JBL L100 Classic Loudspeaker Page 2

There's also a fair deal of superficial detail, with a vibrant piano sound that rings out of the mix with verve and purpose. Even the flute work – an instrument that typically brings a smooth, luxuriant feel to mainstream jazz, came over as rather raw and raspy. This is what owners of the original L100 would doubtless call 'the classic JBL sound', although to be fair many of the company's more modern designs are a good way removed from this. It's a distinctive presentation that is as ear-catching as its orange grille is eye-catching.

Because of the speaker's mid-forward voicing, its beefy bass unit is less of a player on the field than you might expect given its size. For example, the deft double-bass work on the Herbie Hancock track didn't have the weight that I'd hoped for.

While it certainly wasn't as 'one note' as I remember when playing the track on the earlier L100s, this new iteration of the design is still not the world's best loudspeaker when it comes to portraying how bass lines go up and down the scale. This was especially noticeable with electronic pop, such as New Order's 'Vanishing Point' [Technique; Factory FACD 275.2], which lost some of its impact due to the light bottom end.


Playing It Wide
Dropping the mid and treble level adjusters from their defaults at 0dB to the 12 o'clock position didn't pull up the bass, but it did remove some of the bite and edge from the up-front mid/treble. Nevertheless, I'm bound to say that the JT025Ti1 tweeter isn't the sweetest thing JBL has ever designed.

The fact that the left/right baffles are not 'handed' could also put this Classic at a disadvantage with stereo soundstaging. With the speakers firing straight down the room, I found the design poor in this respect, although introducing a toe-in towards the listener certainly helped.

No amount of experimentation with placement was able to make up for the fact that the L100 Classic is at a slight disadvantage in the stereo stakes compared with a symmetrical design of today. Public Service Broadcasting's 'London Can Take It' [The War Room; Test Card Recordings TCR CD002] is contemporary progressive pop that sounds positively panoramic through the right system. Not here though, for even if the L100 Classic did open up a bit, it couldn't muster the resolution to dig deep into the recording and communicate spatial information in an accurate way. Stereo imaging was perfunctory, with little stage depth, despite a fairly wide left-to-right spread.

Speed King
That said, many concerns about the speaker's lack of neutrality are largely forgotten when it is asked to play fast, repetitive beat-driven music, such as YMO's 'Music Plans' [BGM; Alfa ALCA-291]. This early '80s electro track has a metronomic beat, over which fat, crunchy analogue synthesisers jostle with one another. The track is quite tonally dark and dour sounding, yet the L100 Classic's sheer transient speed pepped it up no end.

In fact, this loudpeaker's lithe, fleet-of-foot character enabled me to revel in the interplay between the track's powerful bass drum and snare/rim shot sounds. To its great credit, the L100 Classic carries percussion brilliantly, with a swagger that's downright infectious.


I also mentioned 'micro' dynamics at the top of my story and, by way of illustration, the indie rock strains of Microdisney's 'Loftholdingswood' [Daunt Square To Elsewhere; Castle Music CMEDD1568] revealed how much the L100 Classic loves this genre of music. It relishes an expansive rock production that it can sink its teeth into, so to speak, and there's a genuinely lucid quality to the way it goes about making music that's compelling.

The track's crashing piano power chords and O'Hagan's cranked up, jangling lead guitar were a delight, as were the gutsy strains of Cathal Coughan's vocals. Listen more closely, though, and there is a sense that some of the song's low-level detail is being sidelined.

While jaunty and bright on one level, the L100 Classic may leave some listeners wanting greater insight and transparency deep down. But while it may be flawed it's never less than fun, and what it lacks in accuracy it makes up for in character. Bags of character!

Hi-Fi News Verdict
JBL's new L100 Classic is surely one of the most 'Marmite' hi-fi products currently on sale. It won't be for everyone but if you like to listen loud, or have a barn of a venue to fill, it'll readily exceed the sum of its parts! Ensuring many contemporary speakers will sound bland and formulaic by comparison, this cleverly reimagined blast from the past will win friends but still shock others in equal measure.

Harman International Industries
Supplied by: Harman Luxury Audio Group, Cambs
01223 203200