JBL's Northridge E Series E20, priced at $199 per pair, is a compact monitor speaker with above-average sonics. But when it comes to looks, the E20 is barely distinguishable from scores of other diminutive two-way designs. Its curved, contoured grille adds some styling interest, but there's no denying that this is a basic box speaker. The little tyke is only 11 inches tall, but don't let that stature mislead you--the satellite's computer-designed, lock-mitered cabinet shames that of most plastic HTIB speakers. The E20 is positioned in the middle of the Northridge E Series monitor lineup; the smaller E10 goes for $179 per pair, and the larger E30 costs $259 per pair.
The E20 doesn't include brackets or any other mounting provisions, but because it has a rear-mounted port, it probably won't sound right squeezed up against a wall. While we were contemplating the E20's hindquarters, we noted its rather special connectors: the gold-plated, all-metal posts accept banana jacks, U-shaped spades, or bare wire ends. The speaker employs a titanium-laminate 0.75-inch dome tweeter and a 5-inch woofer. You can get your E20s in a Black Ash, Beech (E20BE), or Cherry (E20CH) vinyl finish.
We auditioned the E20s in two placement scenarios: straddling our TV up front and in the back of the room as surrounds. We met with equal success in both cases; the little fellas didn't sound small, and they never faltered or overtly distorted. Tonal balance was, as the Brits would say, polite, that is, neither bright nor dull. And bass response, even without a subwoofer, was pretty decent.
Crosby, Stills, and Nash's harmonized vocals were natural and full, and when we turned up the heat with James Brown's "Cold Sweat," the E20s boogied like a set of larger speakers. It was the same story on the Men in Black DVD; the E20s more than pulled their weight. They had a poise that's rare in similar-size HTIB speakers.
In spaces of less than 150 square feet, you might be able to get by without a subwoofer. Since our room is huge, we put JBL's superpotent E250P 12-inch sub into service, and the combination scored on CDs and DVDs. The smaller and more affordable E150P sub would probably be an even better partner for the E20s.