JBL Synthesis SDR-35 AV Receiver review

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posted on Tuesday, 13th July 2021 by David Slater

home cinema  Hi-fi  High-end 


As an integrator and a passionate cinema goer I’ve been a fan of JBL Synthesis for many years. The high performance home theatre line has its roots in professional cinema, and it shows. For over 80 years, JBL has been designing sound systems for cinemas around the world.

We have been installing JBL Synthesis processors for years, and I was keen to get my hands on the £6,000 SDR-35 AV receiver. The AVR is based on Arcam’s highly regarded AVR30, which comes out of the same Harman Group stable of products, but boasts a number of significant differences.

Synthesis 35 Avr

SDR-35 In Showroom

JBL Synthesis SDR-35: Design and Features
After unpacking the AVR and installing it in our demo room, the first thing I noted is that the build quality is excellent. I just love the matt black and glass look, it certainly looks like a premier product.

It has 7 channels of amplification onboard (for 5.1.2), with the capability of up to 16 channels of processing with additional amps (9.1.6). Power output is rated at 100W p/c (at 8 Ohms).

It supports all the usual formats, including Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Auro-3D. It also boasts IMAX Enhanced post processing.
Compared to the Arcam AVR30, JBL has upgraded the DACS to 24bit /192kHz 9028 ESS Sabre Pro.

The other big upgrade for CI installers is the inclusion of Dante support, which offers uncompressed audio over IP. Dante delivers uncompressed, multi-channel, low-latency digital audio over a standard Ethernet network using Layer 3 IP packets.

Developed in 2006 by a Sydney-based company named Audinate, Dante builds on previous audio over Ethernet and audio over IP technologies. All 16 channels of processed audio, plus Zone 2 (that’s 18 channels total) can be routed to any Dante enabled receiving device over a standard network.

Dante does away with heavy analogue cabling, replacing it with easily available CAT5e/CAT6.

Dante is easy to set up and compatible with JBL Synthesis Dante enabled amplifiers as well as a wide selection of third-party Dante-enabled audio products.

Much like the Lexicon MC-1 preamp/processor of old that had Logic 7, Logic 16 is included on this AVR. I’ve always thought of Harman’s ‘Logic’ processing as a great up sampler for non-encoded multi-channel mixes, and a booster for multichannel mixes too. I like that it’s immersive without being gimmicky. It sets out to achieve what it does without the sense of psycho-acoustic processing. Logic 16 can up-mix any input source from mono up to 15.1, including all Dolby formats.

At the rear of the amp, you get 7 HDMI v2.0b inputs with 3 outputs; HDMI 1 has eARC, and there’s universal support 4k60p, with 4:4:4 wide colour gamut, which is good news for my connected Kaleidoscape movie server. The receiver will pass through Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10 and HLG.

There are several audio connections, including four coaxial digital audio inputs and two optical digital inputs. There are also 6 analogue inputs with line outs to a second zone.

Dante Input On  SDR-35

SDR-35 Dirac Live

JBL Synthesis SDR-35: Installation and Performance

On firing up the receiver, you are presented with a full colour screen which has details of the source playing signal type and processing mix.
The IP control of this amp is comprehensive. When set up to work on a Control4 system, there is a hidden extended menu activated by holding down the menu button for more than 4 seconds. Here, you’ll want to change the Standby mode that allows the AVR to Wake up on LAN.

It is also good practise to Auto Detect the AVR in your control4 software, so that it inputs the MAC address.

The SDR-35 supports Dirac live room correction and comes bundled with a decent microphone for room calibration. Included in the setup is Dirac’s AI-powered Bass Control module, which alone is worth £349. On running this in my demo room, I found the bass to be smoother, with tighter control.

After connecting the SDR-35 to a network via Ethernet, I also unlocked Apple Airplay 2 and Google Chromecast. It also supports aptX HD Bluetooth and is Roon Ready.

It was also interesting to see support here for MQA, making this a fine partner for the Meridian streamer which just happened to be running on the same system.

The entire set-up process is straightforward; first connecting sources and then customising the audio and format settings. The front panel display menu is simple and effective, which leads to a fast install.

For this audition, we had seven channels and one subwoofer in our listening room. Initially I configured it with manual distance measurements and speaker size. I found the sound quality to be excellent, with fast processing of surround and height channels and a super tight bass response from my subwoofer. But there was more to come.

With the AVR having Dirac live, I downloaded the software available from Arcam’s website and went through the process. It’s surprisingly easy to follow for such an in-depth package. You are guided through up to 17 measurements of various heights and locations of the speakers, the software will then show you frequency responses. You can then choose your filter.

After running this, I did indeed get a different sounding result from the AVR. Despite pushing the AVR, I could never get it to run out of steam. Slotted into one of my cinema installs, I found it to be very clean and responsive to the content we played. It was more revealing when it came to complex effects, and it gave me cleaner dialogue than the Denon AVR it replaced. Overall, it’s AV performance is very impressive.

SDR-35 And Screen

JBL Synthesis SDR-35: Verdict
The JBL Synthesis SDR-35 is an outstanding home cinema component, and a great piece of kit. It has solid build quality and delivers an immersive soundfield. The AVR also comes with some great added extras, like Dirac Live calibration and Dante IP audio, which in the CI game I think is a game changer.

One thing to take into account is that the AVR is not HDMI 2:1 enabled, which means no support for 4k 120Hz p[layback from next-gen games consoles like the PS5 or Abox Series X, and it won’t pass 8k. We’re told there will be an upgrade path later this year, but the AVR will have to be sent back to upgrade on the board. Prices have not been released yet for this upgrade.

The SDR-35 may have a top-end price ticket, but I think it is great value for money if you want a solid performer. And then there’s the reliability factor: we have JBL Synthesis installs out there that have given clients years of pleasure, with no breakdowns of kit!

David Slater

David Slater started his writing career with SVI writing a popular column, he has also guested on publications like Home Cinema Choice and
Living North

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