I always liked large vintage JBL speakers. Unfortunately large vintage JBLs are not very popular in the UK, so finding them is either very difficult or very expensive. The situation is slightly better with smaller JBL speakers. There aren’t many of them but they are definitely easier to find.
I was aware of JBL L26 from various websites and forums, and they seemed to be appreciated by majority of people who were exposed to their sound – often described as “west coast sound”. I was lucky enough to buy them from a local musician. Speakers had normal wear and tear signs, and very typical, pushed in tweeter dust caps. Other than these cosmetic ‘issues’, they were absolutely fine.
Please note – usually before reviewing vintage speakers, I recap the crossovers to ensure that capacitors are within manufacturer’s specification. On this occasion, caps were within specs from the original schematics, so there was no need for a recap. Of course, one may want to use high-end caps or modify the crossover, but this review is of the unmodified speakers.
I was going to write few words myself but I came across this text in the speaker manual, which explains well of what the designers were trying to acheive:
“The L26 was developed through the technology that made JBL the leading manufacturer of loudspeaker system for professional use. It meets the same stringent requirements imposed on JBL’s studio monitors – clear, crisp reproduction, freedom from distortion and lack of coloration – all reasons most major recording groups insist on JBL professional loudspeakers for live performances as well as studio recording.
The L26 achieves the open, effortless performance that is characteristic of JBL loudspeaker systems. It even approaches, within just a few decibels, the thunderous volume levels required of JBL monitors in the recording studio. Each component of the JBL L26 – low frequency loudspeaker, high frequency direct radiator frequency dividing network and enclosure – has been designed to function as part of the complete system, optimizing performance and efficiency without sacrificing definition or the ability to accurately reproduce the fleeting bursts of sonic energy, known as transients, so essential to realism.
Like all JBL loudspeaker system, the JBL L26 utilizes a ported enclosure to increase efficiency and dynamic range rather than a sealed “acoustic suspension” enclosure which achieves bass response at the expense of efficiency, dynamic range and transient reproduction. Efficiency is important for two reasons; it permits use of a relatively low power, moderately priced amplifier, and it allows the amplifier to operate at a lower power level, providing the reserve necessary to achieve full dynamic range and excellent transient reproduction. Efficiency and outstanding reproduction make the L26 ideal for the music listener wanting to combine superb performance with compact size.”
|Sensitivity:||89dB (1W input, measured at 1m)|
|Power Capacity:||35W (continuous program)|
|High Frequency Driver:||LE25-4 36mm (1.4″) Paper Cone|
|Low Frequency Driver:||Model 125A 250mm (10″) Pressed Paper Diaphragm|
|Enclosure Type:||Bass Reflex|
|Enclosure Dimensions (HxWxD):||610x324x337mm (24×12.75×13.25″)|
|Weight:||19kg (each speaker)|
|Price When Launched:||£134 for a pair|
|Equivalent Present Day Price:||£1,460 for a pair|
|Current UK Price:||£150 to £300 for a pair|
Look & Feel of JBL L26
The finishing quality is fairly good but not the best I’ve seen. The enclosures are made from 18mm chipboard, finished in a real wood veneer and dampen with fibreglass. Not the most rigid but sufficient for what they were meant to be used for.
The drivers are very well made. The 1.4in paper tweeters are not something that we see every day. The bass drivers feature 10in paper diaphragms suspended on foam surrounds and driven by small alnico magnets. Unfortunately the suspension foam deteriorates after 10 to 15 years and the drivers need to be re-foamed. Not the end of the world but I like the things that last. The crossovers are fairly basic and feature budget components (electrolytic capacitor and small inductor in each) with an exception of the L-pads which look decent and are made by Alps.
Sound of JBL L26
These were the first JBLs I was going to experience and I was not quite sure what to expect… First thing I noticed was how effortless and smooth the sound is. Despite the fact that the sound is not very transparent and lacking the low level details, it is still very pleasant to listen. I used these speakers as my main speakers for over two weeks and played wide range of tracks through them – not even once I thought “oh, this sounds rubbish, lets change the track”. Yes of course, some of the songs could do with greater transparency and more background details etc., but overall these speakers turned out to be quite easy to listen.
Midrange and treble appear to be well balanced. Clapping as well as saxophones sound quite realistic and voices are smooth. The speakers give an impression of deep and wide soundstage and they are surprisingly good at imaging. What they do very well too is reproduction of string instruments. They sound very realistic and remind me a little of Tannoy LGMs.
Bass-wise, these seem to give an impression that they go lower than they actually do. They definitely produce a lot more bass that you would expect from a speaker of that size. However, the dynamic is where they exceed the most. It may well be the boosted frequency around 120Hz that does it, nonetheless, it is quite impressive. I have a good quality recording of drums made at the Sheffield studio, which I use for these types of tests, and these JBLs really rock it. And I mean it – at the same volume level, they provide greater ‘oomph’ that my modified Yamaha NS1000 with 12in bass driver and 70l ported enclosures!
Judging purely by ear, without any frequency response tests, they appear to be tuned in a smiley face style – with a boost to bass and treble.
JBL L26 are very enjoyable and easy to listen. Fantastic dynamics and very realistic at reproducing string instruments. Good all-rounders for not a lot of money. If I had a choice to spend £150 on modern tower speakers or these vintage JBLs, I would go for these JBLs every single time.
|Balance of Sound:|
|Neutrality of Tone:|