Top critical review
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Work well in the right setup
on January 21, 2014
I'm re-writing this review after having owned these for more than a year.
They spent *most* of that year on speaker stands hooked up to a Yamaha R-S500 receiver and paired up with a Polk PSW10 sub.
I was initially impressed with the clarity of the sound for both movies and music. I wasn't floored by the bottom end of these, but the highs were clear and tight, so they worked well paired with a sub.
The worst part of these speakers in my opinion is the complete lack of a decent sized soundstage. Unless you're on-axis or near-field (I wouldn't suggest both combined though) they are lacking severely. I had to drive them *really* hard to get the sound to spread out a bit, even then it was pretty empty sounding.
Now, a year later I upgraded to some 2-way towers that absolutely blow these speakers out of the water, so I've re-purposed these for something new that I didn't really plan on using them for.
Right now, they're still paired with the same subwoofer, but powered by a simple Lepai 2020a+ amplifier and setting on my work desk for near-field listening. I'm finally actually impressed by the setup. These speakers are surprisingly good for near-field listening at all volumes. Essentially I've created the most ridiculous desktop speaker setup I could with off the shelf parts for under $300 total.
Now, the sound profile of these is... sort of odd. They are basically absent in the bottom end, and should be crossed to a sub around 80-100hz depending on what you're listening to. Nothing surprising here given the size of the driver and the enclosure. What's surprising is how lacking the high end really is when compared to higher end speakers. While tight and clean, there is a lot of sound missing due to a fairly messy FR. When compared to most 2-way bookshelf speakers they're actually really good, but when compared to something with better parts you will notice a huge difference. I understand better speakers cost more, but I would honestly only suggest these for casual listening. For anything critical you should probably look a bit further and spend a bit more to get a better high end.
I'm just not sure what JBL was going for here. I imagined them to be good for a basic TV setup, and they were alright, but I always wanted more. I don't think the average person would use these near-field, but that really seems to be where they work best. I'm almost at a loss for who I would suggest these speakers to. For casual TV you could easily spend less and not leave much on the table. They lack too much on the low end to be used without a sub, and also lack too much on the high end to be useful for critical listening. As a desktop speaker they're quite large, though they really do sound their best in this layout. I was hoping to use these as a first step into the ES series, but in all honesty they turned me away from that line.