With their new HDI line of speakers, they still retain the pedigree dynamics, but they have spent some time at finishing school for further refinement and an even greater reach to a broader audience.
I still remember my first time really listening to JBL speakers, although in a bit of an odd environment. It was in the late ’80s while attending The Ohio State University and a group of friends and I went out to one of the campus bars to, well, “blow off some steam”. While sitting at the table consuming our $2 per pitcher beer (we were college students…it was all about quantity over quality back then!), I remember listening to the music and being blown away by the dynamics of their playback system. I looked up at the source of the music and saw the big JBL logo on the front of these black beasts that were hanging from the ceiling. In a relatively close setting, I had never experienced that level of dynamics from a loudspeaker. Every bass hit was like a punch in the face, and the highs were crystal clear without being fatiguing. For those of you who have spent time on High Street at OSU, or similar streets at college campuses all over the U.S., you probably don’t have many vivid memories as most of them were “washed away” if you know what I mean. But this JBL encounter stuck with me, as I clearly remember it thirty-something years later.
Over the years I have had plenty of opportunities to listen to more speakers from JBL, from small monitors all the way up to their $75,000 Everest speakers, and have enjoyed them all. So when I got the opportunity to review a pair of their new HDI-3800 2 ½-way floor-standing speakers, I was anxious to get them into my media room.
JBL HDI-3800 Floorstanding Loudspeaker
- Patented HDI™ (High-Definition Imaging) waveguide technology
- Patented 2410H-2 high-frequency compression driver
- Contemporary design with premium finishes including high-gloss black, satin gray oak wood veneer, and satin walnut wood veneer
- A great blend of “fun” and “audiophile” speaker characteristics
- A beautiful speaker whose size doesn’t dominate the room
The subject of this review is the JBL HDI-3800 floor-standing loudspeaker, which is the flagship of the company’s brand new HDI (High Definition Imaging) line of speakers. The HDI line consists of their HDI-1200P powered subwoofer ($3,000), HDI-4500 center channel speaker ($1,750), HDI-1600 bookshelf speaker ($1,800), HDI-3600 floor-standing speaker ($3,800), and this, the HDI-3800 floor-standing speaker ($5,000). I also received their matching HDI-4500 center channel speaker, but this review is limited to just the 3800.
From what I have seen (and heard), the new HDI lineup offers a new, more modern look from JBL in comparison to the rest of their speakers, and provides a lot of performance for relatively modest prices. While $5,000 for the HDI-3800 couldn’t be considered budget by any means, it is when comparing them to their Everest DD67000 ($75,000) or their K2 S9900 ($44,000). While you may not get the same level of performance out of their HDI range as you do with their expensive flagship models, you do get trickle-down technologies and knowledge that come from engineering such speakers.
And speaking of engineering, the JBL HDI series are designed and engineered in their world-famous acoustic engineering facility in Northridge, California.
The 2 ½ way 3800’s feature their patented High Definition Imaging (HDI™) waveguide technology that provides a neutral frequency response both on- and off-axis. It’s also engineered to provide a seamless transition between the high and low-frequency drivers.
Reading between the lines of the technical copy on their website and summing it all up, the HDI line of speakers were designed to produce a high level of accuracy and dynamics with a very low level of distortion.
Bass-reflex design with rear-firing port
1-inch (25mm) Teonex compression driver
Low / Mid Frequency Transducers:
Three 8-inch (200mm) black Advanced Aluminum Matrix cone, cast frame woofers
(2.83V @ 1M) 92dB
Recommended Amplifier Power:
25W – 300W
37Hz – 30kHz (-6dB)
Dimensions (H x W x D):
43.33″ x 11.81″ x 16.45″
83.78 lbs / ea
High-gloss black, satin gray oak wood veneer, satin walnut wood veneer
JBL, speaker reviews, floor-standing speaker, HDI-3800, speaker review 2021, review 2021
When the shipment arrived at my house, I was happy to see that the boxes weren’t of the couch-sized variety that I have been used to receiving over the years. Getting speakers into the house and down a flight of stairs gets challenging at times, even with the help of my 20-year-old son. While at 83+ lbs. each they’re definitely not “light”, but their size isn’t enormous or overwhelming.
I found the packaging and protection to be good on these speakers, and it was designed to make the unboxing process pretty straightforward. This might not sound like a selling point, but when you unpack and re-pack as many pieces of audio gear that we reviewers do, you find that it actually does add to the value of the product itself.
I put the JBL review samples in their place to start with the review. These speakers had a bit of time on them already, so I didn’t need to go through a lengthy break-in process. After playing around a little with their placement, I found that they weren’t all that fussy, and they ended up in a pretty similar position to most other speakers in my 14’W x 30’D x 9’H media room. At a final resting place of 36” from the back wall, 32” from the sidewalls, and at about 8’ apart, this gave me the best overall performance in my room. At first, I had them a bit further out to gain some soundstage depth but found that the bass was a bit lacking in this setup. When I moved them back closer to the wall, I gained some bass reinforcement from the rear-ported design but lost a little bit of depth. Giving up a little depth for a fuller bass was a compromise that I was willing to accept.
The associated equipment that was used in my evaluation:
- Amplifiers: McIntosh MC611 Monoblocks
- Pre-amp: PS Audio BHK Signature
- DAC: PS Audio DirectStream DAC
- Transport: PS Audio DirectStream Memory Player (SACD)
- Turntable: Clearaudio DC Performance
- Cartridge: Clearaudio Maestro v2 MM
- Phono pre-amp: E.A.T. E-Glo Petit
- Cables: Mostly Tributaries Series 8
- Subwoofers: SVS SB16 Ultra
- Room treatment: Vicoustics
On Jeff Beck’s Wired album (SACD), Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, the JBL’s projected a wide soundstage that went beyond the borders of the speakers, while placing Jeff’s bluesy guitar in center stage. This type of album would be more suited for a speaker in the “fun” category like JBL’s classic L100 but may come across as a bit grungy or harsh on more analytical / audiophile speakers. While the 3800’s didn’t quite reach the fun, mid-bass punch that the L100 would, they did a fantastic job with this older recording and better than what you would get out of a dry/analytical pair of speakers.
To test imaging, and ability to project sounds, I put in my favorite for this task, which is Roger Waters’ Amused to Death on SACD. On Three Wishes, the song begins with a woman talking from the left. When done right, she should seem to appear almost directly to your left, and against the wall. The JBL’s performed this task as intended as she very clearly occupied my sidewall. Roger’s voice was clearly from the center but didn’t project as big of an image as I am accustomed to with more expensive speakers, but that is to be expected.
The soundstage stayed within the plane of the baffles of the speakers and didn’t provide much depth from behind. Perhaps if I could have achieved more front to back imaging with the speakers if they were out in the room a little farther, but I would have given up some bass and that’s simply a compromise that you need to make when setting up your room.
For a more audiophile recording, I reached for one of my new favorites, Adagio Albinoni by Gary Karr (SACD). This live recording from September 1981 in Japan contains some of the most beautiful classical live music this reviewer has heard, although admittedly I am not a huge fan of the genre. Gary Karr’s contrabass work is impeccable and ranges from upper, violin-esque notes to the deepest bass and everything in between. Mixed in with his string work is a pipe organ being played by Harmon Lewis that at times gives the music a dark and very moody presentation, and also brings some very low notes that will test a speaker’s ability to reach to the bottom. On the JBL 3800’s, I found the entire presentation to be reproduced with the accuracy and vividness that you would expect to hear from a more analytical speaker. While Gary Karr’s bass or the pipe organ’s lowest notes didn’t hit with the authority of what I normally listen to on GoldenEar’s Triton Reference Speaker, it wasn’t far off. And considering the Tritons are twice the price as the JBL, I thought they did a fantastic job of holding their own.
Now back to the fun category. Remember listening to music for fun? Cranking it up just to see how loud it could go without thinking about audiophile terms such as imaging, soundstage, or heaven forbid such topics as measurements? Remember what got you into music in the first place when playing music (loudly) was done simply to put a smile on your face and a tap in your feet, or perhaps even playing air-guitar or air-drums when nobody was around? Well, I still like doing that where I’m not listening to “equipment”…just enjoying the ride. Go to an audio show, and you’ll typically get to experience all of the “proper” audiophile recordings at moderate levels, and rarely do you get to hear a demo with music that we all grew up with and that got us into audio in the first place. I remember getting to hear the JBL L100 for the first time at their display at CES a few years ago and was blown away that they put in Molly Hatchet’s Flirtin’ With Disaster for me to listen to. That to me was a proper demo, particularly with the speaker that they were showing off. So in a nod to that, I made sure to spend some time with similar music that we all love so much and have played thousands of times over the years. Bands like AC/DC, Foghat, Judas Priest, Joe Walsh, or Ted Nugent don’t get much play or mention in the audiophile world, or equipment reviews, so I made sure to play plenty of that in the JBL just to see how well they would hold up. One example of this was Burning Down the House by The Talking Heads. I remember this as a song that I could listen to in stereos in my early days to judge how much I liked the system. With the driving bass, catchy tune, and David Byrne’s unique vocal presentation, it just tempted you to try to avoid bouncing your head, tapping your feet, and playing the drums! When I turned it on at moderate levels, I thought it sounded pretty good with solid bass and clear but non-fatiguing highs. But when I really pushed the 600-watt McIntosh MC611 amps through the JBL’s, they really came to life. Turned up to 11, these speakers rock out without compression or distortion and seem to beg for more. While I’m sure these speakers would do well with a smaller amp, having some real power to throw at them will show you what they are capable of.
Just because I like to try as many combinations as possible, I teamed up the JBL HDI-3800 speakers with a pair of SVS SB16-Ultra subwoofers to see how well they would blend in that type of configuration. It didn’t take me long to realize that not only do they team up well, but by adding some real bass, it brought the JBL’s to an entirely different level. I’ll admit that I love deep, powerful bass, and if the HDI-3800’s were permanently in my house, they would be augmented by subwoofers. With a low-end extension of 37Hz, you can’t really call them bass-shy, but for my personal preferences, I like a bit more. I had originally wanted to get their new HDI-1200P powered subwoofers at the same time to evaluate them all together, but unfortunately, they did not have any review samples available at that time. Since they are all part of the same family, I would assume that they would match up extremely well with the 3800’s.
The new JBL HDI-3800 effectively straddles the line between fun speakers and audiophile speakers. They are incredibly appealing.
- Great looks in high-gloss black
- Compression tweeters get the highs just right, without fatigue.
- You get a lot of speaker for $5,000.
- Plays well with all types of music and recordings
- The more (quality) power you throw at them, the better they sound.
- Works equally well in 2-channel, or home-theater applications
- A little more bass
- More space between binding posts
- High-gloss wood finish option (Rosewood?)
JBL’s HDI-3800 loudspeakers offer up a great blend of “fun” and “audiophile” characteristics that will appeal to a wide audience of music fans.
When I first started to listen to the JBL HDI-3800, I was struggling a bit to figure out where these sit in the marketplace, and who exactly they were made for. They lacked the bass output of a similarly priced (sister brand) Revel F208 or the (now discontinued) GoldenEar Triton Ones at the same price. They are more expensive than the JBL L100 with a lot of fun-factor and they don’t have the analytical presentation of the audiophile-type speakers in that price range. So how do I write an article about a speaker that you can’t place in a specific category? Well after plenty of listening to a wide variety of music, I found them to be created to appeal to the masses who aren’t in the market for a narrowly focused speaker. I’m a big-time car guy and the automotive industry is what I do for a living, so I’m going to make a bit of an analogy here that is quite relative.
I’ve been through a lot of cars in the past 4 or 5 years as I have searched for what I personally consider the ultimate choice. I really like hardcore sports cars as they are adrenaline-fueled thrill rides. Huge horsepower, loud exhausts, manual transmissions, in-your-face styling, and the feeling that they’re going to crash at any moment with the wrong input of throttle and steering. But even as fun as they are, you sometimes want to casually cruise with a cup of Starbucks without all of the drama that comes with a sports car. Soft leather, plush seating, comfortable and compliant suspension, and a bit of power to make it fun can be very enjoyable. But with that type of car, you can quickly get bored with it because you need some excitement in your life from time to time. It’s really hard to find a car that can straddle those two extremes and provide you with a lot of comfort and performance, without spending a ridiculous amount of money.
What JBL has done with the new 3800 is to create a set of speakers that not only straddle that line between the fun/party speakers (sports car) and the analytical/audiophile speakers (luxury car) but also to provide a range deep into both categories that will make it appealing to a wide variety of consumers regardless of their listening tastes and habits.