For those of us in the media, CEDIA Expo is a fun but hectic time. There is so much information, so many companies, and so many announcements that it can all be a bit like drinking from a firehose! And with the finite amount of time available on the show floor, you rarely get to spend more than about 20-30 minutes with a single company before you need to rush off to the next booth.
With a ton of announcements for this upcoming CEDIA — and in order to have our full and undivided attention — Harman Luxury Audio brought a group of journalists out to its Northridge, Calif., facility for a full day of education and announcements. Harman has been in this building since 1976, and the massive group of buildings — I believe they said a total of 250,000 square feet — contains the engineering, leadership, and product development teams for Harman’s Luxury Audio Group, which consists of JBL Synthesis, Revel, Arcam, and Mark Levinson.
As our host, Jim Garrett, senior director of product strategy and planning for Harman’s Luxury Audio Group, said, “This is a world-class engineering team with resources that want for nothing!” and all of Harman’s proprietary designs and technologies are developed in this facility.
The facility houses seven anechoic chambers for testing speakers of all sizes and capabilities and is used for research, product creation, and testing, including a torture test room where all speakers are pummeled at maximum power for a minimum of 100 hours to analyze and fix any failure points before they are released to market.
There is also a Pro Experience Center where Harman can display and demonstrate its solutions for the pro market that include massive line arrays and complex lighting rigs for arenas, amusement parks, hotels, houses of worship, casinos, etc.
One of the things Harman wanted to impress on us was the company’s science-based approach to design and the company’s long legacy in cinema and pro sound. JBL has been making cinema speakers since 1934, and the company was awarded an Academy Award in 1936. Today, it is the dominant brand worldwide in commercial cinema/live sound, with Synthesis as a leader in immersive audio. If you want to replicate what the engineers and sound mixers heard when creating the content and what was played back in the commercial space, it makes sense to use the JBL speakers with the same sonic heritage.
Additionally, the company has launched numerous products over the past 24 months, and without any tradeshow presence at CES or CEDIA, these are products that most people haven’t seen or heard yet.
They explained the market research that has gone into studying Gen Z — “Zoomers” — who will comprise the next generation of consumers. They also went over “Harman University,” an online training section that offers over 60 courses with over 5000 students enrolled worldwide, and also discussed how compression drivers work and why the company has spent some much time and money researching and developing this technology. We also got a wonderful presentation from Dr. Sean Olive, a senior fellow at Harman, on the decade’s worth of research the company has conducted to discover and answer the questions, “What makes great sound?” and “Do people agree on what sounds great?”
The facility also houses “Harman X,” the company’s corporate research team that is a think tank tasked toward developing the next generation of products. We got to experience a 22.4 immersive audio demo that looks to answer, “What is the most bang for your buck?” in speaker layout. This system included 10 listener-level speakers, nine overhead speakers, and three floor speakers up front along with four Synthesis subwoofers.
Of course, getting to see and experience the upcoming products were high on the agenda, so the second half of the day was spent visiting different listening rooms to hear a variety of the speakers that will be showcased at the upcoming Expo.
One of the more interesting products is JBL’s L75MS, which is a single, tabletop speaker that offers a ton of streaming options — Chromecast, AirPlay, Bluetooth, and Roon Ready — along with support for a variety of legacy connections like digital audio, HDMI, and even a phono input. This was meant to be a 2.0 solution with a large, full-range sound, but the Harman engineers developed an audio expansion mode using DSP that uses phase shifting and canceling to create a wide, pseudo-surround mode.
They also showed off the company’s brand new entry-level architectural products called Stage 2. There will be a total of eight models in this range, in a combination of 6- and 8-inch in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, with none of them selling for more than $250/each. They demonstrated an impressive-sounding 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos surround system consisting of Stage 2 speakers where the entire in-wall speaker package was under $2000 at full retail!
Also new is the Stage XD indoor/outdoor monitor that has achieved an IP67 waterproof rating. Beyond its durable design, this speaker is fully serviceable, and can be taken apart for repair in the field and reassembled while retaining its IP67 rating! These feature a ball/socket wall mount for flexible positioning, and deliver high SPLs and really wide sound dispersion for great off-axis performance that is so important in outdoor applications. The speakers will be offered in 5- and 6-inch models.
JBL introduced its “Classic Series” a couple of years ago featuring retro wood cabinets and fabric finishes. Now the company is introducing an exclusive, limited-edition version of this called the “Classic Series Black Edition.” Garret said that only “a few hundred of each” will be made, and all will feature gloss black finishes on all sides, black grilles, and unique gold badging on the speakers and grilles. There will be four models in the Black Edition series, including the L52, L82, L100, and L75MS. The L82 and L100 Black Editions will also feature upgraded drivers, components, and bi-wire capability.
Garrett said a comment he frequently hears from some dealers is that JBL Synthesis systems “sound great, but cost too much,” and the company has introduced four new in-wall/ceiling models to maintain performance but to reach lower price points. The new speakers are the SCL-5, SCL-6, SCL-7, and SCL-8. These models are about a year old and all feature the company’s compression driver technology and a new proprietary clamping system to make installation faster.
To test and demonstrate these speakers, the company built a 9.2.6 system utilizing two Synthesis SSW2 subwoofers.
Of course, the day’s grand finale was a visit to the John Eargle Theater, named after JBL’s head of engineering for many years.
This 10-seat theater was designed by Richard Charschan of AcousticSmart Home Theatre Interiors and features the best of what Synthesis has to offer. To ensure massive low-end and smooth, even, and powerful bass across all seating positions, the room features ten subwoofers, including two of the company’s massive SSW1’s up front, which feature dual 15-inch drivers. They stressed these subs have been torture-tested to 125 dB, and are flat to sub-20 Hz. They also feature 6-inch voice coils with a 45mm excursion, with each woofer weighing 80 pounds to produce soul-stirring bass!
The room includes a total of 13 listener-level speakers in a combination of SCL-1 and SCL-2 models, and another 13 overhead SCL-3 speakers, all driven by nine separate amplifiers providing over 20,000 watts and controlled by a Synthesis SDP-75 processor. To complete the immersive experience, images are projected onto a 15-foot wide, 2.39-aspect screen. This was the true expression of exactly how engaging, exciting, and immersive a beautifully designed and installed home theater can be, and it left us all wanting more!
JBL Synthesis systems are always one of the marquee demos at CEDIA, and this year the company will be showing off two systems — a small one using SCL-5, -6, and -7 speakers that will retail for around $30,000 and a large one using SCL-2, -3, and -4 speakers that would retail for around $80,000. Be sure to visit the company at the show (booth #16035) to experience the full range of Harman Luxury Audio products along with JBL speakers.
For more information, visit www.harmanluxuryaudio.com.