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World Premiere In-Depth Review!
JBL L100 Classic Loudspeaker
A classic looking speaker with truly modern sound.
Review By Tom Lyle
- Manual for JBL Speaker L100T free download. Click to preview. Brand: JBL category: Speaker file name: JBL-L20t-Manual.pdf size: 398.73 KB pages: 8.
- Back in the day audio nerds (like me) knew the L100 was the consumer version of JBL's sought after 4311 pro studio monitors. The L100 epitomized 1970s West Coast sound, and once you heard an L100.
BecauseI was a working musician from around high-school onwards, and more seriouslyduring the 1980s, spent quite a bit of time in recording studios. In the studiosI noticed many different makes and models of monitor speakers, and a largepercentage of them were made by JBL. I saw and heard in live venues JBL monitorson stage, since this was the era before those on stage were able to wearpersonal in-ear headphone monitors. When I left that world at the end of the1980s and began to assemble an audio system for my home, I wanted to purchase apair of JBL studio monitors.
This made perfect sense to me. I wanted to hearmusic in my home that sounded as close as possible to what the musicians andengineers heard it when they were making it. I consideredother brands and models, and even came close to purchasing a used pair of Urei813 monitors, since many of very larger studios I visited used them. But thesedual woofer, horn loaded time-aligned speakers were too large. Even though mygirlfriend was accustomed to me cramming our one bedroom apartment with musicgear and LPs, I didn't think it would be fair to subject her to these verylarge, industrial designed speakers. They were also quite expensive.
What I really wanted was a pair of JBLs. And so, afterauditioning models I ended up acquiring from an industry insider a brand-new pair of JBL's new L7 tower speakers, which were at the top of their new home speaker line.These beasts weighed in at almost 80 pounds each and stood nearlyfour-feet high. Even though it was obvious that they were meant for a largerspace, I rationalized that they had a relatively small footprint at 1.5' footdeep and about 0.75' of a foot wide. The space savings was mostly due to ithaving a side-firing 8' woofer, with its 5' mid and 1' titanium dome-tweetermounted at the top of its cabinet. Alas, these were the last JBL speakers I everowned, in the early 1990s I switched to a pair of similarly sized pair of Snelltowers, which was about the same time I started my high-end audio equipmentreviewing career.
Introduced in 1970, the JBL L100 was the most popularloudspeaker in JBL's history. The JBL L100 Classic introduced last year,according to JBL's literature, 'is not a 'retro speaker, but a modern speakerbuilt to modern specifications', although it is a 'modern take on thetime-honored legend'. It has 'vintage styling', including a 'retro-inspired'design, and 'iconic' Quadrex foam grille that is available in black, burntorange, or dark blue, with 'newly developed acoustic technology and design'. JBLgot the idea to introduce the L100 because some of the engineers at JBL weretaking home their 4310 studio monitor and using it for home use. They thenmodified the cosmetics of that speaker for home use, creating the original L100.
The New JBL L100 Classic
The newer version of this speaker has many design improvementsover the older model. It has a newly designed crossover network, it usesinternal 'V-Brace', which is normally used in more expensive models, and thespeaker uses new drivers, which includes its newly designed titanium tweeter.The JT025TI1-4 1' titanium dome tweeter is mated to an acoustic lens for optimumintegration with its 105H-1 polymer-coated 5.25' pure-pulp cone midrange driverdirectly below it. In their literature, JBL says its 'powerful' bass comes fromits 12' cast-frame, JW300PW-8 white pure-pulp cone woofer in a bass-reflexenclosure, via a single front-firing port tube. The high-frequency andmid-frequency L-pad attenuators on the front baffle preserve the classicfeatures of this 'iconic legend'.
The cabinet has a 'genuine' satin walnut wood veneer enclosurewith black painted front and rear panels. Many music lovers of a certain agewill recognize this speaker from its grille, which is almost identical lookingto the older design, but the new model's grille is made from more modern,sonically transparent materials. On its front panel the speaker has twoattenuators, one for midrange and one for high frequencies, its rear panel hasgold-plated five-way speaker binding posts.
I had fun unpacking and setting up the JBL L100 Classic,perhaps this was because I was so looking forward to hearing these speakers. TheL100 Classic arrived with optional black metal floor-stands that raise the frontof the speakers 8' off the floor in the front, tilting the speaker back at a5-degree angle, this way they will be aimed at the listener seated at an averagedistance away from the front of the cabinets. The stands have rubber spikes thatwere perfect for my hardwood floor, but the rubber spikes are also designed sothat they can penetrate the carpet of one's listening room.
I connected the speakers to the power amps in my second systemthat is in a common space of our home. This system is more in line with what theaverage user of these speakers would likely be, located in a room that is morein line with where the speakers will end up, such as a living room or a recroom. I could have set them up to near state-of-the-art gear in my main system,which is located in an acoustically treated listening room. But this secondarysystem was more appropriate, but still had some very nice equipment that allowedme to hear the full sonic potential of the JBL L100 Classic speakers.
The review system included a pair of tubed PrimaLuna DiaLogue6 monoblocks, but more often I used a pair of Auralic Merak monoblocksolid-state amplifiers. The preamplifier for much of the review was a NagraClassic Preamp which was also powered by vacuum tubes. I used a variety ofdigital sources, most often I used an OPPO BDP-83 Special Edition universal discplayer, and a now-discontinued Logitech Squeezebox network player which enabledme to listen to selections that were stored on network accessible hard-drivesthat were connected to my music server in my main listening room.
Both of thesedigital sources had their digital outputs connected to the coax inputs of aBenchmark Media DAC3 HGC digital-to-analog-converter (DAC), which sometimesdoubled as a preamplifier since it has a remote-controlled motorized volume onits front panel. The JBLs were connected using Cardas speaker cable, withinterconnects and digital cable made by MIT Cable and DH Labs.
Listening To JBL's L100 Classic
Even before these speakers were fully broken-in, I was veryimpressed by their sound quality. They took a while to break in, most likelybecause of their 12' woofers. I suppose I was expecting these speakers to betilted towards the low-frequencies – I couldn't help thinking that they lookedlike speakers that would be on the floor of a shag-carpeted bedroom connected toa quadrophonic Sansui receiver pumping out Grand Funk Railroad. Thankfully,these JBL speakers sounded nothing like that. They sounded like excellenthigh-end speakers, which included characteristics of what I would expect from apair of excellent sounding, full-range high-end speakers. What I like most abouthearing music through studio monitors is their detailed midrange.
JBL's L100 Classic clearly has this trait, as I could hearinto the mix of a track, which includes all the details of, for example, amulti-track recording that makes up the finished track of a rock recording. Themidrange of these JBL's is extremely transparent, on certain recordings I feltas if I was hearing a direct connection to the source. The titanium dome tweeterof the L100 Classic is a top performer, as it also reproduced the music it wasfed in a very transparent manner. I loved hearing a drummer through thesespeakers, tapping out the beat on a ride cymbal, the sound of the stick hittingthe surface of the cymbal with a natural ping and then hearing the decay fadeinto the background.
The L100 Classic had a way of reproducing rock music betterthan many other speakers in its price range that I can remember, in that it wasable to separate instruments such as electric guitar solos and lead vocals fromthe rest of the mix. I became nostalgic for my late nights in the studio mixingdown tracks; the L100 Classic has the same way of being able to allow me to hearthings deep in a mix that other speakers would sonically gloss over. Thesoundstage and imaging of the L100 Classic was top-notch, as they projected awide and deep soundstage behind and to the sides of the speakers. Some of theimages were projected a bit in front of the speakers, but thankfully they didn'tsound at all forward, as many monitor speakers I've used do, especially when I'vetried to use them as home speakers. The L100 Classics didn't 'disappear' intoits soundstage, but as I said, the sounds were not stuck to the grilles of thespeakers, either.
Jbl L20t Through L100t Speaker Brochureendzone Sound Bar
I used the JBL speakers with its grilles on and off, and Ithought that the sound of the speakers sounded a bit better with the grillesoff. But I also preferred them this way because I thought they lookedbetter with no grilles, the classic (sorry) appearance of their white 12'woofer, and the familiar three-way ported speaker with the controls forattenuating the mids and highs on their baffles. In their advertisements, JBLtouts the classic look of the grilles of the L100 Classic, but I don't rememberever seeing the older models of these speakers with their grilles in place, asusers were much more likely to use them grille-less. Don't get me wrong, I alsoliked how the speakers looked with their grilles in place, but unless the roomwas being cleaned, I left them off for during the audition period.
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As I alluded to before, those who wish to rock-out will findthese speakers a dream come true. I was unable to find the limits of L100Classic's volume, even when cranking the very powerful Auralic Merak monoblockamplifiers. I played a recently remastered version of The Jimi HendrixExperience Axis Bold Of Love, the volume set to about the level that ateenager would set it when left alone in the house for the evening. Noel Redding'sbass guitar on 'Little Wing' not only shook the window frames of the listeningroom but I could feel the low frequencies shaking my listening seat and my body.The reason for this might have been an excess of mid-bass energy of the bassguitar, but that wasn't the L100 Classic's bass veering from neutrality, butthat's the way it was recorded. Regardless of where these frequencies came from,it added to the visceral experience of listening to music at an 'appropriate'volume, not detracted from it. The published specifications of the L100 Classicstate that the low-frequency response reaches to 40 Hz. I was surprised when Iread this spec after listening to the speakers for a while. I would haveexpected this number to be lower.
Even though the lowest note a bass guitar produces is justabove these JBL's low frequency specification, we all know that low-endfundamentals and resonant frequencies that are present in just about any musicthat we play through our systems is much lower than that, and if we are going toconsider a speaker to be 'full-range' we might expect the main speakers in oursystems to go this deep. Still, I thought that when playing just about any typeof music the JBL L100 Classic had sufficient bass, at least it went low enough,and more importantly, had enough positive qualities that I really didn't think Iwas missing much. The JBL L100 Classic's bass was tight, pitch specific, and wasflat down to a very low frequency, and therefore I think most listeners willthink that its bass sounds great, as did I. It has a 12' woofer, after all. Idid connect an SVS model SB-2000 subwoofer for the second half of the reviewperiod, which claims to reach down to 19Hz (plus or minus 3dB). I was able toset the sub's crossover to a very low frequency and its level also very low.This replaced the speaker's 'missing' frequencies, but it didn't sound as if thesub was being activated very much at all. I do not think that a subwooferis mandatory when using the L100 Classic, although some might want to use one,especially if these speakers are going to be used as the main speakers in a hometheater setup.
There was one quality that the JBL L100 Classics possessedthat surprised me. They were not only able to separate instruments within acrowded soundfield, but they also was able to place dynamic distance betweeninstruments, groups of instruments, and vocals. Instruments and vocals that wereplaying at the same volume and occupying the same space in the soundstage stoodout from this crowded field of instruments and vocals more than the others. I'veheard some studio monitors that were able to sort out the sound like this, butafter a while the monitor's sound would become fatiguing. The JBL L100 Classicswere very non-fatiguing, the upper midrange and treble of the JBL L100 Classicssounded like music. If the music was annoying, I'd get annoyed. It wasnever the fault of any frequency anomalies coming from these speakers.
I listened to many different recordings of different genreswhile the JBLs were in my system. Yet I kept coming back to rock and electronicmusic. I often I play Kraftwerk's The Mix when auditioning gear in mysystem, especially when testing out speakers. The frequency response onthis recording is not only quite extended, but I like it because I'm so veryfamiliar with this album, so much so that it seems as if I've been playing itconstantly since it was released in 1991. But just for fun, this time I playedBoard Of Canada's Music Has The Right To Children, which they released in1998, at the height of that decade's electronica movement. Like most electronicoutfits BOC doesn't list the equipment they use, but I've read some interviewswhere they reveal most of it, and when listening to the album it was fun to tryto detect which instrument was which.
The L100 Classics had no trouble sorting everything out onthis album, letting me hear all that was there, but also was able to presenteverything as a whole, letting me bask in their 'intelligent dance music', assome call it, sounding akin to them reimagining Brian Eno's 1970s ambient albumsas Led Zeppelin reimagined the blues. Instead of soothing bass frequenciesfloating below the music, these bass frequencies were treated and retreated, thelowest of these frequencies shaking my gut. The soundstage that the L100Classics produced while playing this album was filled with recorded voices andwhat sounded like extraterrestrial birds, filling the front side of the roomwith futuristic instrumentation.
I realize that it might be a little cliché, but I played thetitle track Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here. I must have played thistrack thousands of times on my various systems throughout my lifetime. Not onlyis it a great album, but a great auditioning tool. Not only in the introductionto the song, where one can hear the musician shifting in his seat getting readyto play the acoustic guitar, but it is a great recording of a guitar made atAbbey Road Studios. The JBLs reproduced this as well as any dynamic speaker thathas ever been in this system, outdoing most of them that were priced anywherenear the JBL L100 Classic.
I played the Acoustic Sounds issued SACD through theOPPO player, and it was a great way to hear a the slightly idiosyncratic natureof this speaker. I didn't measure the distance, but the drivers of the L100Classic seem to be a bit farther away from my listening seat than usual becausethis speaker is in on the floor of my listening room, titled up to aim thedrivers at my ears. This caused me to move my listening seat a bit closer to theplane of the front of the speakers than other speakers that have been in mylistening room of late. Was this detrimental to the speaker's sound?
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Absolutely not, but I think it did change the location of thecenter of the soundstage a bit. This subjective observation wasn't one that Iviewed as a negative; it was just a little different than I was accustomed to.But getting back to the Pink Floyd, I was taken aback at how well these JBLsperformed while playing back this SACD. The sound of the acoustic guitar on thetitle track sounded fabulous, as did the rest the instruments and voices on thisalbum, I felt as if these speakers were acting as a sonic time machine, bringingme back to Abbey Road Studios to hear them lay down this tour de force to tape.The vocals sounded first rate, detailed yet lifelike, natural sounding, but atthe same time I the slight tape hiss led me to picture a reel on a tape machinemore than a human being seated in front of a microphone.
I then put on an SACD of Todd Rundgren's A Wizard A TrueStar that was made available last year. The LP of this album originallyreleased as a single in 1973 suffered from length, over thirty minutes on eachside of this dense multi-tracked recording. This record was and is good enoughto transcend the poor sound that resulted from its length, but when the CD wasreleased it was a revelation. This was a great sounding album, yet I never wasable to hear this. Even better was a few years ago when it was reissued on atwo-LP set, and now I can enjoy the SACD, which allows one to hear the genius ofTodd Rundgren's music in even better fidelity. Hearing the SACD through the JBLL100 Classics was fantastic.
There are some tracks that suffer from some overloaddistortion, perhaps caused by Todd surpassing the 16 track limit, but theoverall fidelity is the best I've ever heard. And through the L100s Classics Ifelt as if I was a fly on the wall in Todd's studio. Many of the songs arerecorded well enough where I could hear the individual tracks that made themultitrack tape, the ambience being different on each of the separate tracks onthe tape. His vocals were especially fine, such as on the track 'Zen Archer',where I could imagine him inside a vocal booth, or perhaps he wasn't in a booth,but it was very captivating. I neglected some other duties because I satlistening to this hour-long album in one sitting.
When listening to the JBL L100 Classic, I was reminded of daysspent listening to not only the JBL monitors in the studio, but the JBL homespeakers in some friend's homes. I'm not about to claim that my aural memory canrecall specifics of the time spent with those older speakers. But I'd bet thefarm that the new L100 Classic sound much, much better. The L100 Classics aremodern speakers with a classic look, and what makes them modern is theirhigh-end sound. I think it's a bit odd that JBL calls the new L100 Classics a 'bookshelf'speakers.
Although it makes no sense to me, perhaps it is because theyare rectangular shaped, rather than tall and thin as many speakers that areclassified as 'tower' speakers. Or maybe it is because back in the day many didplace these speakers on bookshelves. Who knows? Their classification of theseJBLs as a bookshelf speaker is the only statement that JBL makes in theliterature that I disagree with. Otherwise, they are spot on. These are truly aclassic looking speaker with a truly modern sound. The only thing I can think ofthat might stop some from purchasing these speakers as soon as they realize thatthey are available is their price.
Many non-audiophiles will balk, but any audiophile with evenjust a bit of experience will recognize that these speakers are well worth theirasking price. In fact, when inflation is considered the cost of these speakersare just about equal to what they cost back in the day. Still, I have no doubtthat many customers will purchase the JBL L100 Classic sight unseen. Not onlydoes JBL's reputation precede them, but these speakers will bring back pleasantmemories to many music lovers of a certain age. And to them, I say, go for it.These speakers are a great way to enjoy the music.
JBL L20T loudspeakers. A consumer version of their 4406 studio monitor.
Another classic loudspeaker by JBL that has stood the test of time. Having some great nearfield speakers in the studio are a must but I find myself going to these wonderful speakers to evaluate their opinion of my mix, time after time. Why?
Well, there is something special about them, and it seems I am not the only engineer with that impression.
JBL 4406 Studio Monitors
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After putting together initial mixes on nearfields, I always listened to the mix through several loudspeaker systems. These monitors seem to have a very clear, precise and uncolored presentation. The tweeter (JBL’s infamous O35Ti), could be considered a bit bright but I have never been fatigued by them as I have by others. The low end of these little guys are fantastic and with a front facing port they are not that fussy about wall placement. They just sound great.
The other thing about these classics are their esthetic. Real wood veneer with seamless edges including the backs! The 15H-1 woofers have rubber surrounds and have out lasted other speakers in this series which have foam surrounds.
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They are still around and show up on Ebay fairly often but a recent search came up with only a few. I have seen prices as low as 120.00 a pair, which is an incredible bargain, if in good condition. So, want an small, attractive and great sounding monitor for your studio? Get a pair before they become rare and collectable. It may already be too late!