JBL S38 loudspeaker Letter
The JBL heritage
Editor: I was very pleasantly surprised to find the review of the JBL S38 in the June 2001 Stereophile. I can't help but think that this brand has been unfairly written off as "mid-fi" for the past two decades. In fact, Lansing speakers defined the High End as early as 1930s and JBL has never left that market. James B Lansing's Iconic of 1937 was the laboratory reference standard for loudspeakers at CBS, NBC, and UCLA, and was recognized as the finest speaker available for home use. The 1950s saw the JBL Hartsfield crowned as "the ultimate dream speaker" by Life magazine and the later Paragon continues to find a cult following with collectors willing to pay up to $20,000 on the current auction market.
There is no question that into the 1970s JBL was known for a distinctive sound that was not necessarily accurate. (They were arguably unequalled in dynamics and ultimate output.) This was largely related to the empirical design methods used by most speaker manufacturers of the day. However, from the late '70s on, JBL moved firmly into the realm of science and technology in speaker design. Long before the significant, recent contributions of Floyd Toole, people such as Greg Timbers, John Eargle, and Mark Gander applied state-of-the-art techniques to speaker design and manufacture and this resulted in products that can hold their own against any high-end speaker of their time.
For example, the L212, L250ti, and XPL200 are benchmark speakers that make apologies to no one in detail, accuracy and dynamic response.
While your magazine is rediscovering the brand, I think it is worth pointing out that JBL never left the High End. Statement speakers such as the Everest and K2-S9500 were produced through the '80s and '90s, and found acclaim and market acceptance overseas even with prices exceeding $40,000/pair. JBL's current domestic high-end offering is the $7,000/pair Ti10K speaker and I sincerely hope to see a review of that system grace your pages.
By the way, as a minor correction of Robert Reina's review, the L100 was never JBL's flagship speaker. In fact, it was their very successful mass-market speaker of the 1970s. At that time, JBL's High End was represented by such systems as the L300, Sovereign, and top-of-the-line Paragon.—Don McRitchie, Webmaster, Lansing Heritage, firstname.lastname@example.org.