Metal fatigue -- I'm tired of metal drivers, which have taken the notion of 'fashion' to new and ever more ludicrous extremes. For every speaker thus equipped which actually sounds good (and there are quite a few) there's another which sounds awful, so I hate the way that this trend in speaker design has taken on the tone of 'universal solution', much in the way that many hawked thin-strand cable as a one-size-fits-all panacea. And it didn't put me in too good a mood for the JBL's XPL 90, which sports yet another variant.
My experiences so far with metal driver systems suggest that the technology is no guarantee of superior performance, which points
us back to the synergy of a speaker's constituent parts as one of the keys to a successful design. So, although JBL's pure titanium, ribbed, ferro-fluid-cooled 25mm tweeter is the most
distinctive ingredient, it shouldn't overshadow the other details which combine to make this a product worth auditioning.
Yes, the tweeter in this small, high-quality monitor does offer exceptional power handling, much better than average dispersion, lots of information, few sizzles, near-electrostatic speed and a high degree of transparency. But these virtues can be found in a number of other systems, with or without metal drivers. What makes the XPL 90 so special is its activity in the bass department, bordering on the extraordinary for a system with an enclosure measuring a mere 394x241x248mm (HWD). Every product I've ever auditioned has ¬something¬ about it which grabs you within the first few seconds of exposure to it; with the JBL, it's a sensation of weight and solidity which makes a number of other systems in similarly-sized enclosures seem unsatisfactory by comparison.
I'm not suggesting for a moment that the 165mm composite material woofer in its ported enclosure delivers anything like the extension only available from hefty transmission lines or trick woofers with enormous magnets or enclosures at least the size of a small fridge. The JBL's bass satisfies because it goes beyond merely adequate without giving the impression that the speaker is about to burst. There's no strain, no odd bumps to fool you into thinking that the system is flat to 20Hz. It's tailored to the sound of the tweeter, so what you lose in extension -- a touch of richness, for example, on discs like Wasserman's ¬Duets¬ -- you
gain in control. Best of all, it never sounds overdamped.
The rigid, braced cabinet is clever, maybe too clever because its shape is trapezoidal; the sides slope slightly inward toward the rear, while the edges are contoured. In a world where the vast majority of box-type speakers have parallel panels, designs which don't look drab are at a disadvantage. But JBL's form follows function, so the cabinet and the rubbery baffle, like the bodies on modern cameras, are by-products of the design -- not merely stylish touches.