JBL L100 Classic Loudspeaker

Photo by John Marks

JBL’s L100 Classic loudspeaker has a United States MSRP of $4000/pr. (stands not included)…

(…but wait! Even if you are not in the market for new high-end loudspeakers, John Marks’ new contribution is well worth your time. There’s interesting audio and cultural history, as well as a great 13-album playlist from the era (1970 to 1978) when the iconic JBL L100s were originally in production.

However if you are in the market for some new loudspeakers, you are in luck. A lot of high-end audio gear is price-protected, which means no discounts. But, click over to Music Direct Then, at checkout, enter Promo Code BARUTH to get a $400 discount. This discount code will expire April 8, 2021. I don’t get a dime out of it — I’m just a little thrilled to be involved with this stuff. And, as John Marks himself would say, “in view of the totality of the circumstances,” please do not mention this discount code on social media — jb)

However, if you want to make them sound like the proverbial “a million bucks,” here’s how to do it:

(1) Connect a pair of JBL L100 Classics to your amplifier.

(2) Subscribe to the Qobuz streaming service (they have a risk-free 30-day trial offer). Feed that signal to your Digital to Analog Converter.

(3) Dial up the 24-bit hi-res version of Joel Fredericksen & Ensemble Phoenix’s astonishing feat of creativity and musicianship, the Nick Drake tribute album Requiem for a Pink Moon.

Wow. The first 60 seconds of Track 1 should convince you. The L100s sound like a million bucks. I unhesitatingly recommend audition of the L100 Classic to anyone shopping for loudspeakers in their price tier.

However, my take on the reality (of all such situations) is that every loudspeaker ever designed incorporates tradeoffs. To get this, you have to give up that. Even if the only thing you are giving up on is affordabilty.

The L100 Classic is remarkably affordable, considering its dynamics and its bass performance. If I were still writing for Stereophile magazine, I’d put it in for the coveted “$$$” high-value indication in the Recommended Components List.

But when you design a loudspeaker that has perhaps 80% of the bass and dynamics of loudspeakers costing four or five times as much (or even more; I am talking about loudspeakers in the $15,000 to $28,000 range), but at 20% of the cost of the more expensive loudspeakers, there are, of course, going to be tradeoffs and compromises. That’s my take on the reality.

More on Pink Moon, more on the social and cultural context of and the impact of the original L100, and more comments on the sound of the new one, after the jump.

Requiem for a Pink Moon is the kind of recording that justifies the expense of a great stereo system—because a great stereo system can deliver the “shock of recognition” when you hear a breathtakingly natural recording of the human voice.

I have compiled a Qobuz playlist entitled Classic Albums for the JBL L100 Classic Loudspeaker. Most of that music is music that would have been “in the air” during the 1970-to-1978 production run of the original version of JBL’s now-Classic L100. But the first album pick is Requiem for a Pink Moon, to make it easy for you to find it.

I vividly recall the release of the original Nick Drake Pink Moon LP—the album that Joel Fredericksen’s album is a tribute to. That was in 1972. On the Brown University campus, there was a cooperative coffee house that also sold records—the Big Mother Coffee House, and Mother Records. They had an impressive stereo system with IIRC some large Klipsch loudspeakers, but I don’t believe that they were Klipschorns proper.

A staff member would choose an LP to demo, cue it up, and prop the LP jacket up on a little easel, so that you would know what was playing. The big stereo was also the PA system when amplified musicians were playing in the coffee house.

The first time I saw the Pink Moon cover, while listening to Drake’s rather forlorn voice, my immediate reaction was that “This young man is not long for this world.” The cover art was in a rather creepy Surrealistic style.

Nick Drake died in 1974 (at age 26) from what very well might have been an accidental overdose of anti-depressants. His parents chose for his gravestone a quotation from his song “From the Morning”:

Now we rise
And we are everywhere.

How tragic for parents to have to choose an epitaph for their child’s grave marker.

The early-to-mid 1970s are sometimes thought of as a fallow period in the history of popular music. After all, the Beatles had released Abbey Road in 1969; but then, in 1970, the Beatles broke up. For some people, the world might as well have ended.

And, to that view, things later would only get worse. Much worse. I can easily imagine Karl Marx’s quipping, “Waiting for Godot is a tragedy; Waiting for Disco is a farce.”

One must admit that there was a lot of dopey or even borderline-toxic music released in the 1970s, even before the advent of Disco. Cases in point: “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero,” “Seasons in the Sun,” and “(You’re) Having My Baby”). But that can be said for almost every age. The 1970s were, in truth, a musically fertile and very diverse era.

I am indebted to Don and Jeff Breithaupt’s Precious and Few: Pop Music in the Early ‘70s for the startling, thought-provoking aperçu that for the five years from 1966 to 1970, all of the United States Top 100-chart No. 1 hits were accounted for by no more than 13 artists. That’s 260 weeks of charts! Whereas, over the next five years (1971 to 1976), the number of different artists with a No. 1 hit more than doubled.

The irony is that because of the “Shazam Effect,” the music business today has unprecedented information about what people like, and hastens to provide more of the same, and not anything that is too much different. Today’s 10 best-selling tracks have far more market share than did the Top 10 singles of 10 years ago; approximately 75% of the total revenue from sales of recorded music today goes to the top 1% of artists and bands. So the music scene of today more resembles the music scene of the mid-1960s, than that of the mid-1970s.

In the same month (January 1974) that Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark was released, these other artists also released LPs that charted: Bob Dylan, Blue Magic, Brian Eno, Foghat, Harmonia, Hot Tuna, Gordon Lightfoot, The Love Unlimited Orchestra, Graham Nash, Gram Parsons, Elvis Presley, Linda Ronstadt, Leo Sayer, Carly Simon, Grace Slick, Rod Stewart/Faces, Barbra Streisand, and Bobby Womack. And that’s only one month’s worth of new releases.

The early-to-mid 1970s saw the finest work of Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot, Marvin Gaye, Roberta Flack, Janis Ian, and (arguably, at least) Joni Mitchell. One of my favorite little vignettes from that era is that when he accepted his Grammy Award, Paul Simon thanked Stevie Wonder for not having released an album during the previous year. Other singers and bands, whose time had not quite yet come, such as Steely Dan, got their starts.

I have written about the historical, social, and cultural contexts of home audio before, so I will only briefly recapitulate my contentions; you can click through for more in-depth explanations:

The place of component audio in society from the 1950s through the 1980s was part of the vision of “the good life.” But component audio was also inextricably intertwined with then-prevailing social mores about dating, mating, and family formation. I think that back then, a lot of audio equipment was bought by young men who didn’t really care all that passionately about music or sound—it just kept them from having to answer an embarrassing question once they got the girl back to their apartment [or dorm room]: “Where is your hi-fi?”

There were many reasons for component audio to have had its Golden Age in the 1970s. The prime reason was that there was an unprecedented amount of great popular music being recorded. Also, popular music on vinyl LPs did not have much competition for peoples’ entertainment attention spans or dollars. Furthermore, the music being recorded was increasingly sophisticated in terms of audio fidelity and production technology. Finally, fans of the music were willing to spend serious money to enter into the experience provided by recorded music more deeply, by listening on pieces of equipment with greater capabilities.

So, into that time and place, and into that cacophony of competing Weltanschauungen, the JBL L100 fell like a thunderclap. The January 1972 issue of Playboy magazine included a last-minute holiday gift-shopping guide. That sounds a lot less like a goof if you are aware that traditionally, in magazine publishing, the “cover date” of a magazine issue is the date when a magazine should be pulled off the newsstand rack and sent back. So, the January 1972 issue of Playboy was delivered to homes in early December 1971, when there was still ample time to go shopping.

The 1971 price of the Century L100 “Bookshelf” (bookshelf—yeah, right) loudspeaker with Quadrex 2 grille was $546 the pair. That’s about $3500 in today’s dollars, but please keep in mind that the new model uses updated technology in drivers and crossovers. For comparison, in 1971, the original Advent loudspeaker was $224 the pair, but the Advent was a smaller and simpler design.

One might even assume that the person who planned this photo essay for Playboy did not even bother to listen to the L100s. First of all, by that time, JBL’s reputation (love them or not, JBL was the paragon of the “West Coast” hi-fi sound) was firmly established. Furthermore, there was nothing else on the market with such a visually arresting grille. Here’s today’s version:

Harman International

The L100 was a consumer version of JBL’s 4310 professional studio monitor. Both loudspeakers were three-way ported enclosures with 12-inch woofers. The first I saw an orange, cubed-foam grille on a loudspeaker was inside the gatefold album cover of James Taylor’s Mud Slide Slim LP. A liner-note photo showed one of the L100’s smaller siblings, the L82, that had been tied with a hefty manila rope to a wooden post at the desired listening height. One assumes that that was in a post-and-beam structure where some of the recording work had taken place. My younger self thought that that loudspeaker looked so cool. And later, in college, an acquaintance had a pair of the smaller L82s, complete with orange grilles. Those actually did fit into the dorm-room bookcase.

But an impressive bookcase indeed it would be, that could accommodate the L100’s dimensions of appx. 25 x 16 x 15 inches, and weight of almost 60 pounds each. With external dimensions of 25 x 16 x 15 inches, each L100 displaces approximately three and a half cubic feet(!!!). That is in the context of the equally classic BBC “two-cubic-foot” monitor, the BC1. So, the L100 is nearly twice as large as what was in the day considered a large loudspeaker. But bookshelf? Nyet, Tovarisch.

And, to get ahead of myself for a bit, were I to buy a pair of L100s, I would ask a custom furniture builder to build low, wide, deep one-shelf bookcases with small battens along the rear and side edges of the top, to keep the loudspeakers in place. The design height would be worked out so that the new L100’s titanium tweeter would be at the height of one’s ears, while seated in the listening position. This would also have the (perhaps only psychological) benefit of having the loudspeakers vertical. The optional metal stands ($300 the pair) were cool in their own way, but I always need more places to put magazines and books.

If the Audio Engineering Society (AES) ever gave out awards for “Iconic Industrial Design in Consumer Electronics,” the first one would have to go to the original JBL L100. Most people, at least most people of a certain age, remember the 1980s Maxell audio-casssette print and broadcast ad campaign featuring the “Blown-Away Guy.”

It’s still impressive today. I love the fact that somebody bothered to scare up a Le Corbusier “Grand Confort” club chair for the photo shoot. I wonder how they managed the Martini-glass special effect, in those pre-Scitex days. The mise-en-scene of the photo is so persuasive that 98% of the people probably never stopped too wonder, “Hey! Why is he listening to only one loudspeaker?” At least they bothered to dummy up some loudspeaker wires… this was before loudspeaker “cables.”

The Maxell “Blown-Away Guy” ad campaign is one of the most-frequently-parodied ad campaigns from its era. My favorite parody is cartoonist Charles Rodrigues’ Stereo Review captionless panel.

I love it that Rodrigues pictures his oldster wearing striped trousers, a cutaway coat, and waistcoat and tie, to listen to music in his own home. In a deep Chesterfield chair, rather than in a Le Corbusier. Somehow, I don’t think this old guy is grooving to Ornette Coleman’s then-latest LP… .

JBL’s publicists arranged to have a pair of the new L100 Classics delivered to me. The loudspeakers plus stands arrived via truck freight, on a pallet. I did manage to unbox them safely with no help; but, a second person would have made it easier. These are very heavy loudspeakers! Very solid, too. The only wood-veneer choice is Walnut. The famous grilles are available in Black, Blue, and Hot Pink. Erm, that was just to see if you were reading carefully. The third choice is (Burnt) Orange, but you probably already knew that.

I set the loudspeakers up as shown in the top photo, with my laptop streaming Qobuz to the optional DAC card in the Moonriver 404 integrated amplifier. BTW, the laptop screen in that photo shows an Amadeus Pro II waveform. The USB cable (from the laptop to the Moonriver 404’s optional DAC card) was from Wireworld, their Starlight 8 USB 2.0 (MSRP $100/1m). The loudspeaker cables were also from Wireworld, their Mini Eclipse 8 (MSRP $660/3m pr.). Wonderful stuff, and very fairly priced.

I did hit the L100 Classics a few times with the Ayre/Cardas Irrational, But Efficacious! sine-wave sweep, and the results were very gratifying. I got the idea that this pair was well-traveled (it apparently had been in Holland at one point) but perhaps it had not had much recent use. BTW, the L100 Classics are manufactured in Indonesia. After a few courses of the sine-wave sweep, the L100s sounded pretty darn good!

One would have to have a heart of stone not to indulge in a few hours of “Guilty Pleasure & Nostalgia” listening, once one has loudspeakers as dynamically capable as L100s set up in one’s listening room! (I exceeded 100 dBA on peaks, only a few times.)

In short order, I heard the entirety of Rumours, the entirety of the Doobie Brothers’ Minute by Minute, the entirety of Silk Degrees, Norah Jones’ “One Flight Down,” Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Say You Love Me,” Al Stewart’s (single) “Year of the Cat,” Toni “Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart,” Sade’s “Smooth Operator,” Jackson Browne’s (single) “Late for the Sky” and “Fountain of Sorrow,” and even (brace yourselves) A-ha’s “Take On Me,” and… Hanson’s “MMMBop.” Purely for research purposes, of course.

I enjoyed every minute of it! Miles of smiles. And lest anyone is sniffing that I am hopelessly trapped in the past, I listened to a lot of Tidal’s Vulfpeck playlist. If you don’t know them, Vulfpeck is a contemporary funk/jam-band who take their inspiration from the studio ensembles of the past, such as the Wrecking Crew, Muscle Shoals, and Booker T. and the MGs. Their recordings are so clean and sweet!

I then set about creating a Qobuz playlist of albums from the era when the L100 first-generation loudspeaker was new. I did not limit myself to songs that were released 1970 to 1978. My rationale was that in 1970, there were lots of albums from 1969 and earlier that were still getting listened to, a lot.

And, as previously mentioned, I was so knocked out by the L100s’ playback of Requiem for a Pink Moon that I put that in first position. There was just so much tactility to the sound. Here’s the first minute of Requiem for a Pink Moon, as I referred to far above:

1. Road (Nick Drake)

Other real sonic standouts were “One Flight Down,” “Fountain of Sorrow,” and “If You Could Read My Mind.”

I think that a lot of the credit for the tactility of the L100’s sound goes to its 5-inch pure-pulp midrange driver. There are pluses and minus on both sides of the 2-way vs. 3-way divide. Two-ways allow for a simpler or even a minimal crossover, but three-ways have a dedicated driver handling the band where most of the “intelligibility” of music lies. BTW, the L100 has Level controls for both Midrange and Tweeter. I usually left them in the factory settings, and I usually listened with the grilles off. I actually stood the grilles in front of the fireplace doors, intending to reduce early reflections off the glass.

I also must mention that similar to the midrange driver, the L100’s 12-inch woofer’s cone is made from pulp, rather than some kind of plastic or composite. I think that having woofer and midrange made from the same material can only help integration. And let me dwell for a moment on the significance of the woofer’s size.

While a 12-inch woofer has a diameter twice that of a six-inch woofer/mid, it is the comparison of the frontal areas that really tell the story, because it is the frontal area that provides the “push.” A six-inch woofer/mid has a frontal area of 28.26 square inches. But a 12-inch woofer has a frontal area of 113 square inches. The 12-inch woofer is four times as large, in frontal area. That’s why there’s really no comparison.

 

Here’s the playlist:

Requiem for a Pink Moon

Abbey Road
In the Court of the Crimson King
A Salty Dog
Unhalfbricking
What’s Going On
Moondance
Wrong End of the Rainbow
Abraxas
Sticky Fingers
Led Zeppelin IV
Mud Slide Slim
Home Free
Greetings from Asbury Park
Abandoned Luncheonette
Late for the Sky
Silk Degrees
Look to the Rainbow
Sleeping Gypsy
Minute by Minute
Endless Wire

Joel Fredericksen /
Ensemble Phoenix Munich
The Beatles
King Crimson
Procol Harum
Fairport Convention
Marvin Gaye
Van Morrison
Tom Rush
Santana
Rolling Stones
Led Zeppelin
James Taylor
Dan Fogelberg
Bruce Springsteen
Hall & Oates
Jackson Browne
Boz Scaggs
Al Jarreau
Michael Franks
The Doobie Brothers
Gordon Lightfoot
___
2012
1969
1969
1969
1969
1970
1970
1970
1970
1971
1971
1971
1972
1973
1973
1974
1976
1977
1977
1978
1978

(I know that the above list represents more than 15 hours of listening. Try listening to just one album a night, for about two and a half weeks.)

Some of these albums are indisputably household-name albums: examples being Abbey Road, Sticky Fingers, and Led Zeppelin IV. Others will be somewhat familiar, but perhaps a bit neglected today: In the Court of the Crimson King, Abraxas, A Salty Dog, and Mud Slide Slim are examples. But a few of the other albums might be known only to their diehard fans, so I want to point those out to you.

Fairport Convention was, in its day, a semi-successful, critics’-darling, folk-rock band. The fact that Led Zeppelin invited Fairport Convention vocalist Sandy Denny to sing a track on Led Zeppelin IV, I think, indicates the respect their peers held them in. That, and the fact that Unhalfbricking (supposedly the album name was a word made up in a word game) included several previously-unreleased Bob Dylan songs. Oh, and that their guitarist was Richard Thompson. Worth a listen, I’d say.

Tom Rush was an also-ran in the 1960s-1970s Singer-Songwriter Sweepstakes, but I think he had a better voice than James Taylor, and also that he had at least as much to offer as an interpreter. Wrong End of the Rainbow is perhaps his finest work.

The singer-songwriter phenomenon reached a high-water mark in the “Sensitive Male” Sub-Category with Dan Fogelberg’s début album Home Free. Fogelberg combines intelligent lyrics with rewardingly-acoustical production values, delicately tinkly pianos, and a nearly weightless falsetto voice… Home Free will either work for you, or it won’t. But before you give up on it, please listen to “The River.” There’s a lot of Neil Young in that song. After all, it was the early 1970s. Home Free was recorded in Nashville, which means it was one of the singer-songwriter albums recorded there in the wake of Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde.

Al Jarreau’s live-in-Europe Look to the Rainbow is that rarity, a true jazz-vocal album. Jarreau’s later success as a crossover/pop artist should not cause people to forget this album, which won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album. Jarreau’s tight little road band included Abraham Laboriel (he worked with Madonna, Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, and Stevie Wonder) on Autoharp. Well, actually; on electric bass, but you already knew that. Don’t miss this fabulous music and singing!

Sleeping Gypsy is the album Cole Porter would have made, if he had been young and in Los Angeles in the early 1970s. Somewhere in Heaven, I am sure that Cole Porter split his pants, when he heard Michael Franks’ Porteresque couplet

I hear from my ex—
On the backs of my checks.

In terms of both the session musicians and the general musical style there’s some degree of overlap between Sleeping Gypsy, and Court and Spark, and also Aja. So, if you like either or both of Court and Spark and Aja, you will probably also like Sleeping Gypsy.

Endless Wire was, in my opinion, both the album where Gordon Lightfoot “went electric,” and his last great album. Great songwriting, great singing, and great (Nashville Visits Canada) production values. If there is a more poignant “Divorce Song” than “If Children Had Wings,” I don’t want ever to hear it. And “The Circle is Small” is one of the best “Cheatin’ Songs” by a Canadian. (tee hee.)

So, John Marks: What do we tell the music lover who has $4000 to spend on a new pair of loudspeakers?

As I mentioned above, the JBL L100 Classic delivers amazing bass and dynamics for the money. But there are also tradeoffs when you offer 3.5-cubic-foot loudspeakers weighing 58 pounds each, for the same kind of money other companies charge for a pair of two-way monitors you could carry, one tucked under each arm. (But the advantage of such speakers is that almost any bookshelf can hold them!)

I found the L100s to be all of, listenable, musical, and (very) capable of creating emotional engagement. However, there’s no free lunch; and anyway, the L100 is not the most expensive high-end loudspeaker in JBL’s catalog, by far.

The areas where the L100 did not quite measure up to loudspeakers costing four or five times as much, will probably not surprise anyone. They lack the last degree of resolving power. Other, more expensive, loudspeakers are more coherent. Other, more expensive, loudspeakers create more well-defined individual images in a more dimensional soundstage.

But if you quickly look over the kinds of loudspeakers that do better in those areas, over and above costing a lot more money, and regardless whether the maker is Wilson Audio or Wilson Benesch or Vivid Audio, what those loudspeakers have in common is high-tech materials, radical enclosure design, and exotic-tech drivers.

No loudspeaker in that performance category today is based on a wooden box that was designed in 1969.

The fork in the road for the “L100-Curious” is whether the tradeoff works for them.

If you listen mostly late at night to harpsichord music, and in an apartment building where you have to “keep it down,” the L100’s strengths won’t do you much good.

However, if listening to classic rock on 6-inch two-ways makes you feel unfulfilled, then, by all means, arrange for an audition, or just order a pair.

For what the JBL L100 Classics are, I loved them. I am very sure they will make the right listener very happy.

Here’s JBL’s Dealer Finder. And, Music Direct in Chicago sells them online. Music Direct has a returns policy that I believe is generally regarded to be very fair.

To sum up: Highly Recommended

JBL L100 Classic Loudspeaker
Country of Origin: Indonesia
US MSRP: $4000

JBL (Harman International)
www.jblsynthesis.com
(888) 691-4171
Other contact information

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46 Replies to “JBL L100 Classic Loudspeaker”

  1. AvatargbKing

    Mr. Marks turned me on to Qobuz. It is what enabled me to get rid of Amazon completely. Often listen to his Hagerty Jazz Playlist.

    Reply
    • AvatarJohn Marks

      Thanks for reading, and please call me John!

      On Hagerty I also have up 12 recommended Female Vocal albums, split between two columns, and some of my choices are downright obscure.

      In the on-deck circle is a column on Piano music. After that, Part 1 of a two-parter on Guitar. After the second part of Guitar, a column on Singer-Songwriters.

      And if you want a Veritable Salmagundi of Singles, please go here: https://open.qobuz.com/playlist/4730138

      amb,

      john

      Reply
  2. AvatarCJinSD

    I have a pair of AR-2ax loudspeakers with disintegrated surrounds that I’m thinking of restoring. I also used to have a pair of Infinity SM100s that I really enjoyed in my 20s before inadvertently giving them away to someone who was supposed to sell them and split the proceeds with me.

    Your point about the significance of woofer surface area rings true with me. The NHT Model 2 towers that replaced the AR 2ax speakers around 1989 used 6.5 midranges and dual 6.5 woofers in segregated acoustic suspension chambers. They were remarkably high quality speakers, and provided great detail at moderate volume levels. They certainly weren’t the choice for the club-like volume levels that the 10-inch woofer, bass reflex SM100s excelled at providing. Later versions of the NHT Model 2 towers employed various combinations of 8-inch side firing woofers and bass-radiators IIRC.

    I’ve been thinking about a new sound system for my newish home, and I am not going to be spending B&W Nautilus money, sadly. I can’t help but to notice that the large diameter woofers we took for granted thirty years ago are pretty much ultra-luxury goods now. Is it because they don’t travel well from China? I’m no audiophile, but if I’m listening to music rather than merely tolerating it, I just assume the source not be an MP3 and the delivery favor accuracy over production. That isn’t going to happen with the speakers I’ve found in the price range once inhabited by the American made brands found in every 1990 college apartment. I see that NHT has gone back to the original Model 2 for their current $2,000/pair tower. They say that it doesn’t make sense to have big woofers if you’re going to supplement them with a subwoofer, which isn’t something I have any interest in doing. All your left with is the inefficiency of acoustic suspension and a speaker unsuitable for high volume levels.

    I won’t be buying the Indonesian JBLs. How much of the $4,000 is to cover the ones that will be damaged in transit? Probably at least a third of the cost structure. What are your thoughts on restored speakers? I have a friend who is repairing the voice coil on a dome tweeter. Will the end result of careful surround replacement sound anything like it should?

    Reply
    • AvatarDaniel J

      A few things here.

      Advances in mid – bass design allows speakers to get as low as some of the larger 8″ or even 10″ speakers of decades ago, especially when using multiples.

      Then we have home theater. It really takes a subwoofer to get into the sub 25hz range with some authority. Obviously for music this isn’t an issue. Most people use their system for both. This allows manufacturers to make tower speakers smaller. And to top it off, there is the WAF, and most wives don’t want huge honking loud speakers in their den or living room.

      Reply
    • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

      For what it’s worth, I once replaced the speaker surrounds on some smaller Advents and I thought they sounded fine after the repair.

      Reply
    • AvatarJohn Marks

      Hi.

      Sorry for the delay, I had to wrack my brains.

      Replacing surrounds can make a huge improvement. Problem is, there’s lots of other things that gravity or age have compromised. Do the surrounds (or have them done), and then assess.

      There are lots of reasons that main speakers have gotten smaller. If anyone wants to read my thoughts (for an industry audience) about how we got to where we are in audio today, the brief version is here:

      http://highfidelity.pl/@main-490&lang=en

      None of which changes the fact that affordable loudspeakers with large woofers are hard to come by.

      HOWEVER, I finally retrieved a memory, and tracked it down, and so, here, if you have some basic handyman skills, for $1254 a pair plus shipping, and crossover capacitor upgrades if you want them, is a traditional box loudspeaker KIT with a 10-inch woofer (cabinets included), from the highly-regarded OEM driver manufacturer SEAS.

      https://www.madisoundspeakerstore.com/2-way-speaker-kits/seas-a26-10-2-way-kit-pair-based-on-the-classic-a25/

      I have not heard them, but the customer reviews are ecstatic.

      I hope this helps.

      Best of luck,

      john

      Reply
  3. AvatarJohn C.

    This was a great read, John I am younger and my memory was that the hot loudspeaker to have in your 1980s dorm, bachelor pad were Bose direct reflecting speakers. I had bookshelf 201s in my dorm. If you have time, could you talk about gains or losses as the times and tech changed into the 80s, I don’t remember JBL still being a big player.

    Reply
  4. AvatarJohn Matthius

    You can search long and hard. . . . audition a zillion esoteric sound reproducers in a quest for the perfect loudspeaker for your budget & listening space. If you have the room in a single family dwelling where you can enjoy robust bass & occasionally thrilling volume levels, IMO you’ll not likely find a better all around music enthusiast loudspeaker than the L100. Just order ’em. Stop searching and enjoy your music.

    Reply
  5. AvatarSigivald

    The USB cable (from the laptop to the Moonriver 404’s optional DAC card) was from Wireworld, their Starlight 8 USB 2.0 (MSRP $100/1m).

    I would ask if you were fucking kidding us, but I know you’re not.

    Let me assure you, as someone both long-used to digital things, as an electronics guy, as a programmer, and as someone not new to the Audiophile Wars, that magic USB cables are purest bullshit ripoffs.

    Like, the only reason they’re better than “this magnet makes your car have better fuel economy” scam devices is that they are, at least, functional USB cables?

    Just, you know, two orders of magnitude more expensive than they need to be, for literally no detectable effect.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth

      Not to fall on one side or another of this debate, but a while ago I spent $50 on an audiophile USB cable, the “Forest” model, in the hopes that it would be more durable than the run-of-the-mill stuff.

      It was not.

      Micro-USB is the worst standard. It seems impossible to make a durable cable. And audiophile gear is chock full of it.

      Reply
    • Avatarsnorlax

      Yeah, as another programmer and electronics guy, I can confirm that any functional cable that carries a digital signal is as good as any other.

      It’s at least conceivably possible that the cables carrying an analog signal could make a difference (perhaps if the cable is very long and/or the signal is very high-bandwidth), but I doubt it.

      Reply
      • Avatarsnorlax

        Addendum: I would say that, if you’re an audiophile and thinking of spending $$$ on cables (whether they be digital or analog), that money would be far better invested in better speakers.

        Reply
    • AvatarJohn Marks

      Your flippant dismissal shows your ignorance.

      If you had the first clue about the history of the Sony/Philips system (which it is apparent that you do not), you would know that the reason that S/PDIF was the Last System Standing among all the contenders offering first-gen digital-audio systems was that it was a massive and very compromised KLUDGE.

      But those practical and engineering compromises are what made SPDIF a commercial possibility and a commercial success.

      Early digital audio was an ANALOG system resident on the installed base of 1960s-1970s Japanese ANALOG TV broadcast and recording machines, with their 1960s-1970s ANALOG technology. That’s the indisputable history.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U-matic#Digital_audio

      THE ANALOG BASIS OF DIGITAL AUDIO IS WHY the CD sampling rate was set at 44.1kHz!!!

      Because the system was based on the Sony 1630 U-Matic ANALOG Color TV ¾-inch ANALOG tape professional video cassette and recorder.

      Digital recording, being based on a color TV ANALOG videotape recorder, had to be compatible with video recorders made for both the PAL analog video standard and the NTSC analog video standard.

      44.1kHz can be divided both by the PAL scan rate and also by the NTSC scan rate. Early digital audio was stored as ANALOG B&W “snow” on ANALOG video tape.

      The CD is an ANALOG medium that is read by an ANALOG process. The output of a CD player’s laser sled is an ANALOG voltage in an analog waveform. The output of a CD transport is an ANALOG voltage in an analog waveform.

      To say that the transmission line in an SPDIF setup makes no difference as long as it conducts electricity is Magical Thinking.

      You must live in an imaginary world where there are infinitely perfect Square Waves, with infinitely fast rise times in which there is no gap in time between the Zero axis and +VMax; and where there are never any impedance mismatches anywhere in the 75-Ohm transmission line signal path for the SPDIF ANALOG VOLTAGES that are “deemed to be” and “treated as though they were” a digital data stream.

      The Fatal Flaw, the Achilles’ Heel of the digital process most everything that has ever been recorded in the Digital Era is that there is no separate Time Code or Word Clock in the SPDIF system.

      The Word Clock must be inferred or derived from those pesky non-perfect Non-Square Waves’ zero-crossing points.

      And when an impedance mismatch at the Receive end causes electrical energy to go back up the transmission line, if the reflections’ arrival time back at the send end is close to the launch of the next ANALOG waveform representing a new bit of voltage that represents a digital salami-slicing, then, the zero-crossing point, which is what the system depends on for time, can be displaced in time.

      Now, most such reflective errors are usually not grave enough to cause the receiver chip to lose its lock. But they can induce timing errors in the final analog output.

      To quote wiki:

      Many S/PDIF implementations cannot fully decouple the final signal from influence of the source or the interconnect.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S/PDIF#Limitations

      # # #

      If someone could design a 75-Ohm transmission line—not just the cable, the whole thing, from the sand in the output chip to the sand in the receiver chip, with Zero possibility of reflections or other time deformations, then perhaps the Achilles’ Heel would not make a difference, but it does.

      There’s a famous Aggie (Texas A&M) joke about the Engineering Final Examination that contained the helpful note,

      “For the purpose of this examination, you may assume the existence of Perfectly Spherical Cows.”

      That’s where you seem to be coming from.

      Whereas I live in the real world and I actually make and sell hi-tech Word Clock cables. So I know the ANALOG history of, and the limitations of digital audio.

      Reply
      • AvatarEric H

        An angry strawman argument is still a strawman argument.
        The topic here is USB cables. Does the cable carry the data and power sufficient to the spec? Everything else is up to the device. All USB devices must reclock the data as USB is a packetized transport.

        CD Is not an analog medium. Never has been, never will be. There is no information stored at continuously varying levels.
        You also have a fundamental misunderstanding of how the AGC is setup on the read head to optimize the eye pattern as well as the reclocking that goes on inside the decoding and error detection/recovery phases. The short answer is the source clock for the CD output is as good as the player’s clock circuitry.

        While SPDIF is far from a perfect system your arguments for technical deficiencies from 35 years ago that were solved 25 years ago to bolster selling overpriced cables is a bit disingenuous. Any modern SPDIF receiver has clock recovery to mid to low double digit picoseconds jitter, which is better than the needs of redbook CD.

        If you make cables with higher quality materials and connectors that don’t fall apart after a few dozen insertion/removal cycles, great! Just don’t try to spin some yarn about how magic cables make digital sound better.

        Reply
        • AvatarJohn Marks

          Nice to get a reply from someone whose knowledge base is relevant!

          USB cables are also subject to internal reflections, which is why the actual length of any digital cable is a major factor in its… characteristic sound.

          Many generic digital cables (SP or USB both) suffer from the problem of arbitrary lengths such as “.5m.” So, no surprise that they pretty much equally suffer from the timing of the reflections vs. the shape of the waveform of the analog pulse and its zero crossings. Once you solve the length problem (which is a function of the sampling frequency as much as anything else) you can then go on to internal/mechanical resonances and discontinuities from the fabrication process (soldering or crimping).

          BTW, I am aware of error correction. The more it has to get used, the worse the sound is. Period.

          Are you aware of my friend Ed Meitner’s famous experiment with a CD that was recorded with all “0”s, and then he put wagon-spoke pieces of electrical tape on the top side of the CD, played it, recorded the output, and then upon analysis he could see where the system went crazy as each spoke passed overhead? BTW, Ed invented the “very fast 1-bit” system that is the basis of DSD and the SACD. I always said, “If there are five geniuses in digital audio, at least three of them are Ed Meitner.” Not that I am comparing my trial and error futzing around with his amazing record of achievement.

          Most of my cable customers have dCS equipment and most have external atomic clocks. I have had only one customer ever return a cable during a trial period. Because he found a competing specialty cable he liked better.

          BTW, cryogenic processing makes a huge difference, just don’t have a heart attack. BTW2, Jack Baruth put up an A/B comparison of my admittedly analog electric-guitar cable, and I can hear the difference clearly on computer speakers playing a YouTube soundtrack. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNNPw1tWY_A&t=2s

          BTW3, at present, I do not offer a USB cable, and I have not even tried to design one. I have made and sold AES/EBU cables–another Kludged-up compromised expedient standard. But in my experiments I have never found an AES/EBU twisted pair cable that sounded as good as a true (as in Oliver Heaviside’s work circa 1880) coaxial SPDIF cable.

          ciao,

          jm

          Reply
          • AvatarEric H

            I’ve got no problem with well made cables. Not having to worry about a cable working properly is great.
            If a device has an external power supply and switching USB cables changes the sound, then the device is defective. Say what you will about reflections, they’re irrelevant on USB, either the cable meets spec and works or it doesn’t. There will be no change in the data on the CPU end between any functional cable.

            Cables for analog however can make a difference. When I originally got rid of my random collection of cheap RCA cables and replaced them with Kimber PBJs, my wife entered the room sometime later she and immediately asked what I changed because it sounded better.

            I’ve heard of Mr. Meitner, but I haven’t followed any high end stuff in a long time. The last time I built a DAC was with AnalogDevices AD1768 with an external oversampling filter chip. Back then I much preferred multibit DACs over one bit oversampled stuff. There’s no point anymore trying to build your own gear because no one will sell you the surround decoder chips without proof of the appropriate licenses.

            At least the discrete amps I built still sound great.

          • AvatarDaniel J

            I think the issue here is that USB audio uses the Isochronous transfer mode of USB, unlike typical Bulk transfers that can issue a retry if the the CRC is incorrect.

            I’ve used this mode to transfer real time video (wrote a driver) for h.264 at 5Mbits/s. With short USB decent quality cables, we had very little CRC errors. Longer cables (6feet) we did. We were feeding a computer, as the computer would then decode the h.264. We were already dealing with compressed video, so fixing a flipped bit is no big deal, since the nature of compressed video is already doing some interpolation.

            I can see where putting PCM audio into a USB Isochronous packet could be problematic with longer or cheap cables.

            Honestly, I’m surprised that more laptops/computers haven’t come out with some sort of optical out. Yes, there are limitations, but the signal can go much farther without electrical interference.

        • AvatarBen Johnson

          I understand where you’re coming from – In my world digital is digital and it either works or it doesn’t.

          However in the context of a multi thousand dollar setup – John’s cables do provide value for money in that one would never have to worry about them ever being the weakest link. I’ve seen a close up of one of his BNC cables and it seems very well made . I don’t subscribe to his reasoning, but getting it to sound correct is important to him and subsequently the product is there because he ears and brain have validated the design.

          Reply
          • AvatarJohn Marks

            Thank you.

            I have done dealer events and audio club meetings and demonstrated SPDIF cables in good systems, and everyone who has spoken up said they heard differences. They also say they can hear the difference between a gold CD and an aluminum CD pressed from the same stamper.

            Which of course is contrary to the conventional wisdom, which to me at least seems to be based on Perfectly Symmetrical Spherical Cows.

            I.e., if there is any difference between the “read” of the gold CD and the aluminum CD, the Magical Error Correction should iron that out right quick! Except, when I did that demo at home for the visiting John Atkinson, E-I-C of Stereophile magazine, he looked very uncomfortable, and muttered, “I don’t want to live in a universe where that makes a difference.”

            But he was big enough to admit that he heard that the ambience in the recording was more realistically “glued into the soundstage.” Of course, we were listening to a purist 2-microphone stereo recording of a solo violin, which had been mastered for me by Bob Ludwig.

            BTW, the demo systems that dealers use for such events usually have loudspeakers in the $40,000 to $50,000 range, and expensive digital setups all the way up to the complete dCS four-box stack, which last I looked had an MSRP of $114,900. I also worked on a $1 million+ sound playback room project.

            Which sounds like a lot of money, but in really big motor yachts, you can’t get anything for a mere $1 million.

          • AvatarEric H

            There’s a significant difference in the reflectivity and opacity of gold and aluminum at the wavelengths CD players use and the thicknesses of the coating inside the disc.
            Depending on how much gain the ACG circuit has it is possible that the detector was saturated by the higher reflectivity of gold and hit the error correction harder, but that’s grasping at straws.
            Last time I looked at this stuff even high end CD reader/players used chaep off the shelf transport modules because trying to design one for yourself is an expensive folly. All the audio related stuff was handled by whatever philosophy the designer wanted but the ubiquitous #10 made in China transport was everywhere.

        • Avataryossarian

          in the professional broadcast world which is where i work, things like usb cables are not used to send digital video or audio signals. cable isn’t very fancy, just expensive spools of stuff that is crimped and cut to length and tested for continuity on site. audio and video signals are almost always sent over separate cables from sync or clock signals. the main problem we have with cables is people messing with them!

          Reply
          • AvatarDaniel J

            I used to work in this field myself, and for us Audio was AES3. This is was either balanced (XLR) or unbalanced (BNC). The later stuff we worked on was all fiber optic.

  6. Avatarhank chinaski

    Perfect follow up to 2K used sneakers piece and it even rhymes.

    I fell into the component speaker sub/sat hype (not Bose) back in the nineties but they still serve my decidedly mid-fi ears well enough.

    ‘Year of the Cat’ got all the airplay, but ‘The Road to Moscow’ is his hidden gem.

    Reply
    • AvatarTony LaHood

      I never liked the JBL sound…that characteristic midrange peak made the sound a bit nasal in my opinion (nonetheless, I’d kill for a Paragon). Then again, I also thought the Bose 901 was a lousy speaker, so what do I know? I digress. The only reason I remember an old and otherwise forgettable VW spot is that it featured Pink Moon. Captivating. The only other automotive spot that impacted me more is Volvo’s “Survivors”, which is my idea of advertising perfection.

      Niick Drake, Gram Parsons, Tim Buckley — why do we lose the good ones so soon? Thanks for a wonderfully entertaining read, John. I always look forward to your posts.

      Reply
      • AvatarEric H

        I agree with your take on JBL and Bose sound.

        I ended up with a set of Dunlavy SC-II and a pair of custom subs I built to match. They just sound “right”.

        Reply
      • AvatarJohn Marks

        Hi, Thanks for the kind word.

        If you love Nick Drake, please listen to all of Requiem for a Pink Moon.

        BTW, I don’t think 40-year old memories of the original L100 are really relevant to the new loudspeaker, which has some degree of adjustment in midrange and treble.

        john

        Reply
  7. AvatarRick T.

    I had moderately priced Altec Lansing speakers with 2 ten inch woofers in the 70’s. They got the job done with the music I listened to at the time, Edgar Winters Frankenstein, Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, etc. Now not so much.

    I was lucky to have briefly worked at Beatrice Foods HQ and was able to buy some high-end Harman Kardon electronic components at extremely reasonable prices when I was visiting for a project. Still have them somewhere. The amplifier – basically a black box with a power switch – could be repurposed at a boat anchor.

    Remember that time in New York fondly, not the least because it was the place where I had one of the two Baruthian experiences of my life.

    Reply
  8. Avataract

    Great review, thanks John. The L100 is high on my list of possible replacements for the Aerial Acoustics LR5s I’ve had for 15 years. Do you have any experience or thoughts on the JBL 4367, or any of their newer waveguide designs?

    Reply
    • AvatarJohn Marks

      Thanks.

      The LR5s will be a hard act to follow. Seriously.

      Sorry I don’t have any other recent JBL experience. If you leave any comment at all on my own blog The Tannhäuser Gate, I can reply by email and just delete the comment. That applies to all others of good intent. I might have some suggestions to make but I don’t want to clutter Jack’s site with meta-discussions.

      jm

      Reply
  9. AvatarRonnie Schreiber

    Does Harman want us to believe that they can’t turn a profit on a $4000/pr speaker system made in the United States?

    Reply
    • AvatarJohn Marks

      It obviously not my place to speak for Harman.

      Not to get into a meta-discussion, but, I am an amateur loudspeaker designer, and I work with a pro. If a loudspeaker is to cost $4000 retail, and you are selling it through retail stores and not onesie-twosie to friends, the limit on what you can pay for parts and labor, down to the shipping boxes, the owner’s manual and the warranty cards, is $800 max.

      MDF sucks, but, ApplePlay is what, $200 for a 4 x 8 sheet. You can get a 6″ woofer for $20 and a dome tweeter for $21… but in a world where there are 7-inch woofer-mids at $700 each, and lots of nice tweeters at over $300 each… it’s hard to get the market excited about a Made In USA speaker that is hampered by cheap drivers. I co-designed an amazing standmounted 2-way, but to make it by hand in the US with no economies of scale, it would have to cost $4000 to $5000 retail in a stereo store.

      Dunno why the L100 is made in Indonesia, but, perhaps it’s because of the Walnut. I had someone build me a garden shed ramp out of Brazilian Walnut (obtained legally), and the cost of the wood for a garden shed ramp was $400.

      Reply
  10. Avatarsiv

    I didn’t realize 3-way speakers with 12″ woofers are now classed as “bookshelf” speakers. They’re going to be a tight fit even on the elephant folio shelf.

    Reply
    • AvatarJohn Marks

      I did mention that a couple of times in my review.

      My GF has a PhD in Musicology, but her day job is running an Ivy League Music Library, so thanks for the Elephant Folio reference.

      ciao,

      john

      Reply
  11. Avatargalactagog

    what, all this talk of hi fidelity, 1970’s music, audiophile albums, and no mention of Pink Floyd?

    shame on you

    good article though. I am also a JBL fan. Nice to see these getting reissued, kind of like the Klipsch Cornwall was too. I wonder if Cornwalls were what that coffee shop was using?

    I would like to get 4 of those L100’s and set them up for quad

    Reply
    • AvatarJohn Marks

      Yeah, sorry, and I left off the Who, as well!!!

      And, as alluded to above, Al Stewart.

      Delaney & Bonnie, too. And that friend of theirs!

      The coffee house speakers could have been Cornwalls.

      Thanks for your kind words.

      I had a friend (probably well-known to this crowd, IIRC a former boss of Jack Baruth’s), who told me earnestly that he refused to listen to any music recorded after the death of Lowell George (of Little Feat). Which I do not agree with. Similarly, I think that the breakup of the Beatles was not the end of music.

      BTW, I am tickled pink by the 1970s vibe of Vulfpeck, a band Jack introduced us to.

      jm

      Reply
      • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

        John,

        Has there been a better *live rock album released since Waiting For Columbus? That may be the only album I have in LP, CD, and SACD formats.

        *Yes, I know Lowell George did some overdubs. Garcia overdubbed parts of Europe ’72 as well.

        Reply
      • Avataryossarian

        said friend who stopped listening to music recently told me that he just purchased a pair of magnepans.

        Reply
  12. Avataryossarian

    the recent deification of classic jbl’s (and it’s not just here, andrew robinson gushes over these things) surprises me. i spent thousands of hours listening to 4310s in the 80s. these things were standard in every video online room and audio house in nyc. heck, my roommate in college had a pair of l100s in our living room. i always liked them but they are monitors and as such aren’t very exciting. they excel at linear response and even dispersion. you can edit or mix five feet from them and a room full of clients 15 feet from them hear the same thing that you hear. most people don’t want accuracy at home, they want excitement. that’s why kilpsch speakers are such in demand. i do miss the era of 12″ woofers. today’s 5″ bookshelf woofers have to work overtime to deliver what the jbls do effortlessly. it’s kind of like a turbo 4 vs a naturally aspirated v8. there is no replacement for displacement.

    Reply
  13. Avatarjc

    Yep, no replacement for pure air-moving size.

    I despise the current fad of earth shattering bass and burned-crisp highs and little else, plus all the microphones apparently set 0.001″ from the instrument. When I go to an actual musical performance I don’t stick my one ear half an inch from the acoustic guitarist’s picking hand and the other one inside the kick drum, and I don’t like my recordings to sound like that either.

    My modestly priced speakers from the 80s that are about three feet high (retail price in today’s dollars would probably be something like $500 the pair) sound tremendously better for the actual reproduction of music, than multi thousand dollar speakers 9″ high that were designed yesterday and are all highs and weird overboosted lows with the unnecessary subwoofer rumble coming from under the couch.

    Not interested in thumpy video game sound. Also hate the current fad in movie theaters of subwoofer and sub sub woofer and sub sub sub woofer obsession with everything dialed up to 130 dBA. I have to wear ear plugs for the freaking Jane Austen movie. So I don’t want that crap when I watch a movie at home, either. “Home theater” that sounded like a REAL movie theater circa 1970 would be cool, but for most installations it’s just a way to have MORE SUBWOOFER ALL THE TIME. Yuck.

    Reply
    • AvatarDaniel J

      Part of the loudness / subwoofer aspect is the whole THX certification.

      Of course the other issue is that movies are mixed a certain way for a certain application, and all theaters are different.

      For home theater stuff, the wierd overboosted boosted lows is part of poor room setup, poor receiver/amp setup, and in many cases, the source is poorly mixed. I have a modest subwoofer for my medium sized room and it blends perfectly with the other speakers for music. It can also shake the house for explosions.

      Reply
  14. AvatarGuns and Coffee

    Dad is still running JBLs from the late 70’s. Probably a lesser model featuring a metal egg carton style grill. I’m running my Grandfather’s JBLs that probably date to the 60’s that are enclosed in what I suspect might be homemade / shopmade mahogany cabinets, but the swill I consume for music and the echo chamber they live in does not care. The irony of the musical argument I would have with my long dead grandfather as I play my swill over his speakers as a form of connection to the man is not lost on me.

    Bose and engineered sound may have killed speakers as furniture, but “better” sound in a smaller package doesn’t make them “better.”

    Reply
  15. AvatarDino

    Coming in late on this. I came of age in the ’60s and was very into hifi in the 70’s I had albums of everybody including many bootlegs which were popular back then. A friend of mine bought the L100s and when I heard them, I went out and bought a pair with the blue grills for just under $500. I lost the hifi equipment and all the albums in a basement flood years later.

    Reply

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