4312 SE 70th An­niver­sary Mon­i­tor Speak­ers



who knows au­dio, knows JBL. The in­ter­net gen­er­a­tion will tell you about JBL’s high qual­ity com­puter and portable au­dio prod­ucts. Hard­core au­dio­philes will speak of their JBL Syn­the­sis wish lists, and old-timers will whis­per the names Paragon and Aquarius with misty eyed rev­er­ence. Any stu­dio pro will au­to­mat­i­cally give you a big smile and a thumbs up. That’s the ben­e­fit of leg­endary sta­tus backed by a long his­tory of en­gi­neer­ing mile­stones. JBL is one of the very few au­dio com­pa­nies that can trace its roots back over a cen­tury. En­gi­neer­ing pi­o­neer James B. Lans­ing, born in 1902, made nu­mer­ous col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­forts with sev­eral well known firms be­fore launch­ing the com­pany which bears his ini­tials in 1946. JBL es­tab­lished it­self as a dom­i­nant force and de facto stan­dard in the Amer­i­can pro­fes­sional mar­ket in both sound re­in­force­ment and stu­dio ref­er­ence loud­speak­ers for decades. At Wood­stock it was JBL that pro­vided the sonic magic for the crowds, and in the stu­dio the JBL 4310 and 4311 con­trol mon­i­tors dom­i­nated the record­ing land­scape in the 70s and 80s, serv­ing as ref­er­ence for many beloved record­ings. If there was a crit­i­cal de­ci­sion to be made, the JBL out­put was ac­cepted as gospel.


The new 4312 SE 70th An­niver­sary Mon­i­tor is an homage to those pro­fes­sional stu­dio mon­i­tors of by­gone days, em­u­lat­ing the looks of its pre­de­ces­sors while main­tain­ing their strin­gent re­quire­ments of ac­cu­racy. The SE is an ex­ten­sively up­graded vari­a­tion of the cur­rent 4312 se­ries, weigh­ing in 16 pounds heav­ier than the stan­dard E ver­sion, com­pletely re-voiced with a dif­fer­ent woofer and cross­over com­pli­ment. It takes full ad­van­tage of par­ent com­pany, Har­man In­ter­na­tional‘s ex­ten­sive state of the art fa­cil­ity in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia to push the 4312 se­ries to a loftier level. The Spe­cial Edi­tion comes clothed in clas­sic black wood grain fin­ish, sport­ing a front panel 70th An­niver­sary badge and has a re­mov­able black grill cloth. Be­fit­ting their higher grade sta­tus, each pair of speak­ers is shipped as a per­fect matched pair, ac­com­pa­nied by a cer­tifi­cate, bear­ing se­quen­tial se­rial num­bers, and signed by JBL Syn­the­sis/Stu­dio mon­i­tor lead engi­neer Chris Ha­gen, and the in­di­vid­ual as­sem­bly tech­ni­cian who pro­duced them. Th­ese 70th an­niver­sary edi­tion speak­ers have been given the full lux­ury treat­ment and their in­tro­duc­tion af­fords the gen­eral public a rare op­por­tu­nity to en­joy the best of the clas­sics that pre­vi­ously only graced the ears of pro­fes­sional en­gi­neers. For the techie, here’s a quick para­phrase of the in­for­ma­tion avail­able on the JBL web­site: the speak­ers are a 3-way front ported bass re­flex de­sign. The woofer is a 12 inch Aqua-

Plas-coated Pure Pulp cone, the mid is a 5-inch Poly­mer-coated Pure Pulp cone, and the tweeter is a 1-inch Mag­ne­sium/Alu­minum Al­loy dome tweeter with a wave­guide. Fre­quency re­sponse is con­ser­va­tively listed as 44 Hz - 40 kHz (-6 dB), in­di­cat­ing that the em­pha­sis here is on bass con­trol rather than ul­ti­mate ex­ten­sion. Sensitivity is 90 dB with a nom­i­nal im­ped­ance of 6 ohms and rec­om­mended am­pli­fi­ca­tion is 10 to 200 watts, so they should be rel­a­tively easy to drive and ca­pa­ble of ro­bust out­put. Re­tained from its dis­tin­guished stu­dio pre­de­ces­sors, the front panel in­cludes midrange and tre­ble at­ten­u­a­tors to al­low a bit of tai­lor­ing for crit­i­cal room match­ing.

Those as­so­ci­at­ing the term mon­i­tor with com­pact di­men­sions will find the 23-1/2” x 14-1/4” x 12” size and 55.5 lb weight more in the realm of floor-stander ter­ri­tory, so be pre­pared to bring suf­fi­cient mus­cle or help to un­box and ma­neu­ver them into po­si­tion. Th­ese speak­ers will also re­quire ei­ther tra­di­tional stand mount, or al­ter­na­tive sup­port, to op­ti­mize in ei­ther a ver­ti­cal or hor­i­zon­tal place­ment, as the sit­u­a­tion re­quires.


Af­ter set­ting up the 4312 SEs, I se­lected com­po­nents that would give an eclec­tic blend of fi­nesse and mus­cu­lar ac­cu­racy. The sys­tem was com­prised of the 300b based Au­dio Space tube preamp, and a svelte lit­tle 250 watt/chan­nel Cana­dian Au­dio Zone class D am­pli­fier. To en­sure that the JBLs were be­hav­ing up to po­ten­tial, the Isoa­cous­tic speaker iso­la­tion mounts did duty on Charisma speaker stands. Mu­si­cal se­lec­tion was from the Wyred Mu­sic server and Tidal stream­ing ser­vice. The in-room fre­quency re­sponse of the JBL mea­sured re­mark­ably flat, be­fit­ting its pro­fes­sional her­itage, and de­liv­ered bass ex­ten­sion down into the mid 30s with gusto. Highs were clean and de­tailed, with­out be­ing ex­ag­ger­ated. Over­all tonal bal­ance fell on the stu­dio neu­tral side of the ledger, nei­ther adding or sub­tract­ing warmth, but able to truth­fully trans­late those points of char­ac­ter with suf­fi­ciently high re­solv­ing power to iden­tify changes in an­cil­lary equip­ment and sig­nal qual­ity. The in­creased in­for­ma­tion avail­able on high res­o­lu­tion 88/24 record­ings like “Bach: Bran­den­burg Con­cer­tos” by Richard Egarr was eas­ily ap­par­ent, and go­ing back and forth be­tween pop ver­sus acous­ti­cal ver­sions of more mod­ern fare, like “Up We Go” by Cana­dian artist Lights, clearly showed the scope of en­gi­neer­ing and per­for­mance de­ci­sions needed to ac­com­plish the very dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tions. The 4312 SE was easy to drive, show­ing the ben­e­fits of higher ef­fi­ciency, and re­mained broad­band clean and quick on its feet, hold­ing con­sis­tent tonal and dy­namic char­ac­ter over a wide vol­ume range. It re­mained in­for­ma­tive and mu­si­cal at low lis­ten­ing lev­els, and played with un­com­pressed dy­namic fer­vor at quite high vol­ume. In short, it be­haved like a high qual­ity stu­dio con­trol mon­i­tor. The driver match­ing was ac­com­plished with el­e­gance. Multi way speaker de­signs of­ten rely on dis­tance to blend dis­parate driver char­ac­ters into a co­he­sive whole. The bet­ter ones at­tempt to match driver char­ac­ter straight off the baf­fle by care­ful choice of ma­te­ri­als, dy­namic be­hav­ior and ra­di­a­tion pat­terns, em­u­lat­ing the best ideals of a sin­gle wide­band trans­ducer, while adding the ad­van­tages of bet­ter ex­tended range, and dy­nam­ics. The JBL is one of the bet­ter ones in that re­gard. Re­pro­duc­tion of spa­tial di­men­sions showed good left to right spread and good ren­di­tion of depth. The huge sound­stage recorded on the track “the Dancers” from the al­bum Ball­room Ghosts by Jim Cop­perth­waite was ab­so­lutely haunt­ing, and del­i­cately ren­dered. The per­for­mance per­spec­tive of the JBL speaker was in keep­ing with its stu­dio roots, be­ing some­what for­ward in char­ac­ter. Lis­ten­ers an­tic­i­pat­ing only near field ap­ti­tude, will be pleas­antly sur­prised to find that the speak­ers demon­strated a gen­er­ous tol­er­ance of seat­ing po­si­tion, from near field to farfield us­age, as well as prov­ing fairly for­giv­ing of lis­ten­ing height. The 4312 SEs’ lin­eage was de­signed to stay ac­cu­rate in a broad spec­trum of en­vi­ron­ments, and that pa­ram­e­ter played out to form here. They could achieve ex­cel­lent re­sults over a wide range of place­ment and seat­ing ar­range­ments.

Bot­tom line? The JBL 4312 SE 70th An­niver­sary Mon­i­tors may play the nos­tal­gia card with their vin­tage ap­pear­ance, but they serve up top mod­ern abil­ity in the per­for­mance de­part­ment. With rea­son­able at­ten­tion to set up, they can flex mu­si­cal might with rel­a­tively mod­est power re­quire­ments, (but will ben­e­fit from su­pe­rior qual­ity, of course), and their sonic pre­sen­ta­tion man­ages to be truth­ful with­out be­ing ruth­less, invit­ing ex­plo­ration of a wider mu­si­cal cat­a­log, and guar­an­tee­ing their sta­tus as en­joy­able, long term com­pan­ions.

On a per­sonal note, this review af­forded a de­light­ful romp down mem­ory lane. I spent many decades seated at the mas­ter con­sole, en­trust­ing the qual­ity of my au­dio sig­nal to a pair of JBL stu­dio mon­i­tors. They ran faith­fully in a pun­ish­ing 24/7 work en­vi­ron­ment where fail­ure was never an op­tion. To my knowl­edge, they’re still mak­ing mu­sic. If th­ese 4312 SE An­niver­sary speak­ers re­main true to their JBL her­itage, they will be de­liv­er­ing hon­est mu­si­cal sat­is­fac­tion for many gen­er­a­tions to come. It’s com­fort­ing to know you can rely on the proven clas­sics.

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