JBL Studio L880 loudspeaker Page 2

The L880 was a great rock speaker, and not just because it could blast and slam with great abandon—which it could—but also because its reproductions of the timbres of electric and electronic instruments were as convincing as I've heard from an affordable speaker. On Mighty Sam McClain's Give It Up to Love (CD, JVC JVCXR 0012-2), I was fixating on Bruce Katz's stunning Hammond B-3 tonewheel sound, following each growly dynamic nuance executed by his hands, feet, and by manipulation of the drawbars.

If you want to crank this baby, it will party. I make it a point never to listen to Courtney Love at less than 100dB, and on Hole's Celebrity Skin (CD, Geffen DGCD-25631), the coherent rhythms had me twitching across the room. On this track, the L880s' slightly warm midbass gave the tune a greater sense of drive.

The L880's highs were natural and extended, but not as resolving or as delicate as those of other speakers I've heard. I'm not saying there was a coloration or a harshness—all high frequencies were quite natural—but that other speakers seem to reveal more information in this area. Nevertheless, Don Fiorino's SG Standard guitar on the Tertiary Trio's Title Goes Here (CD, Rent Control RCRCD009) had a sparkly presence, particularly in the upper register, but never sounded too etched or muddy. The solo-violin passages in Chesky's Violin Concerto were extended and delicate if not completely refined.

On balance, I think I enjoyed the JBL L880 even more as a classical-music speaker. It was capable of throwing a wide, deep soundstage with well-recorded works and, although I felt the speaker didn't resolve a tremendous amount of inner detail in the midrange and low frequencies, it was able to retrieve an uncanny amount of ambience and hall sound from classical recordings. This may seem a bit of a paradox, but I enjoyed it anyway. Antal Dorati and the London Symphony's recording of Stravinsky's The Firebird (CD, Mercury Living Presence/Classic SR 90226), George Crumb's Quest (CD, Bridge 9069), and the Chesky concerto brought me a sense of involvement with the music that was more than I normally expect from a speaker at this price.

I had listened to many of the recordings mentioned when I reviewed the JBL S38 back in 2001, and my recollections of how they sounded through that speaker lead me to conclude that the L880 is, overall, a more neutral and delicate reproducer of music.

I compared the JBL L880 ($1400/pair) to the Nola Mini ($650/pair), the Amphion Helium2 ($1000/pair), and the Monitor Silver RS6 ($1000/pair).

The Nola Mini had a similarly gorgeous and silky midrange, with more inner detail, and highs that were more delicate and extended. The Mini's low-level dynamic resolution was superior to the JBL's, but the JBL's high-level dynamics and bass extension were better.

The Amphion Helium2 had even more midrange detail and low-level dynamic resolution, as well as more delicate highs, but its bass extension was significantly inferior to the JBL's.

The Monitor Silver RS6 had more natural midbass than the JBL, and its deep bass was excellent, if not quite as extended as the JBL's. The Silver RS6's highs were more sophisticated and extended than the L880's, with superior detail, and its high-level dynamics were on a par with the JBL's.

The Goodbye
The end of my time with the L880 was difficult. Although I've reviewed many affordable speakers I've fallen in love with, I was very reluctant to send the L880s back to JBL. I'd fallen in love with the L880 as a home-theater speaker.

With every film or TV show I heard through the JBLs, I achieved levels of enjoyment and involvement I'd never before felt with an affordable speaker. First, the L880's midrange made dialog and soundtracks quite captivating. Its bass extension and dynamic capabilities added a sense of drama that was intoxicating and, at times, shocking. Several times I tried to nap on the couch while my kids watched The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but was awakened by blasts from the soundtrack. And, let's face it, do you really want the most revealing high-frequency speaker in a home-theater setup? Just listen to a few of those Pokémon DVDs (note to the childless: mediocre music with exaggerated highs poorly recorded) and you'll appreciate the benefits of a speaker such as the JBL L880 for home theater.

I am a devotee of two-channel home-theater sound. First, I believe that if you have a speaker with good horizontal dispersion (such as the L880), you don't need a center channel. Second, if you have a speaker capable of realistic bottom-octave bass reproduction (such as the L880), who needs a subwoofer? Finally, if you watch as many independent films as my wife and I do, you may find you don't need the rear channel, as many such films contain little or no information in those channels. (It's likely that some of the smaller models in JBL's Studio L series may be good choices for rear-channel duties in a system based on the L880s.)

JBL's Studio L880 is a superb performer with many strengths and few limitations. In the areas of low-bass extension and high-level dynamic realism, it may set new benchmarks for its price. (To achieve this level of realism, of course, it's essential that the associated equipment be capable of the same level of dynamic swing and low-bass definition.) In any event, the JBL L880 is an extraordinary value as a reproducer of a broad range of music big and small, and an absolutely dynamite home-theater speaker. Congratulations to the JBL design team for having brought a speaker of this quality to the masses.

JBL Consumer Products
250 Crossways Park Drive
Woodbury, NY 11797
(516) 255-4525