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JBL SDR-35 AVR Review

Rate this AVR

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 180 64.5%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 89 31.9%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 7 2.5%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 3 1.1%

  • Total voters
    279

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the JBL Synthesis SDR-35 Audio/Video Receiver with 16 channels of processing with class G amplification and support for Dirac Room EQ. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $8,250.
JBL SDR 4K HDMI Home Theater Audio Video Receiver Review.jpg

The unit looks elegant and user interface is simple to operate using the large LCD on the left. Back panel shows the usual connections including too many analog inputs:

JBL SDR 4K HDMI Home Theater Audio Video Roon Back Panel Chormecast Receiver Review.jpg

This unit was upgraded with the latest HDMI board and certified to be working correctly.

There are three fans but I don't think any of them came on. Internal amplifier fins are step above "spring steel" of cheap AVRs with extruded but thin aluminum. Class G operation of amplifiers keeps the unit from getting overly hot.

There is a ton to measure here, taking me almost two days to work through them. A quirk of the unit caused fair bit of delay. When it goes into protection -- which it goes into instead of clipping -- it will seem to not want to restart. You can power cycle it all you want and all you get a red indicator. I thought the amp was damaged only to realize that it is going to suspend mode. Hitting any key wakes it up but then you have to wait for it to boot again.

Here are the product specs:
JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver Specifications.png


Note: my other venture, Madrona Digital is a custom integration company that buys a lot of Harman products (parent of JBL). So feel free to read any amount of bias you like in this review.

JBL SDR-35 DAC Measurements
As soon as I started to test the DAC by capturing pre-out I realized that we have our usual problem of internal amplifier being stressed before we get to 2 volts nominal. I could actually hear the transformer squealing as I kept cranking up the volume (with no speakers connected). Going with it anyway, we get this not so good SINAD:
JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver DAC Measurements.png


The distortion is caused by clipping but the sidebands around the main tone are not (see jitter test later). You can see this by switching inputs to toslink:
JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver DAC Toslink  Measurements.png


The jitter pattern around our main tone clearly changes. This naturally puts a dim light on the performance of other AV products using the same 2 volt output (or 4 volt for balanced):
Best AV Receiver Review AVR Home Theater.png


This is caused because the internal amplifier runs at very high gain relative to the output of the DAC:
JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver DAC THD+N vs Level Measurements.png


Peak performance is at just 0.8 volt. An external amplifier that produces more power than the internal one will surely require more than this for maximum output. Even that aside, the internal amps are going crazy even though you are using an external amplifier. An amp shut down option needs to be implemented to fix this problem.

Might as well get a second serious problem out of the way which is the muting of input below 90 dBFS over Toslink:
JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver DAC Toslink Linearity Measurements.png


We have seen this before. Either these companies are sharing the same platform or there is some kind of valid reason for this. Either way, it needs to be clearly documented and defeatable.

Our SNR is not bad for an AV product but no competition for a proper home/desktop DAC:
JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver DAC Toslink DNR  Measurements.png


IMD vs level shows the saturation problem we saw before:

JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver DAC Toslink IMD Measurements.png


I noted jitter is bad and you can see it well here:
JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver DAC Toslink Jitter  Measurements.png


DAC reconstruction filter is both slow and doesn't attenuate much:
JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver DAC Toslink Filter Measurements.png


This guarantees poor performance in higher frequencies in our wideband THD+N vs frequency:
JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver DAC Toslink THD+N vs Frequency Measurements.png


These are simple things that should be fixed but are not.

JBL SDR-35 Amplifier Measurements
Performance of AV products usually changes sharply depending on what input you use. Let's start with the worst case which is analog input:
JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver Amplifier CD Input frequency response Measure...png


As you see, if you don't select Direct mode which bypasses digital processing, the input gets digitized at 44.1 kHz (or maybe 48 kHz). For a statement AVR, I expect to see double this sample rate. This is doubly so if it means internal DSP processing is as low.

Here is our dashboard using CD input in Direct mode:
JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver Amplifier CD Direct Measurements.png


This is good but you don't get any processing. If you go to normal analog input, you get this large drop:

JBL SDR 4K HDMI Home Theater Audio Video Receiver Amplifier CD Analog Measurements.png


Why use such low quality conversion to digital? Surely we can better than 12 bits here?

Going with CD direct performance, overall ranking is excellent for the class:
Best home theater AVR amplifier.png


Since many of you use digital input, here is that performance:
JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver Amplifier  Toslink 0 dbfs Measurements.png


So you gain a bit more still confirming that the internal DAC is transparent enough for the amp (as could be predicted from its SINAD).

Here is our dynamic range at 5 watts and full power:
JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver Amplifier CD Direct SNR Measurements.png


Again, for this type of money I like to see much better performance. Best case you are still not getting to 105 dB THX specification.

Crosstalk for analog input is not bad:
JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver Amplifier  Toslink Crosstalk  Measurements.png


Let's measure power into 4 ohm using both analog input methods:

JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver Amplifier CD Input Power 4 ohm Measurements.png


We get about 200 watts of power which is about what the spec says. I could not run my max and peak power as the unit would constantly shut down before I could get to 1% THD. This means you have no headroom anyway since the aggressive protection circuit kicks in.

Let's measure it with 8 ohm:
JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver Amplifier CD Input Power 8 ohm Measurements.png


Overall noise and distortion is a bit above average for class especially before it clips.

Switching to digital input, we get the following:
JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver Amplifier Toslink Input Power 4 ohm Measureme...png


JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver Amplifier Toslink Input Power 8 ohm Measureme...png


I had to be careful in running my frequency power sweeps to avoid the unit shutting down. Even so, the 20 Hz tone still caused it to go into protection:

JBL SDR 4K HDMI Hom Theater Audio Video Receiver Amplifier Toslink Input Power 4 ohm vs freque...png


Power output at that frequency is nearly half of max power. If you are crossing over the amps to a sub at higher frequency this should not be a major issue. Otherwise, I expect to see better performance. Fortunately linearity is excellent with almost no frequency dependence. There is a notch in performance which I assume is in the transition region of amplifier switching rail voltages (the class G scheme).

Conclusions
While you are being charged large premium for this AVR, SDR-35 suffers from many of the problems we have seen in other AVRs. Its DAC saturates very early making it pretty useless to pair with external amplifiers. The bug with muting below 15 bits is not acceptable. Neither is poor reconstruction filter. This is type of performance I expect in a $20 no-name DAC.

Amplifier raw performance is competitive with better AVRs. However its protection circuit is quite aggressive and method of recovery rather annoying. This is impacts someone like me more than a user though.

The main thing you are getting here over a cheaper alternative is perhaps more channels being processed. Other than that, I fail to see what is premium about it with respect to performance.

I can't recommend the JBL SDR-35. It is just way too much money for this level of delivered performance.

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

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 
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Thanks for the review Amir!

I really wanted to like the newer line of JBL AVR/AVP’s, and they look great, so it’s unfortunate that this is yet another under performing AVR/AVP… I will continue to hold out for something that measures well and does not cost $15,000. I really don’t think that’s too much to ask for in this day and age.
 
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phoenixdogfan

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I question that is has the processing power and flexibility of the Trinov. I see it allow Dolby Vision pass through, presumably HDR 10 as well. Does Atmos, so should be able to do 9.1.6, and at least 7.1.4 DTS-X. But I don't see a sticker for Auro 3D on the front, so if it can't do Auro that would be a huge strike against it as well, in addition to the two bugs Amir pointed out. And $8k+ seems a little outrageous. It's a 16 channel Atmos home theater receiver with 125-150 wpc amps, and you won't be able to upgrade to outside amps because of the shutdown circuit. So not a bargain.

EDIT: It does indeed offer Auro 3D, and the Dirac Live version includes DLBC, so top of the line Dirac. but still underpowered, overpriced and buggy.

Kind of thing that sells on Ebay for $300 in five or so years.
 
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_theLaughingman

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I question that is has the processing power and flexibility of the Trinov. I see it allow Dolby Vision pass through, presumably HDR 10 as well. Does Atmos, so should be able to do 9.1.6, and at least 7.1.4 DTS-X. But I don't see a sticker for Auro 3D on the front, so if it can't do Auro that would be a huge strike against it as well, in addition to the two bugs Amir pointed out. And $8k+ seems a little outrageous. It's a 16 channel Atmos home theater receiver with 125-150 wpc amps, and you won't be able to upgrade to outside amps because of the shutdown circuit. So not a bargain.

Kind of thing that sells on Ebay for $300 in five or so years.
Utter waste of technology and money.
 
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I question that is has the processing power and flexibility of the Trinov. I see it allow Dolby Vision pass through, presumably HDR 10 as well. Does Atmos, so should be able to do 9.1.6, and at least 7.1.4 DTS-X. But I don't see a sticker for Auro 3D on the front, so if it can't do Auro that would be a huge strike against it as well, in addition to the two bugs Amir pointed out. And $8k+ seems a little outrageous. It's a 16 channel Atmos home theater receiver with 125-150 wpc amps, and you won't be able to upgrade to outside amps because of the shutdown circuit. So not a bargain.

Kind of thing that sells on Ebay for $300 in five or so years.
Let’s call it what it is… highway robbery. Especially if it’s true that the internal amps cannot be turned off, although I do see preamp outs. I can’t imagine JBL being this incompetent to do that, but nothing surprises me anymore.
 

bo_knows

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Hi Amir,

Thank you for the review.
Quick question:
Do you know if this class G implementation is coming from Arcam?
 

jhaider

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Looks very Anthem/Trinnov, is it derivative?

No, it’s on the Arcam platform.

I admit I was puzzled upon reading Samsung added Arcam to their Harman subsidiary. The Arcam stuff has never been that impressive to me except in pricing chutzpah, and they have a history of basic misunderstandings of critical concepts such as bass management.

The internal logic of this AVR escapes me, too. The AVP version is much cheaper, and this isn’t even a 1-box solution for immersive (7 internal amp channels.) I’m genuinely curious if there’s a market for an incomplete $8000+ AVR.

That said, it does have Dirac Live Bass Control so it will integrate most systems pretty well.
 
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DonR

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No, it’s on the Arcam platform.

I admit I was puzzled upon reading Samsung added Arcam to their Harman subsidiary. The Arcam stuff has never been that impressive to me except in pricing, and they have a history of basic misunderstandings of critical concepts such as bass management.

The internal logic of this AVR escapes me, too. The AVP version is much cheaper, and this isn’t even a 1-box solution for immersive (7 internal amp channels.) I’m genuinely curious if there’s a market for an incomplete $8000+ AVR.

That said, it does have Dirac Live Bass Control so it will integrate most systems pretty well.
Thanks, I thought it looked familiar.
 

srkbear

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It’s been almost ten years since I moved to my current home that has a slab foundation and concrete walls, obviating any use for a wired home theater solution. But seeing these specs makes me reflexively calculate in my head all the thousands of dollars I spent on ritzy AV receivers at Star Power or Magnolia, and want to throw up.
 

srkbear

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I do not but would be a good guess.
Admittedly this is above my pay grade, but aren’t class G amplifiers supposed to offer additional voltage supply rails to obviate the need for all this protection circuitry? Why do you think they implemented this aggressive threshold?
 

Dj7675

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Thoughts…
-16 channels check
-DLBC capable and included check
-Price seems high but everything that is currently 16 channels is expensive, but even so it seems high
-No DTS Pro is unforgivable for a 16 channel processor IMO. Not sure why this platform and the monoprice htp1 don’t have it.
-Seems to be quite a few happy SDP55 owners after a bumpy firmware road.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Admittedly this is above my pay grade, but aren’t class G amplifiers supposed to offer additional voltage supply rails to obviate the need for all this protection circuitry? Why do you think they implemented this aggressive threshold?
Their main use is to reduce power dissipation at lower power levels. At the end of the sweep the output transistors are operating at full voltage so class G is of no benefit to them.

It is very strange to see the aggressive protection seeing how I am only driving two channels.
 

GXAlan

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THX Ultra specification used to be 1V for the input sensitivity to hit 28.28V.
Could the SINAD 100 at 1V reflect that outdated approach?
—-

FYI, @amirm, if you are willing to open up the vintage SA600, the pre amp and amp connection is an actual RCA phono plug. That would let you test the APx555 directly into the power amp portion.
 

TonyJZX

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funnily enough this is also available as pre pro power amp two box package... ironically reviewed here with the same puzzling issues


I think to me these things are... "ephemeral"... for the price of what used to be a reasonable 2nd hand car, you're getting a box that will have rapid obsolesence (if you care about that) plus middle performance.

Like in a professional install I guess that ultimate performance isnt noticeable??? if you're playing blurays then what does it ulimately matter.

But then by the same token wouldnt you just buy a upper spec. Japanese receiver like a Yamaha and get about 'comparable' performance?

Also that back panel looks like a very middle spec Japanese receiver if you overlook the very nice looking brass speaker taps.

To me I bought a very cheap mid spec Japanese 7.2 receiver for what amount to a couple of hundred and I knew it wouldnt age well but if its this little who cares?
 

Kishore

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The amp section is twin of Arcam HDA Amps and is "supposed to be" better than Arcam AVR30/31 since it uses better DACs- but who thunk it :D
 

dlaloum

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Hi Amir,

Thank you for the review.
Quick question:
Do you know if this class G implementation is coming from Arcam?
I believe the platform is the same as the Arcam AVR's - both are within the house of Harman... (or Samsung as it is now!) - and I believe most of the circuit boards are shared - differences may be limited to software? (The JBL's also have Logic7/Logic16 where the Arcam's don't.)
 

dlaloum

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THX Ultra specification used to be 1V for the input sensitivity to hit 28.28V.
Could the SINAD 100 at 1V reflect that outdated approach?
—-

FYI, @amirm, if you are willing to open up the vintage SA600, the pre amp and amp connection is an actual RCA phono plug. That would let you test the APx555 directly into the power amp portion.
Seems to me like a sensible option - as most listening is done at levels where the 0.8 to 0.9V peak SINAD is far more relevant, than a 2V output level - which would be testing the external power amps max rated output levels... (and how often does anyone listen at those SPL's !?)
 
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