JBL's Northridge E Series EC35 three-way center-channel speaker ($299) aces the most crucial test for center speakers: reproducing the human voice. The EC35's muted-gray front baffle is dominated by four drivers: dual 5.25-inch woofers flank a 3-inch midrange and a 0.75-inch titanium dome tweeter. The speaker feels like it's crafted from a solid block of wood, and it demonstrated the acoustic muscle to keep pace with JBL's mighty Northridge tower speakers. Timbre matching with the EC35CH) vinyl finishes.was perfect--pans across all three front speakers were remarkably smooth. Speaking of timbre, er, timber, the EC35 is offered in Black Ash, Beech (EC35BE), or Cherry (
The speaker's handsome good looks and first-class build quality are all the more remarkable when you consider its price. As far as we know, the EC35 is the least expensive three-way center speaker on the market. In contrast, once you get past Infinity's $399 Alpha 37c, prices of three-ways go through the roof. We couldn't detect any signs of cost-cutting on the EC35; in fact, the JBL's twin sets of all-metal binding posts exhibit the kind of quality we expect on higher-end models. The arrangement allows you to biwire the EC35 with two sets of speaker cables, a technique that slightly improves sound quality. The connectors accept banana jacks, U-shaped spades, or bare wire ends.
We noted one minor downside: the EC35's rear-mounted port limits placement options. For example, if you place this speaker inside a TV stand, the sound may suffer. You're better off sticking with the TV-top scenario--many smaller TVs won't comfortably support this 22-pound, 22-inch-wide beast. JBL's two-way Northridge center speaker, the EC25, is smaller and will lighten your wallet to the tune of $199.
For all of our listening tests, we mated the EC35 with an all-Northridge package: E250P ($449) 12-inch powered subwoofer.tower speakers ($399 each), ($199 per pair) bookshelf speakers in the rear, and the
A center speaker's prime focus is movie dialogue, but only the better three-way models, such as the EC35, ever get it totally right. Not only did male and female voices sound natural, they had a three-dimensional presence we associate with much more expensive designs. The EC35 is really special, breathing life into the sound of DVDs, and it's well suited to revealing the high-resolution sound of DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD music.