JBL monitors sport a new look and a new sound.
Just about everyone in the music industry has heard of JBL. The company has a long and distinguished history of manufacturing monitors for recording studios and live sound applications. However, while JBL’s live sound products are as popular as ever, its studio monitors have fallen out of favor during the past decade, mostly due to their harsh, ear-fatiguing high end. But far from being down for the count, JBL has jumped back into the ring with an impressive new line of speakers, the Linear Spatial Reference (LSR) studio monitor series.
Designed completely from the ground up, the four available LSR models neither look nor sound like any of JBL’s previous monitors. The LSR28P is an active 2-way with an 8-inch low-frequency driver ($2,198 per pair). A perfect example of the new line, the LSR28P is impressive-looking, with patented parts and rear-panel DIP switches for tweaking everything from input levels to frequency response.
The other three models of the LSR series are the larger LSR32, a passive 3-way with a 12-inch woofer ($1,099 each); the diminutive LSR25P, an active 2-way with a 5-inch woofer ($958 per pair); and an active subwoofer, the LSR12P ($1,199).
BUILT LIKE A TANK
The LSR28Ps are heavy at 50 pounds each. The monitors are boxed separately; otherwise they would be impossible to carry. (They’re packaged and sold individually, not in pairs, which is ideal for building surround systems.) Unfortunately, I ended up straining my back when I unpacked the speakers, because I lifted them straight out of their boxes, not realizing how heavy they were. (I later discovered a paragraph in the manual explaining how to properly unpack the speakers in a way that won’t damage them or cause bodily injury–I recommend reading that paragraph.)
Needless to say, these speakers must be situated on a sturdy piece of furniture. Forget about putting them on a workstation’s flimsy monitor leaves– the kind that jut out from a workstation’s sides and are supported by little triangular braces. Planting them on a big workstation (like the Omnirax Pro Station) or the top of a custom console desk should hold them securely. If you prefer speaker stands, make sure they are heavy-duty with wide bases so they don’t tip over from top-heavy loads. For wall mounting, a wall-to-bottom bracket is a must; JBL recommends the Omni-mount 100WB. However, there are no predrilled holes on the cabinet for such a bracket, so you’ll have to drill them yourself–or have a licensed sound installation technician do the job.
Black with a charcoal-gray face, the LSR28Ps appear at first glance ominous and monolithic in stature. But on closer inspection, several details come to light that are all but invisible in the LSR print ads. The baffle (the faceplate to which the speakers are mounted) is separated from the cabinet body by a 1/4-inch-thick silver trim. It features a bar-top-style finish of clear gloss laminate over a silver, fiberglass-like material that is actually a special carbon-fiber-composite skin wrapped around a foam core. This design purportedly cuts coloration down to a minimum by allowing little resonance. The cabinet, made of 3/4-inch medium-density fiberboard, sports a glossy black finish.
The monitors have no grates, so the speaker cones are exposed. This is great for the sound but leaves the cones unprotected, so keep clumsy musicians bearing sharp objects (like pencils, picks, or fingernails) far away. There isn’t any protective covering for the tweeter, neither a metal grate nor a miniature roll bar (the LSR25Ps feature these). Luckily, the tweeters are set quite deep into the waveguides, affording them some protection, but a misplaced finger could easily dent one of the cones.
DIP AND CONNECT
A power button is located on the rear of the speaker; I prefer a more accessible front-mounted power switch. If the monitors are set over a console with their backs to the wall, reaching the button can be difficult, so the LSR28Ps are best turned on and off from a power bar. An LED on the speaker’s face glows green to indicate power, and it flashes red to show clipping.
The monitor draws its juice from a standard IEG Type II power cable, and a generous 9 1/2-foot cable comes standard. Power is switchable between 115 and 230 VAC from a switch on the back of the unit. The power amp operates at either 50 or 60 Hz. A 5-amp line fuse is employed on units shipped Stateside, whereas units shipped out of the country get a 2.5-amp fuse. If you plan on taking these speakers with you outside the United States (as if hauling them to your studio isn’t enough of a workout), make sure you have the right fuses packed.
The LSR28P features Neutrik dual 1/4-inch and XLR input jacks (see Fig. 1 for a view of the back panel). The 1/4-inch jack is balanced but accepts unbalanced plugs. Input can be attenuated with the DIP switches by 4, 8, or 12 dB (-12 dB is achieved by turning on the -4 and -8 dB switches simultaneously). An input trim control, adjustable from 0 to -12 dB, is also provided. The trim is activated by its own discrete DIP switch and can be used in conjunction with the preset attenuation switches for fine level control.
Three low-frequency and two high-frequency DIP switches allow you to tune the speakers; these are great for adjusting the monitors’ output to match the acoustics of the room. Bass can be cut or boosted by 2 dB below 150 Hz. The default low-frequency roll-off is set to a 36 dB octave slope, but it is switchable to a 24 dB octave slope for extended low end. This is excellent for monitoring subharmonic bass–you may not hear these frequencies, but you can see the woofers working. Highs can be cut or boosted by 2 dB above 1.8 kHz.
A 1-inch titanium-composite diaphragm tweeter handles the high frequencies. This design is said to improve transient response and reduce distortion, especially at low volumes. The waveguide surrounding the tweeter is an elliptical oblate spheroidal type with a reported 100 x 60-degree dispersion rating, a targeted listening area of [+ or -]30 degrees horizontally and [+ or -]15 degrees vertically–a very respectable sweet spot.
The woofer, built around a patented voice coil that JBL calls a Differential Drive, is a carbon-fiber-composite cone supported by a soft butyl rubber surround. The woofer uses two drive coils for twice the cooling surface area of traditional speakers (which use a single coil). According to JBL, this reduces spectral shift–the thermal-related effects that alter a monitor’s sound at different amplitudes–and the LSR28Ps sound even across all volumes. A third coil between the two drive coils functions as a dynamic brake, limiting extreme excursion and reducing distortion at peak levels.
Though neither the woofer nor the tweeter is shielded, the monitors emit incredibly low magnetic radiation. When I first got the LSR28Ps, I assumed they were shielded and I planted them on either side of my computer monitor, about two feet away from the screen. Amazingly, there were no ill effects. According to JBL, the speaker directs its focused magnetic energy inward toward the drivers, resulting in very little magnetic leakage. Well-built computer monitors with internal self-shielding can likely sit close to the LSR28Ps; inexpensive screens with no internal self-shielding probably won’t fare so well.
A dual-flared bass port that JBL calls a Linear Dynamics Aperture (imagine a tube with outward-sloping edges on both sides) is located on the cabinet’s rear. The oval-shaped port is quite large, measuring about 5 1/2 inches wide by 3 1/2 inches tall–big enough to put your whole forearm into and grab the tweeter’s magnet, if you feel so inclined. The port’s architecture is supposed to eliminate air turbulence at high volumes, an affliction suffered by smaller, more traditional bass ports.
POWER TO SPARE
The LSR28Ps are biamplified with an active, sixth-order Linkowitz-Riley crossover set at 1.7 kHz. The custom-designed linear amplifiers were created by JBL exclusively for the new LSR series, and they pack an impressive 250W for the woofer and 120W for the tweeter. This is more than enough power to drive each transducer, and the added headroom translates, in theory, to better fidelity at high volumes.
A giant aluminum heat sink covering a large portion of the cabinet’s rear helps regulate the amplifier’s temperature. Even when left on for a 12-hour-plus stretch, the heat sink is still comfortable to the touch. With such efficient thermal regulation, these speakers are apt to last a long time. JBL reports that the LSR28Ps can be left on for more than 300 hours at a stretch with no problems–that’s one long session.
FLAT AND PHAT
The LSR28Ps are the flattest-sounding monitors I’ve ever heard. Although there’s no such thing as completely “flat,” these monitors are very unhyped and easy to listen to, with no unpleasant or ear-fatiguing frequency bumps. Also, despite the even, uncolored response curve, they provide plenty of sonic clarity: pianos sound warm and clear, kicks sound phat, guitars sound punchy, synth pads sound sweet, and vocals sound present. Compared with the LSR28Ps, other monitors of a similar ilk (Haflers, Genelecs, Meyers, HHBs) sound harsh, with exaggerated high ends and weak bottoms.
On the other hand, some folks may find the LSR28Ps’ sound unflattering and lacking in depth. With such a total absence of excited high frequencies, mixes will sound dull to ears acclimated to monitors with pumped-up highs. (Even the 2 dB high-end boost control doesn’t mimic such speakers, although a 4 dB boost might.) Without an exaggerated high end, the sonic image seems to have less depth, and you may notice less of a difference between the extreme high and low ends. If you’re unfamiliar with these speakers, it would be easy to overcompensate by adding too much high end and rolling off too much low end, resulting in mixes that sound thin and brittle on other systems. (I advise getting to know your monitors intimately before doing a mix.)
I said these monitors sound incredibly flat, but now I’m going to tell you that the low end sounds incredibly big. Somehow, the LSR28Ps pump out bass that belies their 8-inch woofers without sounding unnatural or affected (hip-hop and drum ‘n’ bass aficionados, take note). I attribute the large, warm low end to the LDA bass port. A lot of air moves out of this port with very little resistance, a key factor for proper porting. However, the amount of bass these speakers put out is so great that it’s more than many small studios need. Using the -2 dB low-frequency cut to decrease the bass response worked well for my room (a -4 dB cut would also be nice). Keeping the monitors away from sounding boards, such as walls and corners, also helps reduce the low end.
LISTEN TO THIS
I used the LSR28Ps while recording and monitoring DI bass tracks to Pro Tools. I also used them to mix several electronica projects (mostly drum ‘n’ bass and trance) as well as an acoustic-flavored adult-alternative project by singer–songwriter Lygia Ferra. The monitors were positioned close to my other main near-fields (Hafler TRM8s), so I could swap back and forth as I mixed.
This has been said before, but it bears repeating: determining whether monitors sound good is purely subjective. I thought the LSR28Ps sounded great, but I would shy away from using them as my main near-field monitors. The LSR28Ps are just too big–in size and bass–to use in a standard close-field position. About five to six feet back from the console would be fine, but I consider this distance to be more midfield than near-field, as my near-fields are placed about three to four feet from where I sit. I would be proud, however, to use a pair of these monitors in my studio as midfields.
Bottom line: the LSR28Ps are solid in terms of both sound quality and technology. A bit more expensive than your average powered monitors, they are still competitively priced a few hundred dollars less than Hafler TRM8s and several thousand less than Genelec 1031As. JBL is to be commended on its new sound; the company has come a long way.
The LSR28Ps sound so much flatter than the older JBL monitors, as well as many competing models, that some folks will have difficulty warming up to them. But give them a chance. If you haven’t heard JBL’s studio monitors recently, have a listen; they’re what flat should sound like.
Erik Hawkins is a musician/producer working in Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area.
JBL LSA289 powered monitors $2,198 per pair
AUDIO QUALITY *****
PROS: Incredibly flat. Handy frequency and volume sensitivity controls. Excellent optional extended bass response. Very cool looking.
CONS: Extremely heavy. Can boost and cut frequency only by [+ or -]2 dB. Too large for some near-field setups.
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