Last week I heaped praise on the JBL Stage A170 tower speakers, but I also had the much smaller Stage A130 bookshelf speakers on hand, so I cracked open the box to see how the two JBLs compare. They share the same 1-inch aluminum tweeter set into a waveguide that focuses the high-frequency dispersion, but while the A170 has two 5.25-inch polycellulose woofers, the A130 has just one. The speaker stands 12.5 inches high, and its impedance is rated at 6 ohms.
The vinyl wrap is a no-frills basic black, but the overall build quality is good. Nicely finished black cloth grilles are included, and the rear baffle hosts a flared bass port and sturdy speaker cable connectors. JBL's Web site sells the A130 direct for $250 a pair, but they're $200 on Amazon.
The JBL Stage lineup also features three towers, the aforementioned A170 ($250 each), A180 ($280 each) and A190 ($360 each), and a smaller bookshelf, the A120 ($160 a pair). If you're interested in a home-theater multichannel setup, add one of the Stage center-channel speakers, the A135C ($250 each) or A125C ($200 each), and a powered sub, either the A120P ($450) or A100P ($350).
Listening to the A130
The A130 is a full-blooded JBL, so the sound isn't in any way light-weight; it handled high-volume listening sessions with grace and poise. Those are hurdles for any small speaker, but the A130s weren't up to the standards set by the A170 towers; those sounded bigger, with fuller bass, and more powerful dynamics and punch.
The A130s stereo imaging depth was just average, but they produced a clearly defined center image. If you can double your budget and have room for larger speakers, the A170s are definitely worth it. With that out of the way, back to the A130: it really is a very decent-sounding small speaker for the money.
During the bulk of my listening time with the A130s, it was hooked up to a NAD C 316BEEV2 stereo integrated amplifier. Stepping up to a Schiit Ager power amp significantly improved the A130's sound -- it had more weight and warmth, and the treble was sweeter. There was more complexity to the sound of cymbals, more of their burnished brassy shimmer. The A130 is capable of demonstrating the improvements that better electronics, digital converters or turntables can deliver. Which, in turn, makes it a terrific "starter" speaker for young audiophiles who may soon be ready to explore upgrade options for better sound.
There's a likability factor to the A130 that's impossible to ignore. Sadly I didn't have any other small speakers on hand for direct comparisons, but I'd still say the A130's sound has more heft to it than some other small bookshelf speakers I've reviewed in recent times. I'm thinking about the Klipsch R-51M or Q Acoustics 3020i, for example.
Over the course of my listening, it was the A130's ability to not call attention to itself as I played a variety of music genres, from classical chamber music, to EDM, jazz and rock. The speakers never faltered, possibly because there's a slight softness to the treble balance, but that's not such a bad thing to say about any speaker, especially budget-priced ones that are more likely to be paired with bright-sounding electronics.
All of that makes the JBL Stage A130 an easy and safe speaker to recommend.