Released early in 2007, JBL's ES series combines contemporary styling with many of the company's high performance technologies. The ES series consists of a wall-mount/bookshelf monitor (ES10), two bookshelf models (ES80, ES30), two floorstanding models (ES80/reviewed here, ES90), a center channel (ES25C), and two powered subwoofers (ES150P and ES250P).
Weighing in at 46.3 pounds and measuring 42.675 inches high by 8.75 inches wide by 13 inches deep, the ES80 ($599.90 per pair, MSRP) gives off an elegant yet modern cosmetic vibe. With the side panels finished in either a pretty Black, Beech, or Cherry vinyl, the top of the speaker curves directly into the baffle, finished in platinum (Black) or charcoal (Cherry, Beech). As with an increasing amount of loudspeaker designs, the speaker's enclosure elegantly tapers from front to back, which reduces internal standing waves and, in turn, the cabinet's sonic signature. The black grill extrudes from the front baffle, with a top and bottom finished with a neat strip of silver. The ES80 provides a dual set of gold-plated 5-way binding posts with a textured finish for easy gripping, offering easy bi-amping/bi-wiring, and sets of rubber feet and spikes.
On the top, the design employs a 0.75-inch Titanium-laminate dome tweeter mounted in a JBL Elliptical Oblate Spheroidal• (EOS) waveguide, which improves frequency response and imaging, according to the company. The tweeter crosses over at 12kHz at 18dB per octave to a 0.75-inch Polyester-film ring-radiator supertweeter, also mounted in an EOS waveguide. According to the company, the supertweeter plays out to 40kHz. The tweeter crosses over at 3.6kHz at 24dB per octave to a 4-inch PolyPlas• midrange. PolyPlas• employs a special polymer-coated-cellulose-fiber to increase stiffness. The midrange crosses over at 700Hz at 24dB per octave to two 6-inch PolyPlas• woofers. The ES80 employs a rear-firing port that fits neatly into the cabinet with a silver outer ring. The ES80 provides a high level of fit and finish, with the side panels looking very much like wood and the curved baffle, trimmed grills, and protruding, webbed feet adding a nice touch.
The ES80 presents a nominal 8 ohm load with a 91dB efficiency. The speaker proved to be a tougher load than the specs would indicate and needed good-quality power to open up properly, not excelling with entry-level power sources. Better-quality power sources improved things significantly.
The ES80s threw a deep, wide soundstage with very good imaging. They sounded very crisp right from the outset, and that overall quality didn't dissipate as time went on. This aspect made imaging very vivid and airy, and never artificial. The overall high end benefited from this quality, no doubt caused by the supertweeter, offering a lot of detail and speed over a wide variety of material. However, on occasion the very top end tended to obscure the lower treble, mostly caused by a hair less lower treble rather than too much higher treble. JBL chose a particular tonal balance here, and it works very well most of the time. The midrange showed very good overall clarity, with just a bit of hootiness on vocal tracks. Piano sounded great, and had some nice body in the lower registers. The midrange managed to keep pace with the top end, maintaining good overall coherence and musicality. The bass of the ES80 won the day, however.
Read more about the ES80 on Page 2.
It offered a lot of extension with very good tightness. The rear
port stayed very quiet, and rounded out things well. The bass did very
well over both acoustic and electronic material, and showed a lot of
inner detail, speed, and great coherence with the zippy top end. Closer
to the wall, the sound thickened up, and overall improved things. For a
smaller floor speaker, this helps matters as it will find itself in
smaller rooms most of the time. The ES80 played loudly without too many
issues, but needed lots of power to get there.
• The ES80 provides a very good
level of performance, with detailed highs, a solid midrange, and
particularly good bass performance.
• The ES80 performs well over all kinds of music material - classical,
jazz, rock, vocal, etc., and can play loudly without breaking up.
• The ES80 looks terrific with or without the grills, and comes in two different wood finishes in addition to Black.
• The ES80's top end may take some getting used to, especially with
rock and electronic material, where it sometimes provided too much of a
• The ES80's midrange sounded a little hooty on vocal tracks.
• The ES80 needs very good quality power to perform its best, and suffered with budget receivers or amplifiers.
Competition and Comparison
If you want to compare JBL's ES80 loudspeakers against their competition, be sure to read our reviews for the Polk TSi4 loudspeakers and the Boston Acoustics CS 226 loudspeakers. There is also more information available in our Floorstanding Speaker section and on our JBL brand page.
The JBL ES80 provides a high quality,
interesting blend of sonics and cosmetics. The sound bookends a
detailed, sometimes hot top end with a fast, punchy, extended low end,
and delivers a versatile midrange with very minor artifacts. As with
any speaker, especially budget ones, it's all about tradeoffs and the
overall value in the end. The ES80's sonic spin works very well the
majority of the time, adds some appealing zest where you sometimes
don't expect it, and, when it shows some flaws, doesn't offend.
Cosmetically, the ES80 offers a lot of elegance and throws in some
modern elements, while offering two wood finishes for under $600 a
pair. That's rare, and equally noteworthy. The ES80 offers a very
compelling value proposition, and lives up to the company name.