Review: JBL Spyro 3-Piece Powered Satellite Speaker and Subwoofer System
Over the past two years, JBL has transformed itself from a maker of outstanding-sounding speakers to one that's equally style- and sound-conscious - in essence, a company that realizes speakers can become commodities absent good looks and proper tuning. Having substantially explored "alien" design themes, producing Creatures, Encounters, Spot, and other UFO-shaped speakers, JBL is now testing the waters with Spyro, a flower-shaped audio system that shares audio components with Spot (iLounge rating: B+), but has a look and feel that's better suited to girls.
Simply put, Spyro and Spot are nearly the same system sonically, each blessed with dual 6-watt satellite speakers - smaller than the ones in JBL’s excellent Creature - and a 24-watt subwoofer that’s physically smaller but otherwise similar in power to Creature’s. As with Spot, Spyro lacks the treble control knob found on Creature, but has a rear-mounted bass knob and capacitive volume controls on the front of its right speaker.
The absence of treble control seems to be due to Spyro’s tuned but limited audio capabilities: out of the box, with or without aggressive use of the bass knob, the system puts out nicely balanced, clean sound that will impress most budget-conscious users, but audiophiles will note that it’s optimized to show off the highs and lows rather than mids, where it’s weak - the classic failing of any system where two small drivers are supposed to handle all the high- and mid-range work. Playing with a treble control would most likely take the fine edge off this system’s highs without adding much to the mids, so the knob’s not there. As such, Spyro’s a step under JBL’s Creatures in sound, and also in price - the Creatures retail for $100 but sell for much less, but Spyro retails for $130.
Why would anyone spend more for a less capable sound system? The answer’s simple: the design. Spyro’s flower-shaped satellites are entirely unique, an eye-catching combination of chrome and metallic gray grilles with a black or white plastic shell, and chromed-out stems. Despite their sizes, you’ll be shocked by the quantity of clean sound they can pump out without looking as large as Creature’s or Spot’s dome-shaped satellites. Like Spot, and unlike the older Creatures, they’re also augmented by thick fabric-reinforced cabling, durable enough to withstand the sort of tugging and other trauma that younger (and occasionally older) users can put speaker wires through.
Also like Spot, JBL plans to offer replacement Wrappers - different colored and textured shells that will transform Spyro’s white or black domed subwoofer into something less neutral and more fashionable. At the moment, we’re treating the Wrappers as a nice “potential feature,” since they haven’t appeared yet in stores for either Spot or Spyro, and because it’s unclear at this point whether Spyro’s Wrappers will include swappable flower-shaped parts for the satellites - JBL’s web site suggests that they won’t. Despite that, we’ve seen entirely blue and pink versions of Spyro on display at a trade show, suggesting that JBL may offer additional body colors of Spyro going forward. If you’re not satisfied with the white or black units as-is, you may want to wait for the Wrappers, or other colored units, to materialize first.
The only other missing piece from Spyro’s package is an iPod dock. Like JBL’s other multi-component speakers, the company has put its dollars into audio quality rather than extras, so you’ll need to provide your own dock, or connect the unit’s included stereo mini-jack cable to your iPod’s headphone port. Given that JBL’s parent company Harman Kardon has already released The Bridge, an iPod dock compatible with some of its high-end audio equipment, we think it’s about time that the company create its own universal dock - and remote control - system to sell separately alongside lower-end systems like Creature, Spot, and Spyro. Though it would add a bit to the expense of buying a multi-component JBL system, the total cost of speakers plus an Apple Dock - say nothing of better-valued third-party dock and remote combinations - is still lower than most comparable sounding all-in-one systems. On sound quality, Spyro doesn’t deliver the best bang for the buck given that the great Creature II’s still out there, but it’s a solid, good-looking little audio system that will thoroughly satisfy its target audience of budget-conscious female customers.