JBL Synthesis 1400 Array BG loudspeaker Page 2

The horn module is packed separately from the bass enclosure—JBL is concerned that the bulky horn might be damaged or snapped off in shipping—but the cartons contained everything I needed to put them together: for each speaker, one short and two long Allen-head bolts, an Allen-head screwdriver, a logo plate, a rubber hole plug for the rear horn-mounting bolt, and four metal coasters to protect wooden floors from the speaker's spiked feet. Following the manual, I cradled the horn module with its horn lying along my forearm, and connected its signal line's plug into the jack atop the bass enclosure. I then lowered the horn onto the rear L-bracket, while lining up the front two mounting holes inside the mouth of the horn with the holes in the enclosure. Then I inserted the two long bolts into those holes in the front of the horn. The perpendicular part of the L-bracket was secured to the rear of the horn structure with the short bolt inserted just below the midrange driver's ribbed motor housing.

Assembly required two people: one to hold a flashlight so that the mounting holes could be aligned, and the other to guide the horn module into position. It took some time to balance the horn and find the correct alignment at which to secure the bolts—aligning holes drilled through two heavy, black structures of different shapes requires a good flashlight. But when we were done, the horn was precisely and rigidly attached to the bass enclosure.

I positioned the 1400 Arrays, without spikes or grilles, 5' from the front wall, 6' apart (measured from the tweeter centers), and toed in 45° toward my listening chair, which was 7' away. PSC double-ribbon speaker cables connected them in turn to several solid-state amplifiers: a Bryston stereo 3B-SST2, two Bryston 7B-SST2 monoblocks (640W into 8 ohms), and a Mark Levinson No.334 (125Wpc into 8 ohms). The 1400 Arrays allowed me to hear these amplifiers' sonic qualities: the No.334's three-dimensional transparency, the Bryston 7B-SST2s' lease-busting bass dynamics, and the Bryston 3B-SST2's sweetness.

Breaking In and Listening
The Synthesis 1400 Array BG proved capable of 110dB peak sound-pressure levels at my listening chair. To assess its low-frequency extension, I measured the levels of the low-frequency warble tones on Stereophile's Test CD 3 (Stereophile STPH006-2) with an ATM SLI-100 sound-level meter resting on the arm of my listening chair. The low-frequency warble tones were audible and pitch-perfect from 160 down to 35Hz (±2dB), the output falling off gradually, by –5dB, down to 30Hz. I heard no chuffing or wind noise from the rear port.

I then played the channel phase and pink-noise tracks from Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2), while doing comparative listening in the nearfield (7' away) and farfield (16' away). The sound of the pink noise grew duller when I stood up in the "sit down, stand up" test, even though the 1400 Array's tweeter was 45" off the floor; ie, 8" higher than the level of my ears when I'm seated. Once again seated, however, I heard no changes in the pink-noise pattern, even when I shifted from a slouching to an upright position.

Placing my hand on a sidewall of one 1400 Array, I felt a mild buzzing sensation at 260 and 130Hz as I played the chromatic half-step sinewaves on track 19 of Editor's Choice—but I heard no ill effects from these resonances when I played Chris Jones's fretless-bass segment in "Blizzard Limbs," from Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2).

Once I'd finished the initial set-up, I broke in the 1400 Array BGs by playing my favorite rhythmic selections: David Bowie singing "Putting Out Fire," from the Cat People soundtrack (CD, MCA MCAD-1498); didgeridoo music from David Hudson's Didgeridoo Spirit (CD, Indigenous Australia, IA2003D); and Fleetwood Mac's The Dance (CD, Reprise 46702-2).

As the bass warble tests indicated, the 1400 Array BG had good bass extension. Its 14" woofer produced full room lock with sustained organ pedal, as heard during the Introduction of Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra, performed by Erick Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops, on Time Warp (CD, Telarc CD-80106), and played the pipe organ's sustained low C (32Hz) that ends James Busby's performance of Herbert Howells' Master Tallis's Testament, from Pipes Rhode Island (CD, Riago 101). Both selections shook the air in my room and rattled loose radiator panels. The JBLs revealed the senses of suspense and dread created by the synthesizer in "Assault on Ryan's House," from James Horner's Patriot Games soundtrack (CD, RCA 66051-2). Moreover, the speakers developed strong pace and rhythm, as heard in Tony Mangurian's and Victor Indizzo's drum work in "Darkness on the Face of the Earth," from Willie Nelson's Teatro (CD, Island 314-524-548-2), as well as the steam-pressured kick-drum drive that turns the seemingly light "Everywhere I Go," from the same album, into a sizzling, churning performance.

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Jimmy_G's picture

It would be interesting to compare how much of Project Array's magic that Mr. Timbers was able to distil into his curious Studio 5 series as both designs feature large bi-radial horns and trapezoidal cabinets.  

Full disclosure, my own curiosity got the better of me last January and I purchased the 530s for my smaller 2 channel system and I haven't found reason to take them out yet. I figured that anyone implementing a compression driver mated to a horn, and sensitivity isn't the goal, has a design that certainly warrants a listen.  

I haven't had the opportunity to listen to any of the Synthesis Project systems yet so I've always been left wondering.  

Brodie_McChoad's picture

This is a little late, but since your comment was also way after the 1400 array review, I figured I'd leave this here for posterity.

I recently had a set of long-term Studio 590s, the largest in the Studio series. I also recently acquired a pair of the US-made Project Array 1400s which I have connected in the same system that once powered the Studio 590s.

I can tell you that there are similarities and of course differences. JBL has made so many different horn loaded loudspeakers and compression driver units over the recent years and not all of them were designed by Timbers and Moro. For example the Synthesis LS40/60/80s were designed by a different team and IMHO they were inferior to the Timbers/Moro designs. Of course I'm sure that some members of the engineering teams were shared among these projects, but I'm going off of what I've been told and what I've read at places like Lansing Heritage. In any case, onto the similarities:

The Studio 5xx series, having the 1" compression driver in the bi-radial horn performs very well on voices - specifically female voices, with a great sense of presence and holographic imaging whereby the voice seems to be in the room with you. Also, on the larger 5xx series, namely the 580 and 590, the bass is strong but controlled - as is the case with the Array 1400s. Without taking room acoustics or OCD placement issues into account, the bass can be felt in the chest sitting directly in front of the speakers, no matter how far they are away from a wall. There is also the same upper high end "sparkle" or "sizzle" in the Studio 5xx speakers as there is in the Project Arrays. This was NOT the case with the Synthesis LSxx previously mentioned. They sounded veiled. Also, as with the Arrays, the 580s/590s seem to be able to accept an unlimited amount of clean amplifier power. There is almost zero compression in any frequency range at extremely high listening volumes - for example voices and higher range percussion instruments sound as pronounced and airy, but louder, as they do at lower volumes. The Arrays obviously have greater extension and air, however - and are less fatiguing, even though the Studio series is far from fatiguing even during long listening sessions.

The differences/drawbacks of the Studio 5xx compared to the Project array are largely in the compression drivers and crossovers. The Arrays are just so relaxed, natural and capable across the entire midrange - treble frequency band. The 590s were pretty good, but this is another level. Also, the Arrays image much better and have a much deeper soundstage with greater separation and precision of individual instruments - at all volumes. Bass is very similar, due to the similar surface area comprised by the two systems' woofers, but the Arrays, with the 14" professional grade woofer, simply move more air more efficiently. I should note that the driver quality on the 590s is very good, almost professional actually. The magnets, voicecoils and baskets are substantial, and the 590s are about 3dB more efficient than the Array 1400s, so the differences in bass are not that noticeable in most listening rooms and moderate volumes.

However, the Studio 580s/590s are constructed of thinner MDF and as a result, the cabinets are susceptible to more vibration/coloration. Given the size of the 590s, though, it's a VERY slight difference and once again very difficult to make out on most material.

Finally, the perceived weaknesses of each speaker: lower midrange performance. In some respects the 590s had a more satisfying tone, where the 1400 Arrays are more neutral and natural. But it's like there's a slight chunk of the spectrum missing in both speakers, moreso with the Array 1400s. It's hardly perceivable. In fact, in general, as the price difference would obviously indicate, the build quality in the Studio line is much lower than in the near-flagship Project Arrays. The Studio series build quality - thickness of materials, finish, etc. - may not matter as much on smaller units like the Studio 530s, but when you have a set of speakers the size of the 590s in your living room, they better look damn good or they'd be better suited to a teenager's garage apartment or fraternity house dancefloor.

Interestingly enough, the rumor from inside has it that Timbers was working on a successor series to the Studio 5 line before he was laid off. The Studio 5xx series is a damn fine approximation to the class-leading sound of the Project Arrays, which themselves are a very nice approximation to the Project Everests (I have not heard the K2). Then there's price - including on the used market. IF I'm looking at spending about $1-2K on a set of floorstanders and I am a fan of the JBL sound or compression drivers, then I strongly consider the 580s/590s over JBL products like the LS60/80 or even the s3900s and s4700s, which will set you back at least $3K more per pair - used. You get most of the best parts of the high-end JBL sound in the Studio 5xx series, and the Project Array/K2/Everest, IMHO, represents the only logical step up (not considering the actual "home studio monitor" line of the 4365/4367 etc.) from the Studio 5xx series. I just don't think you're getting your money's worth "upgrading" from the Timbers/Moro designed Studio 5xx speakers to the other synthesis products that aren't the "Project _____" or studio monitor series.

Hope this helps, even if it's a bit behind. I love the sound of both the 590s and the Array 1400s, and both have that "it" factor with the upper sizzle and lower kick that gets you tapping your foot and occasionally gives you goosebumps. The same CANNOT be said for the other synthesis speakers I've heard.

Reciprocal's picture

You have accurately described the legacy JBL Sound, speaker colorations, uneven frequency response, speaker resonances. The new JBL is the sound of a speaker with no "it factor," no sound of its own, no special upper sizzle nor lower kick. Dr. Floyd Toole's research has proven in double blind listening that speakers targeting flat, even response, spatially, temporally and time aligned, according to the JBL anechoic testing rather than by a designer or committee, and confirmed with consistent wins in double blind listening, hence Revel Salon, JBL M2, 708P/I. The LS80 Synthesis designed by Charles Sprinkle, credited by Dr. Floyd Toole as one of the architects of the M2, is designed with modern criteria, that the best speaker has no inherent sound signature of it's own, no "it factor." It contains the more powerful 176ND two inch pure titanium diamond patterned diaphragm compression driver with neodymium motor and ferrofluid-cooled rectangular edge wound aluminum voice coil that operates beyond its resonance limit yet does not launch into your awareness with any kind of "sizzle" not present in the source. The other drivers are similarly spec'd of higher quality than Studio 590 series including the crossover network, drivers and cabinet; speaker weighs 85 lbs compared to 32 lbs for Studio 590 which is actually quite larger.

So don't let your bias drive luddite rhetoric. In professional reviews, the LS80 have been acclaimed subjectively and tested well objectively. If you were able to properly audition in JBL's spin-o-rama double blind listening chamber, automated random shuffling among speakers with neither you nor the tester knowing what's playing, it's been proven that neutral speakers win the challenge. Few get that opportunity, not you and not the Lansing Heritage Forum group either. I know, I was one of the luddites amply endowed with enough JBL sparkle and kick to punt the 590's out of the end zone. The Modern JBL speaker doesn't have the nostalgia of the old butt kickers but they are better because the sound you get doesn't include speaker colorations. Win for Floyd Toole and Charles Sprinkle, as well recording engineers, studio mixers and masters, live pro sound, commercial and home theatre, and audiophile enthusiasts.

Brodie_McChoad's picture

But Greg Timbers and Jerry Moro designed the Studio 590 (and its drivers) and the former is on record stating that the speakers were "something special"....in fact it is rumored that they were working on a successor "Studio" series at the time that Harman was acquired by Samsung and their division was moved to New York.

The LS line is in no way comparable to the M2 monitor which costs well over $10K/pair and requires bi-amplification and/or extensive in-room equalization to sound as intended. What I didn't mention in my previous review is that I also have a pair of Project Array 1400s and access to a pair of Project Everest 6700s which I have also compared to the 590s and LS60s. I can tell you that the Arrays and Eversests have more in common with the sound profile of the Studio 590 than they do with the LS series. I have no idea why but it's true. And the frequency response of the 590 is very flat, actually. See the test results here:


It is not correct to refer to one driver as "more powerful" than another. Of course the lower of the two high frequency drivers has a larger diaphragm than the single compression driver found on the Studio 5XX line, but the "super tweeter" simply cannot keep up and does not project the frequencies above 11kHz into the room adequately. All magnets are neodymium now (unless they are AlNiCo in the older JBLs) and the titanium diaphragm is not inherently superior to the "Teonex" film used in the 590's compression driver, in fact titanium breaks up much sooner than aluminum if I remember correctly. All have ferrofluid as well. So the driver technology and construction in the LS80's lower tweeter is not inherently different from or superior to the compression driver in the 590. That's right I said "lower" as the LS80 actually uses a small polyester film driver for the true high frequency reproduction. It's not very good at its job.

There is no need to pretend you're some kind of audio genius if you enjoy the sound of the LS60/LS80, but my ears and the ears of numerous other comments thread participants do not lie. The LS60/80 is a good speaker for tamer music like classical but it cannot reach the dynamic heights of the Studio 5XX series. I don't think you know what the term "luddite" means, so please think twice about using it in the future.

https://www.whathifi.com/jbl/studio-580/review (same speaker, but smaller)

There are plenty of reviews to back me up. Timbers himself has stated that the driver quality in the Studio 5XX was top notch and that they should last a very long time. The only area where the LS60/80 is superior is in cabinet construction. But this was a mass market speaker as well, sold primarily in Japan and Europe and available in the U.S. on clearance for about $300/pair (yes, that's the LS80 - do some research and you'll see I'm correct). Again, though, I trust my EARS and 40 years of listening to high fidelity audio systems over the



In Post #86 Greg Timbers replies to a question about the Studio 5XX series:

"Other than being a face only a Mother could love, the Studio series is really great sounding stuff. The little compression driver is amazing and Jerry Moro did a great job on the woofers. We had them made in China, but the supplier implemented Jerry's design. We had a jerk for an Industrial Designer at the time and his taste was all in his mouth. I did what I could to salvage the acoustics of the design and fortunately, they work as well as stuff costing 2 or 3 times the money. The fit and finish isn't so great but buy them for the sound. They use really good components so they should last a very long time."

You said: "...speaker weighs 85 lbs compared to 32 lbs for Studio 590 which is actually quite larger."
Wrong. The 590 is bigger than the LS80 and it weighs approximately 70 lbs compared to about 84lbs for the LS80. There is not a substantial difference in the dimensions or weight.

You also said: "So don't let your bias drive luddite rhetoric. In professional reviews, the LS80 have been acclaimed subjectively and tested well objectively."

OK, then please back that up with some examples of professional reviews of the LS60 or LS80. I would love to see some links.

P.S. I also think you're not being truthful in your claim that you've been able to audition the 590s vs. the LS series in a blind anechoic chamber. LOL you're full of it. The LS60/LS80 is just not a very "fun" speaker to listen to. The high end is veiled and it does not convey energy into the listening room as effectively as the Studio 580/590 from my own personal and other peoples' anecdotal experience in the real world - which is what matters. Again, please stop using the word luddite if you don't understand its meaning.

Finally, you neglected to discuss the Array 1400s I mentioned. What do you make of the fact that the 1400s have more in common with the sound of the 590s than they do with the LS80? I think we can agree that the Project Array 1400 uses superior drivers to both, can we not?

Brodie_McChoad's picture

Or that they were unreasonably "hot" in the treble region. But they are a better rock'n roll and jazz speaker than the LS60/80 is. I use the words "sparkle" and "sizzle" only to describe program material that I already KNOW has a pronounced treble band - cymbals, air, bells, etc. The Studio 590 and the Array 1400s both sound better on that music than the LS80.

Also please note, as I mentioned above, the LS series makes use of the compression driver more as a midrange than a tweeter with a small polyester film diaphragm being responsible for the high end. I found that this driver was not capable of projecting the treble into the room either on- or off-axis as effectively as the compression drivers in the 590 or Array 1400s. You conveniently neglected to mention that particular driver, which I am almost positive is not of the same quality as the compression driver in the 590 and is not used in any other JBL high end speaker systems that I can think of.

P.S. Floyd Toole worked with Greg Timbers and Jerry Moro it appears. I wonder if he'd agree with you.