Jamo S 809 Speaker System Review Page 2

Music Listening
With everything in place and connected, I left the system for a week’s casual use to account for any break-in possibilities and then settled in for the serious auditions, commencing as always with two-channel, no-sub listening via my pre/pro’s Direct mode. The S 809s poured forth a nice full balance, with a tall, moderately wide, and very sharply drawn image plus plenty of bass for typical pop. For example, on Rita Coolidge’s version of the soul standard “Higher & Higher” (AIX/iTrax 24/96 stereo download), the bottom end was warm and rich, perhaps even a touch too much so. Pulling the towers a couple of feet further out from the wall so that their baffles were spaced nearly 4 feet from it mitigated this noticeably, but the overall balance remained decidedly full.

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Midrange detail was quite good as well, but a slightly constricted or pinched tonality to the lower midrange required further investigation. I heard it on the same track, where Coolidge’s inimitably husky contralto lost a degree of its resonant chest-tone body, and confirmed it in direct comparisons with my everyday monitors on other voices as well. (These are long-discontinued Energy 2.3 standmount three-ways, which, were they still available, would cost at least twice as much as the entire Jamo system.) For example, I heard the shift to a thinner/more astringent midrange fairly notably on a track by bluegrass alto Noah Wall (from an HDtracks sampler) singing the traditional “Down by the Riverside.” He sounded almost like a different, more sharply nasal singer.

On most material and at reasonable listening levels, this effect was barely detectable and not at all troubling, though it became more pronounced at higher volumes. Material like a full-orchestra tutti at concert-hall levels, such as the Tchaikovsky string serenade (a Nordic DSD file), evidenced this as a slightly drier, less resonant strings-and-hall sound. When applying the wholly unscientific knuckle-rap test to these long cabinet walls, they returned a fairly bright knock rather than the usually preferable duller thud—though this is no proof of anything. In any case, the Jamo towers’ overall presentation was otherwise detailed, if not particularly airy in the high treble—cymbal rides lost a bit of their bell-like ring compared with my everyday speakers—and provided otherwise honest tonality across a variety of voices.

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Bass was generous—a touch more enthusiastic than neutral—to something that sounded like below 40 hertz in-room. That should satisfy most of us for nearly any sort of music save synth/dub or the odd orchestral extravaganza with loose bass drum or Wagner tubas. Typical pop bass-drum strokes sometimes carried a slight, almost pitched extra thunk, which I noted over recordings as different as “Anna Begins” from the Counting Crows and “Everyday I Write the Book” from Elvis Costello. But the towers’ bottom octaves were generally rich and effective overall. The Jamos seemed happy enough to play quite loud, absorbing most of my power amp’s 150 watts per channel without complaint.

Multichannel Listening
Moving along to multichannel matters, I was impressed to find that the S 81 center unit made a really fine tonal match with the S 809 towers over a variety of voices, both male and female, and its vocal timbre remained unexpectedly consistent to well off axis. (Unexpected, because two-way horizontal centers often exhibit lobing response dips as you move off-center.) This augured well for front-stage cohesion. The little S 801 two-ways worked well in the surround positions, as small speakers almost always do when positioned high and aimed slightly forwards from locations a bit behind the listening position. Playing a multichannel FLAC from the same Rita Coolidge album, of the Dave Mason chestnut “Only You Know and I Know,” at something approaching live-like levels, produced a solidly convincing experience from this stage-perspective recording.

Now for the final member of the quorum: the S 810 subwoofer. The compact 10-incher evidenced no particular shortcomings, and indeed proved commendably unflappable up to fairly high levels. But in my view it simply didn't add enough to the proceedings, extending little if any lower than the S 809 towers’ own lower limit, though adding a few decibels of ultimate level to the equation and likely reducing distortion. This model might very well prove valuable in a bigger room or in the hands of folks who demand closer to reference-level playback as opposed to the lower volume that I usually favor. Either way, as my pre/pro allows multiple setups to be stored in its presets, I was able to compare the system’s with- and without-subwoofer sound directly. And, yes, it sounded better to me—slightly tighter, a little bit more articulate—with the sub dialed in by ear and the S 809 towers crossed over at a low 60 Hz, than it did with the towers handling full-range on their own. But the difference in bass extension and ultimate level were fairly nominal: Shoppers seeking a “big-home-theater” experience may well want to look at Jamo's other sub offerings for something more substantial.

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The Jamo layout proved impressive as a basic Atmos suite. On Dolby's Atmos demonstration Blu-ray’s “Amaze” and “Leaf” trailers, which are the best shorthand reference I know for object-surround overhead-ness, the wonderfully cohesive, smooth hemisphere—a bit flattened to the rear, to be sure, due to the absence of rear-height speakers—of ambience and localization it delivered highlighted the value of the towers’ solid imaging and the center’s excellent match. Dipping into scenes from Atmos films like Gravity and Passengers cemented my impression that the system was among the best knitted-together examples I’ve heard so far.

Of course, the Jamo suite’s imaging and stage integrity are vital for a home theater presentation. Sitting through the Bond actioner Spectre (which I somehow missed until now) erased all nits I might pick. The opening Day of the Dead sequence in Mexico City is a highly immersive street scene that the system delivered with powerful breadth, depth, and height—yes, I know this is a non-object DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, but my pre/pro’s post processing did impressive work in adding a height dimension using Audyssey’s DSX gears. The little Danish sub rendered the down-sweeping bass drum that underpins the proceedings with just enough pleasing floorboard flex that the system fell entirely away and delivered an unexpectedly fun couple of hours. Once the lights go down, what more can we ask?

Conclusion
The Jamo Studio 8 setup has a very tough mission: compete with myriad other $1,500-range home theater systems churning out of Chinese factories under U.S., Canadian, and European brands. These inexpensively but competently made, vinyl-wrapped small-tower systems are designed from what I might term the common-practice playbook of speaker design here in our computer-modeling, post-Thiele-Small-parameter era, and most are more similar than different. Some are better at one thing, some at another, but few tower above the rest. Jamo’s example may have to jostle for space in this crowd, but it stands ready to deliver solidly enjoyable sound and very welcome value while doing so.

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COMMENTS
drny's picture

It's sad to say, but the market for affordably priced decent quality tower speaker system is quickly shrinking.
The average "A/V" enthusiast will choose smaller package options instead of Tower systems. For the average Joe, a soundbar with a base module will do.
For those who are seeking entry level speaker systems, a Sub & Satellites system is the ticket to save the marriage or the lease in the apartment.
Jamo, and their competition in this price range of tower systems are truly in a jam.

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