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JBL HDI 1600 Bookshelf Speakers now at Melbourne Hi Fi

JBL HDI 1600 Bookshelf Speakers now at Melbourne Hi Fi

We’ve all heard the name, but often ‘JBL’ is more known for their Bluetooth speakers and headphones than they are for their premium Hi-Fi which is disappointing given this is where it all began, and as we found out, where they still truly excel.

“The HDI 1600’s promise a lot, and deliver it all. They are one of the most fun and engaging speakers I have listened to in a very long time”

The HDI 1600’s are two way bookshelf speakers sporting a 6.5” woofer and 1” compression driver for the highs surrounded by a horizontal horn waveguide. Compression drivers can generally handle much higher volumes and power than your more common dome tweeter but need carefully designed waveguides to keep them under control. The HDI family of speakers includes two sizes of Floor standers, a Centre, Subwoofer and the 1600 Bookshelf speakers all in 3 different finishes, Piano Black, Satin Walnut and Light Oak. 

So how do they perform? And why should they be considered in a price point filled with competition such as the KEF R3 Meta, Dali Rubicon 2 or the Monitor Audio Gold 100? Let's throw some tunes on and find out!

First off, I am not your usual spec sheet studying HiFi snob, don’t get me wrong; I understand why measurement readings in a perfectly tuned room are important but seriously, whose house is the perfect scenario?

I went out of my way to listen to the JBL’s in a normal, realistic scenario; one speaker too close to the wall, open plan room behind me and a list of tracks that I ACTUALLY LISTEN TO IN REAL LIFE (can we please stop using ‘perfect audiophile’ tracks for auditions that we will never listen to again in our life) along with a selection of amps I would recommend to my customers for these speakers.

Starting with the Marantz Model 30 and Marantz SACD 30n the JBL’s had beautiful imaging and space. I was expecting some sharpness from the Horn style compression driver but oh my do the HDI’s sing with control.
James Blakes ‘Life Is Not The Same’ can show the shortfalls in poor tweeter design but not once did the JBL’s ever feel crunchy or abrasive. James’ voice sounded like it was in the room in front of me and the wave samples sitting back in the mix genuinely made me turn around as if they came from outside the room. Now the JBL’s do have a slight boost in the bottom end which I felt the Marantz’s warmth and laid back nature couldn’t control as well as my other two test amps, the Rega Elicit MK5 and Hegel H190 which both sounded tighter with Pop and higher produced tracks.

The Rega gave more of an ‘everything in a line’ soundstage but much more breath and air, the most ‘natural’ sounding of all whereas the Hegel absolutely thumped down low and was the most forward and confident of the three.

The drums in ‘Illuminate’ by Slowly Rolling Camera and Noordpol Orkest’s cover of Radioheads ‘Weird Fishes’ showed how truly accurate and real sounding the HDI’s are. The Hi Hats, the snare, the ride cymbals, it all sounded exactly how a drum kit should sound. The natural air from the Elicit MK5 made Sachal Vasandani’s voice surround me and the speakers themselves disappeared and it became impossible to pick their position with my eyes closed, so much so I forgot I was trying to write a review and ended up listening to the entire album.

Female vocals can make or break any speaker, Laufey’s ‘Haunted’ and Phoebe Bridges ‘I Know The End’ were my weapons of choice. The HDI’s again nailed it, putting their voices a step in front of the instruments, letting the vocals lead the track in both cases.

So what about the competition?

The KEF R3 Metas, an incredible speaker in its own right, would be the first hurdle the HDI’s need to overcome.
I wouldn’t say either one is ‘better’. The R3’s are much more laid back, smoother mid-range presentation and have a certain silkiness to them that makes classics and soul feel rich and romantic but just don't have the same realism, life and sparkle of the HDI’s that made me want to keep listening, and listening and listeni….

The Rubicon 2’s present a tough choice, whilst not as forward as the JBL’s they are on par for realism and space and perhaps a touch more spacious, this would come down to the amplifier for me.
The Marantz Model 30 would suit the Dali’s better but the Hegel would lean me to the JBL. MA’s Gold 100 are a more budget friendly choice with a stupidly weighty bottom end. The Gold’s are great if you want to be thumped in the chest but overall they lack the balance and cohesion of the JBL’s.
JBL have been able to create such a natural and ‘correct’ sounding speaker that it's hard to look elsewhere. The HDI 1600’s have been the most fun speakers I have listened to in some time and it’s incredible what they have achieved at their price point.

Are they perfect? Not quite, no speaker ever is. Some may find the bass a touch exaggerated or the details a little too clean and energetic, the design may not be to everyone's taste but we’re hard stretched to find another speaker at this price that performs as well across the board.

Congrats JBL on a truly magnificent speaker.
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