JBL ES20BK Bookshelf Loudspeakers Reviewed

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One of the industry's most enduring loudspeaker brands, JBL, even while flourishing mainly in the professional audio realm, continues to produce a wide range of consumer loudspeaker products spanning many different categories and price points. Part of its 'ES' series, the $399 per pair (MSRP) ES20 is the second of three bookshelf models (ES10/20/30).

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Weighing in at 10.3 pounds, the ES20 offers a unique, interesting, and appealing appearance. With the side panels finished in either a pretty Black, Beech, or Cherry vinyl, the top of the speaker curves directly into the baffle, all finished in a lighter, brushed dark gray. The speaker's enclosure elegantly tapers from front to back, which also provides a sonic benefit by reducing internal standing waves and, in turn, the cabinet's vibrational sonic signature. More and more loudspeaker companies have been employing this type of cabinet design. The black grill extrudes from the front baffle, with a top and bottom finished with a neat strip of silver. The ES20 provides gold-plated 5-way binding posts with a textured finish for easy gripping. The ES20 provides a high level of fit and finish, with pretty looks and seams and holes lined up and fitting solid and tight. A three-way design, the ES20 employs a 5-inch PolyPlas woofer crossed over at 3/3kHz (24dB/octave) to a ¾-inch Polyester-film ring radiator mounted in JBL Elliptical Oblate Spheroidal (EOS) waveguide, which crosses over at 12kHz (18dB/octave) to a ¾ inch Titanium-laminate dome super tweeter in EOS waveguide. According to the company, the super tweeter plays out to 40kHz. PolyPlas employs a special lightweight polymer coating to increase stiffness, while EOS improves high-frequency dispersion. The ES20 employs a rear-firing port that fits neatly into the top of the back panel with a silver outer ring.

The ES20 presents a nominal 8 ohm load with an 86dB efficiency. The speaker needed a good-quality power source to perform its best, with average quality receivers failing to measure up. Moving up in scale to better quality receivers and separate amplifiers, the sound improved significantly. I listened to the ES20s with music sources, mounted on stands in a stereo setup. The ES20 offers no on-board mounting hardware.

Read more about the sound of the ES20BK on Page 2.

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