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A legendary 70s speaker that has been revived as a modern highlight

Tell me if this picture looks familiar to you:

Although the ad series – known as "Blown Away Guy" – should sell Maxell cassettes, it's the speaker that makes the sound shine your eyes attracts. In the heyday of the 70s, only a few speakers were as famous as the JBL L100. The L100 is considered one of the best speakers for rock music and has a unique waffle-shaped grid in bright colors. No wonder it was used in one of the era's most legendary audio campaigns.

At least that's the lore around the L100. I was born in 1990, so I have no experience except admiring the retro look of goodwill. When JBL Synthesis – the company's hi-fi subbrand – introduced the 2018 speaker as the L100 Classic, I had doubts as to whether the company could justify selling a pair of $ 4,000 worth of passive retro speakers at a time of great modern options could. Has the L100 Classic been based on nostalgia, or is it worth it for audiophiles with no special affinity to the original?

The answer is obviously the latter. Although the L100 looks like a retro look, it immediately feels at home with its enveloping, dynamic and largely neutral sound in modern hi-fi speakers. The L100 Classic are some of my favorite speakers for my home.

Retro classic

As with any speaker purchase, you first have to deal with the aesthetics of the L100. The large box-shaped shape is a rarity in a year 2019 full of tall, slender towers. However, I like the look, although I would prefer the blue rather than the orange grids that came with my device. In addition, you can use the L100 horizontally if it works better in your room – that's something you can not really do with towers.

The speakers feel like high-quality parts with sturdy 27 kg frames. An elegant walnut veneer wraps around the sides, while the black-painted front and back retains the old-school look.

I usually prefer my speakers with the grid off, but the L100 is a special case. The L100's triple-driver design, especially the majestic white 12-inch woofer, and the mid and high frequency controls add extra retro pizzazz, but I spent most of my time listening to them with the legendary waffle grids. [19659003] First, they add a welcome touch of color in blue or orange (though there is a solid black option). On the other hand, the grids are a necessary protection for a loudspeaker, which is so deep on the ground, at least in my home. The official $ 300 booths tilt the speakers to your ears and lift them a few inches off the floor, but they're still low enough for my dog ​​or cat to damage the paper woofer.

There are some limitations. Considering that this is a modernization of the L100, I would have liked to see more modern finishes – maybe a white color with a lighter wood on the sides would fit better in many modern homes that are not as hipster-frugal as my own. It is also worth noting that the tweeter and the woofer of the L100 are offset from the center and the speakers are not mirrored. that could annoy someone in symmetry. And I really think that the stalls should be included at this price; They are not particularly noteworthy and have no value of $ 300, but are crucial for maximizing performance.

However, these are relatively minor complaints. The design of the L100 is a win in my book.

This Live Sound

In the old school design, it is easy to assume that the speaker does not meet modern standards. But if JBL made any meaningful compromises, I can not hear them.

I had the pleasure of spending several months longer with the L100 than I intended (sorry, JBL!). During this time, I seldom wanted to hear anything else.

A note about the setup: The sound of the L100 can vary dramatically depending on how the vocal faders are set – converting it to a completely different speaker at the different ends of the fader section. According to JBL, the default setting is to measure the slimmest point in a reverberant chamber (which correlates to the user's preferences at home), but the controls should be set to what you think sounds the best. For me that was to maximize the "highs" slider and set the "mids" slider halfway between "default" and "max". By chance, this also seemed to provide the flattest measurements in my own tests, but more on that later.

My first impression of the L100 was determined by its spatial representation. The sound stage seemed to be far beyond the limits of the wide baffles of the L100. Several times I had to check if the Yamaha A3080 receiver, which supplies them with power, does not disturb my music. In other words, the sound stage was so wide that I seriously thought a few times that music could be heard from my surround and overhead speakers. I suspect that the sense of height is partly due to the upward design, but my frequency response measurements also suggest a wide spread, which is helpful. If you listen to musicals like the fantastic Hadestown you can easily imagine that you can sit in prime Broadway seats and place singers not only on the X-axis stage, but also on the Z-axis ,

The big woofer might make you expect booming basses, but the L100 is surprisingly tasteful. It is more for expansion and transient response than for mere quantity (though there is much). The basslines in Janelle Monae's Make Me Feel or Lizzo's Juice are addictive without being bloated. Acoustic and synthetic bass feel equally snappy, and kick drums have a definitive … Kick . The bass is designed for a range of up to 40 Hz (-6 dB), but in practice the low positioning of the speaker on the pedestals, in my opinion, leads to a stronger bass boost from the floor than with a "normal" loudspeaker.

That is, the L100 is not a solution for pure bass heads because the sound is wrong on the side of accuracy. Although you can achieve a much lower sound by turning the center control this is not a substitute for a subwoofer and, despite the high volume, it can not compete with an active design like the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo. The latter is much smaller. For most songs, the L100 has just the right amount of bass, but like most passive speakers, the last hertz that is so common in modern music is missing.

Even the mids and heights are relatively neutral overall tonality, but here the speaker shows more of his forward character. I suspect that part of the reason they sound so good with vocals is a slight emphasis in the upper mids and lower trebles, giving the voices a certain sharpness that, in my opinion, improves intelligibility (in practice, if they act as TV speakers). This happens, however, without destroying the timbre. Each of the deepest bassoprofondos to the lyrical sopranos is represented with a natural tone. There are also many details that, combined with outstanding imaging, make it easier to locate individual instruments in complex pieces.

In addition, the L100 are easy to drive and have excellent dynamics, and you have a speaker that excels at giving you the feel of "live music." The audio memory is moody, but to my best memories it was more appealing than the KEF R3, more accurately than the duo of the Bowers and Wilkins lineup, and competitive with Focal's $ 12,000 expensive Kanta # 3 in dynamics. It's the type of speaker that musicians actually play in my living room and that's just as suitable for Sibelius as it is for Deep Purple.


Some of these characteristics are used in the frequency response measurements of the loudspeaker, which were carried out using a quasi-sound-deadening method that approximates the results in a suitable sound-deadening chamber. As usual, I first make notes and then measure, but it's interesting to see how often the measurements match my subjective impressions.

Measuring the L100 Classic was difficult, partly because of its size and weight, which limited the vertical range of frequencies I could capture, but also because the tuning knobs allow a wide range of responses. Below you can see the frequency response with the controls in the default setting "0 db" and with both regulators at maximum volume. I preferred the latter in my own listening. You can also see how the grid affects the sound in relation to the default setting.

This is an overall flat response for a passive design. According to research, most listeners prefer a flat sound. It's certainly not the shallowest passive speaker I've seen in the price category – this award goes to KEF R3 – but it's within the bounds of what I consider almost neutral.

One would expect decent performance from a $ 4,000 speaker, but it is good to know that JBL did not disregard good acoustics when making a retro product. It's also worth remembering that these measurements are only part of the story – they do not capture the wonderful dynamics of the L100, for example.

You can also see the peaks around 2k and 4.5khz, which help the L100 bring its character forward. However, the 2kHz peak is not as audible as you might think. If you are like an audiophile between two stereo speakers in the "sweet spot," that frequency range tends to be dampened by the sound waves from the speakers, which cancel each other out. I think a boost helps to make voices sound more natural. Overall, the heights have a slight downward slope. However, if you prefer a brighter sound, you can easily correct this by setting the treble control to the maximum setting.

To demonstrate how much the controls can affect the sound, find the frequency response at the lowest setting of the center control and the maximum setting of the treble and vice versa. Basically, the variation is enough to become a completely different speaker.

However, a loudspeaker should have more than a flat direct response and distribute the sound evenly throughout the room. Much of what we hear is actually reflected in our space. So you want the sound that comes out of the speaker in odd directions not to deviate too much from the sound that's aimed directly at your ears.

Here is the horizontal response:

We can see that the frequency response of the L100 remains relatively linear even at extreme horizontal angles and changes evenly relative to direct sound. Combined with the fact that the volume does not decrease sharply at odd angles, this suggests a wide sound dispersion, which probably makes the L100 an expansive soundstage. Also note how the peak is tamed at 4.5 kHz when you reach 30 degrees off-axis. In fact, I've found that the speakers sound best directly or with a slight toe angle (as opposed to directly aimed at the listening position).

The Measurement & # 39; Listening Window & # 39; in the middle, where the sound is detected within a ± 30-degree horizontal window and ± 10-degree vertical window takes into account the fact that people are not perfectly still and may not be exactly centered between the speakers. Here it shows a slightly cleaner response than on the axis.

And here is the vertical response:

Once we reach 30 degrees deviation, we see a large inclination axis in the vertical plane, but this is common and the Response remains relatively flat within a vertical listening window of ± 15 degrees.

A modern classic?

The L100 Classic is a beautiful speaker with a rounded sound. This is mostly neutral, with some foresight to spice things up. Overall, my main complaint is that in some ways it feels a bit retro .

I have a feeling that the company could have attracted more modern design choices with some more young audiophiles. For example, the lighter veneer options mentioned above or the completely black design could help harmonize the aesthetics of a listener. On the technical side, I would like to see with such a large case and a massive woofer what JBL can achieve in an active design with an integrated amplifier and digital signal processing. This could help to compensate for kinks in the frequency range and make the bass deeper. Of course, there is nothing wrong with passive speakers, but considering the classicism and popularity of the previous L100, such decisions could have given the L100 more potential to become a modern classic instead of expanding the reputation of its predecessors. A price of $ 4,000 is also prohibitive for many younger audiophiles, although they are in my opinion worth the price and comparable to a good number of towers. This specific listener, the L100 Classics is a modern classic , They are characterized by sound width and imaging. They are just a touch forward, their sound is customizable, they have deep bass and they have a typing momentum. The L100 Classics are among the most enjoyable speakers I've ever heard, and I'm sad they're available now.

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Published on October 21, 2019 – 18:43 UTC

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