|JBL Studio L Series Loudspeakers|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Sunday, 01 October 2006|
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I started my journey in home theater some 10 years ago with the biggest home theater of them all, a 12-screen multiplex. I was a projectionist for the Colorado division of the famous Mann Theatres chain. Six days a week, I got to play with some of the coolest gear on the planet and at the heart of it all was none other than JBL. In fact, during all my years as a projectionist, every theater I worked for featured JBL sound systems. When it came time to build my own home theater some years ago, I went with what I knew. Since then, my system and tastes have gone through countless changes, from electrostatics to single-ended triodes. Yet, when I look back at my early days in home theater, what I remember most is the stupid grin on my face every time I fired up the JBLs.
JBL is the brainchild of loudspeaker pioneer James B. Lansing. Lansing was responsible for creating many of the early speaker designs that are still seen today, as well as jumpstarting the consumer audio marketplace. Harman International acquired JBL in 1969 and the rest is history. No other brand in the history of audio has managed to permeate almost every facet of American life the way JBL has. From concert venues to movie theaters to your iPod, almost everyone has had an experience with JBL. However, JBL’s home theater products have fallen a bit by the wayside lately as other manufacturers continually raise the bar in price and performance, leaving a lot of the once “untouchable” manufacturers struggling to keep up. Well, the Studio L Series speakers are out to challenge the new status quo and hope to help propel JBL out of a dark age and into the spotlight once again.
I had heard rumblings about the Studio L Series for some time before they were officially unveiled late last year. From the press release, I could tell this was something new for JBL, and I had to have them. Well, a few phone calls and e-mails later, they were on their way. It took the shady side of forever for them to finally arrive, which gave me plenty of time to reminisce about the days of old. One thing I had forgotten about, though, was the fact that JBL likes to build full-range loudspeakers. And like all good full-range loudspeakers, the Studio Ls were big. Once at home, I tore into the Studio L boxes like a kid on Christmas morning. It didn’t take long before I had all the speakers unwrapped and out for inspection. Damn. That was the first thought that went through my head. From top to bottom, the Studio Ls’ visual presentation was that of style and grace. Sure, they were large, but their wood veneer finish and rounded edges helped to create an aura that made it easy to get over their girth. It’s important to mention that, if this particular speaker package isn’t to your liking or is unlikely to fit in your space, there are smaller, more affordable speakers waiting for you within the Studio L lineup.
Naturally, I focused my attention on the sexy new floor-standing speakers first. Retailing for $799.00 each, the L890s are the largest loudspeakers in the Studio L lineup, measuring in at a little over 42 inches tall by 10 inches wide and 15 inches deep. They tip the scales at 60 pounds apiece, so remember to lift with your legs. The L890s come in three different finishes, Black Ash, Beech or Cherry, and are available at select JBL dealers nationwide. The L890s have a four-way design with an advertised frequency response of 28Hz-40kHz via its five-driver array. The first of the L890s drivers is the ultra-high-frequency driver, featuring a Mylar dome set inside an aluminum chassis and mounted in a horn-like fashion that JBL refers to as a bi-radial design. Below that is your more typical high-frequency transducer, which is a one-inch pure titanium dome set inside JBL’s own EOS waveguide aluminum chassis. JBL’s EOS waveguide technology reportedly helps disperse the speaker’s high-frequency information evenly across a larger listening area, resulting in a broader sweet spot for multiple listeners. The speaker’s midrange is handled by a fairly traditional four-inch PolyPlas cone, while the bass is divided between two eight-inch PolyPlas cones and large FreeFlow bass port located on the front of the speaker. With so many drivers, I was expecting to see a dip in the L890’s sensitivity, but the L890 is rated at 91dB into a fairly benign eight-ohm load. The L890 is a bi-wire design via two sets of gold-plated binding posts that will accept either bare wire or spade connectors. Lastly, the L890 features a set of cast-aluminum feet that help couple the speaker to the floor via threaded spikes.
The center channel speaker is arguably the most important in any home theater, and from the looks of it, the LC2 isn’t going to disappoint. The LC2 is large compared to a lot of the center channels that have graced my room recently. Retailing for $599.00 and measuring in at one foot tall by 22 inches wide and five inches deep, the LC2 isn’t going to be mistaken for anything but a speaker. Weighing in at hefty 29 pounds, it’s also not going to be mistaken for lightweight. The LC2 is basically a wall-mount design. I say this because a: it comes with wall-mounting brackets and b: at only five inches deep, it’s not incredibly sturdy standing on its own. The LC2, like the L890, is a four-way design. The LC2 has the same driver array as the L890, but it trades two eight-inch bass drivers for dual six-inch ones. Due to the slightly smaller bass drivers, the LC2’s frequency response ranges from 50Hz to 40kHz. The LC2’s sensitivity differs slightly from its big brother at a reported 92dB into eight ohms. Just like its floor-standing partner, the LC2 is bi-wireable via two pairs of gold-plated binding posts.
Most rear speakers are downright pathetic-looking when compared to the Studio L820s. Then again, most rear speakers can’t pull double duty as left and right mains like the L820s can if you’re a little tight on space. Retailing for $750.00, the L820s are slightly smaller than the LC2 center channel at 12 inches tall by 15-and-a-half inches wide and five inches deep. Like the LC2, the L820’s placement of choice is going to be on the wall, but at 19 pounds, you’re going to want to make sure they’re fastened securely. The L820’s driver array is exactly the same as both the LC2 and L890, but instead of dual low-frequency drivers, the L820 uses a single six-inch cone. The L820 also has a reported frequency response of 55Hz-40kHz and a sensitivity of 90dB into eight ohms. The L820s are also bi-wireable. There really isn’t much more to say about the speakers in the Studio L package, except to mention that they’re all relatively full-range and should blend seamlessly together sonically to create one heck of a large sound field.
No home theater is complete without a subwoofer and the matching L8400P is sure to rattle a few floorboards. Retailing for a $1,099.00 and coming in at 16-and-a-half inches tall by 15-and-a-half inches wide and 15-and-a-half inches deep, the L8400P isn’t the type of sub that is easily hidden from view. Then again, the ones that are don’t move the kind of air the L8400P does. Utilizing a 12-inch driver, the L8400P can reach depths as low as 22Hz with the help of its 600-watt internal amplifier. As for input options, the L8400P can be connected to your system via its gold-plated binding posts or left and right line-level inputs that can also be switched to a single LFE input if you so desire. The L8400P features a continuously adjustable crossover when used in conjunction with its speaker-level connections. The L8400P also has an adjustable volume control, as well as 180-degree phase switch to round out its list of control options. Throw in a hardwired power cord and some matching feet and you’ve got the L8400P in all its glory.
Having recently moved, my near-perfect listening room has been transformed into a less than stellar one, complete with hardwood floors, high ceilings and glass. Lots and lots of glass. Looking past the acoustics, I was able to place all five of the speakers in my room with little trouble. With the help of a stud finder and JBL’s included mounting templates, I was able to hang the rear speakers and center channel with ease. While I was always able to properly anchor one side of the speaker to a stud, I wasn’t always as lucky with the opposite corner. A trip to the hardware store and a few dollars worth of heavy-duty drywall anchors can go a long way toward easing your nerves that your new speakers aren’t going to come crashing down around you. I connected the Studio Ls to my reference receiver, the Denon 4806, using Monster’s M line of speaker cables. I connected the L8400P to the Denon 4806 via a single LFE cable from Monster. I utilized my Denon 3910 universal player for both music and movies for the duration of the review. Since the last set of speakers I had in my system were the diminutive DefTechs, it was crucial to revisit a few of my receiver’s settings. A quick jog through my receiver’s set-up menus and I was in business. I had to play around a bit with placement here and there, but for the most part, I was pretty successful with my placement right from the start. The Studio Ls aren’t difficult or finicky when it comes to placement, provided you don’t park ‘em up against a wall or directly in a corner.