JBL ES20BK Bookshelf Loudspeakers Reviewed

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The ES20s sounded terrific right from the outset, when driven properly. They threw a deep, wide soundstage with very good imaging and focus. In particular, the bass exhibited real punch and excellent depth, with minimal port noise. The extended highs sounded very smooth, and blended into the upper midrange nicely. The midrange had surprising realism, with a bit of honk but overall a solid tonality with both male and female voice. Piano sounded delicate and crisp, and had a nice, woody feel in the lower registers. The ES20 stretched very well across all types of acoustic and electric material, and could play very loudly when pushed (although their low efficiency requires some very good quality power to do this right). Closer to a wall, the soundstage compressed a bit, and the mids, in particular, lost a bit of their depth. But, overall, the ES20 retained a large portion of its great sound even in this position. It must be noted again, however, that the ES20 requires a good receiver or amplifier to really shine. Budget products dragged it down quite a bit. But with the proper power source, the sound quality of the ES20 makes quite an impression, as it draws a great balance and never overexposes any given range of frequencies. The high end maybe could have been a tad smoother and the upper midrange a bit more lush, but those kinds of requests usually are reserved for much more expensive speakers. For the price, the ES20 delivers all the goods and then some.

High Points
• The ES20 provides excellent performance and a very well balanced and enjoyable listening experience.
• The ES20 performs well over all kinds of music material - classical, jazz, rock, vocal, etc., and can play loudly without breaking up.
• The ES20 looks terrific with or without the grills, and comes in two different wood finishes in addition to Black.

Low Points
• The ES20 needs good quality power to perform its best, and didn't sound nearly as good with budget receivers or amplifiers.
• The ES20 doesn't provide any on-board mounting hardware.
• The ES20 needs to sit at least 10-12 inches from the wall to sound its best.

Conclusion
The JBL ES20 offers sound quality on par with the best speakers in its class. It's smooth, detailed, punchy, airy, and transparent, with tiny flaws that never overly intrude into the presentation. Its coherence and balance really shine, and its versatility over many types of music material doesn't hurt either. Potential buyers must consider, however, that a good quality receiver or amplifier is a necessity to get the ES20 to perform its best, as well as a bit of space around the speakers. That said, the ES20 deserves a spot on the short list of high performance, affordable bookshelf speakers to audition.

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HTR Product Rating for JBL ES20BK Bookshelf Loudspeakers

Criteria Rating

Performance

3

Value

3.5

Overall

3.5

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