The smaller version of JBL’s Classic proves solidly musical, and repeats all the nostalgic touches that made the L100 Classic so attractive.
It might be considered a trifle immodest to declare your own product to be a ‘Classic’ before it even hits the streets. But JBL accomplished the task two years ago with its full-size (large, indeed) L100 Classic loudspeakers. JBL meant, of course, that they are a ‘classic’ design, having taken key DNA from the original L100 from 1970, a design which went on to become the company’s best-seller, known as the ‘Century’, and earning iconic status among consumers after appearing in a Maxell tape ad where they blew back the hair/wine glass/wall-ducks of a long-haired listener (in the UK version, Peter Murphy of Goth rock group Bauhaus).
And the new 21st-century L100 Classics have become classics in their own right, being all-new designs, really, but sporting those white woofers and the black, blue or orange Quadrex foam grilles. We loved them, and they walked away with our Sound+Image Judges’ Choice award for that year.
Though sizeable, those L100 Classics were termed as a standmounter, and were best used, like some of JBL’s Studio range, on a low stand which tilted the speaker upwards slightly to the listening position. It is probable that more people liked the design than could find the room to accommodate such a size of speaker, so that JBL has now followed up with the L82 Classic, much reduced in size, but fully maintaining the nostalgia.
So despite being around half the size and a driver down on those larger Classics, the L82 models still look every inch a JBL Classic speaker, wide yet relatively shallow in their genuine walnut-veneer enclosures, distinctive white paper-pulp cone still to the fore, now on a reduced but hardly dinky 20cm (eight-inch) mid/bass pure-pulp woofer, compared with the L100 Classics’ 12-inch woofers and separate midrange. These smaller standmounts still weigh a healthy 12.7kg each.
The engineering is bang up to date, the mid/bass driver sitting in a carefully optimised chassis, tuned with a front-firing reflex port. This crosses to the same 25mm titanium-dome tweeter
as used on the L100s, though handing over at 1.7kHz rather than the 3.5kHz in the larger model. As before, there’s a dished waveguide around the dome to help with dispersion, and as with many full-size JBL designs a front-panel L-pad attenuator dial which allows you to adjust the highfrequency output level, which might be especially handy with speakers of this size in a desktop use scenario.
The tweeters are offset. so that you get a mirrored pair; JBL’s own pictures would suggest that the tweeters should be on the outside edge, which certainly gives a broader soundstage, but you may prefer the more solid presentation gained from having them on the inside edge, so there’s room for experimentation there. Dedicated stands are available, the JS-80 (pictured below left) offering neatly welded supports that lift and angle the speakers appropriately for couch-distance listening. We also used conventional flat speaker stands, ending up with the L82 Classics around 40cm from the rear wall, slightly angled in towards the listening position.
Remarkably, despite their smaller size, the L82 Classics managed to maintain the JBL sound impressively well. They loved going loud, yet stayed interesting even when we dropped volume levels to a whisper, a relative rarity and perhaps a surprise given the lower sensitivity of 88dB/W/m here compared with larger JBLs.
The eight-inch mid-woofers help give these boxes a pretty impressive bass reach, and the low frequencies are also relatively
The geometric design of the ‘waffle-cut’ Quadrex foam grilles is one of the clear links back to the original L100s from the 1970s, and first revived in modern times for JBL’s short-lived but thrilling Authentics L16 table-top wireless speaker in 2014. There’s a choice of three colours — black, dark blue and the iconic orange — and we trust that these grilles are now easier to manufacture than
fast and controlled. It’s a sound with character rather than neutrality, and the finer delicacies of treble suffer a little compared with the larger L100s, perhaps because the tweeter is working over that significantly lower range. The low-level details of instrumental textures and reverb in ‘Found Songs’ by Olafur Arnalds weren’t ignored entirely but the L82s tended to smooth the dynamic nuances and blur timing subtleties; they also lack some of the midrange clarity of the L100.
But bring them more upfront music — the kind of rock that might well have been mastered on studio JBLs in the first place — and they perform impressively. They responded with enthusiasm to Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’, pounding out the beats with purpose and an impressive sense of power. Cobain’s vocals came through with clarity, buzzsawing through the instrumental backdrop. With Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’, when first invented by JBL employee Carl Davis, who spent his own nights working out a way to cut the foam with high-tensile heated wire, because foam manufacturers of the day couldn’t meet JBL’s design tolerances for the complex ‘V’ grooves required. Indeed the whole original L100 speaker project had been put on hold — until Davis solved the foam-sculpturing issue.
the L82s fed off the music’s aggression and energy to deliver an entertaining sound.
While these standmounters may not be the last word in neutrality of sound compared with rivals at the not-inconsiderable price, it seems likely that many considering buying the L82 Classic will also share their musical preferences, and will enjoy these smaller Classics as the entertaining performers that they are, delivering much more than merely a mini flavour of the JBL Classic sound.