Jamo's $200 S 803 speakers belt out deeply satisfying bass
The Audiophiliac puts the Jamo Studio S 803 through its paces, with music and movies.
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
I've been writing about audio for more than 20 years, but this is my first Jamo speaker review. I waited too long, and the Studio Series S 803 stuck me as a great place to start. Right away these midsize speakers made outsize bass -- they rock! Better yet, the price is right. They list for $299 a pair in the US, but you won't have to try very hard to find them selling for $199 a pair. (We've seen them for £239 in the UK and AU$500 in Australia.)
The front panel hosts a 1-inch (25mm) soft dome tweeter set in a waveguide and a 5-inch (127mm) aluminized polyfiber woofer, and a slot bass port. Impedance is rated at 8 ohms. The S 803 comes in black, white and walnut vinyl finishes, and magnetically attached cloth grilles are included. The cabinet measures 13.9 by 7.5 by 9.9 inches (353 by 191 by 252mm).
The S 803's rear panel connectivity is out of the ordinary. While there are two sets of speaker cable connectors, they're not for biwiring or biamping. The top set of connectors are provided for use with the optional Jamo S8 ATM Dolby Atmos Module height channel speakers ($145, £199 per pair) that attach to the S 803 speakers' top panels. The modules might make sense for S 803 buyers with multichannel home theaters using Jamo's S 81 center speaker ($150, £156), and the J 10 subwoofer ($399, £307).
The S 803 doesn't blend into the background. Jamo engineers didn't go for a neutral tonal balance -- it's a bright and bass-rich speaker. As I listened, I tamed some of the brightness by popping on the included grilles. I also cut the brightness down with judicious use of the DTA Pro's tone controls. Bass is positively big and bold, though definition is on the soft side of neutral. The harder-rocking tunes on Son Volt's Notes of Blue album lit up the S 803s. Yes, they can party.
Reggae tunes demonstrated the S 803s' gung-ho aptitude for bass, and when I pumped up the DTA Pro's bass control, the Studio One Dancehall Selection album throbbed with gusto. Ditto for Beck's Odelay (I forgot how great that album is). Legendary jazz drummer Max Roach's 1980s all-percussion album M'Boom's hard hitting dynamics were mighty impressive for a such a small speaker.
Australian singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin's auspicious debut album Don't Let the Kids Win sounds too bright on most speakers, and it certainly did here on the S 803. I found that held true for a lot of pop and rock music on these speakers, and while stereo imaging was spacious, focus and detail were just average.
For my stereo home theater listening sessions I was perfectly happy with S 803s when I watched the terrific First Man about astronaut Neil Armstrong. The sound mix was truly enveloping in an early scene when the astronauts are attempting the first docking maneuver with another spacecraft. The S 803s speakers projected a huge, room-filling sound of the spacecraft's creaking metal, beeping controls and the astronauts' breathing. My heart was racing!
The Jamo Studio Series S 803s are contenders, but if you have room for small tower speakers, the $228-a-pair Dayton Audio MK442T speakers have even better bass, with richer midrange and sweeter treble. Watch for my review coming soon.
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