll read each and every word and even make a few opinionated comments.

You could be our next Stereophile Reviewer. for gods sake !!

Tony in Venice

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Sony is having a demonstration at their store in NYC right now from Oct 16th to Oct 20th ......... I mentioned about it to Mr.Austin in another forum ........ May be some of the Stereophile reviewers could attend that demo and tell us about it :-) .........

tonykaz's picture

I'm about one hour south of these lads via I75 interstate.

Here in Florida, from now on, I'm bicycle, which confines me to an approx. 20 mile radius, or so.

Of course I still Fly, with two nearby International Airports .

Thank you for pointing out this Musical Event.

However, I'm transportation support for the Bernie Sander's Campaign and things are beginning to get busy for all of us.


I'm anxious to subscribe to Tampa's Music scene. I'm hunting for a kindred spirit here in Venice. Fingers crossed.

Thanks for taking the time to write.

Tony in Venice

AJ's picture

Just remember, here in Florida, you're not a pedestrian or bicylist. You're a target. For cel phones driving around, with human things attached.

joemariano's picture

Mr. Reichert - Great piece as usual. Really digging the structure and how you showed what was compared to what. You are 110% correct: reviews and measurements are "meaningless abstractions" until confirmed by the listener's own experience. I hope I can hear these (and everything else you review) someday! Will you get a second Schiit Aegir to play in mono style? It could make for an interesting followup!

MFK's picture


MFK's picture

Thank you for another entertaining and informative review. You are truly one of the very best writers on audio ever. The review confirms my contemporary experience that we are in a golden age for high value hi-fi products, particularly speakers. I remember attending a presentation in the 2000s by an elite US based speaker manufacturer (still in business). The representative was advocating spending 75% of a system's cost on speakers. I wonder if he still has the same opinion. My DAC, preamp and power amp in combination are worth more than three times the price of my speakers. After many years in the hobby I've found a system that I have no intention of changing.

smileday's picture

The port tuning frequency of this JBL is quite high compared to that of another 2.5way tall-boy (not very tall indeed) speaker reviewed by Stereophile, Spendor D7.

Lack_of_credibility's picture

Surprised that JA didn't mention the sawtooth response from 10k to 20kHz. Can't imagine that helps the speaker's tonality.

John Atkinson's picture
Lack_of_credibility wrote:
Surprised that JA didn't mention the sawtooth response from 10k to 20kHz. Can't imagine that helps the speaker's tonality.

I did write that the on-axis response peak at 16.2kHz is a couple of kHz higher than my high-frequency cutoff, but may well be heard as a slight whistle by younger listeners. The JBL's rise in response in the top octave is to high in frequency to affect tonality but will probably lead to an increased sense of air or spaciousness.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

tbirdron's picture

B&h in NYC sold me a pair for $423.