|JBL Studio L Series Loudspeakers|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Sunday, 01 October 2006|
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Music and Movies
It’s been a while since I’ve had floor-standing speakers in my room and you never quite realize what you’re missing until either it’s gone or it’s been returned to you. Not wanting to waste the opportunity, I threw on one of my favorite albums, Busted Stuff, from the Dave Matthews Band (RCA). I always look forward to seeing Dave live in concert and, while I may have to wait a bit until the band’s next show, it didn’t deter me from trying to recreate the experience in my listening room. During the track “Where Are You Going,” I noticed that the piano, usually contained in the darker regions of the soundstage, danced freely between the speakers and beyond. It was a nice touch and, regardless of whether or not it was intentional, given I’d never heard the piano portrayed in such a way, I sure liked it. The drums were lifelike in every sense of the word. Their scale, weight and brute force were unlike anything I had experienced in my house in a very long time. That’s not to say the bass wasn’t nimble. On the contrary, the L890s, mated with the L8400P, cooked up one hell of a rollercoaster ride, complete with highs and lows and everything in between, and they did so without seemingly breaking a sweat. The highs, even in my acoustically challenged room, never sizzled or became harsh. In fact, with the help of some of Denon’s room correction software and careful speaker placement, I was able to experience some of the sweetest, most airy highs I’ve ever heard from a loudspeaker. It didn’t take long before I was tapping my feet and playing air guitar as Dave’s vocals reverberated with all the warmth and raspiness I’ve come to expect from a live show. In terms of sound stage, the Studio Ls clearly favor width over depth, but then again, my speaker placement is counterproductive when it comes to image depth. Beyond their sound stage, the L890s simply “disappear” unlike any speaker in their class, leaving you with seamless musical experience. Moving on to the track “Digging a Ditch,” the L890s’ sheer musicality was cemented in my eyes. The cymbal crashes had such a presence that, with little effort, I began to “see” the drum kit materialize in front of me. The depth with which the L890s portray texture and nuance is truly remarkable given their relatively modest price tags. The music was effortless, dynamic and, above all, moving.
I didn’t want to go too easy on the Studio Ls, so I quickly grabbed another favorite, Nirvana’s third album, In Utero (Geffen Records). During “Heart Shaped Box,” the L890s proved they could rock out without losing their composure. Even at earth-shattering volumes, the L890s remained musical and composed, despite Kurt Cobain’s best efforts. That’s not to say the L890s glossed over Nirvana’s unbridled sound; they simply didn’t add any grunge of their own. The L890s were so clear in their presentation that I could hear deeper into the recording than ever before. On the track “Rape Me,” the opening guitar riffs were so natural sounding that they felt close enough to touch. During the track “All Apologies,” the L890s recreation of space was phenomenal. When the string quartet kicked in, I could hear the quiver of the bow along the strings. There was an emptiness to the recording space that could be felt during the song’s quieter moments that created a sort of emotional void in my listening room that only added to Kurt’s haunting vocals. Dynamically, the L890s are hard to beat, and their top to bottom coherence is nearly flawless.
Satisfied with two-channel fare, I popped in the DTS audio disc of Everclear’s So Much for the Afterglow (DTS Entertainment/Capital). I’m not really a fan of Everclear, but I am a fan of DTS audio discs, so I set my personal tastes aside for the time being. Starting off with “Everything to Everyone,” I was immediately enveloped in a seamless surround sound experience. Normally, I can hear the transition between a system’s main speakers and its smaller rear channels, yet try as I might, I could not easily detect any sonic gap between the L890s and their slightly smaller L820 counterparts. Getting past the Studio L’s surround sound for a moment, its multi-channel performance proved you can get more of a good thing. The bass became even quicker, adding a greater sense of control and detail over the stereo recordings. The treble gained a bit of energy and showed the earliest signs of glare. However, I am confident this had more to do with my room than with the speakers themselves. On the track “I Will Buy You a New Life,” the organ solo was simply overwhelming, in a good way. The entire front wall of my room became an almost floor to ceiling pipe organ, yet retained all the aforementioned detail, air and dynamics. The Studio Ls can go big, very big, and remain incredibly nimble in the process. Likewise, the drum solo towards the end of the song sounded pretty close to live and simply drove me to crank the music until my walls flexed. I’m happy to report the Studio Ls can play at rock concert levels without breaking a sweat or becoming offensive, which should bode well for those of you with large rooms or a propensity for taking it to 11. To test the vocal strength of the center channel, I switched to the track “White Men in Black Suits.” Right off the bat, the center channel proved to be more or less an extension of the singer vs. a reproduction. The vocal track had the appropriate weight and scale while retaining just a hint of warmth that made the medicine go down just a little smoother. The midrange throughout the Studio L’s performance is rich and inviting without becoming too thick, slow or blurry.
Switching to movies, I started with the Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment). From the get-go, the Studio Ls brought this rock and roll epic to life. The opening sequence features the inmates of Folsom Prison banging and hollering for Cash to perform. The sheer impact of the inmates’ enthusiasm was enough to rattle my double-pane soundproof sliding doors, as well as the faucets in my kitchen, and surrounded me in such a way that I felt front row center for one of Cash’s most memorable performances. Yet, despite my room and best efforts, I was never able to make the bass become overly bloated or boomy. During the scene where Cash (Phoenix) and his band audition for a local record producer, they’re initially met with a bit of trepidation. The Studio Ls were so natural with Phoenix’s vocals that as a viewer I too shared the record producer’s lack of enthusiasm, yet when Phoenix breaks into “Folsom Prison Blues,” the Studio Ls translate his internal turmoil in such a way that the music becomes more “alive” and heartfelt. Phoenix’s low voice could spell disaster for most center channels with their limited bass response, but the LC2 was able to present a focused, dimensional and full-bodied sound that brought Phoenix closer to becoming Cash with each breath. The Yin to Cash’s Yang was the sparky folk singer June Carter, played by Witherspoon. While the Studio Ls, mainly the LC2, could handle the lower registers easily, Witherspoon’s vocals were anything but low. However, Witherspoon’s portrayal of June Carter never sounded harsh or etched against Phoenix’s, even when she was at her most excitable. Overall, the Studio Ls presented “Walk the Line” in such a larger than life way that my 50-inch Vizio plasma screen hardly seemed big enough to convey Cash’s story.
I wrapped things up with the action classic “U-571” (Universal Studios Home Video). There isn’t much that needs to be said about the film “U-571,” except that it remains a reviewing staple for many reasons. For starters, the dynamic swings can wreak havoc on a great many systems, as can its use of sonic subtlety and surround sound mixing. Skipping ahead to Chapter 15, the Studio Ls placed me squarely in harm’s way and never let up as I was pummeled time and time again by the charges’ relentless assault. For this review, I had placed the rear speakers on my side walls not too far behind my main listening position, yet when the charges began to fall into water, I could hear them sinking around me as if I had placed two more rear channels behind me. Keep in mind the L820s as rear speakers are not bipolar like so many of today’s designs. That, my friend, is what they call wide dispersion. The most impressive aspect of the Studio Ls during my viewing of “U-571” was their ability to speak softly. It’s often hard for speakers in the Studio L’s class to convey sonic subtlety, yet the Ls managed to convey every creak in the hull amidst an ocean of sound. While “U-571” is loud more often than not, the effect given off during the film’s more subdued moments was jaw-dropping and helped sell the overall effect of being trapped inside the foreign submarine.