JBL HDI-3800 Loudspeaker Page 2

The manual's guidance on toe-in is worth following, however. Setting the speakers so they form an angle of no greater than 60° at the listening position will give the most stable and focused stereo image – and imaging is one area in which these speakers excel when set up correctly, going a long way towards living up to that HDI billing.

Having tamed the bass, I found the speakers to be on the exciting side of neutral. The bass is still forceful, even with optimal positioning but it's well-controlled, contributing to rather than dominating the overall sound. Even with a minimal recording such as the Oyster Duo's Stolen Pearls [Channel Classics CCS43121], the HDI-3800s still remain a little bigger and bolder than one might wish for, bringing out the resonance of the double-bass and making the piano sound a little recessed despite the fine imaging.

On the other hand, they're on much more solid ground with the simplicity of 'Water Of Love' from the first Dire Straits album [Vertigo UIGY-9032]. There's a slight sense of Mark Knopfler's vocal coming from the corridor outside the studio, but the instrumentation has good bite, detail and character.

The impression that these are fine rock speakers is reinforced when playing Zappa's '88: The Last US Show [Zappa Records ZR 20036-2]. Here the live version of 'Peaches En Regalia' is powered on by the drums and bass, while Zappa's take on 'Stairway To Heaven' reveals good detail in the vocals and the oddball effects. It's not the cleanest sound, but then neither is the recording, but without a doubt these speakers rock – and yes, they'll go very loud without signs of distress. You don't have to push them hard for them to sound exciting – but when you do…


JBL's compression tweeter is further isolated from the mid/bass drivers by its split crossover and dual sets of 4mm cable posts, supporting both bi-wiring and bi-amping. The woofers are reflex-loaded by two huge rear ports

With the medley of 'Steal Away' and 'Hidden In Plain Sight' on Paula Cole's American Quilt album [675 Records 538668572] there's perhaps a little too much sibilance on the singer's voice in the opening section, but when the track moves on there's fine ambience and good percussive punch as well as instrumental detail. I've heard this track sound subtler and more nuanced through comparably priced speakers, but there's no denying the 'JBL version' is highly involving.

Even at lowish levels, these speakers do the 'bass you feel as much as hear' thing, for example with the growing complexity of Porcupine Tree's epic 'Arriving Somewhere But Not Here' from Deadwing [KSCOPE 986], where the combination of information and scale serves well the almost symphonic scale of the track.

Stately Weight
That said, there's a slight sense that the bass can be a tad slow at times – Andreas Bye's crisply forceful drumbeats opening 'In The Mountains', from the Espen Eriksen Trio's Never Ending January album [Rune Grammofon RCD2173] have a little of the 'plastic barrel' about them. However, the balance when the entire trio joins in is entertaining enough, Eriksen's piano having stately weight in the lower octaves and fine delicacy in the right hand, while Lars Tormod Jenset's bass is suitably sonorous, and the soundstage image unforced.

With the testing Britten 'Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra', from the Michael Stern/Kansas City Symphony Britten's Orchestra set [Reference Recordings RR-120], the HDI-3800s sail through the masses of detail, presenting a persuasive view of each instrumental section. The vivid percussion is particularly enjoyable, and all the while there's a well-realised picture of the orchestra as a whole. And the great fugue with which the piece concludes sounds magnificent, not least due to the drama the speakers deliver with massed forces and bass slams.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
The HDI-3800 speakers may not be the purest-sounding, but their big, bold sound makes for an enjoyable listen – and not just with the rock music that's their obvious forte. You need some space to let them breathe if their prodigious bass isn't to dominate – perhaps JBL should consider some port bungs? – but they're undemanding when it comes to amplification, and many will like the way they play music.

Harman International Industries
Supplied by: Harman Luxury Audio Group, Cambs
01223 203200