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JBL HDI-3800 Measurements and Conclusion

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HDI outside testing.jpg

The JBL HDI-3800s speakers were measured in free-air at a height of 4 feet at a 2-meter distance from the microphone, with the microphone raised to a 7.5’ elevation that was level with and aimed at the tweeter center. The measurements were gated at 9-milliseconds. In this time window, some resolution is lost below 400 Hz and accuracy is completely lost below 200 Hz. Measurements have been smoothed at a 1/12 octave resolution.

HDI waterfall response 3D.jpg

HDI waterfall response 2D.jpg

HDI 3800 on axis FR.jpg

There is a whole lot to like about the measurements seen in the above graphs...

The above graphs depict the JBL HDI-3800’s on-axis and horizontal dispersion out to a 95-degree angle in five-degree increments. Information on how to interpret these graphs can be read in our article Understanding Loudspeaker Review Measurements Part II. There is a whole lot to like about the measurements seen in the above graphs, and pretty much nothing to complain about. This is a beautifully neutral showing both on and off-axis. You could listen to these speakers over a broad angle in front of them and get the same tonality, and it would be an accurate sound. The good news about that is not just that you could listen at an off-axis angle for the same experience, but that all the acoustic reflections in-room will have the same tonality as whatever the direct sound is hitting the listener. You really don’t need acoustic treatments with that kind of performance. This is terrific performance, and it is befitting the kind of expectations that one would have for a modern high-end speaker from JBL.

HDI Polar Map.jpg 

This is terrific performance, and it is befitting the kind of expectations that one would have for a modern high-end speaker from JBL.

The above polar map shows the same information in the preceding graphs but depicts it in a way that can offer new insight regarding these speakers’ behavior. Instead of using individual raised lines to illustrate amplitude, polar maps use color to portray amplitude, and this allows the use of a purely angle/frequency axis perspective. The advantage of these graphs is they can let us see broader trends of the speaker’s dispersion behavior more easily. More information about interpreting this graph can be read in our article- Understanding Loudspeaker Review Measurements Part II.

What we see here from the HDI-3800s is beautifully controlled directivity. JBL’s waveguide technology is no joke and is really paying off here. The beamwidth, which is defined as the off-axis angle at which the amplitude is down by 6 dB, is impressively flat at around the 50-degree angle. There is no doubt that this is one of the best waveguides out there. This is not exactly a wide dispersion pattern nor is it a very narrow dispersion. As the graphs above it demonstrate, we see it offers uniform coverage over a wide area, and so long as the listener isn’t seated way off-axis, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

HDI Low Frequency Response.jpg

The above graph shows the HDI-3800’s low-frequency response captured using groundplane measurements (where the speaker and microphone are on the ground at a 2-meter distance in a wide-open area). Here we again see a nicely linear response that accounts for how sharp the HDI-3800’s bass sound is. There is a gradual roll-off in deep bass below 50 Hz, and the port tuning looks to be quite deep, perhaps below 30 Hz if I had to guess from this measurement. That explains how this tower speaker was able to handle deep bass so well. That being said, I wouldn’t want to throw high levels of infrasonic bass at this speaker, meaning stuff at or below 20 Hz. Below port tuning frequencies, the drivers are not protected by compressed air within the cabinet and can be more easily over-driven. If your listening tastes are geared for movies with deep bass, the addition of subs may still be worthwhile.

HDI impedance.jpg

The above graph shows the electrical behavior of the HDI-3800. JBL specifies these as a 4-ohm speaker, and that is a conservative rating according to our measurement. If they called it a 6-ohm nominal speaker, I wouldn’t argue. The minima is 5.8 ohms at 127 Hz, but that happens with an agreeable phase angle of 11 degrees. Overall, this is not a difficult electrical load for any competently-engineered amplifier. I think even budget AVRs could cope with this, although I doubt anyone who buys these speakers will pair them up with a budget AVR. I measured the sensitivity at 90.4 dB at 1 meter for 2.83v. JBL specs them at 92 dB for 1 meter at 2.83v, and that isn’t a big difference when variability in the way sensitivity measurements are done is considered. That is above-average sensitivity for a floor-standing speaker, but perhaps not one as large as the HDI-3800. Given the low-frequency extension of the HDI-3800, it is expected that the sensitivity wouldn’t be huge, but they can still go a long way with just a few watts.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed my time JBL logo.jpgwith the JBL HDI-3800 speakers. They do so much right, but, given their cost and size, they don’t really have any excuse not to be good. When larger sizes are permitted and manufacturers are not overly constrained by budget, it opens up a lot of possibilities for impressive loudspeaker designs. JBL has certainly leveraged these advantages to produce a truly good loudspeaker. If they have any drawbacks apart from the size or price, I might say that the bass could be a bit much for some listeners. However, the quality and quantity of bass will be determined in large part by room acoustics. These speakers aren’t meant for small rooms. The kind of displacement they are capable of ensures that they can pressurize a large space with a strong bass sound. With that being said, the fundamental performance is so good that you could probably use them in a smaller room although you might want to temper the bass output with a tone control in that situation or plugging the ports.

Let’s briefly go over their high points before bringing this review to a close. First and foremost, they sound great. They are tonally balanced with an accurate sound on and off-axis. They have excellent bass extension for a tower speaker with powerful bass to below 30 Hz. They have a superb dynamic range and can easily tackle a large room. Thanks to their above-average sensitivity, they don’t need a monster amp to get loud either. As was said before, their good sensitivity, bass extension, and dynamic range is something that can only be done in a large enclosure; you can’t have all of these attributes in a smaller enclosure (per Hoffman’s Iron Law). These speakers are very easy to listen to, and I could listen for hours without fatigue (indeed, just yesterday I watched both Stephen King ‘It’ movies in a row and didn’t feel burned out despite having to hear the movies’ characters scream for five hours).

HDI outside.jpgApart from their sound quality, they do look very nice. They are largish, but they are tastefully designed so that they won’t draw as much attention as something their size might have otherwise. In other words, their subdued aesthetics help to mitigate their size. The build quality is very good, and these are solid, sturdy loudspeakers that are built to last. If you take care of them, they will endure for decades without problems. In addition to their looks and build quality is their electrical load which wouldn’t present a challenge to all but the weakest amplifiers. You can run the HDI-3800s on nearly any amplifier and not have to worry. Of course, they can handle a great deal of power, so if you want to get the most out of them, don’t starve them of wattage, but then again that all depends on your preferred listening levels.

As I said before, the HDI-3800s are not inexpensive, but they are a lot of speaker for the money, and I would say you definitely get your money’s worth. They sound terrific, they look great, they have the acoustic characteristics that make them a good fit in many different rooms and the electrical characteristics that allow them to run on many different amps, and they offer subwoofer-like bass so they are very much a full-range loudspeaker. The HDI-3800s might not be cheap, but for the overall package, I would say they are a bargain. It pains me to send these back to JBL, but if I didn’t have so many other speakers to review, they may well have been keepers for me. Highly Recommended!

The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
MetricRating
Build QualityStarStarStarStar
AppearanceStarStarStarStar
Treble ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Treble SmoothnessStarStarStarStarStar
Midrange AccuracyStarStarStarStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStarStarStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStarStarStarStar
ImagingStarStarStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStarStarStar
Fit and FinishStarStarStarStar
PerformanceStarStarStarStarStar
ValueStarStarStarStarStar

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About the author:

James Larson is Audioholics' primary loudspeaker and subwoofer reviewer on account of his deep knowledge of loudspeaker functioning and performance and also his overall enthusiasm toward moving the state of audio science forward.

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Recent Forum Posts:

Danzilla31 posts on June 24, 2020 19:43
KEW, post: 1400604, member: 41838
I'm certainly no expert on measurement techniques. However, I do know that he uses a pretty sophisticated measurement system. @shadyJ would be better to respond to this.
I do think that Amir has enough audio geeks looking over his shoulder that he would get called out for it if his measurement technique was not up to snuff and I know ErinH (link below) is very advanced with this stuff and chose to use the same measurement system.
https://forums.audioholics.com/forums/threads/erins-audio-corner-my-new-review-youtube-channel-website.116884/
As far as listening to one speaker, that is based on research at Harman Labs, and I have found that it is easier to pick out performance details when I am listening to a single speaker.. I am not convinced that this does not miss out on how a stereo pair presents the sound stage, so prefer doing both (stereo and mono), but if I had to chose one are the other for auditioning a speaker, it would be a single speaker.

I do know that Amir is pretty picky and his reviews of electronics pretty well condemn products which have no audible issues. On the one hand I am with him in that there is little excuse for the measurements not to be better in this day and age; but on the other hand, If you can't hear it, what does it matter?

Maybe a 3800 will cross his path before too long. Certainly the Revel are an option, but I know you prefer the way the horns give you a good reacharound grab while you are testing the port!!

One thing I would recommend is that you buy one (or two) HDI 1600's from Crutchfield. They give you 60 days to check them out and you are only out-of-pocket for $10/ea when you return them. A-B them against your 530's (or even 590's) to get a sense of what to expect. You've got this Coronavirus stay at home time after work time, so when better to audition speakers?:
https://www.crutchfield.com/shopsearch/JBL_HDI-1600.html

You can do the same with the towers, but it is a lot more trouble than the smaller speakers, and I think it may be something like $75 each (instead of $10/ea.) for towers.

I feel kind of bad about doing this when I really expect to return them, but offset any guilt by buying from them (especially instead of Amazon) whenever I can! I know Amazon is destined to become our future overlord, but like to slow it down where I can!
I never realized that about listening to one speaker that's pretty cool to know I've read some things on Floyd and Harman that you guys have pointed out but I need to check out more with all the extra COVID time. Thanks for explaining it KEW !
VMPS-TIII posts on June 24, 2020 19:40
shadyJ, post: 1400618, member: 20472
There is a big difference in handling a 60 lbs speaker like the 3600 and an 85 lbs speaker like the 3800, and I wasn't sure I would have been able to handle a speaker that heavy. Imagine my surprise when the 3800s shows up on my driveway, and the palletized boxes are nearly as tall as I am, when I am expecting the 3600s. I just went with it though, too much time and trouble to send them back.

I would love to see speakers reviewed with weight as a factor. If I can get a GREAT speaker at a reasonable weight, it adds value. Even lugging the 25lb Canton Vento Reference 9.2 bookshelf 7' off the ground on a ladder to place it on top of the 7' VMPS tower is a bit of a chore. I can't even imagine climbing my ladder with an 85 pound beast.
shadyJ posts on June 24, 2020 15:40
The Klippel system that Audio Science Review uses is very complex and I don't fully understand it. There are a lot of different ways to measure bass, and there are trade-offs for each method. I'm guessing there are trade-offs in the Klippel NFS system. Many manufacturers just rely on groundplane measurements, and you need to be at least 2 meters out, preferably further for better accuracy. It would be interesting to see groundplane measurements of the HDI-3600's bass response to see how it compares to the Klippel system.

Btw, I was sent the HDI-3800 by mistake, the original arrangements were for a review of the 3600 at my request. The reason why I wanted the 3600 is that it would have been a lot easier to carry that one up a ladder and mount it on a turntable nearly 5 feet high. There is a big difference in handling a 60 lbs speaker like the 3600 and an 85 lbs speaker like the 3800, and I wasn't sure I would have been able to handle a speaker that heavy. Imagine my surprise when the 3800s shows up on my driveway, and the palletized boxes are nearly as tall as I am, when I am expecting the 3600s. I just went with it though, too much time and trouble to send them back.
SDX-LV posts on June 24, 2020 15:24
OK I understand that it is very difficult to spin a tower speaker on a side. Thank you for clarification!

John Parks, post: 1400596, member: 84640
For the subjective portion of Amirm's reviews, if it is a Revel product, it is guaranteed recommendation. Others are a crap shoot. I do not know his exact process, but it seems to me he measures first, listens second. Not that there is anything wrong with that but everyone here is always talking about “confirmation bias” - it goes both ways. Why he listens to only one speaker is beyond me… His DAC and amp measurements are what interest me most as they seem to be the most objective.
Amir openly admits that he has a lot of personal interest and respect for Harman products, but nobody forces you to read his subjective comments - the data is there to interpret or analyze yourself.
Regarding “Why he listens to only one speaker is beyond me…” I would recommend reading the book by Dr. Floyd Toole or perhaps finding the answer in some of his or Harman articles.
KEW posts on June 24, 2020 14:10
Danzilla31, post: 1400585, member: 85700
So KEW Amir seemed to have some real issues with the 3600 measurements.

I'm just wondering why the 3800 would ve so well reviewed here and the 3600 would be so far off Its bigger brother considering the price

Any thoughts on that review Amir likes to use a device that basically measures it in room and then uses a computer to remove any room interaction out

He claims it is as accurate as a anechoic chamber or can give similar results

How accurate is his testing procedure

He did end up recommending the 3600 and stated the farther away he sat the better it sounded

Plus he was only listening to and testing one speaker I believe?

Just wondering how accurate really is his testing on speakers?
I'm certainly no expert on measurement techniques. However, I do know that he uses a pretty sophisticated measurement system. @shadyJ would be better to respond to this.
I do think that Amir has enough audio geeks looking over his shoulder that he would get called out for it if his measurement technique was not up to snuff and I know ErinH (link below) is very advanced with this stuff and chose to use the same measurement system.
https://forums.audioholics.com/forums/threads/erins-audio-corner-my-new-review-youtube-channel-website.116884/
As far as listening to one speaker, that is based on research at Harman Labs, and I have found that it is easier to pick out performance details when I am listening to a single speaker.. I am not convinced that this does not miss out on how a stereo pair presents the sound stage, so prefer doing both (stereo and mono), but if I had to chose one are the other for auditioning a speaker, it would be a single speaker.

I do know that Amir is pretty picky and his reviews of electronics pretty well condemn products which have no audible issues. On the one hand I am with him in that there is little excuse for the measurements not to be better in this day and age; but on the other hand, If you can't hear it, what does it matter?

Maybe a 3800 will cross his path before too long. Certainly the Revel are an option, but I know you prefer the way the horns give you a good reacharound grab while you are testing the port!!

One thing I would recommend is that you buy one (or two) HDI 1600's from Crutchfield. They give you 60 days to check them out and you are only out-of-pocket for $10/ea when you return them. A-B them against your 530's (or even 590's) to get a sense of what to expect. You've got this Coronavirus stay at home time after work time, so when better to audition speakers?:
https://www.crutchfield.com/shopsearch/JBL_HDI-1600.html

You can do the same with the towers, but it is a lot more trouble than the smaller speakers, and I think it may be something like $75 each (instead of $10/ea.) for towers.

I feel kind of bad about doing this when I really expect to return them, but offset any guilt by buying from them (especially instead of Amazon) whenever I can! I know Amazon is destined to become our future overlord, but like to slow it down where I can!
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