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JBL Array 880 Review (Center Speaker)

Rate this speaker:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 24 13.0%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 83 44.9%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 69 37.3%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 9 4.9%

  • Total voters
    185

amirm

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This is a review and measurements of the JBL Array 880 center speaker. It was purchased and drop shipped to me. It is new old stock as it is discontinued. I see new ones on ebay listing for US $1,600.

The 880 is the nicest finished and looking speaker from JBL that I have seen:

JBL Project Array 880 Review Center Speaker Home Theater.jpg


That corner of my room is quite dark at night when I took the picture and doesn't do justice to the gorgeous dark glossy coating with subtle woodgrain. It is a type of finish that would be at home on the dash of a Mercedes Benz or Audi. At the same time, it is adorned with matt finish on top and elsewhere giving this a serious look, ready for insertion into a home theater setup.

At nearly 50 pounds, it is also quite heavy and stout speaker. Here are the specs:

JBL Project Array 880 Specification Center Speaker Home Theater.png


Very unusual configuration with the large "midrange" horn taking over at a high, 1000 Hz and going up to 8 kHz where a small horn tweeter takes up the work. The former spec is a cause for concern for a center speaker.

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.

I opted for a higher resolution scan than normal to the tune of 1,200 measurement points in 3-D space. Despite this, as I guessed, the sound field became quite complex due to interference between the two horns around the crossover. Here is the error for the on-axis response relative to computed on:

JBL Project Array 880 Measurement Computed vs actual Center Speaker Home Theater.png


Given the unusual configuration, I set the reference axis to slightly above the center of the midrange horn.

Measurements are compliant with latest speaker research into what can predict the speaker preference and is standardized in CEA/CTA-2034 ANSI specifications. Likewise listening tests are performed per research that shows mono listening is much more revealing of differences between speakers than stereo or multichannel.

JBL Synthesis Array 880 Center Speaker Measurements
Acoustic measurements can be grouped in a way that can be perceptually analyzed to determine how good a speaker is and how it can be used in a room. This so called spinorama shows us just about everything we need to know about the speaker with respect to tonality and some flaws:

JBL Project Array 880 Measurements Frequency Response Center Speaker Home Theater.png


Wow, I must say, I was not ready for such a flat and precise on-axis response. This is as good as top notch DSP speakers yet this is a passive one! Yes, there is an interference where the two horns fight with each other but per intro, the actual trough is narrower than it seems here. So likely not very audible.

Sensitivity is around 90 dB which is excellent and right on the money as far as company specifications.

Early window reflections though show some messiness:

JBL Project Array 880 Measurements Early Window Frequency Response Center Speaker Home Theater.png


Look at the side-wall reflections as a sign of a problem to be elucidated a bit further down in the review.

Predicted in-room response is still very good given the beautiful on-axis response:
JBL Project Array 880 Measurements Predicted in-room Frequency Response Center Speaker Home Th...png


Unfortunately I am about to rain on this parade by posting the horizontal beam width:

JBL Project Array 880 Measurements Horizontal Beamwidth Center Speaker Home Theater.png


Ouch. The classic "MTM" configuration of dual woofers causing narrow directivity attacks us here to cause the beam width to narrow considerably. Usually this is not a problem in "3-way" speakers but this is not a normal 3-way speaker in that the crossover to the "mid-range" is quite high. This forces the dual woofers to produce the response below 1 kHz and with the wide acoustic centers, causes narrowing of the response. We see this just as dramatically in our color coded graph:


JBL Project Array 880 Measurements Horizontal directivity Center Speaker Home Theater.png


As an aside, that is some work of art! Should make a poster of it and hang it on a wall. :) Unfortunately visual beauty doesn't equate sonic beauty here for a center speaker.

Typical of MTM speakers, vertical directivity is excellent, and much better than a 2-way:
JBL Project Array 880 Measurements Vertical directivity Center Speaker Home Theater.png


Back to some good news namely the superbly low distortion that dual woofers bring:

JBL Project Array 880 Measurements THD Distortion Center Speaker Home Theater.png

JBL Project Array 880 Measurements Relative THD Distortion Center Speaker Home Theater.png


And this is an attribute we want to have in a center speaker which carries most of the work in a surround home theater environment (it carries what is on screen from dialog to effects).

Back to directivity, we see the mid-range horn doing a wonderful job there:


JBL Project Array 880 Measurements 3-d visutalization Horizontal directivity Center Speaker Ho...png


Forgot to post the near-field response of the drivers:


JBL Project Array 880 Measurements Near field Frequency Response Center Speaker Home Theater.png


The microphone was at an acute angle to the woofer due to its configuration which I think allowed the mixing of the other woofer and sloping down. So hard to make sense out of that part of the graph. We do see the couple of resonances of the woofer though. Otherwise, absence of a port means no interior resonances which is nice.

Switching to more mundane measurements, here is our impedance and phasae:

JBL Project Array 880 Measurements Impedance and phase Center Speaker Home Theater.png


Waterfall:
JBL Project Array 880 Measurements CSD Waterfall Center Speaker Home Theater.png


And impulse response:

JBL Project Array 880 Measurements Impulse Response Center Speaker Home Theater.png


Speaker Listening Tests
I setup the Array 880 center as you see in the above picture and listened on-axis from about 3 meter/10 feet away. You know how it is when you eat a perfectly seasoned meal at a great restaurant? And how your hand never reaches for any condiments? Such was here. From first moment on, the tonality was perfect. And so was the dynamics especially above bass. I could get physical resonances in my body and my seat in guitar strings! Not bass, but guitar strings! I had no need to reach for EQ. Just sat there and enjoyed track after track.

There are some other considerations:

1. Directivity. The sound seemed quite focused in the center of the speaker. The halo around it was maybe a foot or so. No, it was not like you cupped your hand around your mouth to simulate a "horn." It just was a more focused sound which I think is part of the reason it can project high amount of power in mid to upper frequencies. To confirm that I was not imagining this, I switched to Revel C52 speaker which I own. The C52 had at least 2 to 3X larger halo around it than the Array 880.

2. Narrow horizontal directivity. Measurements don't lie. Mover over one seat and tonality shift was definitely there. It hollowed out the sound but not nearly as bad as some other MTM speakers. Still, there is no denying of this fault. In sharp contrast, the Revel C52 almost did not care where you sat.

3. No sub-bass. The closed enclosure sacrifices deeper bass you can get from a ported speaker. You need to have a subwoofer which thankfully exist in every home theater.

Comparing the overall sound of the C52, the Array 880 blew it away in dynamics and openness of the sound. I looked up the C52 measurements and found a trough around 1 kHz (?) which I fixed with EQ. That made the match more even as far as tonality. But I simply could not get the C52 to play at dynamically as the Array 880 no matter how much I cranked it up with hundreds of watts on tap. I think so much of the energy from C52 is spread around the room as opposed to focused by the Array 880 to create this differential.

Overall, the on-axis response of the Array 880 is wonderful. Off-axis, directivity problem exists to a medium level.

Conclusions
The left and right version of Array 880 was used in Harman blind testing when I took the test there. It was the one that sounded the best to me and almost everyone in the room. For that reason, I was anxious to test this speaker. On-axis response of the center version explains again why I liked it so much. Unfortunately as a center speaker, it doesn't deliver the goods beyond on-axis. Otherwise, it is one of the most perfect executions of a speaker in this size I have heard and measured.

I can't recommend the JBL Synthesis Array 880 speaker as a center speaker unless you only care about one seat in which case, it gets one of my highest recommendations.
 

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Doodski

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What could fix the horizontal beam width issue?
 

LTig

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Voted postman because of the directivity problems which a center speaker should not have. If you are the only listener in a HT then this is not a problem but do you really need a center speaker in this case?
 
OP
amirm

amirm

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What could fix the horizontal beam width issue?
There is no fix for it since it is an acoustic problem in the speaker. You can minimize it by sitting far from it so that the angle of the listening row becomes smaller. Not sure how practical that is though.

The "mid-range" should have crossed much lower frequency to avoid this but maybe that horn can't go that low.
 

Doodski

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There is no fix for it since it is an acoustic problem in the speaker. You can minimize it by sitting far from it so that the angle of the listening row becomes smaller. Not sure how practical that is though.

The "mid-range" should have crossed much lower frequency to avoid this but maybe that horn can't go that low.
It's strange that JBL would let it slide with this horizontal beam width issue. It pretty obvious that it's there. Perhaps the budgetary constraints where cutting into the design and execution of the build.
 

Blumlein 88

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Seems it might be a good speaker to put behind an acoustically transparent projector screen standing vertically instead of horizontally.
 

Doodski

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Notice how the curved front gives the visual impression that it will be extra-good at maintaining a consistent beam across an audience. :cool:
That and those bi-amping terminals the back panel really give off a look like this is a all business speaker. Bi-amping terminals on a center channel speaker is far out there.
 

Dmitri

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Makes zero sense that JBL would design a center channel with such narrow horizontal directivity. If you’re a recluse with a home theater and no friends or family I guess it’d be just fine...otherwise... for $1600 there has got to be better performance parameters out there. The search for my Vandersteen VCC1 replacement definitely does not stop here! ; )
 

Doodski

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I know. Did they come off when Amir reviewed the machine?
Perhaps he was listening to some tunes and removed the reels to protect and store his tape for safekeeping or maybe he wanted us to ask questions about where his reels are? :p
 
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