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Reviewer: David Kan
Digital Source: Restek Radiant, Assemblage D2D-1/DAC-3.1 Platinum, Marantz SA6820, Deltec PDM Two DAC, Philips DVP9000S
Analog Source: Denon DP-59L turntable, Denon DL-302 MC phono cartridge, Ensemble PhonoMaster phono stage
Preamp: Audio Zone Pre T1, KingRex Preamp, Audio Space Pre-2 [on loan]
Power Amp/Integrated Amp: Dared MP-2A3C, Dared VP-20, Audio Zone AMP-ST, Thorens-Restek MMA-5, KingRex T20/T20U, Audio Space Nova M-34 [on loan]
Speakers: Loth-X BS-1, Apogee Centaur Minor
Cables: Clearaudio Silver Line interconnect, Deltec Black Slink interconnect, Luscombe LBR-35 interconnect, OCOS speaker cables by Dynaudio, Orphee Audio digital cable, Aural Symphonic Digital Standard digital cable
Power Cords: Aural Symphonic Missing Link, Ensemble Powerflux, and lots of generic cords
Power Line Conditioning: Tice Power Block IIIC, Monster Power HTS-3500 Mk II (modified by Nu Force), Monster Power HTS-1000 Mk II, Deltec The Power (for Deltec DAC)
Room Size: 13' 8" x 9' 8" x 8', short wall setup (computer room for desktop audition) / 15' x 13.5' x 8' diagonal setup/12' x 24' x 9' opens to 12' x 17' x 9' L-shape, short wall setup
Review component retail: $/€ 390/pr

Narrow is wide.
Single-driver loudspeakers. Most people call them full-range loudspeakers since they attempt to cover the entire audible frequency spectrum with just one drive unit. Our editor prefers to call them widebanders. That actually reflects the technical reality more accurately since most full-range drivers can't cover the full frequency range. But how full is full? Don't confuse that with half full or half empty. I'm not trying to determine whether you are an optimist or pessimist. One sarcastic saying about single driver loudspeakers refers to them as beauty with the upper body only. To people who appreciate the beauty of the upper body, that's half full. To people who complain about the lack of the lower body, it's half empty. At least 'widebander' as a technical term leaves more room for interpretation (or imagination) and less of a platform for rhetoric arguments. After all, how wide is wide eventually depends on individual design.

It's common knowledge and accepted that speakers with widebanders actually have a narrower bandwidth than multi-driver loudspeakers. But it's still wrong to call them narrowbanders. The fact is, with one single driver, they do cover an admirably wide bandwidth compared to any one driver on a two- or three-way system. With the aid of cabinet design to augment bass reproduction, some of these widebanders can even pose a direct threat to a two-way bookshelf or
floorstander. Because they use a single driver and need no crossover, advocates preach with enthusiasm and tenacity about pure sound without electronic coloration. Whether certain complicated cabinet designs will introduce a different kind of coloration (acoustic standing waves and cabinet resonance) is a concern they would conveniently bypass. Within all the physical confinements known to the players and their audience, the game of full-range drivers has never stopped. In fact, with the renaissance of tube amps, the game is once again in full swing.

JohnBlue Audio Art is now making its North American debut but isn't a new player in this game. In Taiwan where the company was established in 2003, JohnBlue is fast becoming the online focal point and synonymous with full-range loudspeakers among audiophiles. Founder and designer Tommy Wu is a long-time tube amp aficionado and full-range single driver advocate who eventually gave up his 9-to-5 job to devote all his time and energy to the passion of his heart. "I am deeply attracted to single-driver speakers," he wrote me in one of his emails. "The expressive high frequencies, the affectionate midrange and clarity embedded with details all conjure a special flavor that I could never find in multi-driver designs. To rectify the shortcomings in bass extension of earlier or even certain modern full-range speakers, more work had to be done in cabinet design, resonance control and of course the driver itself. I started to collect and study all full-range drivers I could find. I did extensive research and developed cabinet configurations and other supplementary tools. The aim was to unleash the full potential of this unique way of music making. JohnBlue products are a reflection of my personal taste and they present jazz, female vocals and string ensemble with my signature sound."

Sidebar I: Tommy Wu, founder and designer of JohnBlue Audio Art, talks about his home system and favorite CDs: My audition room is 4.9m wide. Acoustic treatment includes two tube traps in the corners to diffuse standing waves and next to them are four 60 x120m absorption/diffusion panels. My listening seat is 2m from the speakers, they are away from the front wall by 1.5m... continue

The technical advisor of JohnBlue is Mr. K. E. Lee, inventor of Litz wire and the creator of the Calix Phoenix hornspeakers. "With Mr. Lee's experience," Tommy added, "he's bringing us invaluable advice in creating and fine-tuning our products." The headquarters of JohnBlue Audio are in the Southern city of Huwei, Yunlin County, with a 2-storey factory that occupies 2,000 s.m. and houses approximately 100 employees. The production line includes full-range speakers and drivers, super tweeters, tube amps and cables. "Every production process is handled inside the factory and never has been nor ever will be farmed out. All transformers including output transformers are proprietary designs and hand-wound by us to very stringent specs. Crucial components like coupling capacitors are semi-finished import products that are modified and finished according to our requirements." (Tommy told me that he has replaced the
Sidebar II: For photos of the Calix speakers as well as JohnBlue Audio Art facility and the driver specifications for the JB3, continue
caps in his KingRex T20 with his own and asked if I would like to try them. Do you think I would say no? Watch out, T-Rex mod squad!) Apparently their driver production is so successful that JohnBlue is now manufacturing OEM drivers for a very famous European loudspeaker firm. Tommy stressed that they have mastered some unique techniques in speaker manufacturing. "For instance, the plating on speaker binding posts involves a lot of technical know-how in metallurgy. It's not just plating anything..."

JohnBlue Audio Art has four current models in their widebander portfolio. The JB8 is the flagship floorstander featuring a proprietary 8" full-range driver. JB8B is the bookshelf version. The JB4 and JB3 feature 4" driver and 3" drivers respectively. Tommy offered me to audition the JB3 with his personal introduction: "The JB3 is the second full-range model created by us after the JB4. Although the materials in the two drivers are identical, the sonic characteristics are decidedly different. The JB4 is an audiophile model designed to match low-output tube amps. The JB3 is a boutique style miniature speaker to enhance office or home décors. It is targeted at computer geeks, most of whom tend to favor transistor amps. One of the prime considerations for the speaker was that it must not sound bright or thin when audio signals are amplified by solid-state components. When the product was finalized, the JB3 proved to be an exceptional full-range speaker on the test bench as well as during actual auditions.

"We invited a group of DIYers and audiophiles with over 40 years of experience to come to the audition. The consensus was that the JB3 was charmingly refreshing, with sonic purity and tone color surpassing even certain two-way speakers. You could say that my approach to the JB3, from R&D to manufacturing and QC, is obsessively stringent and guided by a cost-no-object attitude. The piano gloss finish is 1mm thick. The driver is mounted to the cabinet with gold-plated hex screws. Internal wiring is multi-strand gold-plated virgin copper with ABS insulation. I personally like this wiring for its emotional appeal. All solder joints are done with whole crystal solder for pure and direct bonding. Even the internal damping materials are rare and special."