JBL SCS160SI review: JBL SCS160SI

The Good Dolby Digital EX/DTS ES-compatible 6.1-channel speaker system; five two-way satellites; dedicated center-channel speaker; beefy, 150-watt powered subwoofer; included wall-mount brackets.

The Bad Subwoofer lacks definition.

The Bottom Line The pint-size JBL's home-theater moxie wowed us, but its musical refinement was less thrilling.

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7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

Review summary

JBL's speaker designs have always been innovative, but the company's 6.1-channel package, the SCS160SI, was still a pleasant surprise. The sats, though smaller than the sort you see in a lot of budget HTIBs, sound bigger and better than those other flyweight minis. And the large, solidly constructed subwoofer leaves no doubt about the ensemble's low-frequency potency. The SCS160SI's $499 list price makes the kit a good value for people seeking discreet speakers that pack home-theater punch.

There are six 8-inch-tall satellites; one is for the center-back channel. If you have a 5.1-channel receiver, hold on to the extra sat--it'll come in handy if you ever need a spare or upgrade to a 6.1-channel system. The sats and the horizontally oriented center-front speaker are tastefully styled: each plastic cabinet is dark gray with a rich-looking black grille. The subwoofer, which matches the speakers in color, is a vinyl-wrapped beast that stands on four rather large, rubbery feet. It weighs 35 pounds and measures 17.75 inches high, 15.75 inches wide, and 16.75 inches deep.

Getting tiny satellites and a muscular sub to work together as one coherent package is difficult, and the SCS160SI was only moderately successful. Trying hard to bridge the sat-to-sub midbass gap, we wound up setting our receiver's crossover control to 120Hz or 100Hz. You'll get the best out of this system if you have a flexible receiver. And unless your room is very small, don't stash the subwoofer in a corner; we got the smoothest sub/sat integration when we kept the sub within two feet of one of the front speakers.

As true two-way models, the satellites each incorporate a 0.5-inch titanium-laminate tweeter and two 3-inch drivers. The 150-watt powered subwoofer pumps out deep bass with a downward-firing 10-inch woofer.

The subwoofer's only adjustment is a volume knob. Since the sub was designed specifically for the SCS160SI's sats, we weren't surprised that it doesn't offer crossover settings. We were more concerned about the lack of a phase control, which can help you achieve the best sat/sub blend. When the phase is incorrect, it's harder to confirm that the sub's woofer is in sync with the sats' drivers.

We regularly spot the sats' spring-clip wire connectors in budget HTIB speaker packages, but they're out of place in this midpriced system. The sub accepts either the subwoofer line-level output found on most current A/V receivers, or the speaker-level connections of older units.

The kit includes speaker cables and brackets for wall-mounting the satellites.

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