- The HCE Video Series
What began as an experiment with professional amplifiers has turned into a bit of a passion for me -that is a passion for all things pro audio video. I’ve been in the specialty AV space for a decade now and in that time I’ve been privy to a number of so-called “truths,” among them that “fact” that all pro audio gear sucks. Prior to my experiment with Crown’s XLS Series of amplifiers I believed in this rather arcane view of professional equipment. I even went so far as to spread such nonsense to others, knowing full well I had no Earthly idea just what the hell I was talking about. I was naive, ignorant and my spreading of such misinformation was dangerous to a certain degree and is something that is far too common in the specialty AV space. But then I experienced professional gear for myself, and quickly I changed my tune. That doesn’t make professional equipment better it just makes it another solution to an end user’s potential problem. It’s an option, not necessarily the answer.
Having enjoyed my time with the Crown XLS DriveCore amplifiers, it should come as no surprise that I would then shift my attention to professional loudspeakers, for what is an amplifier without a speaker to command? While it may appear somewhat biased toward Harman, the parent company of both Crown and JBL, my choosing to play with JBL’s 3677 Screen Channel Speaker (3677) had less to do with allegiance and more to do with personal comfort. Having been a projectionist and manager of the now defunct Mann Theaters, I’m somewhat familiar with JBL Cinema Speakers as they were what we used back in the day. They are also what I believe 80 plus percent of all commercial cinemas use. In other words, if you’re going to step out of the consumer AV space and play with a professionally sourced loudspeaker, why not go straight for arguably the reference standard? That was my thinking anyway.
So what is the 3677 reviewed here? For starters the 3677 is JBL Professional’s smallest, two-way, loudspeaker designed for commercial cinema or large venue screening room use. It is passive, meaning unlike most professional loudspeakers, the 3677 must be connected to an outboard amplifier -be it a professional or consumer. The 3677 is designed to go behind an acoustically transparent screen, which is why it has no speaker grills nor features a fancy audiophile grade finish. Instead what you get is a flat black, MDF cabinet that houses a single 15 inch low frequency transducer mated to a 1 inch high frequency, horn loaded, compression tweeter. The 3677 itself is still rather large despite being the “baby” of the series; measuring just over 30 inches tall by nearly 26 inches wide and 11.5 inches deep. The 3677 is also quite heavy at 85 pounds, due in part to its robust cabinet construction and internal bracing. The speaker’s binding posts are located along the right side of the cabinet (facing the front of the speaker) and are of the barrier strip variety. This means those with esoteric cables terminated in either spade or banana adapters are going to have to either a) swap out the 3677′s installed barrier strip in favor of a more consumer friendly five-way binding post or b) switch your cables to bare wire.
Getting back to the 3677′s drivers for a moment. The tweeter is actually a JBL 2416-1, pure titanium compression driver attached to a 2373 Flat-Front Bi-Radial horn good for a reported 90-degrees of horizontal dispersion and 40-degrees of vertical. The 15-inch woofer on the other hand is nothing more than a JBL 2035H, which is found and used elsewhere in JBL’s line up of speakers.
The 3677 has a reported frequency response of 45Hz to 12kHz with a stated sensitivity of 99dB (1 Watt, 1 meter) and an impedance of 8 Ohms. The 3677′s all-new passive crossover cuts in at 1.2kHz. Needless to say the 3677 is insanely efficient and able to be driven to reference levels with only a few Watts of power though its max power handling is rated at 250-Watts. For the record, that 250-Watt figure was arrived at via a test signal consisting of continuous pink noise for a period of 2 hours. It other words the 3677 was beat on, whereas most -typically consumer loudspeakers -are merely tested in short bursts in order to obtain their max power ratings. It is possible to put more power to them than what is required or advised, needless to say the 3677 is a loudspeaker that doesn’t out right need huge amounts of “juice” to do its thing.
Obviously the 3677 was not designed with home use in mind but rather to serve as the main or surround channels in a much larger commercial cinema or large format professional screening room. That being said, using them in a home environment, as I did for the purpose of this review, isn’t impossible, but it isn’t without its pitfalls either.
For starters, you’re likely not going to trundle down to you local dealer, pro or consumer, and hear yourself a pair of 3677s, meaning your purchase decision is going to be based a bit on faith. Thankfully, the 3677 isn’t outrageously expensive, nor is it difficult to find online for purchase. I purchased my left, center and right channels from Full Compass, an authorized JBL Professional dealer, for $887.00 each. Though picking up the phone and calling Full Compass may save you a few bucks (hint, hint), especially if you’re ordering multiple units as I did. My three 3677s arrived about a week after placing my initial order and everything, for the most part went smoothly. Full Compass even exchanged one of the slightly damaged units (UPS fault) for a brand new one no questions asked. So good customer service and a plug for Full Compass there.
Unboxing the 3677 is a job really for two, though it’s possible to achieve solo if pressed. The 3677 are larger than you think and three times as heavy. I know you see the specs but until you have to pick one up and move it you cannot possibly appreciate just how massive and solidly built it is. I had the unfortunate task of carrying all three up to my screening room, which meant navigating an angled flight of stairs, which was not easy.
Once upstairs positioning the three speakers took a fair amount of trial and error. In a commercial environment or cinema the 3677s would likely be built into a screen wall facing straight forward towards the audience. Because not every audience member sits on the same plane, the 3677′s height -specifically in relation to their horn loaded tweeter -would be at a level that represented an “average” of the coverage area so to speak. In a more traditional consumer setup this isn’t the case as you can very easily ensure that the 3677′s tweeter is in line with your ears. In my room, this turned out to be not an ideal placement option in terms of height -and not for the reasons you might be thinking. I found that having the 3677′s horn tweeter just a touch off axis -high or low -a few degrees paid dividends in improving their natural sound top to bottom as well as their dispersion and extension in my room. I was able to raise them up off the ground using simple cinder blocks, that I placed rubber tabs between. I also found that towing in the left and right speakers a few degrees opened up the soundstage nicely and made for a near 360-degree sound field with certain recordings. When everything was said and done, my left and right 3677 mains ended up about 12-inches off their respected side walls with about 3 feet of space residing behind with approximately 18-inches between their inner edges and the center 3677′s left and right edges. All three speakers resided behind a 120-inch AcousticPro 4K screen from Elite Screens, roughly 13 feet from my primary listening position within my reference room that measures 12 by 27 with 8 foot ceilings. My room is open towards the back courtesy of my stairwell that helps direct and/or dissipate a lot energy downwards.
I connected the 3677s to my Crown XLS 2000 DriveCore amplifiers as well as to my Parasound Halo amplifiers -obviously not at the same time. The amps were connected to the 3677s via runs of 12-gauge bulk speaker wire from Binary. The amplifiers were then connected to my Integra DHC 80.2 AV preamp via balanced interconnects from Monoprice. HD and two channel source material was then fed to the system via a custom built NAS box and a Dune-HD Max media player, again, all cabling by way of Monoprice. To round out the 3677′s surround sound performance I relied on EMP Tek’s E5Bi bookshelf speakers. To augment the 3677′s low end I carefully integrated a RBH SX-1212P/R subwoofer. The RBH sub was EQ’ed using the free software Room EQ Wizard and the resulting PEQ filters stored in my Behringer Feedback Destroyer Pro. The 3677′s were then level matched at the amplifier within a dB or two, and then fine tuned with the rest of the speakers inside the Integra itself. I set the crossover point between the RBH subwoofer and the 3677s at 50 and later 80Hz just to see the differences. I ultimately left it at 50Hz.
I let the whole system play for about a day before doing any critical listening.
Due to the 3677′s high efficiency their sound is the very definition of effortless. Dynamics -large or small -just happen, in an instant. Nuance, detail, texture and inflection is all rendered faithfully and with fervor. Instruments as evident in my demo of Moby’s “Everloving” from his album Play (V2), sound “live” and have a palpable presence. The top to bottom coherence of the 3677 is infectious and one that isn’t soon forgotten. The all important, yet easily excused, mid-bass region of the 3677′s performance envelope was especially impressive, in that it had real, almost tactile impact and weight.
Horn loaded tweeters tend to get a bad rap among traditional audiophiles, and while I’ve heard “smoother” horns, I didn’t find the 3677′s usage of their horn be objectionable -provided you pay close attention to setup. Properly setup and configured for my room (after a lot of trial and error) the 3677′s tweeter was extended, airy but more importantly completely natural in its delivery. Moreover, it too was effortless in its retrieval of sonic information -though at times it also revealed shortcomings in the recordings themselves. I found the horn to be fair and balanced to a point, beyond which and when fed poorly recorded content it wasn’t above becoming a bit rough at the extremes -but outright horrid it was not. Obviously the 3677 and its associated horn are designed to be fed a steady diet of film soundtracks and/or studio mixed content, meaning it enjoys the very best and if you feed it less than that, well, it can become “cranky”. Though within its limits, the 3677 possesses a well balanced sound top to bottom that is nothing if not utterly engaging through and through.
Staying with two channel content I tested the 3677′s ability to portray accurate and lifelike scale using Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells III (Warner Bros. UK). On the final track “Far Above the Clouds” the climactic bells and chimes were presented in a larger than life manner at SPL levels that begged belief yet never overwhelmed me. The 3677 repeatedly hit peaks -and easily – in excess of 100 to 105dB and yet I never became fatigued by the resulting sound. In fact if not for my SPL meter I wouldn’t have thought it was even that loud, as the 3677 doesn’t so much punish you or “punch” the surrounding air as it does “charge it”. The dynamic window that results is impressive to say the least and far greater than any other consumer speaker I had on hand during my evaluation period.
Moving onto to cinematic content I cued up a new favorite test of mine Battleship (Universal) on Blu-ray disc. The way in which the 3677 presents dialog is just so vividly real the actors sound less like facsimiles of themselves and more like living breathing human beings. I could hear and in some ways feel resonances in throats and chest cavities, movement of tongues etc. While subtle, it’s the little inflections that add up to larger, more engaging and natural overall performance -something the 3677s excelled at. Also, the scale and breadth the 3677 brought to the party was impressive and the effortlessness with which sound simply “appears” is hard to fathom, let alone describe at times. While it may seem like all is well and good when listening at reference volumes, understand that nothing is lost when things are turned down or the going get quiet. Thanks to the 3677′s efficiency, the sound simply scales, which is what you want, but not something you always get with loudspeakers. As a result, I was always treated to cinematically rich and faithful recreation of the commercial cinema experience -albeit in my home. Pretty cool.
I tested a variety of other films and film soundtracks and the 3677 was nothing if not consistent; leading me to conclude that not only is its overall sound one of neutrality, but that it hinders the content not, but rather presents it in a faithful manner. I did find however that I preferred the 3677′s performance when mated to the Crown amplifiers than when mated to my Parasound amps. That doesn’t mean that one is necessarily better than the next, but rather that system synergy somewhat plays a role in the 3677′s overall sound. Still, for a supposedly “brash” commercial loudspeaker I found the 3677 quite agreeable in civilian surroundings.
What I Would Change
The 3677 is a professional product through and through so any and all changes I would suggest would be aimed at making it more consumer friendly, which isn’t going to happen. Therefore, I would change nothing for 3677′s intended purpose is not how I chose to utilize it. So rather than waste my breath rattling off a list of items, I feel it important to instead issue a disclaimer.
The 3677 despite my positive findings above is not going to be for everyone or every system. Yes the 3677 can be integrated into a home environment, and yes it can sound good -excellent even. But make no mistake, unless you’re willing to put the time in, pay close attention to setup and build a room that can play to 3677′s intended purpose -i.e. mimic a commercial like space -you’re better off sticking with consumer loudspeakers. Again, not a knock against the 3677, just a friendly reminder to those who may be reading this and thinking to themselves who needs Revel, Bowers & Wilkins, Paradigm etc. I’ll just get these. The 3677 a totally different animal and it’s not fair to really compare them to consumer speakers if I’m honest.
While my experience with professional cinema loudspeakers may be relegated to the 3677 and, well, working at a professional cinema, there are a number of other makes and models available if this experiment and review has piqued your interest. Klipsch has a line of professional cinema loudspeakers as does QSC. I recently discovered that the consumer manufacturer RBH also has a professional cinema line of products. I can’t speak to any of the before mentioned brands’ public or consumer availability. Suffice to say, you may have to purchase first in order to find out for yourself if such a speaker will work for you and your setup. One of the drawbacks to some professional equipment I’m afraid.
At $887 retail the JBL Professional 3677 Screen Channel Speaker isn’t what I’d dub as outrageously expensive for what it is and the performance it offers up. But before you go slapping down your Visa card on a set of five, understand that the 3677 isn’t a pro audio gem that’s been lying in wait to spring upon the consumer populace -it’s a professional speaker and must be treated, and frankly respected as such. Yes I love its sound and no I’m not getting rid of mine anytime soon, but would I recommend anyone buy them for their home theater? Only if that person understood and knew what they were buying and were willing to cater to the 3677′s needs rather than try and make it conform to them. This is not a speaker you put in your living room or den, it’s a speaker designed for dedicated rooms and serious enthusiasts. It’s nice that it doesn’t cost a fortune, but I fear it’s price tag may give some folks the wrong idea.
This is why, despite my affinity for it, I’m not giving the 3677 my seal of approval for I don’t want people to think it’s a speaker they can just make work. But if you have the means, the space and the knowhow to treat the 3677 right, there are few speakers that I believe to be better at giving you that true, cinema experience in any venue.