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A short film about the JBL L100 Classic

  • “We won’t be told that the past was pure gold. We were there and it wasn’t”. The Prefab Sprout b-side ‘Nero The Zero’ might be long forgotten by most of the world but for this Sprouts fan, the song’s defining lyric is as memorable as ever. Paddy McAloon’s wordplay serves as an ongoing personal reminder that nostalgia can be a wicked deceiver: that over time our sentimentality for the past helps us filter out bad memories to leave only the good. If you lived through the 1980s, do you remember the decade as a walking John Hughes film or the height of the Cold War?

    Once considered a mental disorder, modern research tells us that nostalgia is a neural defence mechanism that helps us cope with depression, loneliness and even physically uncomfortable conditions.

    Could it be that the older we get, the more sentimental we become and the greater nostalgia’s grip on us? With the audiophile world’s demographic skewing towards gentlemen heading into their autumn years – those who lived through the 1970s – is there a marketing opportunity to be exploited? Panasonic answered in the affirmative by bringing the Technics SL-1200 turntable back to life at CES 2016. Two years later, also at CES, HARMAN teased the JBL L100 Classic loudspeaker (US$4000/pair).

    Like Panasonic, HARMAN’s nostalgia play is purely aesthetic. This is NOT your Father’s JBL L100. The Classic is an all-new design, brought to life by the audio engineering team now working at HARMAN’s research facility in Northridge, CA: new drivers, new crossover network and a new V-shaped cabinet brace. Even JBL’s iconic Quadrex grille has been reworked. It’s now made of plastic to be longer-lasting than the foam grille that shipped with the 1970’s original.

    A pair of L100 Classic arrived at the Darkohaus mid-February. With each speaker weighing almost 30kg and double-boxed against possible transit damage, extracting one from its packaging would be a two-man job for anyone in a hurry. It took this commentator working alone almost an hour to 1) unbox both loudspeakers and the matching JS-120 stands (US$300), 2) carefully place each loudspeaker on its stand and 3) tidily stash the packaging in the cellar.

    Furthermore, the L100 Classic’s bulky dimensions make them an awkward lift. Finding the optimal in-room position took time: lift the speaker from its stand; move the stand; place the speaker back on its stand; repeat. It’s a process not only patience but some degree of physical strength.

    Once rooted in their optimal spot, the JBL deliver an e n o r m o u s soundstage, a hefty low-end kick-punch and oodles of treble refinement to remind us that this is not a straight re-issue of the original L100 but an all-analogue remaster that uses the original studio tapes as a starting point:

    Camera: Olaf von Voss | Editor: John Darko | Motion GFX: John Darko

    Review music playlists: SpotifyTidal and Qobuz.

    Further information: JBL Synthesis

    It’s been a while since any product received a Knockout Award but the JBL L100 Classic deserve one simply for wrapping the very latest in loudspeaker engineering in a nostalgia-soaked shell for a result that stuns sonically and visually.

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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