JBL L82 Traditional assessment: These retro audio system supply trendy acoustics
It’s been practically a yr since I reviewed the JBL L100 Classic, a reimagining of one of the well-known audio system of many years previous. It rapidly turned considered one of my favourite audio system.
With the smaller (however not actually not small) L82 Classic, JBL has outdone itself once more, at the very least within the reviewer’s eyes. At $2,500, it is without doubt one of the most satisfying audio system to grace my condo — one that appears good, sounds nice, and has the measured efficiency to again it up.
The retro look — a boxy wood design with an enormous woofer — is more likely to be divisive, however I really like how completely different it appears from virtually anything in the marketplace. It’s a press release piece, and it matches the Brooklyn hipster-ish vibe of my condo properly, although I do want the speaker got here in lighter tones; I believe a end in white with lighter wooden wrap might higher match many varieties of recent decor.
As with the L100 Traditional, the L82 will be ordered with the road’s iconic waffle-iron-looking grille in black, blue, or orange. I’d’ve opted for the blue, personally, however the black unit I reviewed is a impartial possibility that ought to work in many individuals’s houses. I simply want the grilles used magnets as an alternative of annoying friction-based pegs. Not every little thing must be retro.
JBL does make customized stands for the L82 at $250 a pair, which sit slightly decrease and angle the unit up barely. However in contrast to the L100 Traditional, for which I believed the customized stands had been needed, the L82 can simply about match on a typical bookshelf speaker stand with out wanting ridiculous.
In any case, you’ll wish to set them on a sturdy floor, because the L82 is available in at a hefty 28 lb per speaker, what with its giant, boxy design and 8-inch woofers. Not like the L100 Traditional, the L82 is a 2-way design with only a woofer and a tweeter. This will typically create issues for integration because of the giant distinction in dimension between the items, however as we’ll see later, the tweeter’s waveguide and talent to increase decrease than standard, guarantee a easy transition between the lows and highs.
Earlier than we get to the sound, it’s price noting that the L82 has a customizable sound profile — one thing uncommon to seek out in a passive pair of audio system (as in, one which requires exterior amplifiers and doesn’t function digital sign processing).
That is due to a high-frequency knob which provides you positive management over the speaker’s higher frequency response. The knob covers a large portion of the frequency vary, and due to this fact can successfully change the speaker’s sound quite dramatically. Too vivid? Flip the knob down. Too darkish? Flip it up!
I want extra audio system would come with bodily controls like this. Although you may all the time EQ the sound manually by way of an AVR or different machine, typically only a slight change within the tilt of the frequency response is the distinction between a speaker sounding ‘good’ and ‘great’ in your house.
One other means the L82 allow you to tweak sound is in the way you place the audio system. Not like the L100 Traditional, which had an asymmetrical format wherein the tweeter was all the time on the identical facet of the physique, the L82’s tweeters are mirrored.
This implies you may regulate the soundstage of the speaker to a notable diploma relying on which speaker you select as your left and proper items. You possibly can have the tweeters on the within edge for a barely extra targeted, barely extra compressed soundstage, or on the surface edges for a barely extra expansive however diffuse soundstage.
JBL doesn’t present a selected advice within the L82’s handbook, however Chris Hagen, the L82’s designer, advised me:
“In setups the place the audio system are broadly spaced in comparison with listening distance, the audio system needs to be positioned in order that the tweeters can be inboard, or nearer to one another. This could even be the case if each audio system are inside, however subsequent to, reflecting surfaces (such because the partitions, or giant items of furnishings).
If the audio system are positioned nearer collectively than the listening distance and there aren’t any reflecting surfaces simply outboard of them, then it’s endorsed to position the audio system in order that the tweeters are outboard, or furthest away from one another.”
I most popular the outboard place. Although the speaker sounded good with each setups, the distinction in spatial presentation was fairly apparent in my dwelling, with the outboard place yielding a extra expansive soundstage, even when I attempted transferring the speaker to compensate for the distinction in tweeter place. Your mileage might fluctuate.
I’ve to confess, I used to be slightly nervous going into this assessment. The L100 Traditional is considered one of my all-time favorites, and I didn’t know if the L82 would be capable of recapture that feeling. In any case, I’ve listened to some wonderful audio system since then.
My worries had been misguided. The L82 are great.
Just like the L100, there have been three issues that stood out to me specifically: First, a improbable, expansive soundstage. Second, an overarching sense of neutrality regardless of the retro appears. And three, a toe-tapping sense of dynamics one hardly ever finds in bookshelf audio system.
Though impressions of soundstage will fluctuate from room to room, the L82 managed to throw a picture that appeared to increase properly past the sides of the audio system — each horizontally and vertically. The sense of scale is spectacular; on albums for operas and musicals like the wonderful Hadestown, the L82 make it straightforward to think about singers occupying a bodily stage in entrance of you quite than being replicated from a pair of bins.
The L82 shares a tweeter and a shallow waveguide with the L100 Traditional that’s designed to throw out a large soundstage quite than the deep waveguides or horns that are likely to slender the soundstage on some trendy audio system. The Buchardt A500, for instance, has a barely extra targeted soundstage than the L82 as positioned, however I most popular the L82’s sheer sense of scale in direct comparisons.
By way of tonality, it’s straightforward to imagine the L82 would have a ‘retro’ sound because of the appears — one would possibly anticipate exaggerated bass, scorching highs, or different apparent coloration to provide it some sort of particular attraction. However no — these are audio system impartial sufficient I’d be completely satisfied to make use of them as studio displays.
That’s to not say they’re utterly devoid of character. The audio system did have only a little bit of a midbass emphasis that give kick drums some additional oomph — a ‘flaw’ I don’t thoughts. Although bass amount can fluctuate relying on your house and placement, the L82 attain low sufficient that almost all customers in all probability don’t want a subwoofer (though I all the time suggest one).
That is very true when you largely take heed to acoustic music, however even on Beyonce’s ‘Partition,’ a observe that begins with a frequency sweep that feels like a subwoofer check, the L82 manages to current all however the deepest sub-bass. You must get helpful vitality into the 30 Hz area in-room.
On the treble entrance, the default ‘0’ knob setting might have only a tad extra ‘sparkle’ than impartial when you intention the audio system proper at your listening place, however as I most popular them with just a bit little bit of toe-in, I discovered the default stability largely applicable.
In any case, these are comparatively delicate traits that may be tweaked by knobs and positioning; the prevailing impression is considered one of transparency. Vocals shine specifically, to my recollection having a extra impartial tonality out of the field than maybe any speaker I’ve heard because the Dutch & Dutch 8C.
Lastly, ‘there’s no substitute for displacement,’ because the saying goes; on this case, which means the 8-inch woofer gives comparatively easy dynamics in comparison with the standard 5 and 6-inch woofers in your common bookshelf speaker. Although I are likely to pay attention at don’t-annoy-my-neighbors volumes, I received the distinct impression the L82 was capable of hit dynamic peaks extra cleanly than most audio system meant to be mounted on a stand. After I did threat an aggravated knock on my door, the L82 managed to get as loud as my ears might deal with with none audible distortion.
I virtually all the time define my listening notes earlier than taking measurements, as I attempt to not let the information colour my subjective ideas an excessive amount of. I additionally prefer to suppose I can puzzle out a lot of the qualities of a speaker by way of listening alone.
Generally I’m a bit off from the mark, however this doesn’t appear to be considered one of them. I famous the L82’s prevailing traits are neutrality with an expansive, correct soundstage, and that is evident within the measurements.
Some background: Utilizing a technique that permits me to scale back the affect of reflections from my measurements, I can approximate the speaker‘s “true” sound as it might be measured in an anechoic chamber. We start with a graph known as a ‘spinorama,’ so-called as a result of it entails rotating the speaker round its horizontal and vertical axes to seize its sound at 70 completely different angles. Sure, that’s as tedious because it sounds.
The spinorama was truly developed by researchers at Harman, JBL’s father or mother firm. It distills these multitudinous information factors into one easy graph, giving us a helpful abstract of each the speaker‘s direct sound and the way it radiates sound right into a room. This single graph is often sufficient to separate the nice audio system from the unhealthy ones.
Right here’s the spinorama I measured for the L82 Traditional with the HF knob at its default setting:
Explanations of interpret these strains are supplied over at Speaker Data 2034 and Audioholics. Right here’s my abstract when you suppose the above strains would possibly as properly be rainbow spaghetti:
- The On-Axis and Listening Window curves symbolize the ‘direct’ sound of the speaker earlier than any reflections, and they need to be comparatively flat. The On-Axis is measured with the speaker aimed instantly on the microphone, whereas the Listening Window is a median of 9 measurements inside a ±30° horizontal ±10° vertical window. This accounts for the very fact most individuals don’t sit completely nonetheless or centered, so it’s typically the extra vital of the 2. As the primary and loudest sounds to reach at our ears, the direct sound has a huge effect on our notion of tonality.
- The remainder of the curves focus extra on the oblique, or ‘off-axis’ sound — the sound that may replicate off your partitions. The Early Reflections is especially vital, because it averages a number of angles to estimate the very first bounces off your partitions, ground, and ceiling to succeed in your ears. These reflections contribute considerably to our impressions of tonality and soundstage (the latter being notably affected by horizontal measurements).
- The ER curve ought to typically tilt down by roughly 8-10dB from 20Hz to 20kHz, although it might fluctuate for audio system with uncommon directivity traits. A very powerful factor is that its form roughly match the direct sound, indicating the mirrored sounds are comparable in character to the direct sound.
- The Sound Energy curve represents a median of the speaker‘s sound in all instructions. It’s not as helpful as the opposite curves for audio system that largely radiate sound ahead, nevertheless it ought to typically appear to be an excellent steeper model of the ER curve.
- The Predicted In-Room Response curve estimates how a speaker will measure in an actual room by combining information from the LW, ER, and SP curves. For almost all of audio system, the PIR curve appears very just like the Early Reflections curve, so it’s typically omitted.
- The Directivity Index and Early Reflections DI curves inform us how comparable the off-axis sound is to the direct sound. These are calculated by subtracting the Sound Energy and Early Reflections curves from the Listening Window, respectively. Clean DI curves counsel the off-axis and direct are comparable, which bodes properly for the soundstage. Good DI curves additionally suggest a speaker will reply properly to equalization.
- Bumps that persist in each the direct and off-axis sounds counsel an audible resonance. Resonances are unhealthy as they colour all music and remind you you’re listening to bins quite than dwell music.
- You typically don’t have to fret about what occurs above 10kHz, as most individuals can’t hear a lot up there and music tends to have little content material on this area anyway.
Obtained all that?
Lengthy-story quick: The L82 performs admirably, particularly contemplating it’s a passive design with out built-in digital EQ to assist it out. The one important flaw current on this picture is the messiness within the direct sound round 1-2kHz, however it isn’t one I discovered to be actually be audible.
Earlier than we dive in, it’s price acknowledging that JBL was prepared to ship me the official spinorama for the L82 Traditional captured in its anechoic chamber. Lo and behold:
That’s very just like what I used to be capable of obtain with my jerry-rigged at-home setup. How shut? Right here’s what occurs once I scale JBL’s spinorama curves to match my very own:
That is about as shut as you would anticipate two units of measurements with completely different methodology, tools, and audio system samples to be. On the very least, it confirms my pattern performs as meant, and I discover it extraordinarily refreshing as a reviewer to see an organization is prepared to ship me its information. It reveals JBL has nothing to cover.
Consistency established, we see the speaker has a direct sound that largely displays what I heard: comparatively flat with a bass increase round 100Hz and a gently rising treble that may be tuned to style with the HF knob. Right here you may see the impact of the HF knob at completely different settings: default (white), max (blue), 12-o’clock (inexperienced), and minimal (crimson).
The one quirk within the direct sound is a pointy dip and bump from roughly 1-2kHz. I actively tried to detect this in listening assessments after I’d seen the measurements, however couldn’t confidently achieve this. That’s maybe as a result of the artifacts are largely balanced out off-axis, as seen by how the ER and different off-axis curves are smoother on this area (in JBL’s greater than mine, however this can be partly defined by completely different methodology).
It’s additionally price noting a flaw that isn’t right here: most two-way audio system present a big dip within the off-axis curves round their crossover level, one thing I typically discover results in a recessed sound within the vocals. The L82 avoids so with its comparatively low 1.7 kHz crossover and a compact waveguide across the tweeter, yielding extraordinarily easy early reflections and PIR curves (a tad smoother in JBL’s information than mine, however hey, they’ve an anechoic chamber and I don’t).
Within the off-axis curves, we see a peak above 10kHz, however as most music doesn’t have a lot content material on this area and many individuals would not have nice listening to above 10kHz, it’s unlikely to be an issue. Furthermore these additional excessive frequency sounds are quickly absorbed off-axis, and this resonance is blocked on-axis by a phasing plug positioned over the tweeter. It’s unlikely to be an audible concern except you’re listening over 30 levels off axis from the speaker, which you shouldn’t be doing anyway.
We now flip to the off-axis measurements, we will see proof for its expansive soundstage and wonderful imaging efficiency.
First, I ought to word the speaker was measured at tweeter peak, on the horizontal midpoint of the cupboard.
Due to the asymmetrical tweeter placement, we’ve completely different measurements for either side of the speaker.
Lets begin with the measurements on the ‘far’ facet of the tweeter — in the direction of the port within the above image:
We see right here extraordinarily properly managed hold forth axis. Even all the way in which out to 90 levels, the curves stay easy, step by step altering with every 10 diploma interval. The form of the off-axis curves match the on-axis remedy properly, aside from above 10kHz the place sound will probably be absorbed or unable to be heard anyway.
Subsequent we’ve the measurements on the ‘close’ facet of the tweeter:
Principally comparable efficiency. We are able to see the off-axis sound is definitely bit louder on this facet, which can be why I discovered having the tweeters on the surface to yield a bigger soundstage even when compensating for tweeter-to-tweeter distance.
With the tweeters on the surface, the sound reflecting off your partitions can be louder too, which generally results in a notion of a bigger soundstage. There is a dip taking place round 2 kHz that could possibly be problematic, however on stability, it doesn’t look like a serious audible concern because it balances out within the general response.
For extra of a ‘big picture’ view, it may be helpful to make a couple of averages of those curves. Under we estimate the reflections off partitions to the ‘Front,’ ‘Side,’ and ‘Rear’ of the speaker, in addition to the Complete Horizontal Reflections — a median of those three curves.
You possibly can see the sidewall reflections are very shut in character to the direct sound, predicting good soundstage efficiency. The Horizontal ERDI curve represents how shut the overall horizontal reflections are to the listening window, and we see the sleek curve we’re in search of.
Yet one more visualization — right here’s what we name a contour plot or polar map. It reveals how the speaker’s sound adjustments as you progress away from the reference level on the horizontal aircraft:
Turning to the vertical efficiency, the speaker’s ceiling and ground reflections are pretty properly managed and largely stability one another out. Most audio system exhibit bigger flaws on this regard:
Nonetheless I ought to word that the vertical ‘sweet spot’ is pretty slender above tweeter peak – the sound adjustments considerably simply by 5-10 levels above my reference level.
The speaker is significantly better managed beneath tweeter peak, barely altering right down to 15 levels beneath my reference level. This can be the very best purpose for purchasing the official stands, which recline the audio system so that they level barely upwards.
Alternatively, you would discover one other strategy to angle the audio system, just like the Isoacoustics Aperta stands — or perhaps you’ll simply soften into your sofa when you’re having fun with the music. It shouldn’t be a lot of a difficulty in a typical setup, particularly because the audio system are taller than regular, nevertheless it’s price noting when you pay attention from very shut.
Lastly, right here’s that data visualized once more in a polar map:
Are these probably the most pristine measurements I’ve ever seen? No, however they’re among the many finest I’ve seen for a passive design, particularly when you contemplate how the issues are balanced out off-axis and the flexibleness afforded by the treble knob. The ER and PIR curves are notably easy, suggesting an amazing stability in a typical front room setup.
You will get energetic audio system or studio displays which have barely tidier measurements, however how a lot of an acoustic enchancment you’ll see is debatable. In any case, few audio system that measure higher handle to take action whereas sustaining this large a soundstage — that’s not one thing I’m personally prepared to surrender.
Retro appears, trendy sound
I’ll summarize my ideas about this speaker this fashion: If I had $2,500 to spend on audio system proper now, I’d be shopping for the JBL L82.
Although I want the speaker got here in lighter colours, and I’d like to see an energetic design with DSP to wash up the few flaws within the measurements, the L82 is a pleasure to take heed to. It has a mostly-transparent tonality with simply sufficient of a bass increase to distinguish itself, and the expansive soundstage is among the many finest I’ve heard. That the sound is barely tweakable is simply icing on the cake.
Whereas nice audio system will wow me once I’m paying consideration, the L82 is without doubt one of the even rarer audio system that forces me to concentrate — it simply sounds that good. I hated having to ship these again, and hope I get the possibility to listen to them once more quickly.
Printed October 20, 2020 — 20:28 UTC