- Manufacturer & Model
- JBL/Harman Stage A130 Bookshelf Speakers
- $299.95 PR
Compact and easy to manage 2-Way speaker system
5.25” Poly Cellulose high excursion woofer
1” (25mm) Aluminum Dome Tweeter
Tweeter mounted in “High Definition Imaging” Waveguide
Bass Reflex Rear Ported Cabinet
A compact but high output possible, 2-Way speaker system that would be equally at home in a modest stereo system or as the heart of a high-performance home theater system in any mid-sized room. This speaker would also be an excellent choice for a desktop system or a nearfield monitor solution when used with high-quality amplification. The JBL Stage A130 plays "loud and proud" whenever asked to do so! The A130 is part of JBL's Stage series that features a full range of floor standing, center channel speakers, bookshelf speakers, and two different subwoofer choices.
"Back in the day" (Mid-Seventies) … I had plenty of opportunities to work with, and listen to, a full range of JBL speakers. From large-scale PA systems to home stereo systems and studio monitors, I had the chance to work with it all. My impressions, at that time, were of speakers that were open, detailed, somewhat forward, and capable of projecting humongous SPLs into any space. Something fundamental in the seventies!
Fast forward to today… Todd asked some time ago if I would like to review some JBL speakers. "Heck Yes!"... was my reply once my head cleared and the flashbacks receded! Then sadly, because of stock limitations, it was a while before JBL could replenish and ship anything for review. So when they did ship, it placed a pair of the well-crafted, stylish and smallish, Stage A130 bookshelf speakers into my hands.
The big question, at least in my mind, would this newest generation of JBL speakers live up to the JBL legacy sound embedded (real or imagined at this point) into my 70's head and transport me back in time? Or would they leave me wanting? Again, only time and listening would supply the answer.
Delivered via UPS, the two speakers were packed in a single-layer medium/heavy cardboard box. Each speaker was wrapped in a soft foam swaddling and securely nestled between closed-cell foam top and bottom pieces. The only other thing present in the box was a manual/installation guide.
Upon initial inspection, these speakers were review/evaluation speakers. The wrapping was only loosely surrounding the speakers, and there was no sign of the plastic bags generally in evidence. The JBL website indicates that the speakers would usually be supplied with a warranty card and eight rubber feet/pads in addition to the manual. However, the speakers I received already had the small rubber pads/feet attached to each speaker, and no warranty card was in evidence.
The single-layer box was showing some signs of its travels but was in decent shape overall. Packaging appeared appropriate and robust enough for the speakers.
First Impressions/Construction and Design
These are simple and to-the-point bookshelf speakers. The flawless, subtlety textured, low sheen Pantone Black finish is neutral and should fit nicely into most environments. The word "Stage" is very subtly and elegantly etched/stenciled into the top surface of each speaker.
When attached via the tried-and-true pin and cup style fasteners, the ABS plastic-framed and mildly curved grilles cover all but a narrow strip on the bottom front of the speaker. The simple but iconic JBL logo badge is prominently displayed in this space.
The 5.25" woofer features a black dustcover surrounded by a white cone, in turn, circled by a soft rubber surround. The tweeter is recessed into what JBL calls its "High Definition Imaging Waveguide (HDI)" and sports a "nosepiece" style cover supported at four points and floating over the 1" aluminum dome driver.
The woofers back, viewed through the opening made when removing the binding post/crossover assembly, revealed a substantial motor/magnet assembly.
JBL supplies the following information on the woofer; "The motor structure of the woofer has an extended pole piece which forms the Symmetrical Field Gap for lower 2nd order distortions. Along with that, the woofer has long winding width VC for higher excursions with higher possible SPL levels and lower distortion."
No additional information was supplied by JBL on the tweeter. However, a glimpse can be had of the back of the 1" dome tweeter through the port opening. Unfortunately, that glimpse doesn't reveal too much, other than the driver appears to be well made and nicely finished.
The backside of the speaker contains a 2" port and a recessed assembly that holds the binding posts. If desiring or needing to mount the speaker against a wall, for let's say surround speaker duties, the port can be plugged with only a small change to the low-end response.
The binding posts will accept bare wire (up to untinned 10 gauge), banana plugs, or spade lugs. The binding posts are capped with 9/16" hex-head plastic enclosed nuts.
The speaker cabinet is constructed using 5/8" milled MDF on all sides, with glued reinforcing panels around the woofer and the tweeter on the speaker's interior. The front side edges are nicely radiused, and all others are sharp 90˚ joins. The speaker's interior has no evidence of additional bracing other than the reinforcement panels glued in place and a non-ferrous brace across the tweeter's back. The speaker interior is lined with a loose damping material glued into place.
A hard rap with the knuckles produces a good, solid "Thunk!" with a slight but noticeable hollowness/ringing.
The finish appears to be vinyl panels with a low sheen, lightly textured, utilitarian black finish, giving the speakers a soft industrial but still elegant appearance.
The simple crossover appears to be a 2nd order Butterworth or Linkwitz-Riley design, with a resistor for impedance/level matching in the tweeter leg. I'm guessing the crossover is Linkwitz-Riley because of the smooth, bump-free measurement at the published crossover point of 3.2kHz. All components of the crossover appear consistent with the price point of the speaker. Construction is on a single-sided PCB mounted to the rear of the binding post housing.
JBL specifies a frequency response of 55Hz to 40kHz. Nominal impedance is given as 6 Ohms, and sensitivity is 86dB @1 Meter 2.83V (1.34 Watts into 6 ohms).
Per JBL, "The focus of the Stage Series was to offer an elevated level of performance at a tremendous value. Despite the low price of the product, we did not cut any corners and utilized the full gamut of resources and processes we would use for any of the higher-priced JBL loudspeakers developed here in our Northridge Acoustic Engineering Center of Excellence. As part of this process, the A130 went through & passed the Harman MLL double-blind listening test process against key comparators."
The speakers weigh in at 12.02lb each and measure 7.48" W (190mm) x 9.06" D (230mm) x 12.64" H (321mm).
All in all, the JBL Stage A130 is a nice-looking "box" speaker. It appears very well built, especially considering the speaker's price point, and is aesthetically pleasing.
Starting in the big space of the media room (18.5' W x 21.5' L x 9.5' H), I connected the JBL A130's speakers as my front left and right speakers.
I set the speakers on top of acoustic foam isolation footers on top of my subs. The spread was about 8 feet apart and 3 feet from the front wall to the front of the speaker baffle. I used a very slight toe-in toward the listening position. Tweeters were within an inch or two of ear level when seated at the listening position.
I ran a six-position Audyssey calibration, and the correction range was limited to 300Hz and below, with the top end unimpeded. I then saved and uploaded the results to my processor.
JBL publishes only numbers for the A130. All of the charts you see below are generated by me using REW and a UMIK-1.
The Stage A130 speaker has a relatively flat response with a surprisingly good amount of energy at 30Hz! For a speaker this small, bass response is exceptional!
While rated out to 40kHz, my measurements indicated a pronounced roll-off starting at around 16.5kHz. So, while there may be some energy out there in the upper hinterlands, it won't be much. It is also fair to say there is not too much to hear up there for most of us. With that said, however, I do prefer a speaker with a clean, extended high end. That extension can and does add to a sense of space and air that is desirable in most speakers and rooms.
The biggest surprise was just how low the A130 went! While rated to 55Hz, there was a good solid presence at around 30Hz. However, it displayed a sharp decline in output right at that 30Hz mark, so how useful, or heard, that low-frequency output would be is a question to be answered by the listening.
From a distance of 1 meter, the measurements were much the same.
The more on-axis direct measurement at 1 Meter told the same story as the listening position measurements with only a slightly better high-end presence.
Just for fun, I did some additional measurements at one meter to see how the off-axis response of the speaker faired. First, I measured the speaker on-axis and then again at 15˚, 30˚, 60˚, 90˚ and then lastly behind the speaker at 180˚ off the center-line axis.
The mid-range and higher frequencies start to drop off at 15˚ (30˚ spread) but only mildly so. It gets progressively more severe, as you would expect, as the off-axis distance increases. Interestingly the bass response measures a good bump from behind the speaker due to the rear placement of the port. There was solid off-axis output up to about 30˚ off to either side (60˚spread). Beyond that mark, the speaker's high frequencies and mid-range were noticeably diminished.
As always, I let the speakers, and arguably, more importantly, my ears and brain, acclimate for a week before doing any serious or critical listening.
I did all music listening with and without the subwoofers engaged. When not engaged, the A130's were run as full-range (Large) speakers. With the subwoofers on, the JBLs were run as limited range (Small) speakers and crossed over at 80Hz.
All home theater listening was done with the speakers set as "Small" speakers and crossed over at 80Hz with the subwoofers on.
After a week of acclimatization, I started the listening tests with a variety of material using several sources. CD, SACD using my OPPO UDP-203, Streaming using Amazon UHD via Marantz HEOS, and a load of vinyl using a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon with Ortofon Red 2M cartridge.
Some general impressions upfront. The A130s played very well without subs. The bass presence with most music was solid and tight, surprisingly so for a 5.25" woofer in a room the size of my listening room (21.5' x 18.5' x 9.5' H). But having said that, they do cry out for a good sub or two. While I continued to listen without, and then with the subwoofers engaged, it became quickly evident the speakers needed the help on the low-end at anything above moderate volume levels with bass-heavy material.
The speakers displayed a slightly "cardboardy" and congested sounding midrange. Adding subs and running them as "Small" speakers alleviated but did not eliminate this artifact. I tried crossing them over a bit higher at 90Hz, 100Hz, and 110Hz, but they retained that boxy, slightly congested, midrange sound signature.
As I continued listening, the sound did smooth out, and the perceived "boxy-ness" faded (a bit!) over time. I'll chalk that up to my ears and brain "breaking-in" rather than any change in the speakers.
Steven Bishop - Red Cab to Manhattan – "Red Cab To Manhattan," "The Big House"
This well-recorded 1980 release from Steven Bishop sometimes features relatively dry and sometimes lush soundscapes, all presented with Mr. Bishop's signature humor and wit. This somewhat bass lite material was tight and well-presented without the subs on. The high-end was smooth and extended and rendered with a nice crispness. However, the mid-range still exhibited that "congested" sound to a large degree.
With the subwoofers engaged, the music took on another dimension, becoming more "solid" and "impactful."
Starcastle – Starcastle – "Lady of the Lake," "Elliptical Seasons," "Forces"
Playing through side one of this 1976 release by Starcastle was an enjoyable listen. The presentation through the JBL's was concise and crisply rendered. The soundstage was more extensive, with greater space and air than with the Steven Bishop LP. You had only to listen to any of the songs that had a solid ending point to hear those beautiful "seventies" studio reverb tails ringing on and creating that lovely artificial space.
The little speakers reproduced the interesting and complex prog rock pleasingly with, or without, the subs. With the subwoofers on, the music was undoubtedly more impactful and engaging. The intricate bass lines laid down by bassist Gary Strater moved forward in the mix.
Rush – Hemispheres – "The Trees"
Rush? Yes Please! This 1978 release was perfectly happy on the A130's. As with most Rush music, it demands to be played loud. And, when cranked up, the A130's acquitted themselves well with a good solid, center focused, and forward presentation.
The introduction, featuring Alex Lifeson's delicate acoustic guitar and Geddy Lee's "phase-y" effected bass were well rendered.
Rush is the kind of music that ultimately works best with a subwoofer. The foundational low end of Geddy Lee's bass worked in perfect concert with the late, great Neil Peart's Kickdrum(s), providing plenty of slam and impact.
Steely Dan – The Royal Scam – “Kid Charlemagne”
I purchased this LP in 1976 when first released and played the heck out of it. One of my favorite tracks was Kid Charlemagne, and I played it over and over. Fast forward to today, and I couldn't tell you exactly why, other than I just connected to the tune in some way.
Through the A130's, the signature Steely Dan sound was well represented with that trademark bass and kick drum solid and connected. Likewise, the keyboards and vocals were well represented through the JBL speakers. Again, the high end was there, crisply rendered but somewhat muted.
Adding the subs inserted a more powerful feeling of weight and impact.
My final vinyl selection was the 1974 release by Strawbs, Hero and Heroine. I sampled the title track, "Hero and Heroine" from the LP. The track starts with powerful Mellotron jabs working in concert with the other instrumentation of the band for a powerful and impactfully dynamic tune. The A130's easily conveyed the lushness of the Mellotron and the impact of the bass, drums, and guitars throughout the song. The more delicate interludes with acoustic guitar were less deftly portrayed but still satisfying.
The rest of the album mainly played the same. In some of the quieter, airier, tunes the vocals suffered a tiny bit from that mid-range congestion noticed earlier but were perfectly listenable.
I started with some instrumentals from the 2004 SACD release from keyboard virtuoso Hiromi and her album Brain. I listened to two tracks, "Kung Fu Champion of the World" and "If…". Listening to "Kung Fu Champion of the World," I found that much of the dynamic impact from the synthesizer interplay with drums and bass was lost without the subwoofers. That was immediately remedied by simply turning on the subs. The overall balance was much better with the subwoofers on.
The second tune, "If…" featured bassist Anthony Jackson supplying the low end this time. I found the music listenable and engaging, with or without the subwoofers on.
Nora Jones, Come Away With Me was a bit of a different listen. The softer, laid-back instrumentation and breathy vocals were well presented by the A130's either with or without the subs in the mix.
I'll chalk that up to the fact that the bass used throughout is a mic'ed upright bass, not as deep digging as the synth on Hiromi's tunes or the artificially pumped-up electric basses used on much of the other material.
Overall a pleasant listen with just a pinch of that noted mid-range congestion clouding Ms. Jones vocals.
I listened to several other CDs, including material from the Eagles, Bruce Hornsby, Billy Joel, Simply Red, and Jethro Tull, to name just a few. In every case, the sampled material benefited from using the subwoofers. The subwoofers added weight and impact to most of the material that was otherwise bass shy without the subs. Some of the older material transferred from vinyl master tapes to the new-fangled CD format did border on too much of a good thing (bass-wise…) with the subwoofers on and sounded just fine using the A130's only.
Streaming (Amazon Music)
I listened to a variety of material using Amazon HD and Ultra HD streaming through a Marantz HEOS connection. The little JBL's performed well throughout, consistently delivering a solid, listenable, slightly in-your-face sound.
Throughout all music listening, the A130's performed well. They were presenting a focused, well-centered image with a limited soundstage. The speakers presented everything with a clear, concise sound overall, good solid, low-end, and a nice crisp (but not overly so), never shrill, well-balanced high-end. The mid-range was a tad "cardboardy," a bit "boxy" in sound character. Singing voices, either male or female, were easy to listen to when accompanied by music. However, male voices were a bit chesty and congested sounding when sparsely accompanied.
The JBL Stage A130's were set to "Small" in the processor menu, with the crossover at 80Hz for LFE. In addition, the processor bass setting was toggled to combine LFE and "Main" bass to the subs. Doing this would send most of the low-frequency duties to the subwoofers, when used, freeing up the small JBL's to handle the mid-bass, mid's, and high's more effectively/efficiently. I initially tried different crossover settings ranging from 60Hz to 120Hz before settling on the magic 80Hz point. This 80Hz mark seemed the best compromise in respect to clarity and impact.
Since this was a home theater session, the subs were "on" for all listening.
I watched a good mix of movies, TV series, and YouTube (highly variable) presentations.
In almost all cases, the little JBL's acquitted themselves admirably. The small speakers never fell behind in volume output and compressed only slightly when pushed hard. They blended well with my other speakers, noticeably standing out in timbre or tone only rarely.
The biggest shortcoming noted was with YouTube videos in stereo. Male speakers exhibited that pinched, congested, chesty sound that I have already noted. Female presenters fared much better but were not wholly immune to the condition.
A Change of Venue
To give the A130's a chance in another listening venue, I moved the speakers to the study. First, I replaced the similarly sized (5.25" woofer and 1" dome tweeter in a shallow waveguide) bi-amplified PreSonus ERIS 5 speakers. Then, using my old Sony STR-DH800 receiver fed from a MOTU M2 DAC/Audio Interface and a MacBook Pro front-end to power the A130's, I relistened to many of the CDs I had previously sampled in the bigger listening room.
To keep it short, I'll just say the JBL Stage A130's shined in this new scenario. My office is configured as a nearfield monitoring/listening setup with the speakers typically only 3' from each ear with a sharp toe-in toward my noggin.
In this situation, an almost headphone-like environment, the speakers were crispy and concise on the high-end with robust and precise bass. This was the case with all but the lowest reaching bass-heavy material. Think Synthesizer or five-string bass. I'm not currently running a subwoofer in the office and felt no real need to do so when using the A130's in the study.
The mid-range was much smoother in this nearfield configuration, and the earlier noted "boxy-ness" was mostly absent.
Summary and Closing Thoughts
JBL has a heritage and lineage that is impossible to deny! By the end of the '70s, more studios were using JBL monitors than all other brands of the time combined. That is quite an accomplishment and endorsement. This fact is especially impressive considering JBL only entered the studio monitor market in 1968 with the JBL 4320 and the smaller 4310 speakers. Wow!
So, I know… The burning question in your mind must be… Did the JBL Stage 130 speakers transport me back to those (read: MY) halcyon days of the '70s?
Well, yes, in a way… No one's aural memory is genuinely available to them from 50, give or take, years in the past. Those days and sounds were more shaped by what I was involved in and the environment surrounding me at the time. My experiences shaped what I "heard" much more than what I was actually hearing!
You may have noticed I used more vinyl than in past reviews. I did that deliberately to connect the speakers to that time and my previous JBL experiences. It certainly worked in a way. I simply liked the sound of vinyl through the JBL A130s. The vinyl format just seemed to have a special connection and rapport with the A130's sound signature. In addition, the vinyl seemed more balanced through these speakers than that medium's digital cousins.
These speakers are rockers! Of all the different genres presented to them, rock was what worked best. Thick, dense rock! The JBL speakers were also excellent with the modern country, jazz, prog, and pop tunes that I fed them.
Classical not as much… I sampled a bit of classical but quickly moved away from Bach and Beethoven in favor of the other genres mentioned. The sound was just too lifeless with the classical music I sampled.
Given my druthers (on this or any other similar speaker), I would ask for a smoother extended high-end with more energy up top and a less constrained, more open, and less boxy mid-range sound, along with better sensitivity.
All in all, this is a fine little speaker, especially at its price point and apparent build quality. In addition, it is versatile in the respect that it can easily flex into different musical and home theater environments and duties.
The Stage A130 plays loud enough, goes deep enough, and has enough clarity on the high-end to make it worthy of consideration as the basis for a secondary or any small-scale stereo system, near/mid-field monitoring solutions, or home theater applications. Add a sub or two to the mix, and it can get serious!
Specifications: JBL STAGE A130 2-Way Loudspeaker
- 5.25" (133mm) Polycellulose Low-Frequency Woofer
- New High Definition Imaging (HDI) Waveguide
- 1" (25mm) Aluminum Dome Tweeter
- Recommended Amplifier Power: 20 – 125W Frequency Response: 55Hz – 40kHz
- Sensitivity: 86dB @ 1M, 2.83V
- Nominal Impedance: 6 Ohms
- Crossover Frequencies: 3.2kHz
- Enclosure Type: Bass-Reflex via Rear-Firing Tuned Port Dimensions (W x D x H): 190 x 230 x 321mm
- Weight (each): 12.02 lbs (5.45kg)