JBL was pretty busy at CES 2023. Not content with the launch of new wireless headphones, a Dolby Atmos soundbar, its first Bluetooth turntable and a premium all-in-one speaker system, it also managed to launch a brand new line of Classic Series hi-fi electronics to squeeze in.
The new Classic Series consists of the SA550 Integrated Amplifier (£1599 / $2000 / €1899), CD350 CD Player (£799 / $700 / €899), MP350 Hi-Res Music Streamer (£875 / $800 / € 999) and JBL’s very first turntable, the TT350 (£925 / $1000 / €1049). And we managed to spend some time in the company of the SA550 in a demo room in JBL’s massive exhibit space at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.
If the look of the SA550 looks a little familiar, it’s because the amp (and the rest of the Classic range) is styled to match the limited edition SA750 launched in 2021 to celebrate JBL’s 75th anniversary to celebrate.
That’s because JBL sees its new singles as a great match for its Classic range of loudspeakers, ie the L100, L82 or L52. This way you build a complete system that offers modern technology with retro looks.
And we’re big fans of the concept. The natural walnut veneer and machined aluminum faceplates and controls work well together, and we’re even bigger fans of the old-school 1960s JBL logo that adorns the front panel of every piece of electronics.
Like the SA750, the SA550 features Class G amplification with high output power, efficiency and “ultra-low distortion”. It also features the latest aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codec for low latency and hi-res wireless audio streaming.
There’s 90W of power per channel into 8 ohms (150W into 4 ohms) and it has four analog inputs: 3x stereo RCA and an MM/MC phono stage, and three digital inputs (1x optical, 2x coaxial). Hi-Res Audio support extends to 24-bit/192kHz sampling rates.
In real life the amp looks good with both volume and input selectors appearing to be responsive enough. There was a bit of play in the buttons on the front panel, but a JBL rep told us this had already been noticed and feedback had been sent to the factory.
The source for our demo was also one of the new products in JBL’s new line, the MP350 music streamer.
We kicked off with Bicep’s happy song, Glue, and the system immediately came to life. It didn’t seem to have any trouble steering the lively nature of the track, nor did it seem to lack weight or sturdiness. Dynamics also seemed decent and overall it was an entertaining listen.
We then switched to Drake’s Too much and while the setup had a noisy show floor, the system seemed capable of delivering the music with clarity and control. There seemed to be a lot of space around vocals and instruments and again, the overall balance seemed very outgoing.
Attempting serious listening in a show environment is a tricky task, and JBL did say some sound tuning needs to be done on the amp before it gets fully signed off. So the taste of the sound can still be subject to change – which is always one of the dangers of listening to an early sample.
But our first impression was generally positive and we can’t wait to hear how the final version of the amp and the rest of JBL’s Classic family sound in our dedicated test rooms. We’re impressed with the company’s Classic speakers, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that this continues with its new line of electronics.
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