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.

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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.