The era of high performance, high fidelity audio systems for the Indian market is here. There’s quite literally no shortage of brands and models. Sure, there’s a price to pay, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. With everything from floor standers to monitor speakers available, there’s no shortage of variety. Floorstanders can be space consuming and for those who prefer more elegant speakers, JBL India is offering a kit called the Cinestyle 30.
Design and build quality
The Cinestyle 30 is a 5.1 speaker setup and unlike some of the other home theatres we’ve reviewed, these are made up of five satellites, almost identical ones and one woofer. The speaker set is Harmon Kardon’s HKTS 30 5.1 audio speaker set. The amplifier is also Harmon Kardon’s AVR 255. We looked at the AVR 134 a while back - it was bundled with the last JBL audio solution kit we reviewed - the JBL Studio One.
Cable setup is extremely simple
Starting with the amplifier, there’s one word to describe it when you get it out of the box - it’s extremely heavy. One of the reasons for AV equipment to be so expensive in India is probably the shipping cost for such heavy speakers. The AVR 255 for example weighs no less than 13.6 kg. Like any other high-end audio receiver-amplifier, the rear has a ton of connections. Installation is straightforward. The connectors on the amplifier end are large, colour coded, so it’s easy to setup the speakers. Rotate the knobs, pass the cable through and tighten to fit the cables. Setting up the cables on the satellite end are much simpler, on the other hand - simply pretty the pin till the passthrough hole is visible, then insert the cable and let go off the pin.
Harmon Kardon AVR255 - a very capable amplifier
At the front of the amplifier, things are much simpler. There’s one single dial for the volume control that’s also illuminated and there are a few connects right below it. There are also a few controls in the form of thin, flat buttons that let you use the amplifier without using the remote control. The amplifier is pretty large and has large vents on either side. We noticed that it does get a little warm after some intensive use and the vents should help keep temperatures under control over extended periods.
No shortage of connectivity options
As for the speakers, these aren’t floorstanders. There are small plastic stands that come attached to the speakers themselves, which make them pretty sturdy. The design of the satellites reminds us of the satellites found on the Altec Lansing MX5021 speaker satellites. Each one of the satellites is identical except for the centre channel that lies on its side. Each satellite has three drivers and these are protected by a metal grill, while the rest of the speaker is made of plastic. The stands on the satellite help conceal the connectors and the cables, so the clutter is minimised. The bundled cables aren’t very thin but they’re long and should easy reach corners of a decent sized room.
The woofer is pretty large for the size of the satellites, in comparison to some of the other speakers we’ve seen. It’s elevated from the ground by a little more than an inch using four spike-like stands. The build quality of the woofer is excellent and it’s fairly heavy too. The black colour scheme goes well with the look of the speakers. The remote like all other Harmon Kardon remotes is massive and can’t be used with just one grip. The buttons and controls are of good quality and well placed. The rear of the remote has a matte finish that makes gripping it easy and comfortable.
The mighty AVR 255 receiver-amplifier can output a total of 50W per channel if you set it up in 7.1 mode. In terms of capability, it’s pretty impressive and with few satellites, the power output per channel is also bumped up a bit. DTS’ set of audio standards are all supported as well. In terms of bandwidth, the processors can handle 192kHz streams at 24-bit. There are the expected set of Dolby surround modes.
Connectivity options are plentiful as well - there are three HDMI 1.3a input ports at the rear and one output port that connects to your primary display - a TV or projector. In the case of the HKTS 30, the woofer output goes directly to the woofer. At the front, there are auxiliary inputs in the form of RCA connects. One of the unique features of the amplifier is the support of multiple zones, so you have different sets of speakers in different rooms and control them effectively. Of course, this is for more advanced users.
The user interface for the AVR255 is pretty straightforward - it follows the similar interface like many of the other Harmon Kardon amplifiers of the past. We noticed some delay between the button press on the remote and the action on the screen. In comparison, the display on the amplifier reacts quickly. Apart from that, there are few flaws. The icons and menus could’ve been slightly larger for better visibility from a distance. There is some amount of customization possible as well, but we chose not to play around with the bass and treble controls while reviewing the product itself. The amplifier makes big boosts in the frequency range, which alters the characteristic of the speakers by a lot.
The HKTS 30 are pretty simple speakers. The woofer has some more options as far as volume and phase settings are concerned. The satellites are rated to render frequencies between 45Hz and 20kHz. There’s one tweeter and two mid-range drivers. The woofer uses a 8-inch driver and the entire unit weighs 9kg - lighter than the AVR255 amplifier itself. The woofer has controls for a bass boost, a phase control, a volume dial if you want to tweak the amount of bass.
The JBL Cinestyle 30 as a whole gives us mixed reactions. Having heard louder and more impressive floor standers, the smaller mid-range drivers on the satellites of the HKTS 30 don’t impress a lot, when it comes to listening to music. Somehow, the midrange and the higher frequency of the sound range are isolated and the music doesn’t sound as fulfilling. Still, these are way more impressive than your everyday use, PC desktop users. The woofer on the other hand, is powerful. It’s not very punchy but it can move a lot of air despite its somewhat smaller size. Alternative rock music sounds fine, but when you add a whole bunch of instruments - everything ranging from synthesizers to drums, to violins and electric giutars to the mix, then you start to realize the lack of certain frequencies. Classical and female vocalists type of music also isn’t very fulfilling. There’s also a similar lack of detail between the lower range of the frequency range and where the satellites take over. Crank up the volume and there’s some distortion from the speakers, even the woofer starts losing its character a bit.
A space saving solution
Keeping aside music performance, we move to movie performance. Here is where the Cinestyle 30 really comes to life. The lack of detail in some regions is still present, but it’s not very audible because of the might of the woofer. Action sequences seem realistic and powerful with the HKTS 30. We used Dark Knight as our test Blu-ray disc while reviewing the Cinestyle 30. We would’ve liked more punch but the HKTS 30’s woofer doesn’t disappoint. Sound pans very clearly from one satellite to another.
An affordable solution - the JBL Cinestyle 30
The Cinestyle 30 sells for roughly Rs.64,990 in India, which isn’t a lot, considering the Harmon Kardon AVR255 amplifier by itself, costs roughly Rs.39,990. The speakers themselves aren’t extremely impressive and we’d recommend looking out for a proper set of floorstanders, if your budget allowed you to. However, if you’re a movie enthusiast and are looking for an affordable solution, this might be the one to go for. If you’re looking to upgrade in the future, you have the option of keeping the amplifier and buying a new set of speakers.
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