JAMO S 809 5.1.2 SPEAKER SYSTEM
JAMO, THE DANISH SPEAKER
firm whose name rhymes with— well, not “ham-oh,” and not “Hey Moe!,” and certainly not orange— but with, more or less, “ma-mo,” has been quietly busy upon our shores for several decades now. That quiet became a bit noisier after the firm’s acquisition by Klipsch in 2005 (both now part of the VOXX corporate group founded by car-fi stalwart Audiovox).
Jamo’s latest oeuvre is the Studio 8 series, comprising a lineup of highly affordable slim-tower, bookshelf, and center-channel speakers featuring a typically simple, not to say stark, Scandinavian design language. How affordable? Our test suite begins with the S 809 HCS system pack ($999), which combines a pair of S 809 towers, a pair of S 801 shoebox-sized bookshelfers for surround duties, and an S 81 CEN horizontal center unit— all improbably Rubik’d together in one gigantic master carton that at first glance might contain instead a knockdown dining set from Ikea. To grow this setup into a minimum-atmos and subwoofer-equipped 5.1.2-channel layout, Jamo supplemented a pair of S 8 ATM elevation modules ($199/pair) and the S 810 SUB powered
subwoofer ($299). The Danes sent along everything in standard walnut woodgrain (i.e., vinyl) finish, which looked very nice with their understated, tweed-flecked cloth grilles. Both matte black and white cabinets are available at identical cost.
The S 809 towers are slim obelisks just 6.5 inches wide that appear to follow contemporary audio engineering best practices for value/ performance: a “two-and-a-half-way” layout employing multiple small, identical woofers (three 5-inchers in this case), one of which extends upward to blend with the tweeter, while all operate in unison and unimpeded on the low-frequency end. (Such a design has several virtues, chief of which is a directivity pattern with minimized interference from the additional drivers and therefore more similar to a conventional two-way, while still maximizing surface area and additional motors for the more rigorous demands of bass output.) The 1-inch soft-dome tweeter is set into a smoothly radiused waveguide, essentially a very shallow horn that controls the directivity of the high-frequency driver for a smoother match with the woofer directly below it.
The S 81 CEN center is a conventional horizontal two-way using a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter matched with dual 4-inch woofers. The S 801, assigned surroundchannel duties, also employs a similar tweeter and single 4-inch woofer. Jamo’s S 8 ATM Atmos “topper” employs a full-range 4-inch driver, without benefit of a tweeter, for ceiling-bounce duty from a cabinet sized to perfectly match the profile of the towers, with the top surface revealing its up-and-out aim. In a clever twist, the tower’s grille slides up to match the height of the S 8’s front edge, making for a seamless look.
The Atmos elevation module’s most interesting feature is its connection and mounting scheme: two small posts that mate with sockets on the top of the S 809 tower (they’ll also mate with other tower models further down the Studio 8 line), which simultaneously locate the Atmos modules and connect them to a second set of input terminals low on the tower’s rear panel. (To prevent confusion, these are marked "Height" and "Main," with the upper pair feeding the elevation speaker, and the lower the tower itself.) This simple expedient eliminates the need to dangle the height speaker’s wire from on high, possibly spoiling the Jamos’ elegant lines. (Of course, this also means that when used without the Atmos modules, the S 809 tower shows the pair of small holes on its top panel. It further means that the
S 8 ATMS cannot be used with other systems, which turns out to be a
shame as they are solid, value-priced Atmos ‘elevators.’)
Jamo paired this system with its S 810 SUB subwoofer, a functionally conventional 10-inch woofer in a somewhat unconventionally shaped cabinet. The S 810 SUB'S bottommounted amplifier allows for it to be positioned under a couch, or to stand unobtrusively on-edge against a wall. The sub enclosure is vented via a full-width port on its bottom edge.
I placed the S 810 SUB in my long-established subwoofer position a few feet from the corner, the towers spaced about 8 feet apart and flanking my 55-inch Vizio TV, and the S 8 surrounds on high shelves just behind the listening position. The S 81 CEN center speaker went on a low stand bringing its top surface just below the bottom edge of the screen. All three Jamo models proffer standard plastic multiway binding post pairs (the S 809 towers have two such pairs as already mentioned). The towers are vented via oblong ports at their bottom fronts and the center and surrounds on their rear panels, while the elevation modules are sealed.
With everything in place and connected, I left the system for a week’s casual use to account for any break-in possibilities and then settled in for the serious auditions, commencing as always with two-channel, no-sub listening via my pre/pro’s Direct mode. The S 809s
poured forth a nice full balance, with a tall, moderately wide, and very sharply drawn image plus plenty of bass for typical pop. For example, on Rita Coolidge’s version of the soul standard “Higher & Higher” (AIX/ itrax 24/96 stereo download), the bottom end was warm and rich, perhaps even a touch too much so. Pulling the towers a couple of feet further out from the wall so that their baffles were spaced nearly 4 feet from it mitigated this noticeably, but the overall balance remained decidedly full.
Midrange detail was quite good as well, but a slightly constricted or pinched tonality to the lower midrange required further investigation. I heard it on the same track, where Coolidge’s inimitably husky contralto lost a degree of its resonant chest-tone body, and confirmed it in direct comparisons with my everyday monitors on other voices as well. (These are long-discontinued Energy 2.3 standmount three-ways, which, were they still available, would cost at least twice as much as the entire Jamo system.) For example, I heard the shift to a thinner/more astringent midrange fairly notably on a track by bluegrass alto Noah Wall (from an Hdtracks sampler) singing the traditional “Down by the Riverside.” He sounded almost like a different, more sharply nasal singer. On most material and at reasonable listening levels, this effect was barely detectable and not at all troubling, though it became more pronounced at higher volumes. Material like a full-orchestra tutti at concert-hall levels, such as the Tchaikovsky string serenade (a Nordic DSD file), evidenced this as a slightly drier, less resonant strings-and-hall sound. When applying the wholly unscientific knuckle-rap test to these long cabinet walls, they returned a fairly bright knock rather than the usually preferable duller thud— though this is no proof of anything. In any case, the Jamo towers’ overall presentation was otherwise detailed, if not particularly airy in the high treble— cymbal rides lost a bit of their bell-like ring compared with my everyday speakers— and provided otherwise honest tonality across a variety of male and female voices.
Bass was generous— a touch more enthusiastic than neutral— to something that sounded like below 40 Hz in-room. That should satisfy most of us for nearly any sort of music save synth/dub or the odd orchestral extravaganza with loose bass drum or Wagner tubas. Typical pop Jamo's S 8 ATM elevation module (at left) attaches neatly to sockets on the S 809 tower speaker's top surface. A second set of speaker input terminals (see image at top right on opposite page) is used to route signals to the elevation module. bass-drum strokes sometimes carried a slight, almost pitched extra thunk, which I noted over recordings as different as “Anna Begins” from the Counting Crows and “Everyday I
Write the Book” from Elvis Costello. But the towers’ bottom octaves were generally rich and effective overall. The Jamos seemed happy enough to play quite loud, absorbing most of my power amp’s 150 watts per channel without complaint.
Moving along to multichannel matters, I was impressed to find that the S 81 CEN center unit made a really fine tonal match with the S 809 towers over a variety of voices, both male and female, and its vocal timbre remained unexpectedly consistent to well off axis. (Unexpected, because two-way horizontal centers often exhibit lobing response dips as you move off-center.) This augured well for front-stage cohesion. The little S 801 two-ways worked well in the surround positions, as small speakers almost always do when positioned high and aimed slightly forwards from locations a bit behind the listening position. Playing a multichannel FLAC from the same Rita Coolidge album, of the Dave Mason chestnut “Only You Know and I Know,” at something approaching live-like levels, produced a solidly convincing experience from this stage-perspective recording.
Now for the final member of the quorum: the S 810 SUB subwoofer. The compact 10-incher evidenced no particular shortcomings, and indeed proved commendably unflappable up to fairly high levels. But in my view it simply didn’t add enough to the proceedings, extending little if any lower than the S 809 towers’ own lower limit, though adding a few decibels of ultimate level to the equation and likely reducing
distortion. This model might very well prove valuable in a bigger room or in the hands of folks who demand closer to reference-level playback as opposed to the lower volume that I usually favor. Either way, as my pre/pro allows multiple setups to be stored in its presets, I was able to compare the system’s with- and without-subwoofer sound directly. And, yes, it sounded better to me— slightly tighter, a little bit more articulate— with the sub dialed in by ear and the S 809 towers crossed over at a low 60 Hz, than it did with the towers handling full-range on their own. But the difference in bass extension and ultimate level were fairly nominal: Shoppers seeking a “big-home-theater” experience may well want to look at Jamo’s other sub offerings for something more substantial.
The Jamo layout proved impressive as a basic Atmos suite. On the Dolby Atmos demonstration Blu-ray’s “Amaze” and “Leaf” trailers, which are the best shorthand reference I know for object-surround overheadness, the wonderfully cohesive, smooth hemisphere— a bit flattened to the rear, to be sure, due to the absence of rear height speakers— of ambience and localization it delivered highlighted the value of the
Of course, the Jamo suite’s imaging and stage integrity are vital for a home theater presentation. Sitting through the Bond actioner Spectre (which I somehow missed until now) erased all nits I might pick. The opening Day of the Dead sequence in Mexico City is a highly immersive street scene that the system delivered with powerful breadth, depth, and height— yes, I know this is a non-object DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, but my pre/pro’s post processing did impressive work in adding a height dimension using Audyssey’s DSX gears. The little Danish sub rendered the down-sweeping bass drum that underpins the proceedings with just enough pleasing floorboard flex that the system fell entirely away and delivered an unexpectedly fun couple of hours. Once the lights go down, what more can we ask?
The Jamo Studio 8 setup has a very tough mission: compete with myriad other $1,500-range home theater systems churning out of Chinese factories under U.S., Canadian, and European brands. These inexpensively but competently made, vinyl-wrapped small-tower systems are designed from what I might term the common-practice playbook of speaker design here in our computer-modeling, post-thiele-small-parameter era, and most are more similar than different. Some are better at one thing, some at another, but few tower above the rest. Jamo’s example may have to jostle for space in this crowd, but it stands ready to deliver solidly enjoyable sound and very welcome value while doing so.
This Jamo Atmos-ready system provides impressive immersion and solid value, though bassheads will want to investigate the company’s more capable subwoofer offerings.
Jamo's S 81 CEN center speaker proved to be a fine tonal match with the company's S 809 towers during our evaluation.
The walnut woodgrain finish of our review system looked great paired with the speakers' tweed-flecked cloth grilles.
Jamo's S 810 SUB subwoofer houses a 10-inch driver in a tall cabinet that can be tucked behind or even under a sofa.