JBL S9300 loudspeakers

JBL S9300
JBL S9300 loudspeakers

Are you feeling musically emasculated, the result of a bass driver that’s barely bigger than a self-respecting midrange unit? Are you suffering musical malnutrition due to a lack of meat in your diet? Is your bottom – how can I put this – less than FAT? Well, I have a solution to your problem – and the word is “gerbil”: I mean JBL!

For audiophiles of a certain age, JBL is an evocative brand, inseparable from images of guitar amps and PA stacks, large domestic speaker systems, and even larger studio monitors: big boxes with even bigger drivers – but what drivers. Massive cast baskets, big magnets, and edge-wound voice coils: everything about JBL bass units smacked of power. But there’s more to JBL than just big, pulp cones; the company produced a series of legendary horn-loaded compression drivers. Decades later, they form the core of “special project” loudspeakers that have garnered serious respect, with reviewers and audiophiles alike, drooling over the Everest and K2 hybrid horn systems, massive and massively expensive product that feature huge boxes, big bass drivers, and characteristic bi-radial horn-loaded mid and treble units. What far fewer people realize is that those mighty, flagship products have spawned a pair of more affordable but conceptually similar siblings with suitably evocative names. Matterhorn and Machu Pichu perhaps? Sadly not. Instead meet the S4700 and S3900…

The S4700 really is a cut down K2, replacing the flagship’s magnesium drivers and complex cabinetry with titanium diaphragms in a one-piece moulded composite mid and high-frequency horn array, mounted atop a far simpler and slightly smaller cabinet that delivers almost identical numbers. But what we have here is the ‘baby’ S3900, that takes another step down in size, uses the mid/treble array from the S4700 but substitutes a pair of 250mm bass units in place of the single 380mm drivers employed by the bigger speakers. Somewhere along the audiophile evolutionary path, our DNA got a kink in it such that the almost knee-jerk response to horn drivers is to reach for the nearest flea powered amplifier. In this case, that would be a mistake – electrically and artistically. The S3900, at almost exactly one metre tall with a third of a metre square footprint, is surprisingly compact. It also goes pretty low, with a rear facing port the size of a cannon, a -6dB point at 33Hz and a system sensitivity of 92dB gives indication that the design has bought bandwidth with efficiency. This speaker isn’t about getting away with a 10 Watt amplifier. That bottom-end is going to need control and that means current – which translates into a load-tolerant output stage backed up by a man-sized power supply. It also translates into a speaker that won’t just go, but positively enjoys going loud AND proud. I used the S3900 with both the Levinson 585, 200 W/Ch integrated amp and the 55 W/Ch TEAD Linear B Class A tube amps, pretty much book-ending the power options. After playing the S3900s I certainly wouldn’t recommend less power than the Linear B monos provide, or you’ll risk missing the whole point of these speakers.

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