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This proved beneficial to calm dynamic instrumental and vocal music but also electronica. That why I mentioned Oldfield. The JBL offers a very large intense sound. It perfectly conveys spatial aspects including those around the listener as long we talk of foreground. What's further back is of lesser importance. Stage front has preference. Hence Cole's fantastic vocals, the dense sound of electronic instruments and the overall sense of fullness on this type album.

Thickness, fullness and coherence are the characteristic features of this speaker. Admittedly these are not the kind of aspects we immediately look for in hornspeakers. I’ll go even further and say that they are often sacrificed at the altar of more obvious advantages. We tend to give up on them in good faith believing that speed, selectivity and dynamics will make up for them. Hence the S3900 seems very special to me. It doesn't abscond with anything from the above list but adds to it something more of its own. An example of that is their clean treble showing the size of instruments in this range. The horn drivers work so well together that I couldn’t identify where they crossed nor notice sonic artifacts to indicate the transition point. There’s detail and resolution supported by meat. That held true not only for small ensembles but also big ones. Wind and brass instruments are customarily hornspeaker favorites due to similar sound reinforcement. With the JLB they were sound strong and incisive but not aggressive. The latter is key. It's what distinguishes speakers with aspirations to sound good from those which really deliver. With horns you can't ever be sure.

Conclusion. In addition to small classical and jazz ensembles as well as electronica, I also tested the S3900 with Megadeth, Metallica, Depeche Mode, Portishead and old 1930 recordings. They all held interest and proper power to be dynamic, bold and strong. The first soundstage plane dominated where guitars, drums and vocals were set slightly ahead of the main line and exhibited large volume, i.e. size and body. These speakers don't pretend to be correct but neither do they highlight their differences. They don't curry favors because they're different.

Their advantages make a good counter proposal to more conventional speakers. Their dual woofers produced an even fuller sound than the 30cm woofer of my Harbeth M40.1. They weren't as agile or fast but the difference wasn't large. Their treble on the other hand was better than the British colleagues. I have no doubt that the M40.1 tweeter, no matter how fantastically integrated, isn't one of the seven world wonders. What surprised me was how the most important sonic characteristic of the S3900 was its dense coherent midrange. The speakers sounded tonally like a small Sonus faber Guarneri type monitor, albeit with powerful low bass. And yes it's possible to point out where their horns become audible. This manifests itself most apparent with the violin but isn't a particularly unpleasant irregularity. Either we accept it to have no problem or we can't to look elsewhere. Fortunately we won't have to gnash our teeth to covet where the S3900 really shines. The implied arrangement is clear. After some initial acclimatization and accommodation to this sound, we listen to violins with pleasure fully aware that it could be done better but also with peace of mind that other sonic aspects are truly unique.

High-sensitivity speakers, especially horns, are usually associated with small tube amps. There's truth in it. Many such designs especially from the 1930-60s work best with less than 10 watts of preferably SET power. Many modern speakers too sound best paired with low-power tube amps. In my opinion however the JBL sounds best with powerful high-end transistor amps. It is with the latter that it achieves maximum capability to sound magical. I drove the S3900 with my Soulution 710 and it was an optimal pairing.

I carefully placed the S3900 in the exact spot which is normally occupied by my Harbeth. The JBL were not particularly demanding with toe-in. They should sound consistent almost anywhere, even in a small room. My audition was an A/B with A and B known. Music samples were 2 minutes long. Whole album were also auditioned. It’s worth placing the JBL on good isolation boards. I used Acoustic Revive RST-38H platforms with SPU4 spike receptacles. The S3900 is the distant heir of the Everest project and a direct successor to the S9900. Slightly smaller than the latter and housed in a simpler cabinet with smaller mid and tweeter horn, it runs two 25cm woofers instead of a single 30er. It is however still a three-way partially horn-loaded ported design.

The 100F-12 woofers use pulp-fibre cones with concentric ribs to increase stiffness. Unlike other woofers in high-sensitivity speakers like Tannoy's Kensington GR, their suspension is rubber not pleated cloth. This makes them closer to classic woofers. Their baskets are cast aluminum alloy and the motor uses magnetic flux linearization. Bass hits 33Hz at -6dB, i.e. relaxed over the usual -3dB spec. The mid and high-frequency drivers mount from the rear to die-cast sections of proprietary SonoGlass, a glass-fibre type resin that's rigid and vibration resistant. These casts develop into two characteristically shaped horns called bi-radial for opening up symmetrically in two directions. The larger horn spans a large 850Hz–12kHz window. Its 50mm Titanium diaphragm is coated with AquaPlas resin. The upper treble is handled by a 19mm Titanium driver up to 40kHz. These drivers feature powerful neodymium motors and quality baskets. The speaker enclosure is 25mm MDF reinforced with a few braces. The inside walls are lined with uncompressed felt. The crossover network divides into two parts. The LF leg sits at the bottom of the speaker, the mid/high sections mount to the rear wall sporting air coils and large polypropylene capacitors. The inside wiring is stranded copper. The system is biwire/biamp ready. The speakers have 92dB sensitivity and a 6Ω nominal impedance.

Technical specifications according to the manufacturer:
Frequency response: 33Hz - 40kHz -6dB
Recommended amplifier power: 25 - 250w
Sensitivity (2.83 V/1m): 92dB
Nominal impedance: 6Ω
Crossover frequencies: 850Hz, 12kHz
Dimensions (H x W x D) 1001 x 370 x 368mm
Weight: 86.3lb (39kg) each
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