It's no secret that as time and technology have progressed, things have gotten more complicated and less reliable as we collectively race ever-faster into a truly disposable future. So, it's no surprise to see what was once considered outdated tech become a new trend, because quality and timeless design never go out of style. If it ain't broke, my friends, don't fix it, and the less complicated it is, the less likely it is to break.
Case in point: the L100 Classic loudspeaker from JBL. Launched in 1970, the L100 was and remains JBL's best-selling loudspeaker of all time--not to mention one of the most iconic loudspeakers ever made. Over the years, the L100 went through updates, and underwent an evolution that took it from the mid-century inspired speaker it was to something altogether different, and as a result the L100 as we knew ceased to be. Progress, I suppose.
In truth, the original L100 was good but far from perfect. It was a 1970s rock-n-roller--dare I say PA speaker in consumer clothing. It wasn't a scalpel or precision instrument. It was a sledgehammer. And it was fun. That's why I bought a pair many moons ago: because I wanted to remind myself what a fun speaker sounded like and what it was like to have fun listening to rock-n-roll again. Sadly, my very vintage pair never got to wear their iconic foam grills, nor sit on their metal lowboy stands. But I loved them all the same.
Fast forward to sometime in 2018 and the announcement that JBL, more specifically JBL Synthesis, was bringing the L100 back. Giddy doesn't scratch the surface with respect to the emotions I felt knowing there was a chance I'd get to spend time with a cherry pair of L100s. Shortly after the New Year my pair of L100 Classic loudspeakers arrived, along with their matching "optional" stands, which are by no means optional. I was ecstatic and nostalgic all at the same time.
Let's dispense with the hyperbole for a moment and get to the meat of what these new-old speakers actually are. The L100 Classic retails for $4,000 a pair, not including the stands. The stands will set you back an additional $300, bringing the total cost of a stereo pair to $4,300. Now, some of you older folks may think that $4,300 is a lot considering what the L100s fetched in the 1970s. $4,300 is not cheap, but the L100 Classic is far from the most expensive loudspeaker on the market today, and as for how they compare financially to the originals, they're about the same price. That's right: adjusting for inflation, the new L100 Classic actually costs about the same as the original did in 1970.
Speaking of 1970, I doubt anyone would be able to tell a vintage pair of L100s from the new re-release at a distance of a foot or more. I say this because the new Classic models appear to be made using the same 70s-era materials. The Classic is clad in "genuine walnut veneer," which looks period AF. When combined with the iconic Quadrex foam grill in your choice of either Black, Burnt Orange, or Blue, there's little about the L100 Classic that screams modern, and this is a good thing.
I do think JBL is trolling just a little by claiming the L100 Classic is a "bookshelf" loudspeaker. I don't know what kind of bookshelves people were rocking in the 1970s, but a nearly 60-pound speaker that measures 25 inches tall by a little over 15 inches wide and 14 and a half inches deep isn't likely to fit onto any bookshelf. Plus, when have you ever seen the L100--then or now--perched on anything other than their iconic stands, or flat on the floor?
The L100 Classic is a true three-way loudspeaker that features a single 12-inch woofer, a five-and-a-quarter-inch midrange driver and a one-inch dome tweeter. The bass and midrange drivers are of the paper variety, whereas the tweeter utilizes titanium. In other words, the L100 Classic, like its predecessor, utilizes materials and tech circa 1970--again, a good thing. The 12-inch woofer is crossed over with the mid at 450Hz, whereas the crossover between the midrange driver and tweeter sits at 3.5kHz. There are manual attenuators located on the front of the speaker's face, which help to "dial in" the amount of cowbell--I mean midrange and/or treble--the listener may want. For example, in a "live" room, you may opt to dial the high frequencies down, and the intuitive level controls located on the front of the L100 Classic allow for this. Full disclosure: it does appear that the L100 Classic's high and low frequency level controls do seem aimed more at curbing said frequencies rather than adding them, as their zero position sits at about three o'clock versus 12, which is a little curious, but more on that later.
It should be noted that all of these manual controls, the speakers' three drivers, and front-facing port are all hidden from view behind the L100 Classic's included foam grill. The L100 Classic has a reported frequency response of 40Hz to 40kHz with a sensitivity of 90dB into four ohms.
Around back, there are no ports or visual disruptions of any kind: just a single pair of five-way binding posts that can accept everything from bare wire to banana and/or spade adapted cables. All in all, the designers at JBL did a great job of recreating the iconic loudspeaker.
Lastly there are the stands. My own views about their optional nature notwithstanding, they are solid, well-built, and complete the L100 Classic's look in a way no third-party stand is likely to do. There are preinstalled foam strips along the platform portion of each stand, which come fully assembled by the way, to curb the possibility of any damage being done to the speakers' cabinets. The substantial rubber feet that you have to screw onto the bottom four corners of each stand are also a nice touch, though I can imagine tweakers wanting to replace them with something even more "high-end" like dolphin skin spikes or anti-gravity pucks (kidding, of course).
My pair of L100 Classics arrived in their individual factory boxes, along with a smaller box that housed the stands. While the speakers themselves arrived undamaged, the factory boxes looked a little worse for wear. Furthermore, there was a noticeable lack of packing materials surrounding the L100 Classics. JBL opting instead for heavy-duty cardboard top and bottom pallets of each speaker, with reinforced cardboard pillars in all four corners that protect the speaker and hold it firmly in place dead center of each box, several inches from the outer walls. So, while the outer box looked like it had gone rounds with a Honey Badger, the speakers themselves were in pristine condition. The metal stands were packed in a similar fashion, though their outer cardboard box arrived far more intact.
Honestly, once I realized both speakers arrived unharmed, I cared less about the condition of each box, and tore them both open like a kid on Christmas. I appreciated not having to waste time building the stands, as it meant I was able to get the L100 Classics up and running that much faster.
I placed the L100 Classics in my living room where pretty much every other speaker I review sits: about eight feet apart (tweeter-to-tweeter), and roughly 13 inches from my front wall. When resting on their stands, the L100 Classics sit much lower than any bookshelf or even floorstanding loudspeaker you've likely ever seen. The stands allow for the speakers to sit low, but with an upward rake, which (in theory) further reinforces their bass response, while allowing for proper imaging and a far more expansive soundstage when compared to placing each L100 Classic on the floor. In truth, the speakers are very much designed, or should I say voiced, to sound their best when placed atop their stands--another reason why I don't consider them to be optional.
I powered the L100 Classics with my Crown XLS DriveCore 2 Series amplifiers mated to the preamp outputs of my Marantz NR1509 AV receiver (reviewed here). Source components included my Roku as well as a U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus turntable. All cabling was commercial grade, OFC wire, be it interconnect or speaker cables.
I experimented with the speakers' HF and MF level controls, opting to leave them in their neutral position (3 o'clock), though my fiancé did like the sound when the speakers' HF levels were closer to the max position. To each their own, but for the purposes of this review I left them in their neutral position. A quick run of Audyssey MultiEQ through my Marantz and I was ready to rock-n-roll, literally.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...