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Hands-On: JBL Synthesis HDI-1600 Bookshelf Loudspeakers

Harman goes small with its home theater powerhouse.

Harman’s Patrick Gaffney sent me a pair of their JBL Synthesis HDI-1600 bookshelf loudspeakers to demo along with an Arcam AVR10 audio/video receiver to power them. High-Definition Imaging (HDI) is Harman’s proprietary secret sauce for delivering killer sound. I’ve been on a quest to find the world’s perfect bookshelf speaker. Would these bring my journey to an end? I aimed to find out.

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I cut open each box and waded through cardboard and styrofoam until I had everything laid out. As I lifted each speaker out of its box, I noticed how heavy and solid they felt. The same went for the AVR10. It’s a beast, and you can feel the pent-up raw power waiting to escape.

Installation & Configuration
I connected both speakers to the AVR10 with 12/2 AWG speaker wire and plugged in the AC adapter. I pressed the large power button on the front panel and watched the display come to life. The AVR10 comes with a variety of connectivity methods including Bluetooth Audio (which supports high resolution audio formats), UPnP, AirPlay 2, and many others. I decided to try out Bluetooth to experience Bluetooth 5.0 (the newest version of the decades old wireless format) and challenge my preconceived notions that it’s not a serious wireless connectivity solution.

I paired my iPhone to the AVR10 and selected “Lullaby” by The Cure to kick things off. It’s a TIDAL Master quality tune, and I could tell right away these speakers were special. The presence from its high-frequency, mid-range, and low-end range were all superb. The AVR10 boasts output at 80 watts per channel, but the HDI-1600s can handle as much as 200 watts. I set aside my fears of overpowering the speakers and turned up the volume. Many speakers lose clarity around the middle and start to thin out with higher volumes, but not the HDI-1600s. Everything stayed in balance, with a striking low end enabled by its rear-ported woofer.

Arcam AVR10 audio/video receiver
Arcam AVR10 AV receiver

I played a few more tunes, including “Parachute” by Guster, “Jesus Of Suburbia” by Green Day, “Suicide” by Snoop Dogg, and Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum.” All were impressive, with the speakers really bringing out the recording quality. High-quality streaming services like TIDAL have turned me into a bit of picky eater when it comes to music. I may be at the point now where I’d listen to bad songs in Master quality because it’s so addictive. The HDI-1600s are a good reminder of why good sound matters. I found myself transported by their room-filling presence.

More Hands-On Tests from Henry Clifford: FLO by Moen

Final Report
Maybe it was the AVR10, maybe it was the HDI-1600s, but I’ve never heard a pair of bookshelf speakers with such range and low end. The bargain any bookshelf speaker owner makes is a compromise between size and sound. These speakers didn’t make me feel like I was sacrificing anything, and made me a little afraid to try listening to its larger siblings in the new Synthesis line. Kudos to JBL Synthesis for nailing the bookshelf category with the HDI-1600s. At $1800 per pair, they’re well worth it, and will blow you away.