Nowadays, most folks want smaller speakers, but the market for supersized models hasn't totally disappeared. JBL's Northridge Series ND310IIs (listed at $349 each) are rather large examples, and we loved their unabashedly retro style and sound. They're the speaker equivalent of a well-used '67 Chevelle SS396--and just as fun. These speakers aren't for everybody, but if you're lusting after big sound or you need to fill a large space, we highly recommend the ND310IIs.
Each ND310II stands 42 inches tall and weighs 55 pounds, but despite this bulk, the speakers don't feel as solid as most of their higher-end competitors. If you rap your knuckles on the black-ash, medium-density fiberboard cabinet, you'll hear a rather hollow sound, but JBL claims the lock-mitered, computer-designed enclosure doesn't require bracing. Black cloth grilles are provided.
Whatever you do, don't stuff these towers into a tiny room; they'll sound boomy or overly thick in cramped quarters. The ND310IIs need a lot of breathing space to give their best; anything larger than 200 square feet should be OK.
The ND310IIs are extremely efficient, so they'll work well with even low-power receivers (those with less than 50 watts per channel). And the speakers' high-temperature, oversized voice coils and motor structures ensure they'll also handle 250-watt-per-channel receivers.
Each speaker's driver complement consists of a 0.75-inch titanium-laminate dome tweeter, a 4-inch midrange, and a pair of 10-inch woofers. The drivers were designed to be used with the ND310II's simple crossover network; JBL engineers minimized processing to reduce sound degradation. Good-quality binding posts accept banana jacks, spades, or bare wire.
A front-mounted port increases bass output without adding unwanted port noise. In addition, the towers are video shielded for safe placement near TVs.
The ND310IIs' bodacious looks inspired us to dig up our Pink Floyd and Parliament Funkadelic CDs, and we reveled in the big, bad '70s sound. These speakers can party! Returning to the 21st century, we sampled the awesome new White Stripes CD, Elephant, and the ND310IIs delivered the full measure of Meg White's massive drum sound and Jack White's fearsome guitar.
Cranked beyond "annoy the neighbors" levels, the speakers never overdistorted, but the bass did loosen and turn flabby. And the JBLs didn't sound as pure or as clean as some of the better (and more expensive) floor-standing Polk and Dynaudio speakers. On the other hand, the ND310IIs can pin you back in your chair with a dynamic impact that no subwoofer/satellite system can match.
Next, for our home-theater audition, we mated the ND310IIs with JBL's N-Center II center-channel speaker and N26II satellites. First up was The Grey Zone, a riveting Holocaust prison movie. The DVD's hauntingly atmospheric soundtrack is loaded with ominous low-frequency effects. At first, we were concerned that our subwoofer-less JBL system would miss some of the low-frequency action, but the ND310IIs didn't let us down--those four 10-inch woofers pack quite a wallop.
After that grim DVD, we opted for the decidedly more cheerful Back in the U.S., Paul McCartney's new concert DVD. The ND310IIs sounded sweet when Sir Paul was alone on the stage with his acoustic guitar, and listening to the full band play tunes was like being at a live show. The ND310IIs' stellar DVD/home-theater performance was the deal clincher for us.