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JBL A180 Tower Speaker Review

Rate this speaker:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 35 17.8%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 117 59.4%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther

    Votes: 43 21.8%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 2 1.0%

  • Total voters
    197

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the JBL Stage A180. I only paid $200 for the pair on sale including free shipping! Normal price I think is $400.
JBL A180 Review Tower Speaker Stereo.jpg

They were delivered via truck and are quite substantial as budget speakers go. I like the look of the white woofers. There are dual ports in the back.

This is a 2.5-way design with upper woofer playing to a higher frequency than the lower one.

Note: our company, Madrona Digital, carries Harman line (parent company of JBL). While we don't carry or sell JBL home speakers, I thought I mention this as any source of bias you want to read into my assessment.

Measurements that you are about to see were performed using the Klippel Near-field Scanner (NFS). This is a robotic measurement system that analyzes the speaker all around and is able (using advanced mathematics and dual scan) to subtract room reflections (so where I measure it doesn't matter). It also measures the speaker at close distance ("near-field") which sharply reduces the impact of room noise. Both of these factors enable testing in ordinary rooms yet results that can be more accurate than an anechoic chamber. In a nutshell, the measurements show the actual sound coming out of the speaker independent of the room.

Reference axis is approximately the center of the tweeter.

JBL A180 Measurements
As usual we start with our "spin" graph:
JBL A180 Measurement Frequency Response Tower Speaker Stereo.png


Stepping back, the on-axis response in black looks pretty reasonable. There are a couple of peaks that stand out in mid frequencies and a giant one around 15 kHz. Typical of tower speakers, sensitivity is good bit better than a bookshelf speaker. Bass response is quite extended with F10 (-10 dB point) around 35 Hz!

Early window reflections are not very predictable though:
JBL A180 Measurement Early Window  Frequency Response Tower Speaker Stereo.png


Combined though, the predicted in-room response is pretty smooth:
JBL A180 Measurement Predicted in-room Frequency Response Tower Speaker Stereo.png


However there is too little slope so likely will sound bright.

Back to mid-frequency disturbances, we see the reason in near-field measurements:
JBL A180 Measurement near field Frequency Response Tower Speaker Stereo.png


The circled area is a mess of many sources of sound. There is cabinet/port resonance, peaking from the second woofer, and resonance from the bottom woofer.

Distortion at 86 dBSPL is kept very much in check but things go crazy in that overlapped region at 96 dBSPL:

JBL A180 Measurement Early Window Percentage THD Distortion Tower Speaker Stereo.png


JBL A180 Measurement Early Window  THD Distortion Tower Speaker Stereo.png


With our hearing being most sensitive in 2 to 5 kHz, that is the last place you want added distortion. Fortunately there is a peak there so we can pull that down a bit but still.

Our impedance graph and CSD show a number of resonances:
JBL A180 Measurement Early Window Impedance and Phase  Tower Speaker Stereo.png


JBL A180 Measurement Early Window CSD Waterfall Tower Speaker Stereo.png


It is not all bad news. Directivity and beam width are quite good:
JBL A180 Measurement Early Window Horizontal Beam Width  Tower Speaker Stereo.png



JBL A180 Measurement Early Window Horizontal Directivity Tower Speaker Stereo.png


Vertically response narrows due to dual woofers causing interference pattern between them:
JBL A180 Measurement Early Window Vertical Directivity Tower Speaker Stereo.png


This is likely the reason for the messier early window response.

Here is the step response for fans of that:

JBL A180 Measurement Early Window Step Response Tower Speaker Stereo.png


JBL A180 Listening Tests
First impression was that of piercing highs, an effect that would not go away. I tried a bunch of EQ filters but I could not tame it without also destroying the high frequency response. It may be fixable but went way beyond what I could do in half hour indicating a complex problem (as we already know from the measurements). The high distortion may also be a factor here. It is a shame as ability to play deep bass was very good. What's more, you get a spacious image and that that nice sound you get out of a larger sound source. In these respects, the A180 is superior to bookshelf speakers.

Conclusions
On sale, these speakers are incredible bargains. $200 for a pair? Speaker does a lot of things right but that 2.5 way design is causing problems in upper midrange, lower treble. Is it worth it? I don't know. If you are not sensitive to high frequency brightness, then this is a very good speaker to consider at bargain price. You get bass that you simply can't get out of any budget speaker. But for someone like me who is very sensitive to extra brightness, it is a no go.

I can't recommend the JBL A180. It is tough to say this but I just can't. If I recommend something, I like the chances to be 90% you will like it and I can't be assured of this.

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As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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Cars-N-Cans

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I always wonder about these cheaper budget speakers with otherwise good engineering behind them. I was in a Best Buy and I passed by a display for Polk's XT series of speakers, and its hard to believe they are actually speakers. I was looking at the XT60 and at first I thought the thing was just an empty display model since there was nothing to it other than the physical space it took up. But tilting the upper woofer cone sideways showed there was indeed a voice coil in there, and this was the actual speaker. Get the feeling that the review gave in that it would be one of those 90/10 things. There would be a lot right, but enough wrong and enough jankiness to make it unenjoyable.
 

tw 2022

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Looks to me like it's gonna strike most folks as a bit brighter than they would want..whatever is going on in the 1.5-2k hz region doesn't look good either ( to me)....
 

bunkbail

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Thank you Amir, I've been waiting for this review in a long time. I own one of these (mine's in walnut vinyl) based on Amir's glowing review of the smaller sibling A130, never in hundred years would've thought that it would have much worse distortion than the bookshelves. They also sound boring so that's why I've been listening to headphones instead. They don't sound bright to me though and I'm very sensitive to brightness. Still disappointing though.
 

respice finem

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The brightness >2kHz is mostly caused by the wide vertical dispersion of the tweeter. As better seen in the Early Reflections breakout, I’d recommend a thick rug and either tall ceilings or ceiling treatment (so a dedicated listening space).
Yes, but, buyers in this price class are not likely to invest in treating the room IMHO.
 

DonR

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Conclusions
On sale, these speakers are incredible bargains. $200 for a pair? Speaker does a lot of things right but that 2.5 way design is causing problems in upper midrange, lower treble. Is it worth it? I don't know. If you are not sensitive to high frequency brightness, then this is a very good speaker to consider at bargain price. You get bass that you simply can't get out of any budget speaker. But for someone like me who is very sensitive to extra brightness, it is a no go.

Funny enough my Energy RC-50 2.5 way towers have a similar issue. Luckily they are not terribly bright as certain frequencies ignite my tinnitus and I then turn into The Hulk. Well, that is what Mrs R says.
 

ROOSKIE

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Hmm, it does seem like a quick fix with a bit of a tilt.
Maybe an extra .3-.6db/octave from 400 or 500hrz to 20k.
I bet then they would be excellent enough.
That would bring the In room energy trend down to something more mellow.

Or perhaps better to treat the direct response by shelving it down about 3db starting from 300-400hrz to 20k, bringing that into alignment with 87db, leaving a slight bass boost below 200hrz. Essentially making the speaker flat'ish at the 87db mark

Maybe these are the type of speaker, perhaps intended for no toe/straight ahead alignment in a not quite-audiophile type of set-up.
 

Newman

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A pair of these in Australia are AU$1,600 ie US$1,125 RRP

The HomeTheaterHifi review describes the treble as "excellent" and "rivaling ribbons for clarity", and rates the speaker as "one of the two best speakers available for under (US) $1k per pair".

Take that.
 

Dj7675

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Great speakers to review as the price when on sale is hard to believe. Distortion is a shame though, not allowing it to play as loud as one would hope with a floor stander.
 

ROOSKIE

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Great speakers to review as the price when on sale is hard to believe. Distortion is a shame though, not allowing it to play as loud as one would hope with a floor stander.
Have to remember it is Harmonic Distortion in that graph, not a crackle or clipping.
Will very many folks hear 1.5-4% in that 800-2k zone - especially with the bulk of it 2nd order? Some extra energy added between 1600 and 6k. Maybe audible to select group, likely not very many folks.
Plus some of that is likely from the waveguide and not a driver misfiring.
Geddes blind testing strongly suggested such waveguide distortion is not audible even when in double digits.
I suspect IMD is low from the 2 big woofers so what is left is can the tweeter handle high SPL, and is tweeter IMD an issue?
 

Waxx

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I've actually heared those recently in a shop and was very disappointed for this being JBL. Your measurements confirm. They are very bright, not flat in response and with a high distortion the wrong way when pushed a bit. In Europe these cost 600€, which is not cheap anymore in our market and then we expect a lot better quality.
 

AlexanderM

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I'm glad to get this review, as I've thought a few times, they may be an option.
 

Cars-N-Cans

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Have to remember it is Harmonic Distortion in that graph, not a crackle or clipping.
Will very many folks hear 1.5-4% in that 800-2k zone - especially with the bulk of it 2nd order? Some extra energy added between 1600 and 6k. Maybe audible to select group, likely not very many folks.
Plus some of that is likely from the waveguide and not a driver misfiring.
Geddes blind testing strongly suggested such waveguide distortion is not audible even when in double digits.
I suspect IMD is low from the 2 big woofers so what is left is can the tweeter handle high SPL, and is tweeter IMD an issue?
It looks like in the 96 dB distortion plot in the region where the distortion components are prominent its also accompanied by a slight but noticeable boost in the overall response in that region compared to the 86 dB distortion plots. Whether you plan to push them that hard is another matter, but there is definitely some extra energy being added there for sure, so it will likely be audible at some point, either due to distortion products or even just the woofers misbehaving. They probably would have been ok if they could have gotten that area under control, but the price point likely prohibited that.
 
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