JBL Synthesis 1400 Array BG loudspeaker

JBL was founded 60 years ago, by Jim Lansing. Its history has been amply detailed in the book The JBL Story: 60 Years of Audio Innovation, by the late John Eargle's (JBL Professional, 2006). Although it is primarily known for its pro-audio loudspeakers, the Californian company has offered a steady stream of high-performance domestic loudspeakers to the home market, including the 1971 Paragon, the L100 bookshelf speaker, and the JBL 250Ti floorstander, all of which remained in JBL's catalog for 20 years. In 1990, JBL produced the Project K2 S9500 flagship speaker for the Japanese high-end market. The K2 Project culminated in the $60,000/pair DD55000 Everest system, with its cross-firing asymmetric horns, and the subject of this review, the Synthesis 1400 Array BG, was a spin-off from the K2 project. It features horn-loaded midrange and tweeters to attain a flat response out to a claimed 48kHz.

The use of exposed, vertically oriented, constant-directivity horns for greater accuracy of reproduction at high listening levels has long been a staple of JBL installations in concert venues around the world. When JBL's chief systems designer, Greg Timbers—see —applied vertical horns to the design of speakers for the home, he found that they increased the three-dimensionality of the speakers' soundstaging. However, as Japanese audio critics dislike the appearance of vertical horns, the horns were arrayed horizontally in the flagship K2 models. But, as JBL's Synthesis line was designed for the US market, Timbers was free to stand the midrange horn up again: it stands atop the 1400 Array BG, though the tweeter is still loaded by a horizontal horn. When I first saw the Synthesis 1400 Array BG ($11,500/pair), I found its vertical horn somewhat disconcerting. It reminded me of a Dr. Seuss character—which made me curious to hear how the speaker sounded.

Unique design
The Synthesis 1400 Array BG is a three-way, 115-lb speaker that stands 46" tall, 15" wide, and 19" deep. Each of its three drivers was developed in-house and is manufactured by JBL. Frequencies from 8 to 40kHz are handled by a horn-loaded 1" titanium-dome tweeter with an edge-wound voice-coil of aluminum wire and a 2" neodymium motor assembly, mounted in the upper lip of a large, prominent, vertically oriented, constant-directivity midrange horn made of JBL's SonoGlass, a mineral-loaded, high-density resin material. This has a claimed dispersion pattern of 60° horizontal by 30° vertical. The midrange driver is a compression type using a 3" aluminum dome treated with JBL's Aquaplas, which is a damping material. This driver also has an edge-wound voice-coil of aluminum wire and a neodymium motor assembly, and handles frequencies from 8kHz down to 750Hz.

These two compression drivers and their respective horns are mounted above the woofer, which uses a 14" cone of Aquaplas-treated pulp and is mounted in the speaker's trapezoidal bass enclosure. The woofer has a rubber surround, a 4" edge-wound voice-coil, and a ferrite motor assembly; it handles frequencies from 750 down to 32Hz. It is loaded with a flared 4" port on the cabinet's rear. According to Greg Timbers, the 1400 Array was designed to be heavy, solid, and free of vibration. The low-frequency enclosure had to be a trapezoid in order to allow the horn module to sit as low as possible, to reduce the distance between the woofer and the drive-units above it. The horn module is attached securely to the top of the woofer enclosure using three Allen-head bolts, the front two of which are concealed by the JBL nameplate.

The crossover network comprises separate circuit boards for the high- and low-frequency sections, these mounted in different places within the low-frequency enclosure to minimize interference between the filter sections. The acoustic crossover slopes are fourth-order (24dB/octave).

Biamping and/or biwiring is made possible by four sizable, machined, five-way binding posts set below the reflex port, near the bottom of the rear panel. The 1400 Array is shipped with flat metal jumpers placed across each pair of terminals for standard two-stranded speaker cable, which is how I connected them to my amplifier. The 1400 Array is available in two finishes: Black Gloss and Wood Grain. The cabinetry, the hardware, and the drive-units look substantial enough to last a lifetime.

Setup and use
The review samples, enclosed in cardboard shipping cartons, weighed a total of 250 lbs. With the help of my wife, I walked the cartons upstairs to my listening room, where I unpacked them. That's when I discovered that the Synthesis 1400 Array BG requires some assembly.

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

COMMENTS
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:

https://www.avhub.com.au/product-reviews/hi-fi/jbl-studio-590-loudspeake...

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

http://www.audioheritage.org/vbulletin/showthread.php?37280-Studio-590-s

http://www.audioheritage.org/vbulletin/showthread.php?37662-JBL-4367-fir...

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.

https://www.audiophilenirvana.com/audio-companies/goodbye-american-icon-...

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