REVIEW: JBL STAGE LOUDSPEAKERS

Tony O'Brien's avatar

by Tony O'Brien

22nd May, 2019

REVIEW: JBL STAGE LOUDSPEAKERS

JBL's latest loudspeaker release, STAGE, promises big sound at affordable pricing that is equally capable for either home theatre or two-channel stereo applications. We take a closer look at the 5.1 Pack One system.

JBL

STAGE Loudspeakers

Pack One - $4,999 RRP
Comprising A190 Floor Standing Speakers, A135C Centre Speaker, A130 Bookshelf Speakers, A120P 12” subwoofer.

With a history spanning the better part of 100 years, American loudspeaker manufacturer JBL has a rich history, with roots firmly planted in every facet of the music business and the motion picture industry.

JBL is owned by parent company HARMAN International - whose dossier includes notable brands such as AKG, Crown, Harman Kardon, Infinity, JBL, Lexicon, Mark Levinson, Revel, Arcam, and many more.

Since its inception, HARMAN's manifesto has been to create the ultimate in home sound. This passion has not only lead to products revered by audiophiles the world over, but also bodies of research by HARMAN around home audio.

Whether you're into home cinema or two-channel stereo, ears tend to prick up when either JBL or HARMAN get a mention.

When JBL's announced its new STAGE loudspeakers last year with the promise of being an affordable set of home theatre speakers, I was intrigued. 

STAGE Series includes no less than six different loudspeaker models and two subwoofers each available in either Black or Walnut finish. The range offers a choice of two different floor-standing speakers, including the A170 ($1,599 RRP) and A190 ($2,699 RRP). Complementing the floor-standers are two bookshelf speakers including the A130 ($699 RRP) and A120P ($499 RRP), which can be used as rear speakers, or as front speakers in smaller spaces. Rounding out the range are two centre speakers, the A135C ($799 RRP) and A125C ($649 RRP).

Of course, for home theatre, you'll also want a competent sub to handle the low-end stuff. For this, the STAGE series offers the choice of a 10” sub in the form of the A100P ($899 RRP) and the 12” A120P ($1,299 RRP).

I suspect most buyers at this price point will be looking for a complete surround sound solution and for this, there's the option to bundle the loudspeakers together and save yourself a few dollars over buying individual models in the process. Package prices start at $3,599 RRP, topping out at $4,999 for 'Pack One'.

I received Pack One for review, consisting of the A190 floor standers, A135C Centre Speaker, A130 Bookshelf Speakers and an A120P 12” subwoofer.

Nothing is stopping you from mixing and matching models from within the STAGE range though. For instance, it would be easy enough to build a very competent and budget-friendly five channel system around the A130s and A135C coming in at just a smidge over $2,000.

THE TECH

I started with the A135C centre, which, like the other models, were carefully packaged to ensure its en-transit safety. At 745 x 166 x 104mm the A135C has a small, albeit long, footprint, enabling it to be either wall mounted, or be seated comfortably on an entertainment unit. 

Given its slim dimensions, the A135C's ports are located at both ends of the speaker. The speaker grill comes away from the matt black cabinet to reveal a centrally mounted 25mm aluminium tweeter and waveguide, flanked by six 76mm poly-cellulose woofers.

Although the A135C is reasonably amplifier friendly with a nominal impedance of 6 Ohms and sensitivity of 90dB, it is a little limited in terms of low-end frequency response (75Hz – 40kHz). Hardly unsurprising, given its sleek form-factor, however, this is worth keeping in mind when setting crossovers.

The room-dominating A190 floorstanders have a rated frequency response of 36Hz – 40kHz, nominal impedance of 6 Ohms and sensitivity of 91dB. It features the same 25mm aluminium tweeter but this time is housed in a larger waveguide, below which are two 203mm poly-cellulose low-frequency woofers.

Ports are around back this time, and the A190 can accommodate bi-wiring/bi-amping courtesy of its four speaker binding posts. Along with spikes, the box also contains four rubber feet which can be attached to the outriggers in place of the spikes - a very welcome inclusion, particularly for those like me who have hardwood floors.

The A130 bookshelf speakers have a sensitivity of 86dB, nominal Impedance of 6 Ohms and a frequency response of  60Hz – 40kHz. 

The A130 features an identical aluminium tweeter to the A135C and A190 and a 133mm woofer. There's a single set of binding posts on the back,  along with a rear-facing port. The inclusion of foam plugs for the port being a thoughtful addition and offering flexibility for tuning and their placement near rear walls.

Unlike the loudspeakers which sport a matt black finish, the accompanying A120P subwoofer is finished in a rather attractive mix of matt black and dark timber. The A120P is a ported sub, with two rear-facing ports placed alongside the amplifier plate.

The A120P's amplifier plate features the usual range of controls found in most subwoofers, including variable crossover, volume control, and phase switch (normal and reversed only). A variable phase control would have been a nice inclusion at the A120P's $1,299 asking price.

SETUP & SOUND

While I would have preferred to mate the STAGE speakers with a mid-range AV Receiver, the best match I had on hand at the time of the review was Denon's highly capable AVR-X6500H ($5,199 RRP). 

The A135C speaker was placed on an entertainment unit below a Sony LED/LCD television. The A190's were placed 600 mm from the wall and 900mm from the side walls, with a slight 'toe-in' towards the listening position.

As with all speakers, the JBL's benefited from some attention to placement, with Denon's onboard Audyssey XT32 and sub-EQ providing the finishing touches with room EQ.

Naturally, the Denon had no problem driving the range, and it soon became apparent the STAGE speakers were not presenting a demanding load by any stretch, with volume levels hovering lower than I have come to expect.

Fire up the STAGE Speakers with a film such as Man of Steel (2013), and you'll quickly get an idea of just what these speakers can do. With the DTS-HD soundtrack, the JBL's were in their element, delivering a performance best described as powerful. In fact, the JBL's gave one of the more dynamic performances I've heard.

Likewise, bass from the A120P was strong and ever-present. For the most part, it gave a controlled performance; however, there were moments that it was neither as tight nor able to dig as low as I would have liked.

Not content to let go of 2013 just yet, it was time to try the 2013 release and ever-familiar Wolverine. The soundstage sounded both clean and effortless, wrapping around my room and filling it with everything from the background noise at the Japanese bullet train station to subtle environmental cues at Yoshida's home.

The detail was also abundant; the big JBL's surprising me with their ability to pluck ambient noise and place it convincingly within the soundstage. These aspects, coupled with the firm grip on dynamics made for the all-important immersive listening experience.

These admirable traits also made the STAGE speakers deft performers with less aggressive content. Sitting down with my wife to watch Wine Country on Netflix, JBL's A135C delivered clean dialogue, while the big A190's brought out the hushed tones of other diners at the restaurant in the film's opening scenes.

At this point, curiosity got the better of me, so the A190's were swapped out for the smaller A130's. With these up front, the result was a comparable dynamics but as would be expected the A190's provided more effortless sound.

THE CONCLUSION

The last home theatre system set up in a similar fashion as this review comprised a set of Sonique SAV 4SE, SAV C1 and 'DB-1's connected to a pre-power combination. 

While JBL's STAGE system couldn't provide the same refinement as the Sonique setup, when it comes to dynamics, the JBL's well and truly trounced them. In the right way, these are not polite speakers by any means. Instead, they're big and bold, and well and truly capable of filling a space with a large detailed sound-field with lashings of sonic impact.

Although the Denon flagship AVR is likely a couple of rungs higher than a typical pairing, I suspect the STAGE system would sound quite good coupled with a decent mid-range amplifier as well. NAD Electronics' T758 V3, which we reviewed some time back springs to mind.

JBL's STAGE series loudspeakers make for both a fun and engaging home theatre experience. With some well thought out mixing and matching with the speakers from the range and of course the right AV Receiver, you would have a competent and powerful home theatre system that well and truly belies its asking price.

For more information visit JBL.

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Tony O'Brien's avatar

Written by:

Tony O'Brien

As the owner of Adelaide based ‘Clarity Audio & Video Calibration’, Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator. Tony is an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products.

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