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JBL HDI-1200P Subwoofer Review: Good Performance At A Premium Price?

by October 01, 2021
JBL HDI-1200P Subwoofer

JBL HDI-1200P Subwoofer

  • Product Name: HDI-1200P Subwoofer
  • Manufacturer: JBL
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Value Rating: StarStarStar
  • Review Date: October 01, 2021 01:00
  • MSRP: $ 3000
  • Buy Now
  • Driver: 12” black Poly-plas, cast-frame woofer
  • Amplifier: 1000W RMS
  • Crossover Frequency: 50Hz - 150Hz 24dB/octave
  • Frequency Response: 28Hz - 150Hz (-6dB)
  • Enclosure Type: Bass-reflex design with down-firing ports
  • Power Requirements: 100V - 240V 50/60Hz
  • Power Consumption (idle/max): <0.5W (standby)
  • Power Consumption (idle/max): 1180/7.7A(max-230Vac)
  • Power Consumption (idle/max): 1230/12.87A(max-120Vac)
  • Power Consumption (idle/max): 1190/15.97A(max-100Vac)
  • Dimensions: (HxWxD): 16.95” x 16.3” x 17.77”
  • Net Weight: 70.8 lbs (31.79kg)

Pros

  • Very low distortion
  • Terrific wood veneer
  • Very reasonably sized
  • Good time domain behavior
  • Excellent build quality

Cons

  • Pricey for the performance it delivers

 

JBL’s HDI series hit a home run in our review of the HDI-3800, and they had high praise for their HDI-1200P sub in our interview with their Senior Director, Product Strategy and Planning, Luxury Audio, Jim Garrett, in our Livestream VPE (VPE Event: JBL HDI Series Loudspeaker Tech Overview), so we decided to check the HDI-1200P out for ourselves. In for review today is the HDI-1200P. The HDI-1200P is a modestly-sized ported subwoofer with a very high-quality finish and build, but it is a not inexpensive subwoofer with an MSRP of $3k. The question before us is what does the HDI-1200 set out to accomplish exactly, and is $3k a reasonable sum for what it is doing?

 JBL HDI Series Virtual Press Event

Appearance

1200P grille.jpg  1200P 2.jpg

As subwoofers go, the HDI-1200P is a pretty nice-looking one. It is approximately a 17” cube in overall size, so it’s not very large as subwoofers go, and that goes a long way towards making it visually acceptable for other household members. It also has a furniture-grade finish and build quality, and by that, I mean nice furniture. The model I was sent had a real-wood walnut veneer with a satin finish, but they can also be had in a gloss-black and grey oak veneers. The walnut veneer is very elegant; indeed, it is one of the nicest walnut veneers I have seen to date. The cabinet has heavily rounded corners on the vertical plane that furthers its furniture aesthetic. The woofer is simple and not an eyesore, and it is surrounded by a black trim ring so there are no visible frame screws. It comes with a simple grille that uses magnetic adhesion so there are no grille guides on the front baffle. The grille makes the sub look plainer, as usual, and, while it may help to protect the cone from blows, I don’t think it improves the appearance of this sub. The cabinet is elevated off the ground a fair bit by some tall cone feet. It is a classy-looking unit that does not call attention to itself and would not be out of place in an upscale living room or bedroom.

Design Analysis

The HDI-1200P would appear to be a simple ported subwoofer on the surface, but there is more than what meets the eye. One would expect a pretty beefy driver in a $3,000 subwoofer, and the HDI-1200P does not disappoint in this regard. It has a massive motor section that is designed with what JBL calls the ‘Symmetric Field’ design. This is where the pole piece is extended above the top plate to control stray magnetic flux, which makes the magnetic field above the top plate symmetrical with the field below the top plate. A more even magnetic field on both sides of the top plate would leave the HDI-1200P with reduced odd-order harmonic distortions since the voice coil would have a more equal force on both sides of its excursion.

1200 woofer quarter section.jpg

JBL HDI-1200p 12" Subwoofer Driver

The HDI-1200P’s driver magnet is a big one and should provide a lot of force to throw the moving assembly around with a high degree of control. It has a 3” voice coil which is a fairly large diameter coil for a 12” driver. The depth of the motor looks like it would give the former a lot of room to move so the driver should be capable of large excursions that are mechanically limited primarily by suspension tension. The suspension is made of Conex for the spider and nitrile-butyl rubber for the surround and is computer optimized for linear travel both outward and inward. The pole piece has a large vent to efficiently exchange hot air for cool air. There is also an aluminum shorting ring to help reduce even-order distortions that result from current induced by the voice coil itself as it oscillates in the magnetic field. The HDI-1200P uses a hefty cast aluminum frame, and the cone is made with high-density pure pulp in what JBL calls the ‘PolyPlas’ cone which is polymer-coated cellulose fiber material. 

1200P amp plate2.jpg

JBL HDI-1200p 12" Amplifier

The HDI-1200P driver is powered by a 1,000-watt RMS class D amplifier, that’s a lot of power for a single 12”, but that particular 12” is a lot of driver.  The amp controls are the usual volume knob, phase switch, and low-pass filter controls, and it also has a single-band of parametric equalization which could be useful for taking down a room-induced peak in the response. The amp has monitoring and protection against poor quality AC power in case your wall outlet power delivery isn’t always perfect. It has a pair of balanced XLR inputs and unbalanced RCA inputs for connectivity.

1200P upper angle2.jpg  1200P ports.jpg

JBL HDI-1200P Subwoofer: Front View (left); Bottom View (right)

The enclosure is a stout MDF construction. There are two down-firing ports on the bottom of the sub that have a 3” diameter and a 13” length and are flared on both ends. That is a lot of diameter for that length so I would expect the HDI-1200P not to be tuned to a super deep frequency, but it should have a whole lot of port-generated output within its bandwidth. The feet are some large rubbery cones that end in a small ring instead of a sharp tip. They are soft so you can set them on a hardwood floor without worrying about putting a scratch on the flooring. You can also screw in some metal spike tips that are provided by JBL. These narrow metal spikes are sharp, and if they have the weight of the sub behind them if set down on a human foot or hand, they will go through flesh pretty easily, so those who opt to use the spikes should be careful. I’m not sure there is really a good reason for using spikes in a product like this (the “mechanical uncoupling” argument does not hold water with me) except to give it some more clearance from carpeted surfaces. The tall feet are necessary to give the ports adequate clearance from the ground to function well.

Listening Sessions

The best placement for a single sub in my room gives me a relatively flat response for an un-EQ’d single subwoofer, with a window of +/- 4 dB from 25 Hz to 100 Hz with no broad dips in important ranges. This location trades low-end room gain for a relatively flat response, a worthwhile trade for my tastes. The receiver used was a Pioneer Elite SC-55 and the crossover was used mostly at 80 Hz. As always, I will note here that since room acoustics have a huge effect on low frequencies, the way this subwoofer sound in my room at my listening position is not necessarily going to be the way they sound anywhere else for anyone else, so readers would do well to keep that in mind, and not just for this subwoofer in this review but for any subwoofer in any review.

Music Listening

Bach Opus.jpgFinding a pipe organ recording that really takes advantage of the tremendous low-frequency prowess of that mighty instrument can be a bit tricky at times, but today’s streaming services have made that endeavor much easier than before, and one recording that I found on Qobuz which really brings out the bass from a pipe organ is ‘Opus Bach, Vol. 1 - Organ Works.’ In this mammoth five-disc set, acclaimed organist Peter Kofler begins his quest to offer a recording of all of JS Bach’s organ works. These 120 tracks mark a very good start for that undertaking. These performances were played on the Rieger Organ in the Jesuit Church of St. Micheals in Munich which is an immense venue, and in order to better capture the unique acoustics of this location, the producers opted to record the performances in Auro-3D which is an arguably superior immersive sound format to Dolby Atmos. While I only had access to the stereo version of this album, it still sounded very good, and the 192kHz/24-bit recording quality indicated that the producers wanted to make the best sounding organ recording of Bach’s works as was possible.

Despite only some of these tracks dug into deep bass with authority, those that did were given a solid foundation by the HDI-1200P. The bass was forceful without being overbearing. Pitch definition in bass was unerring no matter how complex the chords or notation sequences were. I could even hear the low-frequency acoustic decay of the venue after the breaks in the low-frequency notation. The HDI-1200P was able to fill my room with the sound of the enormous pipes of the lower pitches of the Rieger Organ which helped to recreate the listening experience of being in the nave of the Church of St. Micheals. On the moments that heavy-duty bass power was asked for, such as in the crescendos of the famous ‘Toccata,’ the HDI-1200P was more than able to deliver. While the HDI-1200P might not be tuned as deeply as the giant enclosure subs that can be had from manufacturer-direct specialists, it was still easily able to reproduce the moments of gut-churning deep bass that sporadically inhabited this album’s running time. It proved to be a fine performer for this pipe organ recording, and I think pipe organ aficionados would quite enjoy what the HDI-1200P has to offer.   

Center Can Not Hold.jpgBen Frost is best known for his music score to Netflix’s breakout German-language hit show ‘Dark,’ but his more full-throated efforts can be heard in his more personal albums, one of which is ‘The Center Can Not Hold.’ Frost mixes experimental electronics with a neoclassical inflection, and he is not shy about using deep bass when he feels like it. ‘The Center Can Not Hold’ uses deep bass prodigiously at times, but its implementation is unusual and not at all like traditional music bass. It often serves as a part of the texture of the lead instrument sound and so isn’t separated from the main body of the music as some kind of individual instrument. This gives the bass sound itself a peculiar structure and more nuance than what is normally heard in musical deep bass, as, as such, may pose a challenge for pedestrian speakers and subwoofers.  

From the first notes of the first track, the HDI-1200P brought out the visceral power of these tracks’ striking use of bass. It delivered an experience that cannot be had from headphones or even all but the most capable full-range loudspeakers. The low-frequency element of the sound often pulsed with a staccato starting and stopping, and I never noticed any lag or overhang in the transient behavior of the HDI-1200P. The massive motor seems to have a very tight grip over the cone’s motion. While there were a fair number of moments of multiple overlapping bass sounds in ‘The Center Can Not Hold,’ the HDI-1200P was able to keep them separate and did not confuse or blend them. The intermittent combination of very deep bass yet very high-level bass makes this album a taxing assignment for typical sound systems, but the HDI-1200P gave no hint of stress. The texture of low-frequency sound, insofar that low-frequency sound can have texture, was finely rendered, and the ripples and palpitations in the bass were preserved instead of being smeared out into an indistinct rumble. The HDI-1200P was able to handily fulfill the unique demands of this album and proved to be more than just a pretty face.    

Silent Annihilation.jpgFor musical bass of a more subtle character, I once again turned to the genre of dark ambient, and the release that I found with some true deep bass notes was ‘Silent Annihilation’ by Anihila. ‘Silent Annihilation’ is cosmic dread in music form. This album could serve as a soundtrack to a Lovecraftian horror film set in outer space (we will always need more movies like that). As ambient music, it never really reaches any moments of particularly high intensity, and it is content to sit back and bask in apprehension as well as a vague, existential uneasiness. The bass here takes the form of distant rumbling and mechanical drones, as though the listener were onboard a cavernous, deteriorating space station. The low frequencies are always present to some degree and find a more finely textured sound than is heard in traditional music.

the JBL HDI-1200P could kick hard. Every beat was like a punch in the chest.

‘Silent Annihilation’ was a plunge into deep space, and the HDI-1200P enabled greater depths than what would have been possible on most systems not abetted by such a capable subwoofer. The HDI-1200P gave this music a cinematic quality by underpinning the overall sound with a bedrock of powerful deep bass. The music is visually evocative, and the subwoofer helped to make the musical image realistic by producing a sound that appeared to be much larger than the sub itself. The HDI-1200P was able to support the bass in a soft drone as well as thunderous clamor all without calling attention to itself or creating a sense of detachment from the rest of the sound. Finer low-frequency sounds were given nuance, and louder low-frequency sounds were given bombast. ‘Silent Annihilation’ is an album where the fidelity of the subwoofer can make a difference, and the HDI-1200P demonstrated a top-shelf level of fidelity.

Dynamis.jpgFor bass of a much more unabashed nature, I selected ‘Dynamis,’ a classic album by Distance in the dubstep genre. ‘Dynamis’ doesn’t push the boundaries of dubstep so much as perfect its own sound within the genre. This isn’t wobbly bass or bro-step but rather an evolution of old-school dubstep that injects a bit more melody and polish while keeping the laid-back minimal sound of the genre’s roots. The bass is as fat as ever, and the beats sound like Godzilla is playing hopscotch down Main Street. At high enough volumes, the pervasive deep bass of this music serves as a great stress test of any subwoofer, so the question is, what loudness levels would stress the HDI-1200P with ‘Dynamis?’   

With the volume cranked high, the HDI-1200P could kick hard. Every beat was like a punch in the chest. Every change in the bassline pitch was like a shift in air pressure. It was not a large sub but it sure felt like one. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised given the large driver motor, 1kW amp, and large port cross-section, and maybe it was the mannered appearance of walnut veneer that threw me off; it didn’t look like a rock-’n-roll subwoofer. However, when the HDI-1200P was called to boogie at a loud level, it exhibited no strain or distress. This was a sub that could pound. The trade-off is that it isn’t going to dig as deep as much larger subs. For a sub of its size, JBL had a choice of either accentuating low-frequency extension or high output, and I think they wisely chose to focus on output. It certainly has enough extension to cover the vast majority of music recordings, and super deep extension isn’t all that impressive if there isn’t enough output to back it up. The HDI-1200P killed it with ‘Dynamis,’ and anyone who wants a polite-looking sub that can rattle the windows when given the opportunity have a great choice here.

Movie Watching

Rampage.jpgOne movie that I watched to check out the HDI-1200P’s low-frequency prowess is the 2018 Dwayne Johnson movie ‘Rampage.’ ‘Rampage’ is about big monsters that destroy a city - well, it might be about something more, but for my purposes, who cares, and I don’t think that anyone is deliberately sitting down to watch this movie hoping for a lot more than just monsters that wreck a city. As a child, I quite enjoyed the video game of the same name that it was based on, but this movie adaptation didn’t seem to resemble the game much on the surface. Nonetheless, it is a big-budget Hollywood movie about a monster rampage in Chicago, so it ought to have plentiful bass carnage and be a good demonstration of a subwoofer’s capabilities.

the HDI-1200P was a key ingredient in realizing this cinematic experience.

The HDI-1200P was effective at depicting the low-frequency destruction of many famous Chicago landmarks, but even before that point, it brought a surprising amount of intensity to the monsters stomping around and eating various military offensives. Rampage’s boisterous sound mix gave the HDI-1200P a lot to chew on, which the subwoofer most gleefully did. There were many instances of vehicles being thrown into buildings, and every time that occurred, a lively explosion followed. If there was bass deeper than the HDI-1200P could catch, I didn’t miss it, and it seemed to offer the full low-frequency experience. To be sure, its cone was really flexing, but there was no audible evidence of any stress or over-taxing. The limiter seemed to be doing its job well in protecting the sub from any audible overdriving artifacts. While ‘Rampage’ is not a cinematic masterpiece, it did deliver on its promise to show oversized animal monsters destroying a city, and the HDI-1200P worked well in reproducing that ridiculous carnage.    

The Empty Man.jpgFor a very different kind of movie that promised a healthy helping of low-frequency content, I decided to watch the 2020 horror film, ‘The Empty Man.’ ‘The Empty Man’ is about a group of kids that summon a supernatural entity using a folklore ritual similar to the ‘Bloody Mary’ urban legend. Needless to say, the entity goes on to terrorize and murder them as should any decent entity summoned from that type of ritual (or at least that was what the trailer suggested the movie would be about). One of the draws here for me was the soundtrack composed by Christopher Young and Lustmord. While Christopher Young has composed many film scores, he is most famously known for his classic scores for the first two Hellraiser films. Lustmord (a.k.a. Brian Williams) is the most famous composer for the genre of dark ambient music as well as one of the first. If there is a point at which dark ambient “officially” started, it would have to be Lustmord’s landmark 1985 album ‘Paradise Disowned.’ So a musical collaboration between these two artists could be something special as well as a feast for subwoofers since Lustmord’s music tends to be very bass-heavy. It should be clear by now that it was the musical score that drew me to the movie rather than the plot.    

Going into the movie, I expected a teen horror movie a la ‘Slender Man,’ so my expectations were not high, and I was mainly curious about the music score. However, I was very pleasantly surprised by a well-crafted horror film that turned out not to have much to do with teenagers but rather an existential horror film about the precariousness of self-identity. The music score did not disappoint, and Christopher Young’s elegant orchestral motif served as a nice contrast with Lustmord’s field recordings of a visit to hell. It managed to keep the HDI-1200P busy but not overworked, and the throbbing low-frequency sound made a major contribution to the overall atmosphere and intensity of the movie. It is said that deep bass can evoke an instinctive sense of anxiety, and if so, ‘The Empty Man’ used that fact to great effect, and it is all the more effective when a powerful subwoofer is employed such as the HDI-1200P. The low-frequency reverberations of the music created an atmosphere of dread that permeated the movie but was ramped up in the more intense scenes, and the HDI-1200P easily rose to the strenuous demands of this bass-heavy sound mix. ‘The Empty Man’ turned out to be a far better film than it was advertised to be; it was a solid horror movie with a terrific soundtrack, and the HDI-1200P was a key ingredient in realizing this cinematic experience.

 

Attached Files
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:

Prolix posts on October 09, 2021 15:27
I have a Revel b112, which I gather is pretty much a sealed version of the hdi-1200p. When I run audyssey its raw in-room response is flat through 20hz in my living room with 10' ceilings. It doesn't have the impact of the dual monolith 12s I have in the basement, but it's enough to blow the minds of regular humans, and it doesn't look out of place. I've been very happy with it for a number of years.
TLS Guy posts on October 08, 2021 00:03
Eppie, post: 1508969, member: 94526
Thank you for the graphs and photos. Does the depth of the box factor heavily in the calculations or is it primarily the length of the TL that yields the desired results? I was wondering if it would be practical to try and design an enclosure less than 11" deep or does that lead to a width and height that would not be practical? Sorry, but I haven't had the opportunity to play with the TL design software yet.

The pipe volume Vp is related to the VAS of the driver. The higher the VAS the larger the pipe volume needs to be. Understanding this was George Augspurger's great contribution to TL design.
Eppie posts on October 07, 2021 23:53
TLS Guy, post: 1508936, member: 29650
Here is the response of slim TL sub using the 10" Dayton sub driver….

Thank you for the graphs and photos. Does the depth of the box factor heavily in the calculations or is it primarily the length of the TL that yields the desired results? I was wondering if it would be practical to try and design an enclosure less than 11" deep or does that lead to a width and height that would not be practical? Sorry, but I haven't had the opportunity to play with the TL design software yet.
TLS Guy posts on October 07, 2021 18:33
Eppie, post: 1508900, member: 94526
Leon Speakers has been using the approach of designing slim cabinets, specializing in low profile side mounts and sound bars and offer slim subs (not TL) but the specs list them as only going down to 30Hz (in-wall) and 28Hz (slim build). Paradigm also sells in-walls but seem reluctant to post full specs. They only state the the low freq. extension is 19Hz-17Hz, but lack of proper specs seems rather telling. JL Audio seem to have a more interesting design approach, but even those tall Fathom subs are only rated down to 25Hz -3dB.

I imagine that any slim sub will face challenges due to limited excursion, especially since long excursion seems to be the buzz word with subs. I think you have your work cut out for you. We've seen what small drivers can do in the SVS 3000 Mirco and KEF Kube, which seems to imply that larger diameter drivers with shallow baskets would be the way to go. How deep is the in-wall in your great room? Do you think that there is a TL design that would work with a relatively shallow cabinet? I would assume that a TL design would require some minimum depth for the physics to still work. What about a driver array using multiple smaller subs to increase surface area but reduce depth, or would that just create a bloody mess?

Here is the response of slim TL sub using the 10“ Dayton sub driver.



This is the in room response of the three front speakers and sub, at all seating positions and the far side of the dinning room table. The green line is taken over the Kitchen cook top.



This is the TL





It is 11” deep, 5' long and 25“ high.

This is the room.





Note there is an open stairway.



That one driver fills the space very evenly, due to what organ builders refer to the encircling phenomenon of pipes.

The sub is very efficient and power is reduced 5 db below the other speakers or it overpowers them.

Cone excursion is not a problem as the pressure in the pipe at the driver is high and pipes control the driver like a vice. In my studio I use a total of four 10” SEAS Excel drivers in the right and left bass TLS. I have never bottomed the drivers despite vibrating the room, even at modest volume.

The best thing of all is that the bass quality is much higher than from a standard ported or sealed sub. It is incredibly realistic. Even that lone 10" driver can allow an organ to fill that space with authority.

There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that TL subs, produce the most realistic and natural bass of any other design.
Mark E. Long posts on October 07, 2021 18:02
Verdinut, post: 1508925, member: 80194
No, you can't get an efficient infrasonic LF response from a little box, period. You will only get efficient subwoofer response below 20 Hz with a ported design.
Verdinut, post: 1508925, member: 80194
No, you can't get an efficient infrasonic LF response from a little box, period. You will only get efficient subwoofer response below 20 Hz with a ported design.
Iam quite aware of that my comment was a ment in jest .
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