SmartHouse takes a look at JBL’s great-value Studio L880 floorstanding loudspeakers.
JBL is probably the largest, best-known speaker brand on the planet. It has been part of US multi-national Harman Industries for many years, and has a presence in virtually every marketplace where speakers are found, from large scale PA rigs and studio monitors via in-car and computer peripherals to domestic hi-fi systems. While the research and design work is mainly carried out at the company labs in Northridge, California, manufacture is widely distributed around the globe – this particular speaker was made in Mexico, for example.
The Studio L series is a brand new range of vinyl-covered, value-oriented stereo and home cinema models. This $1,999 per pair L880 is the middle of three stereo pairs and the smaller of two floorstanders.
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The row of drive units with their silver-coloured diaphragms and cast alloy frames and chassis that occupy the front panel look most impressive, though complexity in speakers is not necessarily beneficial. The cone diaphragms might have a silver finish, but in fact this ‘PolyPlas’ composite is a polymer surface laminated onto a paper pulp substrate.
The result is essentially a three-and-a-half-way design – a three-way with an additional super-tweeter. The bass is handled by twin 150mm drivers backed up by a large front port, while midrange duties (700Hz-5kHz) are consigned to a 100mm driver with an 85mm cone. The main tweeter, meanwhile, operates above a high 5kHz and has a 25mm titanium dome and short horn waveguide. The 19mm horn-loaded super-tweeter has a plastic diaphragm and only comes in at 20kHz, around the limit of human hearing. Twin terminal pairs feed what JBL calls a “straight-line signal path network”.
Given the size of both the enclosure and the driver array, it’s only to be expected that this is a free-space design, intended to be kept well clear of walls. First impressions are of a sound that is exceptionally solid and unusually neutral, and those characteristics remained obvious throughout the listening sessions.
There’s a warmth and richness here which one rarely encounters in more compact loudspeakers, and a cogent impression of power with more than ample reserves of headroom. Even when playing the system at high levels, these speakers never show any evidence of strain and give vivid expression to dynamic contrasts.
Voices and especially speech sound delightfully open, with easy intelligibility. If it doesn’t have the sweetest sound around, it’s always busy and delivers bags of explicit detail. Depending somewhat on the quality of the specific recording, there were times when the sound could be a little unforgiving, bordering on aggressive, especially with heavily compressed pop/rock material.
Coherence is good for a multi-way speaker, if a little less than that achieved by simpler designs, and transparency seemed mildly compromised through the top half of the audio band. But this is a speaker that really knows how to rock, delivering its music with considerable authority and plenty of punch and drive. Given the relatively modest price, that’s some achievement.
JBL studio L880 | $1999 | | www.e-hifi.com.au
For: Beautifully open sound, excellent neutrality, massive headroom
Against: Rock can sound too aggressive; Could be more transparent
Verdict: This great-value floorstander has a plenty of punch and loads of welly, but there’s also subtlety and imaging here.