In tonal balance, the A190 was commendably neutral, neither etching nor otherwise agitating the treble or port-pumping single-note pulses in the midbass. The frequency response graph that JBL shared with me at my request pretty much matched what I was hearing—a bit of midrange underlining and shallow, short troughs around the crossover points of 1.4 and 2kHz. Essentially excellent response for a modestly priced loudspeaker. Many a speaker that I’ve encountered at much higher price points should be so lucky.
Vocal reproduction and timbre, both female and male, were very good with a slight forward energy that I find far more likeable than designs that “lay back” the performance in a recessive pocket. Singers were well centered on the stage, as well. There was also nice delineation and air between vocalists. There are few recordings that better underscore this ability than the Audio Fidelity Peter, Paul & Mary reissues by Steve Hoffman. Songs like “All My Trials” or “500 Miles” were remarkably unveiled and fast, and the A190 did justice to them. Nonetheless, there’s still a pointed emphasis and “framing” of energy that underscored vocals like those found on Nat King Cole’s mono cover of “Stardust.” It’s a relatively small inter-driver distraction, but it’s there.
What the A190’s substantial midbass output does convey in abundance are the atmospherics of a performance that allow the narrower confines of your listening space to fall away to a large degree. Soundstage creation, at least on lateral and vertical bases, was good for this price segment, displaying orchestral instrumentation nicely arrayed across the stage. However, front-to-back dimensionality was lacking, as was orchestral layering during Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite. There were glimmers and glimpses of the acoustic confines of the venue but hardly the specificity and envelopment that I’d hope for.
Occasionally I gathered the impression of the tweeter being a little out ahead of the bass octaves and heard a hint of cabinet coloration or port interaction that thickened familiar bass tracks such as Renaud Garcia-Fons’ “Palermo Notturno” or the crescendos of Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.” Images within the soundspace could be a bit amorphous at times, less rooted in place. During Clark Terry’s One on One, a collection of piano/trumpet duets, I’ve heard a stronger indication of the horizontal movement across the piano keyboard that allows me to visualize the artist’s hands moving over the keys. Here that movement was a little ill-defined. The highest levels of transparency and low-level detail are a bit beyond the JBL’s purview; thus, during Malcom Arnold’s “A Sussex Overture” the crash cymbals were a bit splashy and slightly smeared while orchestral layering and imagery seemed a bit more approximated.
At nine-hundred smackers per pair, there is stiff competition from the likes of personal faves Elac and Emotiva, among others. The former, equipped with a concentric mid/tweeter offers a level of precision imaging that the A190 can’t quite match, while the Emotiva Airmotiv T1 has that delectable ribbon tweeter. The A190 is more of an all-purpose performer, strong across all criteria. Every speaker in this category falls a little short of perfection, but if the goal is musicality and a semblance of full-range, seat-of-the-pants slam and dynamic authenticity, the Stage A190 is one of the best and most affordable real-world efforts I’ve encountered in a long time. A no-brainer of a bargain.
Specs & Pricing
Type: 2.5-way bass-reflex
Driver complement: 25mm tweeter, two 8" mid/bass
Frequency response: 36Hz–40kHz
Dimensions: 42.1" x 10.25" x 14.5"
Weight: 49.7 lbs.
HARMAN INTERNATIONAL INDUSTRIES
8500 Balboa Blvd.
Northridge, CA 91329