The JBL L100 was every music-loving teenager’s ultimate fantasy speaker in the 1970s, but they couldn’t afford them. It’s easy to see why it was such a big deal, all of the competition’s speakers were drab and boring, the L100, decked out with bright orange grilles were anything but. With the grilles removed those big white 12-inch (300mm) woofers looked extra cool, and the gorgeous oiled walnut cabinet was to die for! The sound was big and bold, and it’s no wonder the L100 was the best-selling speaker in JBL’s long history. And now the company has brought it back, long live the L100 Classic!
Back in the day audio nerds (like me) knew the L100 was the consumer version of JBL’s sought after 4311 pro studio monitors. The L100 epitomized 1970s West Coast sound, and once you heard an L100, all other speakers sounded rather feeble.
That was then, this is now
I went to the Harman Store in NYC to audition the rechristened model, the L100 Classic. The new three-way speaker looks nearly the same as the original, but closer inspection reveals the L100 Classic sports all-new drivers. I was relieved to see that. I heard an original 1970s L100 speaker a few years ago and the sound wasn’t fully up to 21st century standards. The highs were soft and brittle at the same time, and while the bass was room filling, definition was lacking.
The L100 Classic is an altogether different beast. It’s full of life, rich and juicy, so it sounds like an idealized 1970s model, a lot better than the original L100.
The real walnut finished cabinet isn’t small, it’s 25×15.3×14.6 inches (636x389x371mm) and it weighs in at a substantial 58.5 pounds (26.7 kg). I was thrilled to see the JBL designers perfectly replicated the original’s Quadrex foam grille, available in your choice of black, orange or blue
The L100 Classic’s drivers are newly designed. There’s a 12-inch (300mm) white cone, pure pulp woofer with a cast frame; a five-inch (125mm) pure pulp cone midrange; and a one-inch (28mm) titanium dome tweeter. There’s a bass port on the front baffle, right next to the midrange driver. The speaker has high-frequency and mid-frequency level controls on the front baffle.
The new L100 Classic runs $4,000 per pair, UK and Australia pricing hasn’t been confirmed yet, but the US price converts to £3,057 and AU$5,527 respectively.
Listening to the new Classic
While it’s classified as a “bookshelf” speaker the L100 Classic has the power of a mid-size tower speaker. The Isle of Dogs film soundtrack’s pounding bass drums and chorus had power a plenty, anf the L100 Classic plays loud with ease. The visceral power of the drums was awe-inspiring.
I next played Krushevo, a brilliant audiophile recording of two acoustic guitarists, Vlatko Stefanovski and Miroslav Tadic, playing inside the incredible acoustics of the Macedonium Monument located in Krushavo, Macedonia. I didn’t just hear the guitars, I heard their sound filling this incredible space. The music took on a three-dimensional presence, and I felt like I was there inside the Monument.
Next Led Zeppelin II brought memories rushing back, that era is the L100 Classic’s raison d’etre after all. John Bonham’s drums shook the room, Jimmy Page’s guitar screamed and Robert Plant’s vocals came through loud and clear. I was listening louder than I normally would, and the L100 Classic’s rock roots were showing. It kicks butt with gusto, but doesn’t have the resolution of a GoldenEar Technology Triton or Focal Aria 948 speaker.
Even so the JBL L100 Classic is unabashedly a baby boomer’s dream speaker. If you’re of a certain age and remember how the original held sway, this new one will rekindle your love of music. If you’re a millennial audiophile with deep pockets and want to treat yourself to a sound that fueled classic rock back in the day, the L100 Classic deserves a serious audition.