JBL NSP1II review: JBL NSP1II

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3 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Curvaceous styling; full-sized center speaker; swivel wall-mount hardware.

The Bad Brash treble; plasticlike feel.

The Bottom Line The NSP1II will appeal to home-theater fans rather than music-oriented listeners.

6.0 Overall

Boxes are boring, so JBL's NSP1II speaker package nixes the clunky, old, square look for a curvaceous style. The appeal is more than skin deep: JBL's engineers applied a liberal dose of high-tech engineering to the Mark II update of the company's popular Northridge Series speakers. The NSP1II sounds detailed and lively, but it lacks refinement. Boxes are boring, so JBL's NSP1II speaker package nixes the clunky, old, square look for a curvaceous style. The appeal is more than skin deep: JBL's engineers applied a liberal dose of high-tech engineering to the Mark II update of the company's popular Northridge Series speakers. The NSP1II sounds detailed and lively, but it lacks refinement.

Tech talk
The NSP1II package consists of four Northridge Series N24II satellites and one N-CenterII center-channel speaker. JBL has fashioned the dark-gray speaker cabinets from an exotic plastic-composite material, but when we rapped our knuckles on one of the sats, it felt hollow and lightweight.

The N-CenterII speaker is a good deal larger than the N24IIs and feels even more resonant. Because of its size, it's destined to sit atop a TV. And thanks to its rear-mounted ports, it won't breathe freely if you stash it in a cabinet or put it under your set. The N24IIs' front-mounted ports permit greater placement flexibility. Swivel wall-mount hardware for the four sats is provided, and the speakers' binding posts are of good quality.

Both the center unit and the sats feature titanium-laminate, 0.75-inch dome tweeters that sit in computer-designed waveguides, which the company claims delivers balanced sound to on- and off-axis listeners. The woofers' polymer-coated, cellulose-fiber cones minimize internal resonances and lower distortion. The N-CenterII sports dual 5-inch woofers while the N24IIs utilize a single 4-inch woofer.

Sounds
The NSP1II isn't a full-range system, so we mated it with its natural partner: JBL's potent subwoofer. We initially tested the JBL ensemble with Vanilla Sky, Cameron Crowe's trippy flick starring Tom Cruise. This DVD's dynamics are wide open, so if you play the dialogue at a natural level, the music and effects will be pretty loud. Despite this, the NSP1II never lost its grip or overtly distorted. Surround effects were evenly deployed around our listening room. Familiar DVDs, such as the The Thin Red Line, revealed the NSP1II to be a great purveyor of detail; it brought subtle jungle sounds as well as bird and insect noises to the foreground. However, we found the tweeter to be a bit brash when pushed, and we experienced listening fatigue over the course of a two-hour DVD.

That lack of treble refinement was even more obvious on CDs. Cymbals were coarse and zippy, though the midrange was nicely balanced and smooth. The N24IIs sang sweetly on The Persuasions' a cappella tribute CD Sing the Beatles. Bassist Jim Hayes's full, rich voice came through unscathed, and Jerry Lawson's oh-so-soulful lead vocals raised goose bumps. The Beatles put us in the mood for a little more classic fare, so we punched up Led Zeppelin II, and damn, "Heartbreaker" never gets old. The N24IIs rolled out Jimmy Page's big, fat guitar sound, and John Bonham's explosive drum kit mustered real impact and energy.

All in all, we were impressed with the NSP1II's verve and excitement, but we wished that it were a bit more subtle. With its suggested retail price of $549, it offers reasonable value for the money. You will of course need a sub, and the PB12 that we used for this review adds another $479 to the cost of the system. At that combined price, we would have preferred something with sweeter treble, such as Atlantic Technology's $1,100 .

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