HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



February
2001

Reviewed by
Jeff Van Dyne





JMlab
Chorus
Home-Theater
Speaker System

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: Chorus 715 speakers
Price: $850 USD per pair
Dimensions: 36.5"H x 8"W x 10.5"D
Weight: 31.5 pounds each

Model: Chorus CC 700 center-channel speaker
Price: $350 USD
Dimensions: 7"H x 19.7"W x 11"D
Weight: 17.5 pounds

Model: Chorus SR 700 surround speakers
Price: $500 USD per pair
Dimensions: 12.5"H x 12"W x 5"D
Weight: 11 pounds each 

Model: Chorus SW 700 subwoofer
Price: $650 USD
Dimensions: 16"H x 13"W x 20"D
Weight: 44 pounds

Warranty: Five years parts and labor


Features
  • 6-1/2" Polyglass cone mid-bass with 1" voice coil (715, CC 700, SR 700)
  • 1" treated titanium inverted dome tweeter (715, CC 700, SR 700)
  • 11" Polyglass woofer (SW 700)
  • Bi-wireable (715)
  • Gold-plated binding posts (715, CC 700, SR 700)
  • Magnetically shielded (CC 700)
  • 125W built-in amplifier (SW 700)
  • Black Ash, Cherry or Calvados vinyl finish (all), White available on SR 700

JMlab may not be one of the biggest names in speakers in the US, but it is in Europe where the company is headquartered. Here in the States we’re more likely to recognize the PolyKevlar drivers JMlab’s sister company, Focal, produces and which are used in any number of high-end designs.

Before receiving the Chorus system for review, I’d never heard anything from JMlab, although I had heard good things about their most expensive line, the Utopia. In this case I would be getting a surround system from their least expensive line, the Chorus, with the three-driver 715 towers as the anchor. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect, but to be perfectly honest, I’ve heard so many inexpensive towers over the years that sacrificed bass quality in return for quantity that I didn’t have the highest of hopes.

Description

The complete system as delivered consists of two Chorus 715 speakers for the left and right channels, the CC 700 center-channel speaker, a pair of SR 700 surrounds, and a single SW 700 subwoofer. All of the main speakers in the system use the same 6.5" Polyglass midbass and 1" titanium inverted-dome tweeter. The 715s and CC 700 each use two midbass drivers in a 2.5-way configuration, while the SR 700 makes do with one midbass driver each. The SW 700 subwoofer uses a single 11" Polyglass woofer in a sealed box with a 125W internal amp. The total system price is $2350.

I was immediately concerned, as none of the boxes seemed to weigh very much, especially in comparison to a very small pair of monitors here that weighed in at 11 pounds each. Now I was moving around three-foot towers that barely weigh over 30 pounds each. Rap your knuckles against the side and you’re greeted with a hollow clap in return; not exactly the kind of thing that inspires confidence. On the other hand, I have a pair of speakers in the house that go for five times the price of the JMlabs and don’t fare a whole lot better on the knuckle-rap test, yet they sound absolutely wonderful. You can’t judge a speaker by cabinet construction alone. The boxes themselves are finished in an attractive black, cherry or calvados vinyl covering. The surrounds, which are designed for wall mounting, are also available in white.

Setup

I don’t have a lot of options for setup in my home theater, so placement either works in the standard locations or it doesn’t. The 715s ended up in the normal space to the left and right of the entertainment center, just slightly in front of the plane of the TV, toed-in toward the center listening position. The center-channel speaker sits atop the TV and angled down slightly to keep the drivers on-axis, and the sub sits off to the right front of the room about five feet out from the corner. I don’t have a good way to wall-mount surrounds in my theater, so the SR 700s ended up on four-foot-tall stands to either side of the main listening position. I let the speakers all run full range and crossed the subwoofer over at about 50Hz, which seemed to work out just fine. I’ll let the cat out of the bag and say right now that my placement limitations didn’t seem to have any tangible impact on sound quality.

Straight out of the box the 715s were exceptionally bright. Rather than make a rash early judgment, I decided to let them break-in for a couple of weeks before I did any critical listening, and this proved fruitful. When I finally sat down to do some serious listening, the initial brightness I heard seemed to have greatly diminished. Just to make sure I hadn’t gotten used to the sound, I pulled out my own Energy C2s and plugged them back into the system for comparison, and they were now very close in overall brightness. Now, the C2s are a touch on the bright side as well, so I would still have to characterize the Chorus 715 as slightly bright, but not objectionably so. I found that by using the supplied spikes to tip the speakers back a bit and toeing them in slightly past center, I was able to eliminate some of the additional brightness and create a very neutral sound while still maintaining good soundstage and imaging.

Music

After seeing the relatively small size and power output of the sub, my immediate plan of attack was to go straight for the throat and put it through its paces first. Not being one to waste time on idle pleasantries, I went straight for the definitive torture test, Telarc’s 1812 Overture [Telarc 80041] complete with real cannon shots. Sure, the lowest bass is missing in action -- this sub is only rated to down to 35Hz -- but transient attack of both the sub and the 715s was excellent for their respective prices. I ended up listening to the oft-ignored "Cossack Dance From Mezeppa" off of the same disc. Here the bass sounded deep and tight and blended perfectly, while the 715s displayed particular finesse with the strings. There was even a hint of depth to the soundstage with the speakers setup for casual listening, something that normally requires pulling the mains out into the room a couple of extra feet.

For another bass test, I queued up "Hotel California" off The Eagles' DVD Hell Freezes Over. The 715s displayed nice clarity on the opening guitar, and the kick drum was tight and had good weight without being boomy or over the top. I followed up with "New York Minute," where once again the story was the clarity of the chimes, though there may have been a touch of brightness here. But what turned out to be the most important bit of news was that there was no hint of the overt fullness in the lower-midrange/upper-bass region or overdone warmth on male vocals that I have heard from so many inexpensive towers.

One of my favorite discs is The Holly Cole Trio’s Temptation [Alert Music Z2-81026]. Here I heard a nice layering of vocals on the title track, with the second voice just behind and to one side of Holly Cole’s. On my Energy C2s, the vocals on this track come through as a blended harmony rather than the distinct separation of voice and placement I heard on the JMlabs. There was also outstanding clarity to both the vocals and piano, with a natural tonal balance not commonly found in budget towers. Once again, the subwoofer acquitted itself well on one of my favorite tracks, "Jersey Girl." Where many budget subs would get boomy and detract from the overall presentation of the piece, the SW 700 never did. It provided just the right amount of additional weight and authority without adding more than was required. Nice, very nice indeed.

Movies

Now that I was satisfied the JMlab system could more than hold its own on music, it was high time to try it out with a few movies. First up was my newest torture test, U-571. If a system can hack the dynamics and bass in the attack sequences and still deliver the clarity required to resolve all the subtle detail of the sub creaking in the background, then there’s likely very little to worry about. The JMlabs Chorus system gave me no reason for concern and showed no sign of strain at listening levels that drove the rest of the family and the dog out of the room. Dynamics with the 715s are nothing short of excellent, and the speakers' relatively high efficiency should allow them to be driven to high levels with the smaller amps found in many budget and mid-priced home-theater receivers. The 70Wpc provided by my little Rotel amp was more than enough power in my average-sized 2700-cubic-foot family room. Here the sub was slightly less prominent than others I’ve run through this same test, but it countered this with far better control than most others. Surround envelopment was excellent and pans were smooth from side to side, though there is a slight difference in the tonal balance of the surrounds that caused front-to-back pans to be slightly less convincing than with the best integrated systems I’ve heard. Mind you, it was only slight, and I was unable to wall-mount the SR 700s in my listening space, which would likely impact this somewhat. Still, if I were going to permanently setup the JMlab system in my own home, I would probably look at using one of their small monitors from the Chorus line as surrounds instead.

Next came an old standard, The Fifth Element. There was terrific clarity in the Diva’s voice that I haven’t heard from other speakers in this price range, and that includes my own C2s. This time the sub always seemed as though it were up to the task, and it never called undue attention to itself. In this instance, the JMlab system produced a wonderfully believable sense of space and depth. One thing I discovered during this movie that took me by surprise was that dialogue intelligibility was extremely good, even at lower volume levels when there were high levels of background noise.

Comparison

I’ve owned a pair of Energy C2s for a few years now and have found little in their relative price range that I would consider significantly better. The JMlab 715s better them with slightly more stable imaging, a bit more soundstage depth and dramatically improved dynamics. Tonal balance is very similar between the two speakers, but the 715s are slightly ahead of the C2s with improved clarity and delineation of vocals. The 715s were clear and articulate with music, but handled the dynamic demands of movies with ease. The relatively high overall efficiency of the individual speakers means they should be easy to drive with most any entry-level or midrange surround receivers they’re likely to be teamed up with. On video material, the JMlab speakers displayed an ability to play loudly and without strain. Dynamics were excellent, and surround envelopment was convincingly realistic. What’s not to like about this?

But I think I was most impressed with the center-channel speaker. I have a PSB Stratus C5 in my own system and I have to admit that I like the less expensive CC 700 better. The PSB has a little added fullness to the bottom end that can manifest itself as a slight chestiness on some vocals, where the CC 700 is a model of clarity on dialogue. Don’t get me wrong -- the C5 is a good center-channel. But at moderately low listening levels, I never felt the urge to crank up the volume of the JMlab center like with the PSB. This can be particularly important if you do a great deal of late-night viewing like I do and don’t want to disturb the rest of the household.

I didn’t believe a small sealed subwoofer with a 125W amp could cut it in my home theater, but I was pleasantly surprised. The SW 700 sub compares well with my own DIY design based on ACI’s 12" SV-12 woofer and PSA-1 amp. Both are sealed designs that give up a little in ultimate extension and output but present a very clean and controlled low-end response and do nothing to intrude on the music. It’s a compromise that I thought served the JMlab system well, particularly in light of the unusual articulation of the 715s. Sure, it won’t go as low as some other subs on the market and it won’t play as loud either. On the other hand, it never gets boomy or draws unwanted attention to itself on music, which is a common problem with so many budget subs.

Conclusion

Let’s face facts: budget speakers are all about compromise, and JMlab has chosen the path less traveled with the Chorus system. Instead of building a speaker that will impress in the showroom with prodigious bass output and a full bottom end, they’ve chosen accuracy, clarity and dynamics as the bedrock for their design. This system doesn’t sacrifice musical finesse or home-theater dynamics. It is equally adept at both, which is a feat at the price. For the music lover who requires speakers that can perform double duty in a home theater and music system, this is one system that will impress long after it has left the showroom. 

Review System
Amplifier - Rotel RB-976 amplifier
Processor - Sherwood Newcastle R-925 (only used as a processor)
Source - Sony DVP-S300 DVD player, Adcom GCD-600 CD player
Cables - Straight Wire, Monster Cable
Monitor - Proscan 35" direct-view
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Focal-JMlab
B.P. 201 - 15 rue J.C. Verpilleux
42013 Saint-Etienne Cedex 2 - France
Phone: (33) 04 77 43 16 16
Fax: (33) 04 77 37 65 87

Website: www.focal.tm.fr

North American distributor
Audio Plus Services
PO Box 3047
Plattsburgh, NY 12901
Phone: 800-663-9352
Fax: 450-585-5862

E-mail: service@audioplusservices.com
Website: www.audioplusservices.com  

 


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