JBL Synthesis 1400 Array BG loudspeaker Page 3

The 1400 Array featured an impressive accuracy of midrange timbre. It allowed me to hear subtle differences among individual members of choirs, as well as differentiate the characteristic reediness of different orchestral wind instruments. It was easy to appreciate the vocal registers of different singers in the all-male Turtle Creek Chorale in John Rutter's Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace, from Requiem (CD, Reference RR-57CD). José Carreras's clear tenor in the Kyrie from Ariel Ramirez's Misa Criolla, in the recording led by José Luis Ocejo (CD, Philips, 420 955-2), sounded effortless, immediate, and natural, and distinctly different from the chorus behind Carreras, which seemed to float from wall to wall. The solo bassoon that opens Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, in the recording of Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic (SACD/CD, Deutsche Grammophon 00289 477 6198), was unusually rich, sweet, and captivating. In "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," from the When Harry Met Sally . . . soundtrack (CD, Columbia CK 45319), Harry Connick Jr.'s voice floated three-dimensionally between the two speakers, sounding more realistic and natural than I'd ever heard it before, even through more expensive speakers. There was no sign of nasality or throatiness. The vibes accompaniment to "The Mooche," from the Jerome Harris Quintet's Rendezvous (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2), had unusual translucence and extension.

The 1400 Array BG also had terrific treble extension, with no sign of dryness, grain, or dulling, when I listened to Dave Samuel's vibraphone introduction to "Unspoken Words," from Joe Beck's The Journey (CD, DMP DMP-211); or the utterly natural, transparent, metallic sizzle of the ride cymbal that begins "The Mooche," from the Jerome Harris CD; or the shimmering, translucent chimes that open H. Owen Reed's La Fiesta Mexicana, from Howard Dunn and the Dallas Wind Symphony's Fiesta (CD, Reference RR-38CD).

The 1400 Arrays' imaging and retrieval of ambience were equally good. I could make out the many layers of voices of the Turtle Creek Chorale in the Rutter piece. And when I played the L.A. Four's Going Home (Japanese CD, Ai Music 3 2JD-10043), the JBLs laid out the group as follows: Shelly Manne's drum kit at rear center, Ray Brown's bowed bass at front center, Bud Shank's alto sax and flute to extreme right, and Laurindo Almeida's guitar to the left. Willie Nelson's cover of Bob Dylan's "What Was It You Wanted," from Nelson's Across the Borderline (CD, Columbia CK 52752), benefited from the recording's deep, wide soundstage: Debra Dobkin's voice was off to the right rear, and Jim Keltner's drums and percussion at rear center.

Hearing Suzanne Vega sing "Tom's Diner" a cappella on her Solitude Standing (CD, A&M CD5136) was a revelation—the speakers disappeared to reveal a floating, three-dimensional, strikingly realistic and natural-sounding voice. With other recordings, the 1400 Array's resolution let me hear and understand all the words sung by female singers, even through loud instrumental accompaniment. I could easily discern the lyrics faintly sung by Sinead O'Connor in "Don't Give Up," with Willie Nelson, on Across the Borderline. And Emmylou Harris's birdlike voice pierced the throbbing, churning bass synth and kick drum in the opening of the apocalyptic "Deeper Well," from her album Spyboy (CD, Eminent 25001-2).

JBL's Synthesis 1400 Array BG impressed me with its three-dimensional imaging, impressive transparency, ambience retrieval, capacity to "disappear," and fine timbral detail. It gave my similarly priced reference speakers, the electrostatic Quad ESL-989s, a run for their money for its excellent balance across the audioband, its good timbral retrieval, and its three-dimensional imaging—and it exceeded the bass-shy Quad in its reproduction of pipe organ and percussion and its ability to play much louder. On the other hand, the Quads excelled in soundstage depth and resolution of musical detail. I was also impressed with the JBL's naturalness and lack of distortion, qualities I'd heretofore thought were the exclusive province, in this price bracket, of Quads. I even grew to like the 1400 Array's unusual appearance.

Because of these excellent qualities, the Synthesis 1400 Array BG deserves a top-rank recommendation in Stereophile's "Recommended Components." The JBL has the smooth frequency response, the bass extension, the wide soundstaging, and the unique ability to render voices that I've heard only from far more expensive loudspeakers. Even with a retail price of $11,500/pair, the 1400 Arrays' width of soundstage, wide dynamic range, and accuracy in reproducing realistic male voices—all as good as I've heard in my listening room from other more expensive floorstanders—makes them an audiophile bargain. No wonder Greg Timbers is so proud of them.

JBL Consumer Products
1718 W. Mishawaka Road
Elkhart, IN 46517
(516) 594-0300

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.