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JBL N-Center II review: JBL N-Center II

JBL N-Center II

headshots_Steve_Guttenberg.jpg
headshots_Steve_Guttenberg.jpg
Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
Review summary
JBL's Northridge speakers cover a broad range, from cute little lifestyle satellites to immense tower speakers, but there's only one center model: the aptly named N-Center II.
The N-Center II is fairly large, measuring 20.5 inches wide, 6.5 inches high, and 8.5 inches deep. Its titanium-laminate 0.75-inch dome tweeter sits in a silver plastic plate, which, according to JBL, delivers more-balanced sound to on- and off-axis listeners. Flanking the tweeter is a pair of 5-inch, polymer-coated cellulose-fiber woofers. JBL's engineers fashioned the dark-gray cabinet from an exotic plastic-composite material; when we rapped our knuckles on the N-Center II, it sounded rather hollow and resonant. A nicely finished black cloth grille covers the drivers.
The speaker's recommended power maximum is 150 watts. Thanks to a set of good-quality binding posts that accept banana jacks, spades, or bare wire, connection to virtually any receiver or amp is a breeze.
When we tested the N-Center II on the Red Dragon DVD, we were impressed with its subtlety. Its portrayal of the enclosed sound of Edward Norton's phone booth in chapter 7 was excellent. We never detected any sense overload or strain, even when we intentionally abused the speaker. The N-Center II's sound is always articulate, but it lacks the body and fullness you get from better center speakers. Those qualms aside, the N-Center II mated quite well with the JBL N26II satellites.