Home Theater on a Budget Page 2

JBL SCS300.7The JBL package qualifies as an HToB system since it comes in one box - a really big box. It's the only system in our group to include a full 7.1-channel array, with seven slick silver satellites (say that three times fast!). They're identical except that the center speaker is horizontally oriented. JBL SCS300.7

JBL SCS300.7
PRICE $699
PLUS ? Includes seven satellites at a great price ? 10-inch subwoofer gives deep, strong bass ? Includes ?exible mounting hardware
MINUS ? May sound too bright in re?ective rooms ? Need an adjustable crossover and careful satellite placement for best sub/sat blend

SETUP Speaking of hardware, JBL supplies everything you need to mount the satellites on the wall, on swivel shelf mounts, on the supplied short stands, or any combination of the above - dedicated floor stands cost extra. It even includes cable in generous lengths, with the wire ends already stripped.

Blending the sound of the subwoofer with tiny satellites almost always requires extra effort, and the SCS300.7 system was no exception. JBL recommends starting with your receiver's subwoofer crossover set to 100 Hz, so that's what I did. At first I still heard the "hole-in-the-midbass" effect so common with such systems. Bumping the crossover up to 120 Hz helped a bit, but what made all the difference was moving the three front speakers about a foot farther from the front wall. This underscores how even relatively tiny changes in speaker placement can have big results.

MUSIC PERFORMANCE Once balanced and tweaked, the SCS300.7 sounded amazingly similar to many far bigger JBL systems I've auditioned. That is, it was clear and squeaky-clean, with crisp, airy highs and a distinct absence of any extra midbass warmth. Some male vocals (and TV announcers) sounded a little less authoritative, but the payoff was impressively clear and intelligible dialogue and clean, punchy vocals.

Tracks like "She Dreams of Trains" on the six-channel DVD-Audio mix of Vince Gill's High Lonesome Sound showcased the clarity and definition of this carefully crafted surround production, especially the lifelike vocals. And songs like "Given More Time," which over the last half-minute or so gradually pans the vocal from center front to left rear, revealed a cohesive sound field, proving that the SCS300 satellites worked well all around.

When pushed, the system played surprisingly loud without strain. Stereo recordings sounded a bit "squished" dynamically at extreme volumes, but with multichannel rock at headbanging levels, things stayed clean right up to within 4 or 5 dB of what my larg er reference speakers can do - impressive.

MOVIE PERFORMANCE Soundtracks for big-production movies like The Italian Job keep the action moving almost continuously, and the JBL system handled the bustle adroitly. Chapter 4's speedboat chase is perfect for evaluating continuity across the front and blending between the front and surround channels, as boats zoom in every direction. The SCS300.7 kept the roaring, whooshing parade convincingly "whole," from hard left across the screen to hard right, by no means a universal achievement among mini sub/sat speaker systems.

JBL SCS300.7 backEven sounds panned to the rear stayed believable. Bucking JBL's intentions, I placed the surround speakers on their sides, aimed just slightly forward and tilted up to bounce some sound off the ceiling. This enhanced ambience while preserving enough direct sound for instruments and voices.

JBL supplies a hefty subwoofer with the SCS300.7 system, largely explaining the king-sized master carton. And as expected, the SCS300 sub pounded out thunderous bass to below 35 Hz, with more than enough volume to match the satellites even when I tried the 7.1-channel setup, in which two back surround speakers were directly behind my listening position.

With seven satellites and a very capable subwoofer , this is an awful lot of system for the bucks. On a sheer sounds/pounds-per-dollar basis, JBL's SCS300.7 speaker system is tough to beat.

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