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JBL Studio L890 review: JBL Studio L890

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MSRP: $799.95

The Good Even-handed, beautiful sound. Easy to drive, but reward good amplification. Solidly constructed.

The Bad Huge. Sort of ugly. But that's it.

The Bottom Line A surprisingly neutral, yet powerful, set of speakers which require a bit of space but are well worth the money if you have a large setup.

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8.1 Overall

Imagine you're sitting in a tiki lounge sipping martinis and using phrases like "hip to that jive, daddio" as you lounge with your "swingin" partner in your aubergine love seat. Now, imagine the JBL 890s are a pair of Easter Island monoliths -- which also happen to be jamming out that cool cat jazz. Outtasight ...

Yes, not only are the JBL Studio L890s fashionably retro, but ... they are bloody huge. And weigh in at almost 30kg each! The L890's are three-way speakers which readily display the company's sound reinforcement heritage. Not only are they massive in size, but include features usually only found in venues, such as horn loaded tweeters and a bulletproof construction.

The speakers are tall at 100cm high, and they're also thick and need plenty of space. These are definitely for users with large rooms only -- small rooms would turn the sound to sludge.

In terms of aesthetics, the black vinyl wood grain finish is a matter of choice -- we prefer it -- but beech and cherry are also available.

The JBLs are bristling with speakers of all shapes and flavours -- firstly there are the two 8-inch low frequency drivers, followed by a 4-inch midrange, and completed by, count 'em, two different tweeters. The 25mm titanium dome covers frequencies from 5kHz upwards, and uses JBL's own EOS waveguide system, which promises to increase treble response off axis, i.e. when you're not sitting directly in front of them. The last tweeter uses an 18mm mylar ultra high frequency driver to reproduce frequencies over 20kHz, but as this is also the limit of human hearing we imagine this actually has the effect of taking some of the load off the titanium driver -- making it run more efficiently.

Sensitivity is good at 91db, meaning it can go loud with less effort, and the frequency response is excellent at 28kHz - 40kHz +/-3dB. So no real need for a subwoofer here.

For owners of flatscreen TVs, the fact that the JBLs are magnetically shielded won't matter as much, but to those persisting with older tube TVs, the huge magnets in the L890 won't make your screen look like it joined the Magical Mystery Tour.

Speakers featuring twin tweeters are not something you see every day. But far from being shrill, the treble the JBL produces is sweet and lifelike, with the mylar tweeter and metal models integrating very well.

For the amount of speakers set into the cabinet, it's surprising to find that the smaller 4-inch mid- speaker is doing a lot of the work. This is a true three-way (though JBL calls it a four-way) speaker, in that the two 8-inch woofers at the bottom are bass units only. But unlike some three-way designs we've heard, the sound is not restricted by the size of the mid-range woofer. Some we've heard have sounded like the musicians are trapped inside the woofer itself! It might sound strange, but it's an effect that needs to be heard to be believed. Thankfully, there are no such issues with the L890s -- as the speaker set sounds both expressive and expansive.

Given the size of the speakers, the L890 requires a metre or so of breathing space from walls, which ensures the bass melds well with the rest of the sound. And while you'd expect the twin bass drivers to produce too much boom, the sound is well integrated and even a bit reticent in the bass. A good amplifier or AV receiver is needed to bring out the best in this speaker, and we had good results with the Harman Kardon AVR 645, after calibration of course.

The JBL is equally at home with rock as it is movie soundtracks, and will handle even the most delicate music with a gentle touch . Though the L890 had the potential to be all boom-tish, the sound it produces is both even-handed and authoritative.

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