JBL is a more than 60 year-old firm whose slogan, “Pro Sound Comes Home,” is a reference to the company’s reputation as a maker of high-performance studio monitors and sound reinforcement systems. While the idea of enjoying professionalgrade sound at home holds a certain appeal, the fact is that some monitoring speakers use exaggerated mids and highs to expose even the smallest flaws in recordings, meaning they might not be enjoyable for day-to-day listening at home. Happily, JBL’s affordable Cinema Sound system offers an interpretation of “Pro Sound” that combines reasonable clarity with a smooth, warm, relaxing presentation.
The Cinema Sound system lists for $1915 and consists of two CST55 floorstanding speakers, one CSC55 center channel, a pair of CSB5 surrounds, and a CSS10 powered subwoofer. Interestingly, both the CSC55 and CB5s can be wall-mounted, and come with brackets for that purpose. To assure evenness and consistency of voicing all Cinema Sound models use the same .75-inch titanium-laminate dome tweeters and 5-inch “PolyPlas” mid-bass drivers. The 150-watt CSS10 subwoofer, in turn, features a downward-firing 10-inch woofer housed in a large, reflex-ported enclosure. Before we discuss the Cinema Sound system’s performance, I’d like to take a moment to consider its appearance.
From a purely visual standpoint, JBL’s Cinema Sound speakers are stunning. While many speaker systems use variations on black or silver color schemes, JBL applies both those familiar colors in a fresh new way, giving its Cinema Sound models a striking twotone design motif. The silver enclosures contrast beautifully with the glasssmooth, jet-black front baffle plates, which are adorned with gleaming silver JBL logos. The overall look is sleek and classy, creating the impression that the system costs a lot more than it does.
Sonically, the two words that best describe the sound of this system are “smoothness” and “warmth.” There is nothing edgy or abrasive about its sound. In fact, you may discover that these speakers can soften rough edges just enough to make gritty recordings more palatable. I put on the decidedly rawsounding “There Goes The Neighborhood” from Sheryl Crow’s [A&M, SACD] and was pleasantly surprised to find that the JBL rig toned down the grinding, distorted sound of the electric guitars and softened the glare in Crow’s voice.
The Cinema Sound system also imparts a measure of warmth to music and movie soundtracks, I think because its overall tonal balance exhibits solid though not overblown bass, a trace of midrange forwardness, and slightly subdued highs. The rolled-off highs tend to be a double-edged sword, though. On one hand, they minimize rough edges in the treble region, which helps make the speakers “disappear” (rather than drawing unwanted attention to themselves), allowing the listener to become immersed in the sound field. They also lend the system a relaxing quality that many listeners will appreciate.
On the other hand, the recessed highs drain some of the life out of good recordings by smoothing over harmonics and treble detail that make instruments and voices sound more vivid and realistic.
When I listened to the Kodály Quartet’s performance of Schubert’s “Death And The Maiden” [Naxos], for example, I found it difficult to distinguish the viola from the cello and to pinpoint where the musicians were located on stage—details that are easy to hear and appreciate on systems with extended highs.
On movie soundtracks, many of which feature overly “hot” (treble enriched) mixes, the balance of the JBL system proved effective, with its slight touch of midrange forwardness helping to improve dialog intelligibility. The system’s dynamic capabilities were also very good even when it was pushed hard.
In the scene from V for Vendetta where Parliament and Big Ben are blown up, the system maintained its composure, showing only minor signs of strain. And the subwoofer, though not the last word in lowfrequency extension, delivered bass that was well balanced with above average definition and control.
On the whole, JBL’s Cinema Sound system is lovely to look at and presents a warm, spacious, and smooth sound that will help listeners de-compress after a hard day at work. Some systems in this price range offer more detail and greater realism, but for sheer relaxation the JBL system could be just what the doctor ordered.