JBL L1 Bookshelf Speakers Reviewed

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JBL L1 Bookshelf Speakers Reviewed

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Prejudice is a weird phenomenon. Are we all so vulnerable to the once-bitten-twice-shy system that we simply cannot deal with the rehabilitated? Hi-fi is riddled with brands which -- in the eyes of the British dealer/press/consumer -- can do no right, just as there are unworthy brands which many believe can do no wrong. JBL has, for a least a decade, been written off a domestic-audio-for-pro-wannabees, and the company has no-one to blame oter than itself. So successful is it in pro circles that it assumes that every playback system, regardless of type, warrants the kind of speakers which can loosen plaster while cutting glass. Unbreakable, yes. Brighter than an active arc-welder, ditto. Worse, they seem to embody all of the traits of America that allows psuedo-intellectual Aussies like Clive james to take the piss out of my homeland.

JBL'-ness' that allowntellectual Aussies (Aussies! The spawn of criminals!) like Clive J And JBL is as American as Levi 501s, making them the bane of Spendor/Rogers/Harbeth loversird phenomenon. Are we all so vulnerable to the once-bitten. But the times they are a'changin'.

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No, I haven't suddenly written off two decades as a resident of the UK. No, I'm not about to suggest that you ditch cricket for the equally mind-numbing baseball. But I buried my half-life as a Brit, my lust for Things Anglo such as LS3/5As and Lovejoy and KitKats to investigate the rumours that JBL has entered the 1990s. Indeed, so curious am I about this change of direction that I've signed up for a trilogy review as JBL is a three-headed-monster: domestic, pro and in-car. And, as I've spent the last ten months wallowing in nostalgia for my lost youth, I want to see if JBL is capable of reviving a latter-day equivalent of their best-selling speakers from the days I entered hi-fi as a civilian. What I want is a 1993 JBL Decade or Century.

So what do I find when I open the small (for JBL) L1 carton? A pair of speakers in one container, small enough to rest on 24in stands. Two-way, not three. Black ash finish. But with a couple of clues to suggest something other than a Britclone...even though metal dome drivers are a British institution. But these are titanium 1in domes with a diamond pattern stamped on to them to increase structural rigidity with no increase in mass. They rest on sloped baffles, above 6.5in woofers made from a paper-like composite of felt and glass-fibre, featuring concentric ribs. The frames are made from cast aluminium. Build quality? Terrific. Especially at £399 per pair.

The enclosure --401x209x254mm (HWD) -- betrays only one trace of resistance to modernity: the L1 isn't bi-wireable. The back contains the tuned port, with nice multi-way binding posts in a recess near the bottom.

Spec-wise, the L1 could be one of a number of standard two-ways available in the UK. The frequency response is listed as 47Hz-27kHz (+/-6dB), sensitivity is a sensible 87dB for 1W, impedance a safe 8 ohms and the power rating? An easy drive working well with 35-watters, yet it's capable of handling 200W. Remember: the three letters on the badge serve as a red rag to HM bulls. Even if you

crossing over at 3kHz to Oh, there is one other bone to pick: the drivers are not arrayed symmetrically., the tweeters offset to the left.ed rag to HM head-banging bulls. JBL could issue a telephone speaker and most of the faithful would expect it to yield 120dB at 10m. But that's the downside of having such a strong image, eg all Ford drivers can't really be boy racers, can they?

I left the grille for last because it's the one thing an L1 owner will play with for a few weeks. For some stupid reason, the designers gave it a bulge which, when positioned correctly, gives the slope-baffled L1 a perpendicular face. Unfortunately, the grille is braced with enough plastic for a 1/24th scale model of a Spitfire, and

Even worse, the area in front of the tweeter contains a tight grid which could double as a colander. And it doesn't half-bugger the dispersion. So I played them with the grilles mounted upside down. They even looked better that way...

On the other hand, there are strong arguments in favour of removing the grille altogether. In effect, it acts as a corrective filter with three positions:

1) Placed correctly, the speakers lose their sibilance, but the price you pay is a slight lack of detail and serious buggering of the imagery.

2) Placed upside-down, the tweeter is still tamed, but to a milder degree.

3) Removed, the speakers image like a dream, but then you have to worry about all that naked treble.

Which leads to amplifiers.

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