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JBL MS-8 review!

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This is a review of the JBL MS8 DSP-integration unit.
I have had this for a week and adjusted it a few times.
Why did I buy it? I want to have my setup as stealthy as possible and retain the stock HU. The only other alternative for a combination electronic crossover, equalizer, time alignment is the Audison BitOne and the Alpine PXA700. I chose the MS-8 because of the auto correction and because you can set and forget. The BitOne does have the advantage of digital inputs which I could have used with addition aftermarket parts that convert the MB optical audio link to digital. Next upgrade! The price for the MS-8 was right also.
General impressions:
Easy to install and setup. Menu structure is easy. Once you read thru the manual once to get the general idea you don’t have to open it again to repeat the setups. I liked the overall results but have a few reservations and suggestions for improvements.
The unit has 4 parts: the main processor, microphone headset, wired remote display, and wireless remote. The remote display is used for all the setup and adjustment and can be removed once done, or left connected for balance, fading, tone controls, sub volume, EQ and processing on/off. It would be nice if they make these remote units wireless also, with maybe just a 12 volt in.
The MS-8 seem hefty and well built, with the top being the heat sink for the built in 8 channel power amp. However, it is very easy to break the rca input jacks if you bend the rca cables just a bit on install or have extra tight grounds and push too hard. Not sure what it was but was pushing on the cable to connect and I heard a crack. Sure enough the input was pushed inside so I had to open in up to epoxy things back together. The inputs are held together with a few square mm of plastic. Cheap and easy to break. Shame! The 4 screw lugs for power, ground, remote in and out needs work too. The screws are rather short and it is easy to unscrew them completely when trying to connect larger wire, or my 3 remote wires twisted together. I gather they are intended for spade lugs and not bare wire. I should have put spade lugs. Call me lazy...I will let that pass, but poor marks for the cheap RCA inputs.
Note the TI DSP Processor with DTS and Dolby Digital. Something for the future?
The MS-8 has high level and low level inputs plus an aux input. A "calibration" CD is provided and you have to play it during input setups. I gather it will correct for OEM HU equalization. If you use high level inputs there is a setup for these. I did not go thru them since I have RCA outs. For low level RCA they want you to skip the input setup and connect the RCA left and rights directly to in inputs 1 and 2. I don't know what the CD is used for in this case. It is unclear then what rest of the 8 low level inputs are for.
The next step is to tell the MS-8 what kind of speakers you have. It has 8 outputs usable for 1-2-3 way fronts, center, one way sides and rears plus 2 subs. But only 8 outputs max. So if you use 3 way fronts, you cannot use sides and rears! It is easy to set these up with different crossovers and slopes. I have it setup with 2 way fronts plus sides in the rear door, and 2 sub outs driving my 2 input sub amp connected to one sub. I probably could have connected the sub amp with only one output. If I ever and a center I will do that. If you really have a more elaborate system you can always use external active crossovers.
Then you tell what the 8 outputs are, for example front left low frequency (mid bass), front left high frequency(tweeter) etc. Also very easy. I used only the low level outputs since I have enough amps for all speakers. There are also higher power outputs you can use to drive speakers directly. Great for a lower cost setup but the power out is not any better than from most head units. Why they did this I am not sure. Poor man's bi-amped setup?
There is then an audio check for proper assignment of these outputs. Once that is done, you don the microphone headset and sit in all 4 seats and do the automatic audio adjustments. First set the remote to -20db output, You look forward, left mirror, right mirror in all 4 seats while it plays a series of sweep tones . Easy as pie.
However, the entire issue of test level is not precise. They say to set the level so that the test tones are at a "normal conversation level" It would be nice to have some sort of test tone so you can set all levels properly first. Perhaps some white noise and level measurement to adjust sub, mid and tweeter amp gains.
This all takes less than 10 minutes.
One of the drawbacks is you the only way to change anything is to start all over. You cannot save input or output setups, or change crossover frequencies independently. It would be nice to be able to save these and then listen without having to do any of the automatic frequency response or time alignment. Or be able to tune tweeter positions and then just rerun the frequency/time alignment calibration without having to redo all of the input/output setup. Note that you can turn off all processing once it’s done, leaving only the input and output settings.
Next problem: you don't get any information of what frequency response correction it has made, nor what time alignment it has done. For example, if you could view the equalization it has dialled in, you may be able to determine if your sub, mid or tweeter amp gain is not set correctly.
Once this is done you can use the built in 31 octave equaliser, but you cannot adjust or view time alignments.
There is also bass, mid and treble tone controls and front back fade and left right. You can also select the best sound for seating Driver, passenger, front, rear or All. It is unfortunate that you can only use two inputs. It would be great to be able to use front and back RCA inputs in order to continue to be able to control these from the HU. You can save several of these audio adjustments as favourites. You can also defeat the System 7 and turn off all correction. I don't have a center channel but I toggled the System 7 on and off. With it on the front stage seemed more solid, with it off, the sound seemed to come more from the sides. I will have to run my IASCA test CD to see if it has improved the sound stage.
Overall I am glad I have it but the broken RCA leaves a bad taste. I will experiment with a few things and report back.
 

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Nice review. I too broke an input RCA, luckily there are 7 more and I'm only using two. Thanks for the pictures, I've been worried I was going to end up with a short that fries all of my speakers. Looks like there's nothing to worry about.
 

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Nice review. I too broke an input RCA, luckily there are 7 more and I'm only using two. Thanks for the pictures, I've been worried I was going to end up with a short that fries all of my speakers. Looks like there's nothing to worry about.
how did you reassign L and R inputs to the other rca's? I tried that but it would not find the signal. The manual says to use inputs 1 and 2 for RCA inputs
 

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how did you reassign L and R inputs to the other rca's? I tried that but it would not find the signal. The manual says to use inputs 1 and 2 for RCA inputs
Use the calibration disk and it will find it.

Edit: Or maybe it's called the setup disk but it's the disk that's supplied with the unit.
 

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I had an RCA go out on mine and it fried my left front stage, literally smoke was coming out of a midrange when it sent a spike thru that channel. Dont know why it happened but it did, if you have a bad channel on the processor I'd recommend getting it fixed, but that is based solely on my own experience.
 

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I had an RCA go out on mine and it fried my left front stage, literally smoke was coming out of a midrange when it sent a spike thru that channel. Dont know why it happened but it did, if you have a bad channel on the processor I'd recommend getting it fixed, but that is based solely on my own experience.
Wow, thats good to know. Was your rca pushed into the unit as well?
 

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Here it is in a legible format - walls of text are impossible to read for me. Thanks for the review...

This is a review of the JBL MS8 DSP-integration unit.

I have had this for a week and adjusted it a few times.

Why did I buy it?
I want to have my setup as stealthy as possible and retain the stock HU. The only other alternative for a combination electronic crossover, equalizer, time alignment is the Audison BitOne and the Alpine PXA700. I chose the MS-8 because of the auto correction and because you can set and forget. The BitOne does have the advantage of digital inputs which I could have used with addition aftermarket parts that convert the MB optical audio link to digital. Next upgrade! The price for the MS-8 was right also.

General impressions:
Easy to install and setup. Menu structure is easy. Once you read thru the manual once to get the general idea you don’t have to open it again to repeat the setups. I liked the overall results but have a few reservations and suggestions for improvements.

The unit has 4 parts: the main processor, microphone headset, wired remote display, and wireless remote. The remote display is used for all the setup and adjustment and can be removed once done, or left connected for balance, fading, tone controls, sub volume, EQ and processing on/off. It would be nice if they make these remote units wireless also, with maybe just a 12 volt in.

The MS-8 seem hefty and well built, with the top being the heat sink for the built in 8 channel power amp. However, it is very easy to break the rca input jacks if you bend the rca cables just a bit on install or have extra tight grounds and push too hard. Not sure what it was but was pushing on the cable to connect and I heard a crack. Sure enough the input was pushed inside so I had to open in up to epoxy things back together. The inputs are held together with a few square mm of plastic. Cheap and easy to break. Shame!

The 4 screw lugs for power, ground, remote in and out needs work too. The screws are rather short and it is easy to unscrew them completely when trying to connect larger wire, or my 3 remote wires twisted together. I gather they are intended for spade lugs and not bare wire. I should have put spade lugs. Call me lazy...I will let that pass, but poor marks for the cheap RCA inputs.

Note the TI DSP Processor with DTS and Dolby Digital. Something for the future?

The MS-8 has high level and low level inputs plus an aux input. A "calibration" CD is provided and you have to play it during input setups. I gather it will correct for OEM HU equalization. If you use high level inputs there is a setup for these. I did not go thru them since I have RCA outs. For low level RCA they want you to skip the input setup and connect the RCA left and rights directly to in inputs 1 and 2. I don't know what the CD is used for in this case. It is unclear then what rest of the 8 low level inputs are for.

The next step is to tell the MS-8 what kind of speakers you have. It has 8 outputs usable for 1-2-3 way fronts, center, one way sides and rears plus 2 subs. But only 8 outputs max. So if you use 3 way fronts, you cannot use sides and rears! It is easy to set these up with different crossovers and slopes. I have it setup with 2 way fronts plus sides in the rear door, and 2 sub outs driving my 2 input sub amp connected to one sub. I probably could have connected the sub amp with only one output. If I ever and a center I will do that. If you really have a more elaborate system you can always use external active crossovers.

Then you tell what the 8 outputs are, for example front left low frequency (mid bass), front left high frequency(tweeter) etc. Also very easy. I used only the low level outputs since I have enough amps for all speakers. There are also higher power outputs you can use to drive speakers directly. Great for a lower cost setup but the power out is not any better than from most head units. Why they did this I am not sure. Poor man's bi-amped setup?

There is then an audio check for proper assignment of these outputs. Once that is done, you don the microphone headset and sit in all 4 seats and do the automatic audio adjustments. First set the remote to -20db output, You look forward, left mirror, right mirror in all 4 seats while it plays a series of sweep tones . Easy as pie.

However, the entire issue of test level is not precise. They say to set the level so that the test tones are at a "normal conversation level" It would be nice to have some sort of test tone so you can set all levels properly first. Perhaps some white noise and level measurement to adjust sub, mid and tweeter amp gains.

This all takes less than 10 minutes.

One of the drawbacks is you the only way to change anything is to start all over. You cannot save input or output setups, or change crossover frequencies independently. It would be nice to be able to save these and then listen without having to do any of the automatic frequency response or time alignment. Or be able to tune tweeter positions and then just rerun the frequency/time alignment calibration without having to redo all of the input/output setup. Note that you can turn off all processing once it’s done, leaving only the input and output settings.

Next problem: you don't get any information of what frequency response correction it has made, nor what time alignment it has done. For example, if you could view the equalization it has dialled in, you may be able to determine if your sub, mid or tweeter amp gain is not set correctly.

Once this is done you can use the built in 31 octave equaliser, but you cannot adjust or view time alignments. There is also bass, mid and treble tone controls and front back fade and left right. You can also select the best sound for seating Driver, passenger, front, rear or All.

It is unfortunate that you can only use two inputs. It would be great to be able to use front and back RCA inputs in order to continue to be able to control these from the HU.

You can save several of these audio adjustments as favourites. You can also defeat the System 7 and turn off all correction. I don't have a center channel but I toggled the System 7 on and off. With it on the front stage seemed more solid, with it off, the sound seemed to come more from the sides. I will have to run my IASCA test CD to see if it has improved the sound stage.

Overall I am glad I have it but the broken RCA leaves a bad taste. I will experiment with a few things and report back.
 

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Nice to see a recent review of the unit. I am a new owner of the MS-8 as well, and found not too many online reviews on it...or I should say "recent" reviews.

Question for you guys with respect to Logic 7. Do you guys prefer it on or off for standard 2-CH music playback? Personally, I "generally" find that with it "on", the staging seems more focused, but the ambiance is diminished somewhat. However with Logic 7 off, the ambiance of the recording sounds more vast, yet the staging is a bit looser for lack of a better term. And I say this "generally" because there are some times where I think the recording sounds much better with Logic 7 off....but for other recordings where Logic 7 seems better...wow, it is so much better IMHO. Wondering what others think.

Because of this, i wish the remote had a dedicated Logic 7 defeat button so you didn't have to rely on the screen to toggle it. That way the screen could be hidden but you still had a quick way to toggle L7.


edit: i just read the Harmon description of how Logic 7 "music" mode works, which is what I am assuming is used for the MS-8. They state L7 music mode is supposed to increase the sound stage and ambiance of a 2-CH recording...so perhaps my system is not calibrated optimally, or my hearing or perception is off. Will have to listen again and see....
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Use the calibration disk and it will find it.

Edit: Or maybe it's called the setup disk but it's the disk that's supplied with the unit.
I did try doing thatl, but it complained that the levels where to low, so I thought it was trying to read the high level inputs.
I will try it again sometime. Maybe I was doing something wrong

thanks.
 

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Nice to see a recent review of the unit. I am a new owner of the MS-8 as well, and found not too many online reviews on it...or I should say "recent" reviews.

Question for you guys with respect to Logic 7. Do you guys prefer it on or off for standard 2-CH music playback? Personally, I "generally" find that with it "on", the staging seems more focused, but the ambiance is diminished somewhat. However with Logic 7 off, the ambiance of the recording sounds more vast, yet the staging is a bit looser for lack of a better term. And I say this "generally" because there are some times where I think the recording sounds much better with Logic 7 off....but for other recordings where Logic 7 seems better...wow, it is so much better IMHO. Wondering what others think.

Because of this, i wish the remote had a dedicated Logic 7 defeat button so you didn't have to rely on the screen to toggle it. That way the screen could be hidden but you still had a quick way to toggle L7.


edit: i just read the Harmon description of how Logic 7 "music" mode works, which is what I am assuming is used for the MS-8. They state L7 music mode is supposed to increase the sound stage and ambiance of a 2-CH recording...so perhaps my system is not calibrated optimally, or my hearing or perception is off. Will have to listen again and see....
I think you are basically agreeing with what Harmon says. I noticed the same thing. With Logic7 on, the front soundstage is better. With it off, the fantom center dissapears and the sound seems to come from farther left and right because I presume that the time allignment is still on. This gives you that ambience or vastness as you call it.
I toggled on and off and I left it on. I am getting used to the focused sound comming from somewhere in the middle of my hood as opposed to the left and right lanes.
 

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Been listening to the system more with L7 on. As you say zoomer, it takes some getting used to. For the past few days, I have been comparing my car with the MS-8 alongside my other car which I tuned with Imprint (9887 HU). Though the two cars are not the same, the difference in philosophy between how they meant to sound due to processing (regardless of the cabin differences) is obvious to me at least.

I have been so used to the way the Imprint system sounds...where that the imaging seems a little more 3D (to me at least). It sounds like the instruments are coming from super-focused location that doesn't deviate. It's a very impressive sounding difference. Overall, I love the Imprint sound.

For the MS-8, those same songs i'm listening to sound great as well, but I think I can detect the "steering" of the vocals shift at times vs. the Imprint system. I've made sure to level match my speakers using the amp gains and an SPL meter. This in itself has improved this, but every-so-often I can detect a hint that the vocals are moving around a bit. It's subtle, but this is compared to my other car where the vocals are so focused. Also, The Imprint stage for my tune results yielded a more forward stage, whereas the MS-8 tune I did has the stage sometimes at front, other times just slightly in front or even right in line with my ears. I don't now yet if this is what i want, but some recordings sound pretty awesome this way.

What is a bit hard to figure out is why it happens to some tracks and not all...this is where I am finding it a little tough to improve things. Maybe i'm being super picky though, as this is not a huge problem at all, just noticeable because I have both systems to compare. Now, for the songs that seem to really match the way the MS-8 processes them, WOW, it's a whole 'nother level compared to my 2007 Imprint setup. So i can totally hear the potential.

I am thinking i'll need to spend some time with test tones in the car with the MS-8 to make sure they are all pretty even. I did that with the Imprint system and haven't yet with the MS-8.

Don't get me wrong though. I definitely LOVE the ease of use in fine-tuning the MS-8. The EQ is a godsend compared to the no frills "take it or leave it" Imprint tuning. I had to install a separate EQ on the Imprint system just to get the finer control needed.
 

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hmm yeah i had an ms-8 for over a year and NEVER had a single problem with the ms-8 its self other than getting bass levels under control but with a few tricks thats easily done. the dynamics of the ms-8 are amazing, i really honestly only changed for the sake of change rather than the need, i didnt intend for it to sell so fast but it sold before i even got it out and replaced with my h700, but it all worked out. the 700 is a bare to figuire out, ive yet to have enough time to sit down and tune it.

ive talked to several people including howard who had problems, i knew another guy who went through 3 of them before going with a pioneer head unit for processing. i knew a couple others, not many people at the comps ran them, but their great tools if they don't fail. but every electronic has it's DOA and deffects, its very hard to mentain quality control on things that are on a nano scale.
 

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Been listening to the system more with L7 on. As you say zoomer, it takes some getting used to. For the past few days, I have been comparing my car with the MS-8 alongside my other car which I tuned with Imprint (9887 HU). Though the two cars are not the same, the difference in philosophy between how they meant to sound due to processing (regardless of the cabin differences) is obvious to me at least.

I have been so used to the way the Imprint system sounds...where that the imaging seems a little more 3D (to me at least). It sounds like the instruments are coming from super-focused location that doesn't deviate. It's a very impressive sounding difference. Overall, I love the Imprint sound.

For the MS-8, those same songs i'm listening to sound great as well, but I think I can detect the "steering" of the vocals shift at times vs. the Imprint system. I've made sure to level match my speakers using the amp gains and an SPL meter. This in itself has improved this, but every-so-often I can detect a hint that the vocals are moving around a bit. It's subtle, but this is compared to my other car where the vocals are so focused. Also, The Imprint stage for my tune results yielded a more forward stage, whereas the MS-8 tune I did has the stage sometimes at front, other times just slightly in front or even right in line with my ears. I don't now yet if this is what i want, but some recordings sound pretty awesome this way.

What is a bit hard to figure out is why it happens to some tracks and not all...this is where I am finding it a little tough to improve things. Maybe i'm being super picky though, as this is not a huge problem at all, just noticeable because I have both systems to compare. Now, for the songs that seem to really match the way the MS-8 processes them, WOW, it's a whole 'nother level compared to my 2007 Imprint setup. So i can totally hear the potential.

I am thinking i'll need to spend some time with test tones in the car with the MS-8 to make sure they are all pretty even. I did that with the Imprint system and haven't yet with the MS-8.

Don't get me wrong though. I definitely LOVE the ease of use in fine-tuning the MS-8. The EQ is a godsend compared to the no frills "take it or leave it" Imprint tuning. I had to install a separate EQ on the Imprint system just to get the finer control needed.
Cool. Nice ears and a great comparison.

MS-8 will sound different on different recordings if you use Logic7. Logic7 steers information from left to right and from front to back depending on two things:

In a stereo recording, sounds that are intended to be placed in the center (between the left and right speakers) are recorded in mono. that means EXACTLY the same in the left and right channels. For a sound that's slightly left of center, it'll be a little louder in the left than in the right.

MS-8's Logic7 uses these cues to steer left, right and center. Sounds that are mono are sent to the center channel and attenuated in theleft and right. This helps to preserve the stage width, which is always compromised with mono (L+R) center channel processing.

Sounds can also be recorded in varying phase relationship between the two channels. In a live, direct to stereo recording, the room sounds bounce off all of the walls and arrive at the microphones at different levels and with a different phase. Logic7 uses this "phase angle" between left and right to steer front and rear. If the sounds are 180 degrees out of phase, the sound steers all the way rear. 90 degrees out of phase steers halfway between front and rear.

This does a really good job of reproducing the sound of the room, especially when the room is real. For other recordings, where the room doesn't really exist or for recordings where the mix includes some phase effects designed to do something through a simple stereo system, you may find that Logic7 does something else--you can decide if it's cool or not, but that's why it sounds different with different recordings. I prefer that to the more clinical (some might say "correct") sound of the Imprint tuning because it sounds more believable with the right recording.

For the most part, I don't believe in accuracy in reproducing the sound on the CD because there's no real reference--so many recordings aren't a "live event". Rather, thay're a bunch of live events, sped up, slowed down, changed in pitch and then mashed together, EQed, compressed and then a room is synthisized. How the hell does anyone know what that's supposed to sound like? I like it when It sounds believable, and that's what we've tried to do with MS-8.
 

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Cool. Nice ears and a great comparison.

MS-8 will sound different on different recordings if you use Logic7. Logic7 steers information from left to right and from front to back depending on two things:

In a stereo recording, sounds that are intended to be placed in the center (between the left and right speakers) are recorded in mono. that means EXACTLY the same in the left and right channels. For a sound that's slightly left of center, it'll be a little louder in the left than in the right.

MS-8's Logic7 uses these cues to steer left, right and center. Sounds that are mono are sent to the center channel and attenuated in theleft and right. This helps to preserve the stage width, which is always compromised with mono (L+R) center channel processing.

Sounds can also be recorded in varying phase relationship between the two channels. In a live, direct to stereo recording, the room sounds bounce off all of the walls and arrive at the microphones at different levels and with a different phase. Logic7 uses this "phase angle" between left and right to steer front and rear. If the sounds are 180 degrees out of phase, the sound steers all the way rear. 90 degrees out of phase steers halfway between front and rear.

This does a really good job of reproducing the sound of the room, especially when the room is real. For other recordings, where the room doesn't really exist or for recordings where the mix includes some phase effects designed to do something through a simple stereo system, you may find that Logic7 does something else--you can decide if it's cool or not, but that's why it sounds different with different recordings. I prefer that to the more clinical (some might say "correct") sound of the Imprint tuning because it sounds more believable with the right recording.

For the most part, I don't believe in accuracy in reproducing the sound on the CD because there's no real reference--so many recordings aren't a "live event". Rather, thay're a bunch of live events, sped up, slowed down, changed in pitch and then mashed together, EQed, compressed and then a room is synthisized. How the hell does anyone know what that's supposed to sound like? I like it when It sounds believable, and that's what we've tried to do with MS-8.
Thanks for clarifying how the MS-8 processes recordings. I can see where you are coming from that there is basically no "right" way to process a recording. I have to change my expectations and treat the MS-8 as a different approach than Imprint with neither necessarily more "correct".

Now, the new dilemma I wrestle with constantly: to enable L7 or not for music! They both have their own character and sometimes I can't pick which one I like "better" as both sound good in their own way. See what happens when you give customers a choice :p
 
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