JAMO S 809 5.1.2 SPEAKER SYS­TEM

Sound & Vision - - CONTENTS - By Daniel Ku­min

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.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

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.

SETUP

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.

MU­SIC LIS­TEN­ING

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.

MUL­TI­CHAN­NEL LIS­TEN­ING

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?

CON­CLU­SION

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.

The Ver­dict

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.

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