JBL 250Ti loudspeaker An Opposing View

Sidebar 1: An Opposing View

J. Gordon Holt's review puts me in a bit of a quandary: I agree with many of his general observations, but not with his description of the speaker under review. I also don't like the sloping highs inherent in the "Boston sound." I have never liked any of the Boston Acoustics speakers, and have long felt that the Allisons and most ARs lack upper octave energy, life, and excitement. While Polk is a distinctly "South Boston" manufacturer, I have generally been disappointed in their highs as well.

This kind of upper octave response may suit the Hafler or Japanese mid-fi transistor electronics with which such speakers are most likely to be used. They may also meet a legitimate need, since most Far-Eastern manufacturers seem to cut corners to keep prices low and retain their market shares, and their upper octaves have recently grown harder and more unpleasant. It is nevertheless hard to take most of these speakers seriously as statements of what can be done to reproduce music with good high-end electronics and front ends.

I'd even argue that the "Boston sound"'s defects go far beyond its high frequencies (footnote 4). One has only to compare Richard Vandersteen's designs to those of Jim Thiel to realize that speakers with major differences in apparent upper octave energy can sound extremely natural and musical. Vandersteen's designs are distinctly softer in the upper octaves than Thiel's, but both are extremely natural and musical.

Yet, having agreed with Gordon on the "Boston sound," I simply cannot square my auditions of the JBL 250Tis with Gordon's review. I agree completely with his comments on the bass, and possibly with his remarks on the top octaves. Like Gordon, I set the level of the top tweeter down, although I opted for –2 rather than –1. Unlike Gordon, I set the mid-tweeter down –1. The result was what I regard as a pleasantly flat speaker with good midrange life and dynamics. I grant that the JBL 250Ti's did not then have a great deal of midrange "sock," but they sounded quite natural in overall timbre and dynamics. Quite frankly, I don't like exaggerated presence, and I insist that midrange timbre and dynamics be coherent with the bass and treble.

I concede that, even with my crossover settings, the 250Tis did not give me the smooth blend, coherent timbre, and "life" of the Thiels, the best Infinities, and the Vandersteens. My general impression is that work is still needed on the 250Ti's crossover design and/or driver integration. Nevertheless, I feel the 250Tis' exceptional dynamics, outstanding radiation characteristics, and ability to float an image make up for their comparatively limited weaknesses.

Further, my criticisms focus on minor irregularities in the areas where the drivers cross over, and minor bumps in midrange frequency response. I'm scarcely making the kind of killer criticism you see above. Admittedly, I'd greatly prefer a pair of Infinity RS-1bs to the JBL 250Ti's, but the Infinities are a much more expensive speaker.

Part of the difference between our reviews may be my preference for moving-coil cartridges, which add more apparent life in the midrange. Part of it may be the differences in our listening rooms, and much of it may be a fairly serious difference over power amplifiers. Gordon likes the Eagle 2; I, in the fairly limited auditions I've given it, do not. Like the Belles designs, it produces a slightly dry and reticent midrange, and live but slightly hard highs. The JBL 250Ti does much better with Audio Research or Conrad Johnson tube electronics than with this kind of transistor amplifier, and I would prefer the PS Audio and Adcom amplifiers to the Eagle precisely for what I regard as their more natural midrange dynamics.

I would suggest, therefore, that you approach the JBL 250Ti's with tolerance and an open mind. No speaker, no matter how expensive, is without serious flaws in its ability to perfectly reproduce the sound of live music. My experience with large, complex speaker systems indicates that they require a great deal of trial with different amplifiers and cartridges. For example, the Infinity IRS-1bs, Apogee Duettas, and Quad ESL-63s are all extremely sensitive to electronics, sounding bad to mediocre with the wrong amplifiers.

I cannot call the JBL 250Tis a bargain at $3400/pair, but, with the proper drive and crossover settings, I believe them to be competitive.—Anthony H. Cordesman

Footnote 1: Much of that harshness has since been proven to have been the fault of early power amplifiers. Some of those old studio monitors sound remarkably good with modern high-performance power amps.—J. Gordon Holt

Footnote 2: It has been argued that the only way to hear a recording the way it was "supposed" to sound is to listen through the same kind of loudspeakers used to monitor the recording session. The audiophile has greeted this proposal with his usual blithe disregard for common sense.—J. Gordon Holt

Footnote 3: Some researchers have concluded that most self-inflicted hearing damage from excessively loud music at home is done while the victim is flying blind on drugs or booze. Stupefaction suppresses caution and dulls the awareness of high volume, and fatigue eventually causes the ear's sensitivity-control muscles to give up, losing their ability to protect the cochlear nerves.—J. Gordon Holt

Footnote 4: It should be pointed out here that JGH's big problems with "Boston bland" stem from their polite midrange rather than their reticent top end.—Larry Archibald

JBL Consumer Products
1718 W. Mishawaka Road
Elkhart, IN 46517
(516) 594-0300
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