JBL and Harman – AXPONA 2017

by Rafe Arnott

Every time I hear the word “JBL” mentioned I instantly think about their behemoth David Smith-engineered 4435, and 4430 Bi-Radial studio monitors that were introduced in 1981. These were the longest-running professional speaker in production from JBL (1981~1999), and also one of the company’s most successful designs. I had a mild obsession with them for a few months, and devoured as much information on them as I could. I scoured the Internet for used pairs, but they would always be thousands of miles away, usually somewhere in the United States (I’m in Canada), and in need of repairs – never mind the shipping costs (and risks) – so price-wise they became a bit of a bugaboo for me because they would require a significant investment up front just to purchase, and ship them… and then significant investment in acquiring replacement parts, and finding someone who was qualified to service/repair them. Alas, that’s when my fervour for them began to wane, and I moved on to other loudspeakers, but I never forgot the unrequited love affair I had with JBL those years ago. So when I walked into the Audio Solutions room at the Westin O’Hare during AXPONA and saw JBL’s flagship Project Everest DD67000 horn-loaded loudspeakers ($35,000 USD) being fed intravenously by a pair of Mark Levinson No. 536 power amplifiers (400 watts into eight Ohms, $30,000 USD/pair) I was stopped dead in my tracks.

These were (in a sense) the updated/modified reincarnation of the 4435/4430 in my mind, and so I had to pay respect.

While of fairly high sensitivity, JBL transducers typically like power, so the No. 536 power amps had the pair well in hand, and a stack of Levinson electronics including the No. 519 Audio Player ($20,000 USD), which was in charge as the digital source while I was in the room sounded transparently happy. The JBLs are simply massive, weighing in at more than 300lbs apiece, the cabinets boast twinned 15-inch bass drivers, are rated at 96dB, and pressurize rooms in wavelengths of 30Hz to 50KHz. They are a joy to look at, and I have to say I wasn’t the only in the room with a lustful eye upon them. These are big speakers for a really big sound, and this combination didn’t disappoint as they easily filled the space with a huge sound stage, and a sense of scale to instruments, and voices that was proportionately life-size in weight, presence, and realism. Finesse, power, visceral slam, and speed made this a noteworthy system in Chicago.

For those about to rock (with JBL), I salute you.