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18,547 Posts
Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
This review is by me, Erin Hardison. The pictures, thoughts, and video that I provide in this review belong to me. I don't mind you posting pictures and/or parts of my review but give me proper credit. I've seen my words and pictures being posted by others and passed off as their own. That is not only annoying, it's illegal. So don't do it.

Hate that I have to say that, but you wouldn't believe the amount of people who steal my pictures and pass my reviews off as their own. It's just aggravating to put in hours and hours of work to have people take the credit for it and also take things out of context.

Alright... so let's get on to the review.

Product Information:

What it is:
Auto Tuning processor that sets up your audio system automatically with no need for manual tuning.

Can be purchased on Amazon here:
JBL's MS-8 on Amazon

JBL's Product Info:

How much is it?:
MSRP is around $799

Where to buy it:

Crutchfield sells them. I would imagine any of your local JBL dealer can get it for you.

What features does it have?

*copied and pasted from the above links*
The right answer to the question “What can I do to improve the sound of my car audio system?” used to depend on the quality and configuration of your system’s particular components. Today’s answer is, “Just get a JBL® MS-8 System Integration Digital Processor.” The MS-8 is a new kind of car audio component, an automatic equalizer that can optimize any vehicle’s performance in about ten minutes flat. Just follow the step-by-step setup procedure and the MS-8 maximizes frequency response, bass performance, dynamics, clarity, detail and stereo imaging – every important parameter of sonic greatness – from virtually any combination of factory-installed and/or aftermarket components. And after it works its magic? You’ll be left with a 31-band graphic equalizer and a full set of preamp controls to fine-tune day-to-day operations.

Superior Performance from Any System

Improves every measure of audio performance (frequency response, bass performance, dynamics, clarity, detail and stereo imaging) from any combination of OEM and aftermarket components

Easy, Step-by-Step Setup

Simple menu-driven calibration based on detailed input from binaural headset microphone

Optimizes Up To Eight Input Channels
Produces a flat-response, full-bandwidth signal from up to eight input channels

DSP Equalization
Improves tonal accuracy by automatically compensating for the sonic characteristics of the speakers, electronics and vehicle interior

DSP Time Correction

Automatically ensures that the sound from all speakers arrives at the listener’s ears simultaneously, in up to four individual seating positions, dramatically improving clarity and imaging

Sophisticated Crossover Functions
Precise, userselectable crossover points and crossover slopes for up to eight separate outputs. Crossover points can be chosen by single digits. However, you can not assign different crossover values for coincident speakers (ie: sub/midbass crossover is shared and the same, you can not have 70hz for sub and 80hz for midbass).

Logic 7® Surround Processing

Creates a realistic 5.1- or 7.1-channel surround experience from 2-channel source material

Product Pictures:
You can find plenty of pictures in the above links, and the quality is much better than mine. Although, here are a few for comparison purposes.

Audison Bitone vs. MS-8 in size. Roughly the same width, but length is longer on the bitone by about 1.5" and height is bigger by about 1" (rough estimates). Also, I've shown the bitone's DRC vs. the MS-8's display. MS-8 display is pretty thin, but a bit taller. overall, it's pretty darn small (that's what she said).

The remote for the ms-8 is itty bitty. Very thin. A tad larger than the pioneer remotes but possibly thinner. Wider than the alpine remote CD remote, but shorter. Smaller overall than the alpine DVD headunit remotes.

You can see in the latter pictures more of the accessores such as the speaker input/output harness, sticky pads for the screen mount, and even alcohol prep pads, lol. Oh, and an allen wrench! I got about 50 million allen wrenches now thanks to alpine, JL, and JBL.

Output/Input harness:

18,547 Posts
Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
Well, now we get to my opinions and thoughts on the ms-8. The below is my experience and thoughts. You may feel differently.

First off, let me say what my system is. I'm running 3-way up front with no center or rear fill. Therefore, my review doesn't even cover the really cool stuff the ms-8 does.
Headunit: Pioneer AVIC-Z110BT
Tweeters: Hertz ML 280 signature on dash
Midrange: Scan Speak 12m on dash
Midbass: Scan Speak 18w in kicks
Subs: Acoustic Elegance IB15
Tweeter/Midrange Amp: JL Audio HD600/4
Midbass Amp: JL Audio HD600/4 bridged
Sub Amp: JL Audio HD750/1

Install Complexity:
If you've ever installed an amp, then you can install this. It's a cake walk. Power, ground, remote, RCAs. This unit also has a display and mic cable; no more complexity, though. Overall, I'd say a beginner can easily install this, given you are capable of installing an amplifier (ie: running wires in your car).

Also, for anyone wondering, the binaural mic headphone cable is nearly 20' long. In the picture below you can see it in the floor at the front of my car with plenty of slack left in the line running from the trunk outside my car.

The display cable is about the same length. I've ran it from the trunk up through my dash and into the center console of my car so I can hide the screen in the console pocket below my headunit.

The remote is awesome! LOL.
Ergonomic, it is (/yoda). Getting around the options, etc on the screen via the remote is very intuitive and extremely easy. However, I've noticed some minor lag, but nothing major at all... barely worth noting (seriously) but for full disclosure, I'm noting it. I associated it with RF (as I assume it's not IR) lag. I get that inside my house with my TV remote, lol.
On the plus side, you can pretty much point it anywhere and it works. +1. I love remotes.

Regarding the display:
You don't have to keep it out all the time if you don't want to. You only have to have it if you want to use it to control volume instead of your headunit, or change settings, etc. If you want to ‘set it and forget it’, then you can put the display away and use your headunit's volume control. :D

MS-8 Setup Opinions:

Setup is unbelievably easy.
In fact, here are some videos I made. The first and second are from the same video but I split it up into two parts. These will walk you through the overall system setup from driver/channel selection, crossover selection, and auto-tuning process. The 3rd video focuses on how the ms-8 autotunes a seat position in under one minute!
**Note: In the acoustic calibration setup, the ms-8 actually generates sound from each front speaker a pair at a time. Then parts 2-4 play the left side, right side, sub. You can't tell that left/right is playing separately because my camera mic is mono. ;)
Part 1:

Part 2:
*give this one some time... it's a 13 minute video and I have to split it into two parts.

I did the input setup to find a good headunit volume to set things up at, which wound up being around 32 out of 40 on my pioneer z110bt and set the ms-8 output volume to 35, iirc.. Within 5 minutes I had already ran driver setup, and acoustic calibration for both front seats. The on screen directions make it kindergarten easy. Additonally, volume is not a problem. I re-ran setup with the headunit volume a bit lower, and with the ms-8 volume set at about 25. Plenty of volume and no audible distortion, at least that I can hear.

When the setup tells you to look at x mirror, do it. I tried toying around with this and the further away I looked out (past the mirror), the more the center was skewed. If you look exactly at the mirror, as told, you get a DEAD center phantom.

Andy was talking a mean game about this whole subwoofer integration thing. I honestly thought the man was full of it (no offense, Andy). He speaks the truth. The initial setting leaves some to be desired for me, so I up'd the bass output. It NEVER pulls to the rear. Not even at full friggin tilt. Sub/midbass crossover is at 80hz, 24dB/oct. I'll try 60hz later for fun. But I like 80hz for the safety of my drivers...
Speaking of which, everything sounds great. Rap, rock, jazz, whatever. So far everything sounds very nice. I've only bumped the 'bass' up about 3 notches. Still solid impact.

MS-8 Auto Tune Capability:

So, now, my subjective opinions on the MS-8's auto tune vs my own tuning abilities that I spent 6 months on with the bitone.
  1. Stage depth is a little bit better, but not a whole lot.
  2. Stage layering (front to back instruments/singers) is better by far than it ever was. It is very evident when a musician is behind another or back and to the side. My previous tune didn't do this too well. There was a lot of blending. Now there is clear separation.
  3. Stage width is at least as good as I was able to get on my own. On a few tracks, I noticed it was clearly wider.
  4. Finally, to you guys who like to drive looking at the car next to you: you can turn your head a full 180* and the stage stays put. There's NOTHING I've ever heard that would do this.
Alright, my music collection varies and I use a lot of stuff to demo systems (not very traditional stuff either, but so be it). Here are my thoughts on the ms-8 5 minute auto-tune vs. my own bitone manual tune which took a few months to get to where I was really happy:

  • Rage Against the Machine "Take the Power Back":
    Kick drum echo! woohoo, baby! It's there! Do you know how LONG it took me to get ambience of that kick with my own tune? Seriously! wtf!
    Bass guitar/kick: Very easily identifiable as separate. This is tough to do. A lot in the midbass/subbass has to be right to get this separation because both are centered right up front. If the system you're listening to isn't set up well, you'll get the two instruments confused (ie: why does that bass guitar have so much punch?! :eek:)
  • Dire Straits "Walk of Life":
    The beginning of this track has cymbal taps that have different tonality. I've worked really hard (and listened to some higher end gear in a local recording engineer's house) to make sure this is right. The ms-8 does it perfectly ... or as perfect as I can tell. The taps walk about 2-3" apart, as I believe they should, and have a distinct tonality. I've rarely been able to tell this and I listen hard for it in other systems.
  • Norah Jones "Chasing Pirates":
    At the beginning of this track there are (what I call) the sound of bubbles... yea, horrible description, I know.
    Anyway, typically this is very faint and, in my car, they sound to be coming to the left of the stage. With the ms-8 they're closer to me but yet still further outside of the car. I was left :confused: as to how it got this, but hey... I'll take it.
  • Eric Clapton "Layla (Unplugged)":
    Pretty well known song, I believe. The guitar at the beginning has a lot of picking going on. I could hear detail in the picks that I hadn't heard before such as: resonance of the strings themselves - hope this makes sense, because resonance in the strings is how we get the sound, but I'm talking about abruptly stopped strings - and they have more body to them. Never noticed that with my other tune.
  • P.O.D "The Messenjah":
    This song has a lot of stuff going on it. Not a reference track, by any means, but one I really love.
    Sonny's voice shines clear through and you can almost feel the passion when he's screaming through the chorus. The music breaks down a lot in this song and everytime it does, the system does an excellent job of keeping up (transients). I've been listening to this song on HEAVY rotation the past week and hadn't noticed it before. Not saying the ms-8 is doing it, but it's something I've never noticed before.
  • Peter Gabriel "Sledgehammer":
    About 22 seconds into the song, right as the flute (presumably) stops and right before the music really kicks in, there's a bit of silence. In this bit of silence, I've never heard anything. But, now I can hear the song's intro right before it really starts. Sounds crazy, I know. I've listened to this song about a million times... or so... and I've NEVER heard this before. Ever. Scary!
  • Natalie Merchant has never sounded so wonderful. The stand up bass in "Carnival" is the best I've ever heard it.
  • Last but not least... the thing that made me literally say 'WTF' to myself as I was listening..
    Alison Krauss & Union Station "Man of Constant Sorrow (Live DVD Version)"
    I know this performance well as it's a favorite song of mine, so I've heard it on many different systems. Having said that, I've always heard the singer as being centered and singing outward. Alright...
    About 15 seconds into the song I thought I heard his voice shift as if it was facing the right side of the stage. He says "I bid farewell to ol' Kentucky" and I SWEAR I thought he was singing to my passenger. I couldn't believe it... I came inside to check the DVD and sure enough... he's facing the right side of the stage (his left). I about crapped a brick. I heard his voice shift around as he was moving his head. I've NEVER heard that before. I'm sold.
Other Random Info:

System Noise:
None. Although, I had very little with the bitone. I did have some noise floor. I can't hear anything of the sort now with the ms-8. Maybe it's magic? Who knows. I do know that I can get to the same volume (actually, a bit higher now) as I could with the bitone when it's outputs were max'd so that tells me that something in this stream has a higher output and even with that, I have no system noise (crossing fingers for when I turn the alt on... in the garage, can't check tonight).

2-Seat and Passenger Experience:
When you switch the seating position over the the passenger's seat the effect is the same as if you were sitting in the driver's seat: excellent imaging, staging, tonality, etc, etc... basically nothing changes from the viewpoint of the listener. When you switch the seating position to 'front', it gives the best overall sound to both seats. This means staging and imaging drop off, but the overall system sound is still very nice, as one would expect. I couldn't imagine how long it would take to get these extra two benefits if you had to do it all manually.​

Final Opinion and random thoughts:

If you love car audio but really hate tuning or just don't know how, then this processor is for you. The MS-8 does in 5 minutes what would take me a couple months of hard work to do. Then throw in the added benefits of great sound at different seats and I've just added many more months onto my manual tune.

The things that this DSP can do in 5 minutes is literally mind boggling. I was flat out amazed at the end result. I couldn't beleive the accuracy of it all. I've heard the alpine auto-setup in 2 cars and neither of them did a good job of staging. The overall 'sound' of the cars was OK but left much to be desired.
To anyone with money burning a hole in their pocket, or just in the market for a great DSP for their car, I say this is your baby. I'll be happy to demo it for anyone who wants. Just hit me up via PM or e-mail and we'll figure something out. I promise, you won't be let down. Hearing is believing. At this point, I can't imagine how there could be something to top this. And I haven't even SCRAPED the surface regarding center channel and rear fill.

Having said that, there's no reason why anyone who really loves to tinker shouldn't purchase this. I love tech things and learning how things work. In fact, it's the major contributor to why I change gear so often. It's not that I'm disatisfied with my system, or expect to be able to do better with certain gear (not always the case). It's mainly just that I want to toy around with something new, play, and learn (thus my quote).
I don't do well sitting on the sidelines. I don't like taking people's 'word for it', though that's not to say I don't appreciate reviews and factor in those opinions on some purchases.
I don't do this stuff to be an 'internet hero' as I've been called. I do this to learn and to contribute what I learn. I work with many people who can read a book or instruction manual and know exactly how something works by doing that alone; I don't do that. I've tried. I get distracted and start thinking about cookies and milk, or how I need to cut my toenails... whatever. I have to get hands on to learn something. I buy new gear to learn and sometimes put my own thoughts out there hoping others can get something useful from it.
However, in this case, my skepticism is what lead me to desire the ms-8. I didn't want to take someone's word for it (no offense, guys). I didn't think it could do what I did and no way could it be better. I was wrong. But don't think that I won't stop fiddling with things. I've already got plans for future listening.

The great thing about the ms-8 is that it allows you to try these kind of things on your own VERY quickly due to it's ability to auto-tune in less than 1 minute for a single seat position and it'll keep the user applied curve if you choose to do any after-EQ. So, you can compare 'oranges to apples' with apples only. Wait... does that make sense? ;)
What I'm getting to is this: I'm realizing that the odds of everyone's car sounding 'the same' is hardly realistic. User 'error' will dictate results just as much as vehicle acoustics. However, there's surely a line where all cars exhibit the same type of response if they do the auto-tune and leave it alone. I'm willing to bet that all the cars would have the same type of sound (ie: laid back) although they'll achieve it differently and there'll be different details/nuances to each. This is only a guess.

Now, at the risk of having an ego (which, anyone who knows me knows that I do not), I have to say that I was very, very happy with my system with the bitone. I thought the tune was great. In this regard, I was a bit prideful, meaning that I wanted to do all the tuning work myself. Therefore, I did. My buddy Andrew helped me tune it last October for about 2 hours after I got the install set up the way I wanted to, finally. After that, I've only had people give feedback. No one else has manned the controls. Why? Because I wanted to do it myself so I'd know what to listen for and how to correct it the best I knew how. This has helped me immensely. In fact, this is my only real 'concern' about the ms-8 and future renditions being the new 'it' factor. I'm a bit worried (how condescending of me) that people will not really know what to listen for if they're not learning what exactly a certain change to X does. IE: You can hear phase 'click' into place when using t/a, but this is only for certain bands of response. When you don't do this yourself, you don't have the knowledge of what to listen for. Of course, it's great for those who don't care, but for folks like me who have gained a better ear because they tuned their own car manually, I feel that the ms-8 could serve as a disadvantage. It's a huge leap and likely not a big concern, but as I said... I have my reasons. *and this is NOT to say I have golden ears... it is to say that I've learned what to listen for because I had to*
I felt I was about 90-95% 'there' overall with my system. The only issue I had lingering was the midbass/subbass which I would have fixed because it was an install problem (thus my new IB wall this weekend). This should only go further to show just how good the ms-8 is. And with the EQ features, one should easily be able to tune their system to their liking. The way the ms-8 handles phase relationships is, IMO, going to be the wave of the future. It's not about EQ. It's about phase. I may be the only person who believes this, but given what I've learned the past year, I'd put my money on a processor that has the ability to adjust phase correctly. I honestly don't think a human can do it better in a car. Very bold statement, I know, and don't PM me with your hate mail, but what I mean is simply this: given a proper measurement/DSP system, a computer should be able to handle the ability to evaluate and correct phase issues. Besides, when we adjust EQ, we're adjusting phase anyway.
It's hardly been touched on, but the way the ms-8 does it's thing - the binaural mics and spacial averaging - is the way we all need to be taking measurements in the car (and home). I'm just now getting on this train of thought; Geddes wrote a paper on it many years ago titled "Local Power Sound Method" and a few of the vets here have been preaching it (or did when they were still here). This is, IMO, where the ms-8's enormous capabilities is rooted.

And, finally, a note to anyone wanting me to do a head to head comparison with the bitone:
me cause I'm lazy said:
Initially I was going to get the ms-8's curve to reflect my final, manually tuned, curve. Then I thought about it a bit and realized "whats the point". Right?
For one to TRULY give an apples comparison you'd have to mimic, to a 't', the DSP effects. When you're talking about phase, t/a, etc there's so many ways to get the same overall curve. A simple example is to take your setup, change the crossover slopes, and then EQ to get the same response. It will not sound the same: period. There's just about no way for me to do the exact same thing since I don't have access to the t/a or phase... and that's just the minimum things I'd need.
I mentioned that I might throw the ms-8's outputs on my RTA and measure the FR of the preouts, but I'd only do so just for my own curiosity to see what the EQ curves look like.
Although I don't have the knowledge most do of how DSP's work, I do have a basic understand of the relationship of phase to t/a, crossover slopes, and EQ bands. I know enough to know that I can't replicate my bitone settings. So, there's no point in bothering. Therefore, there's NO way I can say that the ms-8 is better than the bitone. I can only give subjective opinions on it's ability to auto tune a system vs. my own ability to tune.
I just don't see how I could do it. I don't have the tools to extract that much data. Plus, I don't know just how much DSP is involved.

As I said earlier, my door is open to anyone just about all the time. I'd be more than willing to let anyone demo my car or possibly arrange for you to demo the ms-8 in your own car (but you'll have to come to my house).

Thanks to all who have read this far.

- Erin

Premium Member
1,637 Posts
Erin, excellent, well thought out, write-up. Have you determined if the MS-8's tuning capabilities are so precise that if, from the driver's seat, for example, you change the seat height or distance just a bit that any part of the music reproduction suffers at all? This might be most relevant for those who choose to buy the MS-8 and compete, particularly given the likelihood of encountering a judge a few inches taller or shorter than you.

18,547 Posts
Discussion Starter #7
Erin, excellent, well thought out, write-up. Have you determined if the MS-8's tuning capabilities are so precise that if, from the driver's seat, for example, you change the seat height or distance just a bit that any part of the music reproduction suffers at all? This might be most relevant for those who choose to buy the MS-8 and compete, particularly given the likelihood of encountering a judge a few inches taller or shorter than you.
A friend and forum member came by last night to test it out. We set it up for him. After he left I noticed that something sounded different but can't say for sure what it was. I re-tuned it anyway. As I said in our previous conversation, the results change depending on the user and how he/she goes through the setup (ie: angle they turn their head). I noticed a difference just by turning my head to 90* each side rather than the ~30-50* it takes to view either side mirror.

615 Posts
Great write-up, as usual.

Have you ever tried Imprint in your system? How does it compare?

Curious... more than anything...

Edit: Duh... just re-read and saw your comment on the Alpine autosetup.

How are you going to add center/rear if you're using all of the outputs?

18,547 Posts
Discussion Starter #10
Youtube is pwnting me today!
Part 2 of the full setup video is up but not part 1 because youtube hates me. Give it some time...

1,743 Posts
Agreed, much appreciated. I think this one has convinced me that this is my next purchase. I just need to find buyer for my Bit One.1 and I can go get this probably. I like the idea of having surround sound again down the road and mostly so that my passengers (my wife usually) doesn't get boned on the sound. I will admit I am a novice at tuning and have grown a little frustrated by it. I am hoping my recent purchases of ECM8000 and preamp for my computer RTA setup will help me in the meantime. I will probably let my Audison dealer/installer know that there is a used Bit One.1 available if he has a buyer. He did help me get rid of my Kenwood 814 so I could upgrade to my Z110BT and that was a huge step in the correct direction for me. I can't wait to get one of these things in my car. I just wish they weren't jacking the price up coming into Canada. I will probably have to buy it out of the states like usual. sigh. I also wish I could get to hear one in action here. That would be the final decision maker for sure I think.

18,547 Posts
Discussion Starter #14
the first night I had it all set up I turned it off and didn't really notice anything so switched it right back. I assume logic 7 is more for rear fill and center channel applications. But, I don't know.

I'll look into again, though, if you'd like.

8,524 Posts
the first night I had it all set up I turned it off and didn't really notice anything so switched it right back. I assume logic 7 is more for rear fill and center channel applications. But, I don't know.

I'll look into again, though, if you'd like.
Naw don't worry about it. I was just wondering if it would be something big and obvious, but since you didn't notice anything right away then it should be like you say. For when center and rears are active.

2,117 Posts
Thanks bikin, much appreciated, I think this is what I need. I like fabricating, I have a hard time sitting in my car with my laptop to tune... I would prefer spending my time fabricating and "re-installing" everything.

BTW on the harmon website you can order MS8, free shipping!

2,117 Posts
I wonder how important "install" is with this thing. I know how much processing can do and I have to wonder if you would go from nicely aimed kicks to stock locations,what the difference would be, if any. How about you throw it in your wife's car and let us know what you think? I know hers isn't as neet as yours.

Would be interesting.

4,292 Posts
btw, thanx erin for taking the time to review this processor.
your reviews are always very methodical and seemingly un-biased.
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