Hands on: JBL SA550 review

Classic in name, potential classic in nature?

What is a hands on review?
JBL SA550
(Image: © Future)

Early Verdict

The SA550 certainly looks the part and if you already own a pair of JBL's Classic speakers you've probably already got one eye on this amp. We can't wait to get our hands on a proper production sample later in the year

Pros

  • +

    Attractive retro styling

  • +

    Solid feature set

Cons

  • -

    Some serious rivals at the money

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JBL was pretty busy at CES 2023. Not content with launching new wireless headphones, a Dolby Atmos soundbar, its first Bluetooth turntable, and a premium all-in-one speaker system, it also managed to squeeze in a brand new line of Classic Series hi-fi electronics.

The new Classic Series consists of the SA550 integrated amplifier (£1599 / $2000 / €1899), CD350 CD player (£799 / $700 / €899), MP350 hi-res music streamer (£875 / $800 / €999) and JBL's first-ever turntable, the TT350 (£925 / $1000 / €1049). And we managed to spend a bit of time in the company of the SA550 in a demo room inside JBL’s vast exhibition space at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.

Design

JBL SA550

(Image credit: Future)

If the appearance of the SA550 looks a little familiar, it’s because the amp (and the rest of the Classic Series) is styled in keeping with the limited edition SA750 which launched in 2021 to celebrate JBL's 75th anniversary.

That’s because JBL sees its new separates being a great match for its Classic range of speakers, i.e. the L100, L82 or L52. That way, you can build a complete system that offers modern tech with retro looks.

And we’re big fans of the concept. The natural walnut wood veneers and machined aluminium faceplates and controls work together nicely and we’re even bigger fans of the old-school 1960s JBL logo that adorns the front panel of each piece of electronics.

Features

JBL SA550

(Image credit: Future)

Like the SA750, the SA550 features Class G amplification with high power output, efficiency and "ultra-low distortion". It also features the latest aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codec for low latency and hi-res wireless audio streaming.

There's 90W of power per channel into 8 ohms (150W into 4 ohms) and it has four analogue inputs: 3x stereo RCA and an MM/MC phono stage, and three digital inputs (1x optical, 2x coaxial). Hi-res audio support extends up to 24-bit/192kHz sampling rates.

In the flesh, the amplifier looks the part with both volume and input selector dials seeming responsive enough. There was a little play in the buttons on the front panel but a JBL representative told us this had already been spotted and feedback sent to the factory.

Sound

JBL SA550

(Image credit: Future)

The source for our demo was also one of the new products in JBL's new line, the MP350 music streamer.

We kicked things off with Bicep’s upbeat track, Glue, and the system bounced straight into life. It seemed to have no trouble dispatching the lively nature of the track, nor did it seem short on weight or solidity. Dynamics also seemed decent and overall it was an entertaining listen.

We then switched over to Drake’s Too Much and, even though the set-up had a noisy show floor to contend with, the system seemed to be able to deliver the music with clarity and composure. There seemed to be plenty of space around vocals and instruments and once again, the overall balance seemed very outgoing.

Initial verdict

Attempting any serious listening in a show environment is a tricky task and JBL did say there was still some sound tuning to be done to the amp before it gets signed off completely. So, the flavour of sound could still be subject to change – which is always one of the perils of listening to an early sample.

But, our first impression was generally a positive one and we can’t wait to hear what the final version of the amp and the rest of JBL’s Classic family sound like in our dedicated test rooms. We’ve been impressed with the company’s Classic speakers, so fingers-crossed this continues with its new line of electronics.

MORE:

JBL 4329P Studio Monitor is a premium all-in-one speaker system to rival the KEF LS50 Wireless

JBL's first Bluetooth turntable offers aptX HD wireless streaming at an affordable price

Naim celebrates 50 years with new Classic series for streamers and record spinners alike

Our pick of the best stereo amplifiers we've tested

Andy Madden

Andy is Deputy Editor of What Hi-Fi? and a consumer electronics journalist with nearly 20 years of experience writing news, reviews and features. Over the years he's also contributed to a number of other outlets, including The Sunday Times, the BBC, Stuff, and BA High Life Magazine. Premium wireless earbuds are his passion but he's also keen on car tech and in-car audio systems and can often be found cruising the countryside testing the latest set-ups. In his spare time Andy is a keen golfer and gamer.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.