Jaton REAL Speaker (A&V 803)

List Price   $6,000

Review by

Russ Gates

 

It’s always a good day when a delivery truck pulls up, and the driver grabs a one ton pallet jack to pull ‘your’ delivery out.  My publisher Mr. Darby told me he had something for me to review, and it finally had landed in McKinney, Texas.  Right out of the gate, the speakers have a certain presence to them, even still hiding in the boxes on their shipping crate.

Character and Dress

Ok, so 20 minutes later they are inside my living room, and I am left alone with them as the delivery driver has wiped the sweat from his brow and made a hasty retreat (I would too after hauling 240 pounds of speakers into a grinning idiot’s abode).  Yeah, I’m alone, completely alone.  Seriously alone.  Alone with a pair of speakers sporting an asking price of a used car.  Regardless, after careful maneuvering and a slight manipulation of my lower lumbar – they are out the boxes – all 3 boxes, 2 for the speakers, 1 for the plinths that attach to the bottom.

The A&V 803 has hands down one of, if not THE best piano black finishes I have ever come across in my audio adventures.  I think back to my NHT 3.3’s, and as glossy and deep as they were, these are to an entirely different level.  The finish has REAL depth.  Ok ok ok, love hate on piano finishes, I get it – when they shine, they REALLY shine (if done right), but they do require a lot more regular care than wood veneers, etc.  That being said, if I had another heavyweight, like a 1970 Chevelle LS-6 in my humble garage, I’d probably be rubbing it with a diaper as much as I’d be driving it.  Nut shelled, I wouldn’t mind the upkeep. The 803's are also available in genuine walnut, sandalwood and mahogany, but they are all ultra high-gloss with what looks like several coats of hand-rubbed lacquer - a very labor intensive, expensive process. It is also a very not-good-for-your-health process that is so restricted by OSHA in the US that speaker makers usually ship their cabinets to other countries like China to get this type of finish. These Jatons are made in China so that was not a problem.

 

Straight Forward

You have to like a straight forward speaker design.  Actually, you don’t have to like it, you have to love it.  The Jaton 803 doesn’t have playboy curves, it’s a speaker.  Yeah, a speaker, built like a dictionary description of a speaker – big rectangle box, drivers on front, port and posts in the rear.   What exactly do you get transducer wise?  Two eight-inch bass drivers, a five-inch mid bass driver, a ribbon tweeter mounted in a horn loaded baffle of sorts.  The bass and mid drivers have a plastic / poly cone, rubber surround, and inverted dust caps.  The tweeter appears to be of reasonably high quality.  Magnet structures and build on the drivers are substantial.

The hook up is a tossup.  Posts leave a bit to be desired, especially in this price point.  Sure they are bi-amp / wire capable, and these days who isn’t?  They are far from  WBT / Cardas quality, and mounted in a plastic terminal cup at that.  The large, flared rear port is mounted just above.  I hate to say it, but I look back to my JB3 review, and wonder how a $300 pair of small speakers can give me a brass plate and decent posts, but ramp up to over twenty times the price and you get a cup?  I’ll get back to this word later, but let me throw it out there now.  Potential.  The 803’s have it, but they just aren’t there yet.

*note, bi-amp connections are 8 ohm nominal, if you use the factory jumpers (parallel posts) you are down to 4 ohm*

 

 

 

Sit down, Shut up, and listen….

Ok, these big bad Jaton’s got the ‘treatment’.  Prodigy’s ‘Fat of the Land’ for 80 hours, on repeat, at around 90db.  Yes, I have a ‘break in’ room, but with a large speaker like the 803, the bass simply isn’t going to hide in a 2000 sq ft house.  I always listen to speakers on my best gear, right of the box, if even just for a few minutes before run in.  The staff at Jaton told me I needed to run them in for at least 40, if not 60 hours.  I gave them 80 – and things did change, but very slowly over the first 40.  Once I hit 75 hours (logged), the bass gained a little more control, and the top end was tamed a bit (it needed to be, and still does in my opinion).

Mark Knopfler, The Ragpicker’s Dream.  One of my favorite albums.  Not unlike any other offering from Mr. Knopfler, an album you listen to start to finish, no hunting around for that track or two that got radio edit airplay for two months after it was released.  Track seven, Marbleland – classic Mark, guitar, vocals, nothing more.  I know his voice, and the Jaton’s brought it through very nicely.  VERY GOOD tonal balance, articulation and accuracy in the mid and lower midband.  Track eight, You Don’t Know Your born – again, great vocally, but now with multiple guitars, bass, and drums in the mix – the selection while simple in and of itself, is more complex than the prior.  The ride cymbal on Chad Cromwell’s kit was a touch on the bright side, it didn’t necessarily sound wrong, but it was just right either. 

Glenn Worf is a great bass player, and he’s rolled with Mark for years – and again, it wasn’t bad, just off a tad, and I know it wasn’t Glenn.  The bass guitar had good dynamics, but lacked in presence, if that makes sense.  Dynamic range and pace were there, but pace and rhythm were a bit sloppy.  The decay on the notes seemed to last way too long and began to almost run over each other.

So at this point in the review, it’s a real mixed bag for me.  Knopfler’s vocals were in the room, but the rig with the bands gear didn’t show up with him.  Let’s try Modern Cool.  I know, I know, I always swear I won’t pull out the old ‘go to’ records, and give you audio nuts something new to try, regardless of what you think of the review.  Give me a pass on this one.  Enter Patricia Barber.  Yes, Patricia.  ‘Modern Cool’, Blue Note 1998, track one Touch of Trash.  Even more so than on Ragpicker, the vocals are extraordinary.  One thing I have always enjoyed about Pat’s records is the resolution they offer.   Articulation, Focus, and a real sense of Air.  The music surrounds and envelops you, draws you in, almost hypnotically – and that’s exactly what the big Jaton’s did, drew me in – well, for a few minutes. 

Track two, Winter – I was fine, even with the drum kit this time, until the piano work came in halfway through the track.  Amongst all the complexity, the piano stuck out like a sore thumb, and was almost distracting.  It had an almost flat sound to it, with very little life – it just didn’t seem to match up with everything else pleasant that I was hearing. 

Track seven – Company.  Cool upbeat tempo, a real toe-tapper, if you will let me get away with using that term.  You can hear Arnopol’s fingers, his calluses hitting the strings on the bass as the notes begin to form.  The drums have good attack, pace, and rhythm.  The ONE issue, again, which points me to the upper mids yet again, Dave Douglas’s trumpet, comes in and I start to lose that warm and fuzzy Patricia feeling.  Not a complete buzz kill, but it’s just not mating up with the rest of the entire goings on.

Next up on the playlist, Mazzy Star.  If you are saying ‘what star’,  Mazzy Star is in reality, singer Hope Sandoval whose voice and style is rather retro folk/pop/country. You owe it to yourself to give this a listen.  Track one, Fade Into You, is off the album ‘So Tonight That I May See’.  A slow guitar driven ballad, with the a soulful, delicate – as if almost a whisper - female vocal.  A very enveloping and personal track for me.  The 803’s hit it out of the park on the vocal track again.  Voicing and timber was tight and clean, upper and mid bass articulation was pleasant and had good pace.  The top end stood out like a sore thumb.  The ribbon tweeter was bordering harsh, it had a real hard edge to it.  Not that the tambourine is a detailed instrument (and tunable really at that), but it was outside of the rest of the recording, it just didn’t fit in like the hundreds of other times I’ve listened to this track, on numerous different speaker and back end combos.

Rock it out, why not.  At this point, I’m frustrated.  Maybe it’s a synergy with my gear.  I know it’s not what most would deem high end, and my collections of back end has thinned over the years – but that being said, I’ve forgotten more gear than most will remember, and the current setup just ‘works’ for everything that rolls in here, but maybe not the Jaton 803’s.  At this point, I’m going for SPL.  Enter what is in my opinion one of, if not THE greatest rock bands of the past 2 decades, Incubus.  The Make Yourself LP is my favorite, if you were to force me to choose.  Brandon Boyd connects with me, musically and lyrically – it works for me.  It’s a constant, always has been.  Good times and bad. 

Track three, Consequence – I crank up the Manley’s and let it rip.  Boyd’s vocal track is spot on, and I feel that sense of ‘drift’ that I get when I listen to his music – almost slipping into a mild anesthesia – things around me begin to disappear.  Drums hit hard, with impact and surprisingly good pace with the bass guitar.  What really floored me was the overall sense of coherence coming out, on not so great a recording.  Not that’s its bad, maybe just unknown – I dig it, it’s just out there in the demo tracks from the Diana Krall / Miles Davis / Bach audiophile community.  Hey, I like what I like.  Lots of people I know like what I like too, maybe you will also.  The Warmth, track four – a real sense of spatialness came out – the soundstage became very wide, but there were focal points within the stage.  This is the first time the Jaton 803’s began to vanish.  I found them luring me into deep water, and for the first time in this particular review, there was nothing to make me resist – the water was warm.

 

 

 

What we have here are rather big and not especially low budget speakers.  Easy to drive, but perhaps a little picky on what exactly you have in said driver’s seat.  Stellar finish, heavy, well built, but with cheap accents – I can’t get past a terminal cup on speakers setting you back six large, sorry.  it is obvious that these speakers need much more than the recommended 40 hours on them to even start sounding musical. I suspect that another hundred or so hours might improve things considerably, especially the ribbon tweeter - they just take longer. I wish I could do a follow up in a year, after they have some REAL time on them.  Even as I’m writing and listening now, things are still changing.  The top end is, in a word, bright to me.  Then again, one man’s bright is another man’s detail, so caveat emptor, of course.  The bass is loose on some recordings, and doesn’t keep up with the lower mids.  The vocals, both male and female are real, and very believable.

I think the A&V 803 has GREAT potential, and a little more care / tweaking in the network / driver selection, and a little more money put in things like the port, and posts – it could be a contender in its price point.  The thing is, it’s easy, well easier… to make a $300 speaker sound like more than other $300 offerings with a little finesse – but at over six grand a pair, the competition is fierce, and I don’t think the 803 is there yet.  I would embrace an audition with a next generation model.

In this price category, competitors such as Epos, Nola, Gershmann and several others (see our reviews) offer a more well developed and mature product at this point. Jaton may be the Lexus, Infinity, Hyundai of the high end industry. They also make electronics they are very high value which seem to be a bit ahead of their speakers in refinement. This is a company to watch. And we will be watching for you - closely.

 

Equipment used:

Preamplifier – Melos SHA-1

Amplifier – Manley Labs 100 Monoblocks / Dodd Audio One-Off Battery Tripath Amplifier

Source – Marantz  SA8260

Power Cables – Signal Cable Magic Power

Speaker Cables – Signal Cable Ultra Bi-wire

Interconnects – Cardas 300B

 

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