With the introduction of the SCS300.7 ($649 list), JBL has joined the ranks of manufacturers offering flat-screen-friendly speaker designs. Everybody's doing it, but few manufacturers manage to slim down their speakers without forfeiting sound quality. This 7.1-channel package--which features seven svelte satellites and a burly 10-inch, 150-watt subwoofer--satisfied our home-theater appetite but wasn't as fulfilling for music. The JBL SCS300.7's six 11.5-inch-tall satellites have a taut, elegantly sculptured shape, highlighted by silver-and-platinum plastic accents. The center speaker looks identical to the front and rear sats but conforms to the conventional horizontal orientation. The subwoofer's top and front baffles are sheathed in a dark-gray vinyl wrap, which contrasts with the side panels' matte-silver finish. The sub is fairly large, measuring 20.0 inches high, 13.75 inches wide, and 15.75 inches deep, and weighing an impressive 35.0 pounds.
Since they have rounded bottoms, the satellites can't stand on their own. Instead, they must be fitted to JBL's wall brackets or table stands, both of which come included, or to its optional floor stands (model FS1000, $250 list/pair). The speakers are also compatible with Sanus and OmniMount wall brackets.
We decided to use the supplied tubular-plastic table stands. They discreetly hid the wires, but we first had to thread the speaker wires up and through the stands and then insert the stripped wire ends into tiny holes on the speaker-wire clips. Over the course of assembling the seven speakers and stands, we got the knack of it, but it still took more than half an hour to complete the job.
For around $100 less, JBL's SCS200.7 speaker package offers an identical set of satellites with a smaller subwoofer.The JBL SCS300.7 is available only as a seven-channel system, although we suppose owners of standard 5.1-channel home-theater systems could use the remaining two satellites in another room or a second zone. There is one downside to this plan: the sats will sound bass shy unless you add a supporting subwoofer in the second room.
All seven satellites feature dual 3.0-inch drivers flanking a 0.5-inch titanium-laminate dome tweeter. The subwoofer's down-firing 10.0-inch driver is mated to a 150-watt amp.
The satellites' push-spring connectors are generally easy to use, but as we mentioned, the hole that accepts the wire is really small, and since the connectors are located in a recessed area in the back of the speakers, we didn't have a lot of working room to push the wire into the connector. Banana jacks and U-shaped spades won't fit the speakers' connectors.
The subwoofer's connectivity is unusually complete: it offers stereo speaker-level inputs and outputs, line-level inputs, and a dedicated LFE/direct-RCA input. That last option is the easiest to hook up and usually produces the best sound quality.Our first impression of the JBL SCS300.7 was of its bright and detailed sound. The textures, buzzes, and beeps of the Matrix Reloaded DVD came through in all their glory, and the subwoofer earned its keep shaking our room on the extended car-chase scene in Chapter 22. Yes, the big guy can razzle-dazzle you with its bone-jarring bass power, but it lacks finesse. The seven satellites created a seamless surround experience. Volume capabilities were impressive, considering the satellites' trim dimensions.
As we played other DVDs, we were aware of a bass gap between the satellites and the subwoofer. You could hear traces of it in places where voices and instruments lacked their natural warmth. Movie dialogue was articulate, but we wished the little center speaker sounded a bit bigger. James Earl Jones's resonant pipes were MIA--he sounded more like Michael Jackson.
Turning from DVDs to CDs, we noticed that Warren Zevon's unique brand of California rock wasn't as dangerous as it should have been. We could hear the satellites running out of juice when Zevon was peaking. Acoustic jazz CDs sounded very alive, but the subwoofer muddled Dave Holland's nimble bass lines on Geri Allen's new piano-trio disc, The Life of a Song. Drummer Jack DeJohnette's cymbals were harsh and zingy--at moderately loud levels. When we eased off to background volume, the sound was more enjoyable.
The SCS300.7 may be an ideal choice for style-conscious home-theater fans mostly interested in action-packed DVDs. It can rock the house like a larger package, but its lack of refinement when playing music and quieter DVDs will limit its appeal for some buyers.