World Wide Stereo's JBL Synthesis Theater Reviewed on AVS Forum


This article originally appeared on AVS Forum and is written by their Senior Editor, Mark Henninger. Mark covers the latest audio and video technologies for the site's million-plus members, including coverage from shows like CEDIA and CES.

What’s it take to build a better home theater? It’s a fact that today’s home entertainment options can beat movie theaters in sound and picture quality. Thoughtful design plus superior gear are the ingredients that combine to make movie night special. The absolute best way to enjoy your favorite flicks is in a bespoke theater that features the best of the best in state-of-the-art gear.

Rooms like this are incredibly rare and if you've never experienced one, you might not even be aware of what's possible. Fortunately, I found one close to home, in the newly upgraded home theater demo room at World Wide Stereo in Ardmore, PA.

Doorway into the theater

This is a theater that features architectural speakers, so you won’t see any of the gear, just fabric walls and luxurious furnishings. Hidden behind the acoustically transparent screen and wall panels, you’ll find a JBL Synthesis speaker system that triggers goosebumps on demand with its shocking fidelity. Press play, and you’ll feel its power while also coming to appreciate its capacity for subtlety and finesse. Immediately, you’ll find yourself transported inside the scenes of your favorite movies, thanks to the uncanny realism of Synthesis speakers and electronics, including four JBL subwoofers that lent serious authority to the bass.

While JBL Synthesis demos have blown me away before, the World Wide Stereo demo room includes a rare (and possibly unique) upgrade over typical Synthesis systems: The amplifiers for the speakers are made by Mark Levinson. That's right, this home theater has thousands of watts of true audiophile amplification on tap. Meaning, if you use the room to experience a symphony orchestra, you'll have an authentic high-end audio experience, one that'll transport you to the concert hall while you ponder how such verisimilitude is even possible.

Before and after theater photos

This system has Dolby Atmos processing, so it can immerse you with cinematic sound in three dimensions. But unlike lesser Atmos systems where effects just jump from speaker to speaker, in this theater sounds can appear to come from anywhere and go anywhere. Queue up an action scene like the opening to Unbroken to experience Atmos sound so impactful and profound, it will leave you with an adrenaline rush that lasts for days!

Make no mistake, this is a rare "true reference" system that will not show a hint of strain or distortion, no matter how intense the action. The calibration process to achieve this precision is sophisticated and utilizes nine microphones to tune the room, including one specialized mic that can "hear" 3D sound. The result is perfectly balanced sound with crisp treble, clear midrange and bass so tight, it translates micro-dynamics into textures that make live music concert films sound and feel live.

(Pictured:It's what's behind the walls that makes this such a special home theater.)

On the video side, the $60,000 Sony VPL-VW5000ES supplies sublime 4K HDR and incredible sharpness thanks to its professional quality ARC-F lens. Sony's best projector shines light on a Stewart Filmscreen CineCurve FireHawk featuring Ultra Matte 130 material. Meanwhile, a Kaleidescape Strato 4K UHD player supplies the pristine sound and visuals, served up through its slick and intuitive interface.

The theatrical experience of this room is the complete package, delivering that much-coveted "total willing suspension of disbelief" because it puts you right inside the movie. Indeed, the audio performance of this JBL Synthesis and Mark Levinson theater is so transcendent and such a boost to the viewing experience, if you owned such a theater, you could proudly invite the directors of your favorite films over for movie night—that's how good it is!

This is the rack of JBL Synthesis, Mark Levinson, JL Audio, and Kaleidescape electronics that home theater dreams are made of.

This is the rack of JBL Synthesis, Mark Levinson, JL Audio, and Kaleidescape electronics that home theater dreams are made of.

Sony’s ultimate home theater projector, the $60,000 VPL-VW5000ES, puts sublime 4K HDR visuals on screen.

Sony’s ultimate home theater projector, the $60,000 VPL-VW5000ES, puts sublime 4K HDR visuals on screen.

This specialized microphone measures sound in 3D space.

This specialized microphone measures sound in 3D space.

Speakers being installed

There's a lot more that goes into making this room work than the gear I mentioned, including the door that seals the room, acoustic treatments, furniture, automation, lighting, and of course, calibration. Of course, if you want a room like this you have to actually build it, and while the theater may look the same today as it did before the installation of JBL Synthesis speakers plus processing and Mark Levinson amplification, that similarity is only skin deep.

The audio gear alone in this rarefied room does not come cheap. Indeed, the $250,000 price tag for audio electronics is more than half the total cost of the $387,000 room. However, it’s also the key to what makes the experience so special.

Consider that the system contains three Mark Levinson No. 536 dual-mono amps that provide 800 watts per channel of pure power into the JBL Synthesis speakers 4-ohm load while operating in class-A most of the time. A pair of No 535H amplifiers add ten more 200W channels and handle surround duties; that’s a ton of super-premium power in the mix!

(Pictured: The front left, center and right channels are JBL Synthesis SCL-2 in-wall speakers located behind the screen.)

Installing and tuning this “best-of-the-best” system took World Wide Stereo’s Robert Marcoccia and his team almost two months of careful planning. From there, progress was rapid with the teardown and new build taking another six weeks or so since the room itself (furniture and wall panels) was already built. Plus, all this specialized gear requires expertise to install and program so that the user experience is seamless and intuitive. In this video below, Robert talks about what went into making this room such a great place to experience music and movies:

Seeing is believing.

Going beyond mere specifications, here’s what makes the demo system at World Wide Stereo so impressive: It’s a fully realized, state-of-the-art home theater that needs to be experienced to be believed.

It sets the bar for public home theater demos, so if you happen to be in the Ardmore area, you should not miss the chance to hear it for yourself. World Wide Stereo will be hosting private screenings every Saturday in October featuring demos, movie snacks, and a chance to win a "movie night" in the theater with your friends and family. It's the best show in town, so make sure you stop by.

About Mark Henninger

Mark Henninger is a self-taught digital explorer with a background in analog photography. He began exploring digital imaging over three decades ago, when Photoshop was first released and founded Imagic Digital with his wife and partner, Danya Henninger. After two decades working with various industries including golf, hotels, luxury homes, and yachts, Mark pivoted to writing about his AV hobby that was inspired by AVS Forum.

His fascination with movies and music and AV gear go back to early childhood, but it was the community he found at the site that took it to the next level. Mark's other interests include digital music production, piloting drones, and trying out various electric 'rideable" devices. He's also a headphones addict.

Leave a Comment

Related Articles