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JBL HDI-3800 Floorstanding Speaker Review

by June 02, 2020
JBL HDI-3800

JBL HDI-3800

  • Product Name: HDI-3800 Tower speaker
  • Manufacturer: JBL
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: June 02, 2020 17:25
  • MSRP: $ 5,000/pr
New Revel Beryllium & JBL HDI Series Speakers Revealed!
  • Enclosure Type: Bass-reflex design with a rear-firing port
  • High-Frequency Transducer: 1-inch (25mm) Teonex compression driver
  • Patented 2410H-2 high-frequency compression driver
  • Patented HDI™ (High-Definition Imaging) waveguide technology
  • Low / Mid Frequency Transducers: Three 8-inch (200mm) black Advanced Aluminum Matrix cone, cast frame woofers
  • 8-inch (200mm) cast frame, Advanced Aluminum Matrix cone woofers
  • Crossover Frequency: 800Hz, 1800Hz
  • Sensitivity (2.83V @ 1M): 92dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohm
  • Recommended Amplifier Power: 20W – 300W
  • Frequency Response: 37Hz – 30kHz (-6dB)
  • .Contemporary design with premium finishes including high-gloss Black, satin Gray Oak wood veneer, and satin Walnut wood veneer
  • Dimensions (H x W x D): 43.33 x 11.81 x 16.45”
  • Net Weight: 83.78 lbs (38kg)


  • Very neutral sound
  • Excellent bass extension
  • Powerful dynamic range
  • Nearly ideal directivity control
  • Classy industrial design
  • Very good build quality


  • Expensive
  • Large size


HDI Grey Oak.jpgWe at Audioholics were very excited at JBL’s announcement of their new HDI series at the 2019 CEDIA show. The HDI series uses the cutting-edge technology in waveguides and driver design in very nice cabinetry and does this all without hitting sky-high prices. This isn’t to say the HDI series is cheap, but compared to other speakers in the JBL Synthesis family of which they are a part, they are relatively affordable. We badgered JBL relentlessly for a review pair once they became available, and JBL has finally given in to our campaign of harassment. So, in for review today, we have the HDI-3800 floor-standing speakers, which are the big dogs of the HDI lineup. The HDI-3800 speakers are listed at a somewhat pricey $5,000/pair, and the review pair that was sent to us has a high-end furniture-grade satin-walnut finish. If you want something that has both high-performance and an aesthetically-pleasing furniture grade-finish, it isn’t going to be cheap, but if the HDI-3800 speakers manage to tick off both those checkboxes, its MSRP really would be a bargain. Let’s see if the HDI-3800s have managed to balance performance and looks in order to justify its cost…


The JBL HDI-3800 are not small loudspeakers. They will have a visual presence in-room, and so the question becomes, how well do they fit in? One aspect that weighs heavily in their favor is the furniture-grade finish. The review sample sent to us came in satin-walnut that has been stained for a more reddish color. This is a real wood veneer so, in my opinion, it would fit in with other furniture, even if the furniture is higher-end. All of the vertical edges of the cabinet have been rounded to soften its shape and make it seem a bit more ‘furniture-esque.’ The three large black woofers and the horn are very prominent, so as loudspeakers go, it isn’t going to be mistaken for anything else, although the drivers can be hidden behind a magnetically-attached grille. The grilles do a good job of hiding the drivers and are a great solution for those who don’t like the utilitarian appearance of naked drivers. The grilles do make the speaker look a bit monolithic, but that may be particular to the 3800s given how large they are. The base has a gloss black trim that adds a slightly regal touch. 

 HDI pair grille.jpg  HDI pair2.jpg

As drivers go, the ones used in the HDI series are pretty nice looking. They all have the same black color and soft reflectivity from trim ring to dustcap, so the appearance is simple and uniform, tweeter horn included. The relatively organic shape of the inner horn helps to keep things aesthetically gentler than if there were any sharp angles. The only hard edge that occurs in the HDI-3800 is the flat top. The speaker is so solid that if one wanted, they could use the top as a surface to place something like a figurine. (But please—no drink glasses! We don’t want any of those circular watermarks!)

The simple shape of the HDI-3800s means that a lot of the weight of their aesthetics rests on the finish. The good news is that they can be had in three different finishes that can accommodate different interior decors. The satin walnut is a good fit for traditional decors, but there is a high-gloss black that would make a better fit for modern interior design. There is also a grey oak wood veneer that would mate well with a room of a different color scheme than the reddish walnut could clash with. The overall design is rather conservative and not aesthetically loud, so the HDI-3800s shouldn’t be that attention-grabbing in a larger room. They aren’t really meant for small rooms anyway. I think the 3800s look nice and shouldn’t present a problem for anyone except those who just don’t like the visual presence of any speakers (such people deserve pity, not scorn).

Design Analysis

AHDI waveguide.jpgt a glance, the JBL HDI-3800s are large floor-standing speakers with three 8” woofers and a horn-loaded tweeter. That is a lot of muscle on display for a home audio speaker, but there is a lot more to the HDI-3800s than just muscle. These are very sophisticated loudspeakers that benefit from the latest advances coming out of the R&D at Harman International, JBL’s parent company. As anyone with even a slight familiarity with the loudspeaker industry knows, Harman is one of the leading companies in the realm of speaker design and technology, so a brand new high-end speaker that capitalizes on Harman’s research is bound to have some cutting-edge technology in it.

Let’s begin our discussion of the HDI-3800’s design by talking about the tweeter. The HDI-3800 tweeter is a 1” compression driver using a ring-shaped diaphragm made out of a polymer called ‘Teonex,’ which is lightweight yet strong and heat-resistant. JBL calls this patented tweeter the 2410H-2 and says that it is derived from the ‘D2’ series of compression drivers that can be found in the high-end of JBL’s commercial and home loudspeakers. This tweeter is loaded into a horn that JBL calls the High-Definition Imaging Waveguide that is based on a waveguide design which was first seen in the ground-breaking JBL M2 Monitor. This HDI waveguide, the namesake of this speaker line, is a very sophisticated design created with help from Finite Element Analysis that tries to control directivity over a very large swath of the frequency band as well as keeping diffraction to a minimum. This is not an easy feat, and the number of waveguide geometries that do this well is few, but this waveguide is one of them. It has been shown that the diffraction in suboptimal waveguides can end up sounding like a type of distortion that can add ‘harshness’ to sound and is likely one of the reasons that horn-loaded speakers have gained a reputation for being somewhat abrasive sounding.     

The three 8” woofer cones aHDI gloss black.jpgre made from a material that JBL calls ‘Advanced Aluminum Matrix Cones’ which is really just a hard-anodized aluminum cone. The hard anodization process improves its damping by producing a thin coat of ceramic on the exterior of the cone. The motor section uses 1.5” coils in a ‘symmetric field motor’ design along with a ‘flux stabilization ring’ and a copper shorting ring. The ‘symmetric field motor’ is where the pole piece geometry has been optimized by finite element analysis for more linear travel in both directions of the cone’s movement. The shorting ring reduces induction in the motor, which makes for a flatter response over a wider bandwidth and also a reduction in odd-order harmonic distortion. Copper is a bit better than aluminum as a shorting ring material, although most driver motors use aluminum for cost reasons, so we can see that JBL is pulling out a lot of stops in order to create a high-performance speaker. I didn’t know what the ‘flux stabilization ring’ was, so I asked JBL about that. JBL explained that the flux stabilization ring is a shorting ring that stabilizes the magnetic field created by the motor magnet from modulations due to the opposition field generated from the voice coil’s movement. These higher-excursion woofers use a cast basket for a more stable structure than would be had with a stamped steel basket of less expensive designs. I wasn’t able to get a close look at the bare drivers since a trim ring covers the frame screws, and I wasn’t sure I could remove the trim ring without damaging it.

The HDI-3800s are ‘2.5-way’ designs. That means the three woofers all share the same low-frequency playback range, but only one of the woofers is also given midrange duty as well, and the only real crossover frequency occurs between that woofer/midrange and the tweeter. The lower two woofers play up to 800 Hz, but the uppermost woofer plays up to 1.8 kHz where it hands over playback to the tweeter. The high-pass filter to the tweeter uses a 3rd-order slope while the low-pass going from the wide-range woofer uses a fourth-order slope, and the two lower woofers are low-pass filtered by a 2nd-order slope. The advantage of this 2.5-way design is low-frequency headroom is increased with the additional woofer. Another advantage of a 2.5-way speaker is the gain in efficiency in low frequencies that can help compensate for baffle step loss. One potential disadvantage versus a full 3-way design is that the woofer given the larger bandwidth would technically have as much intermodulation distortion as a 2-way design as opposed to the lower quantities that a dedicated midrange driver would see, but that would only be a concern for poorly-engineered drivers that would be extremely unlikely in the case of these JBL drivers.

HDI rear2.jpgThe cabinet is heavy-duty with 1” thick MDF front and back panels and ¾” MDF side-panels. There is a network of windowpane braces lining the interior along with a generous amount of acoustic stuffing that looks like polyfill. An informal knock test indicates fairly inert sidewall panels. The feet are some rubbery wide-tipped cones, so these will not scratch hard floor surfaces. There are two 3” diameter rear-firing ports that have computer-optimized flaring. That is more port area than what most home audio subwoofers have, so the HDI-3800’s should be capable of some very powerful bass around port tuning. There are two sets of binding posts for those who want to bi-wire or bi-amp their speakers. The upper binding posts power the tweeter while the lower binding posts power the woofers. Normally I say that bi-amping home audio speakers is a waste of time, but the woofer section on these speakers is so beefy that an additional amp with some real muscle can help to drive these to their full potential in some cases. I am sure the woofer section of these speakers can handle a lot of power.

The JBL HDI-3800s are not inexpensive, but you do get a lot of speaker for the money. The parts quality and engineering are serious, and there isn’t any indication of corner-cutting in the design or construction. However, an analysis of the components and design are one thing, but how they actually sound is another thing entirely. Let’s now give them a listen to see if the sound is as good as the engineering suggests…

Listening Sessions

In my 24’ by 13’ (approximately) listening room, I set up the speakers with stand-off distances between the back wall and sidewall, and equal distance between speakers and listening position. The speakers were set up to face the listening position directly. Listening distance from the speakers was about 9 feet. Amplification and processing were handled by a Pioneer Elite SC-55. No room correction equalization was used. Subwoofers were used for some content that contained deep bass frequencies.

Music Listening

the HDI-3800s reproduced the choral voices with pristine clarity and precision.

There is a sequence in Terance Malick’s ‘Tree of Life’ that was accompanied by a very memorable choral score that I later learned was taken from the 1998 album ‘Requiem for a Friend’ by composer Zbigniew Preisner. I sought out this album which quickly became one of my favorite modern-day orchestral works, and I thought that the good recording quality (aside from some slight background noise hiss), as well as above-average dynamic range, would make for a great demo album for the HDI-3800 speakers. ‘Requiem for a Friend’ was Preisner’s tribute to world-renowned director Krzysztof Kieslowski for whom Preisner created the music scores for many of his films. This modern masterpiece is a sheer emotional force, and it absolutely commands attention for the duration of its running time. It is mostly choral music with the instrumental backing of a pipe organ along with an orchestra, and a powerful lead soprano whose soaring voice dominates over many passages. 

Requiem.jpg  Le Symphonique.jpg

Out of the gate, the HDI-3800s reproduced the choral voices with pristine clarity and precision. Center imaging for the lead vocal was exact, and the expanse of the choir was well-defined. The pipe organ backing had a strong but not overpowering presence, and other instruments came through with crystal clarity. These speaker’s soundstage for ‘Requiem for a Friend’ did not leave anything to be desired. On the more intense passages of the album, the HDI-3800s really shined and managed a dynamic presentation that definitely would have eluded smaller speakers. I don’t know where this performance was recorded, and I think the reverb in the recording is a little too clean for it to have been recorded in a concert hall, so I think most of this was recorded in a studio with reverb effects added in post-production. Nonetheless, the cathedral-esque space that the album attempts to convey was aptly rendered by the HDI-3800s. Revisiting this album on the HDI-3800s was the best I have heard these tracks sound so far. While this isn’t traditional orchestral music, I think any lover of classical music will adore the sound that these speakers can make, especially those after the live performance dynamics of attending a concert in person.

The imaging abilities if these speakers are outstanding.

An album that I stumbled upon in my explorations of the streaming service Qobuz is ‘Birken/Gainsbourg: Le Symphonic,’ a 2017 release of music composed by the late Serge Gainsburg that is given an orchestral treatment. His one-time spouse Jane Birkin is the lead singer here, and her delicate voice alternates with the force of the full orchestra to create a musical ebb and flow of gentle passages to more dramatic passages. The production and recording quality is outstanding, and Birkin’s voice is deftly balanced with the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The compositions here are covers of Gainsbourg’s cabaret-esque pieces and are therefore much more traditional than the very modern compositions heard in ‘Requiem for a Friend,’ so while both albums use orchestras, the mood and tone are radically different. 

The first thing that struck me is how well the HDI-3800s anchor Birkin’s voice squarely in the center of the soundstage along with piano playing. String sections surrounded the center for a wider full orchestra soundstage, and the woodwinds could be heard to be a bit more contained. The imaging abilities if these speakers are outstanding. Vocals and instruments sounded natural as well, and there was no tonal imbalance that I could discern. These tracks don’t quite give the HDI-3800s a chance to flex their muscles in terms of dynamic range as did ‘Requiem for a Friend’ since they were likely not intended to be played at live sound levels. However, the advantages of their wide dynamic range may still have been a factor in the lifelike rendering of the instruments and voices that I heard. Jane Birkin sounded like she was singing in front of me with an orchestra behind her. The HDI-3800s delivered this performance in an utterly tangible manner. I don’t know that ‘Birken/Gainsbourg: Le Symphonic’ could sound significantly better on another system, but if it could, I couldn’t imagine how. The presentation here is top-notch.

One album that I listened to on the HDI-3800s was the original music soundtrack for the 20Annihilation.jpg18 science fiction opus ‘Annihilation.’ The movie is about a group of explorers who trek into a zone on Earth that has been taken over by some kind of alien force, and they encounter all kinds of strange and grotesque phenomena in their journey. Anyone who has seen ‘Annihilation’ can attest that the music score is unique and striking. It is comprised of disparate musical elements that combine to make up a score that is appropriately disconcerting for the film. There are tracks of eerie ambience sounds, ethereal choral music, a traditional acoustic guitar, dark orchestral passages, and the unforgettably bizarre noises of the climax. If you are looking for music that sets a shadowy and mysterious mood, this album is a near-perfect choice.

The first track sounded fine, opening with some unsettling strings which lead into the acoustic guitar riff heard on and off throughout the movie, but the HDI-3800s surprised me on the second track with deep bass that I had not noticed in previous listening to this album. Something else that surprised me in listening to the ‘Annihilation’ soundtrack on the HDI-3800s are the subtle effects sounds in the background which I had not noticed before. Headphone listening is good for picking up these sorts of details, but a good speaker system in a low noise floor environment can do that as well. Some sounds imaged to precise locations while others were more enveloping and less localized. The speakers could throw an ambient sound that spanned well outside their in-room placement. When the music became bass-heavy, these speakers proved that they could do just fine without subwoofers. At loud levels, the bass from the HDI-3800s could shake the room and could be felt as much as heard. That isn’t all that surprising given the low frequencies are collectively being produced by six 8” woofers, which has a greater combined surface area than an 18” woofer. It is a prodigious level of low-frequency output, but I never felt it was uncontrolled or poorly defined bass. As a listening experience, the ‘Annihilation’ soundtrack certainly would not be to everyone’s tastes, but it certainly is a memorable experience with speakers that have the power and fidelity of the HDI-3800s.

For some music that could push the three 8” woofers of the HDI-3800s, I turned to the most recent album from eRemnant.jpglectronic music artist Lorn that is entitled ‘Remnant.’ Lorn’s music is dubstep-esque but not traditional dubstep. He is doing his own thing that isn’t easy to pigeonhole; his music is slower in tempo and relies on heavy bass but is almost too experimental to classify as dubstep. Although it is not exactly party music, it is great to listen at loud volumes, partly on account of the very deep bass and nearly cinematic soundscapes. Lorn explores frequencies lower than what most dubstep artists do, but in the service of his personal musical statement, not just for the sake of making woofers go boom like some generic “make your car subs go crazy with bass” gimmick album. The music is too good and too emotive to be written off as a mere bass demo CD.

The HDI-3800s retained tonal balance no matter the loudness level.

This kind of music needs a system that can move a serious amount of air, and that is what the HDI-3800s did in my listening of ‘Remnant.’ From the start, the bass was so palpable that it was like being submerged in a kind of thick liquid. Again, this is not to say it was imprecise bass but rather a powerful bass implemented with precision. The soundstage of this music is a panorama of electronic sounds that could span the entire front hemisphere of my listening area. Imaging was exacting when it needed to be and broad when called for. When I cranked the volume, I never felt that the speakers did anything but escalate the loudness across all frequencies in a corresponding manner. The HDI-3800s retained tonal balance no matter the loudness level; they can get much louder than sane listening levels with imperturbability. Lorn’s music is so deep bass heavy that I think few floor-standing speakers could do it justice, but the HDI-3800s are among those few. If you want subwoofer-type dynamics from bass without actually having a subwoofer, these are speakers you need to give a close listen to. They are a perfect fit for an album like ‘Remnant,’ and even those who don’t normally listen to electronic music should give this album a chance when paired with such capable loudspeakers.

Movie Watching

I had heard a lot of good things about the movie ‘Knives Out,’ a 2019 whodunit comedy about a family’s murderous squabbling over the family estate after the death of the patriarch. I figured that kind of movie would be good for seeing what the HDI-3800 speakers can do with a more dialogue-driven movie in order to gauge speech intelligibility, so I set the system for 2.0 sound so that all sound was routed through the front left and right speakers. From the beginning, ‘Knives Out’ was a joy to watch, and the HDI-3800 reproduced the sound splendidly. The dialogue was always clear, and the music sounded terrific as well. The score, by Nathan Johnson, is orchestral but places a string quartet in the foreground and used in a way that is reminiscent of classic mystery dramas such as ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents.’ These two speakers alone made for a true ‘big-screen’ sound that resembled a theatrical movie-going experience. No doubt they could easily be used in a dedicated home theater room, although it would be a shame to hide such good looking speakers behind a screen. There is not much else to say except that the HDI-3800 helped to provide a great movie-going experience, and that good movies like ‘Knives Out’ deserve a good technical presentation such as a superlative sound system.

knives out.jpg   ford v ferrari.jpg

The dynamics and scale of the sound were akin to attending an IMAX showing.

One movie I had been looking forward to is the 2019 auto racing film ‘Ford v Ferrari’ on account of the fact that it is a major motion picture release that is not based on a comic book or young adult fantasy book nor is it a remake designed to bank off of some demographic’s nostalgia. I also like the idea of a movie dealing with real car performance instead of fantastical car performance that is the norm when Hollywood has to deal with it. If this movie’s sound mix is anything like real life, the engine and track sounds should be very loud to the point of being overwhelming. A powerful V8 engine at full throttle should produce a sound that would shake anyone to their core. To the right ears, it is a beautiful sound, but for others, it is an ugly sound. Ugly or beautiful, I wanted to know how close the HDI-3800s could come to the real thing, assuming the sound mix would allow that.

I cranked the volume and let the speakers rip. The roar of the cars had a visceral effect with the HDI-3800s, and the two-and-a-half-hour movie was like enduring a battering. Dialogue intelligibility was good as was the music score’s reproduction, but the sound of the cars is where this movie sings, and toward that end, the HDI-3800s turned out to be a perfect match for ‘Ford v Ferrari’ (or ‘Le Man ‘66’ as it is known outside of North America). They stay clean at loud levels without needing a monster amplifier, and they can dig into deep bass. That isn’t something that many speakers can do, and one of the reasons for that is size; deep bass and high efficiency require a large size. The HDI-3800s are big speakers, and they can make a big sound. The dynamics and scale of the sound were akin to attending an IMAX showing. Watching ‘Ford v Ferrari’ was great fun with the HDI-3800s; it was a great movie made better by a more lifelike presentation by such a capable sound system. 

JBL HDI-3800 Measurements and Conclusion

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.


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
Build QualityStarStarStarStar
Treble ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Treble SmoothnessStarStarStarStarStar
Midrange AccuracyStarStarStarStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStarStarStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStarStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStarStarStar
Fit and FinishStarStarStarStar
About the author:
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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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