The JBL S310II
is a 3-way floor-standing speaker, measuring 38 inches tall, 13
inches wide, and 12.5 inches deep, and weighing about 55 pounds. Although I
personally prefer a stained or natural wood finish for speakers, I cannot
complain about the sleek black maple finish that these have. Coupled with
the metallic gray/silver of the trim and drivers, the overall appearance is rather nice. Also included are solid black speaker grilles
adorned only with a silver JBL logo at the bottom.
The tweeter is a 1” pure-titanium dome set in what JBL terms an Elliptical
Oblate Spheroidal™ (EOS) waveguide. The oval shape of this enclosure is
intended to increase the dispersion of the sound to create a larger
soundstage. The midrange driver is a 4” PolyPlas™ (polymer-coated cellulose
fiber or, to the layman, treated paper) cone, while the low frequencies are
handled by a 10” PolyPlas™ cone mounted on cast-aluminum frames that help
prevent distortion and allow for an increased power-handling capacity. A 4”
port is located below the woofer. The terminals on the back are all
gold-plated 5-way binding posts. Finally, each tower has four plastic 1” rounded
I connected the speakers to my Denon AVR-3803
receiver with 12-gauge
Monster speaker wire using the banana plug connectors. I used a Sony DVP-S7000
DVD player for both CD and DVD playback, a Sony SCD-CE775 for CD and SACD
playback, and an Echostar PVR501 satellite receiver (connected via optical
digital cable) for television viewing. I auditioned the speakers as a
standalone stereo pair as well as in my full 7.1 surround system. As I
normally use a pair of bookshelf speakers for my mains, I adjusted the Denon’s
crossover setting to 40 Hz.
After allowing for some break-in time, I began my critical listening. I
used a variety of musical styles as well as a few films. The first thing I
noticed was that the S310IIs created a rather large soundstage.
Although I don’t have that big a room to test them in, I felt as if the music
extended well beyond the speakers. This was most apparent with orchestral
music. Using the opening piece from the "Amadeus" soundtrack, Mozart’s
Symphony No. 25 in G Minor (1st Movement), the power of the symphony is
apparent immediately. The piece opens with strong, dire sounding strings,
which sounded powerful through the JBLs. As the dynamics shifted to a much
softer passage, the clarity and presence of the entire orchestra remained. The
expanse of the music translated very well with these speakers.
Imaging was adequate. I was able to discern where various instruments were
placed on the soundstage, however not with as much detail to which I am
accustomed. In addition, it seemed to me that the speakers were very
directional. For example, it made a big difference whether I toed the speakers
in slightly versus leaving them facing straight ahead. Imaging improved when
the speakers were facing in towards the listening position, but that may be
simply because of the short distance between the speakers and the listening
position. This might be something to take into consideration if you have a
smaller listening area.
The detail these speakers produced was a pleasant surprise. I didn’t expect
quite the level of refinement that I heard. One of my favorite recordings is
Dave Brubeck’s "Time Out", because of the experimental nature of the
music. I used the new SACD version and selected the stereo layer (it has a
multi-channel one as well). This album features tracks that use unique rhythms
and time sequencing, especially the third track, Take Five. The piano and
drums sounded very accurate and crisp, something I always listen for when
auditioning speakers. When the saxophone comes in about a minute into the
track, it was reproduced perfectly. Cymbals are not the easiest sound to
reproduce accurately, but the S310IIs did it with aplomb. I next listened to
a recording of Paul Schoenfeld playing some of Scott Joplin’s famous ragtime
tunes to further test the speakers’ ability to reproduce accurate piano.
Again, the notes and character of the instrument sounded excellent.
Switching to DVDs (and a surround setup), the S310IIs continued to perform
well. While not matched with my center speaker, the JBLs provided excellent
front channel sound and power that blended fairly well with my system. As the
speakers can produce bass down to rather low levels (37 Hz according to the
specs), they handled explosions and LFE sounds easily (I switched off testing
between sending the LFE signal to the mains and to the subwoofer). In the
opening scene of "The Matrix", when Trinity takes out the group of cops
who have come to apprehend her, the deep sound of Bullet Time could be felt
as well as heard.
I also pay-per-viewed
"Road to Perdition" in letterbox
and Dolby Digital sound through the DISH PVR501. The score from this film is
fantastic, and there are also some wonderful parts that exhibit a wide dynamic
range. The JBLs continued to impress me throughout the film. In one scene,
there is a montage where Tom Hanks’ character takes out an entire group of men
with his Tommy gun. There is no natural sound at this point, just soft music.
Then, as he begins to fire at the boss, natural sound suddenly returns, in a
deafening barrage of bullets. The bass extension as well as clarity throughout
the change from soft to loud was beautiful. I imagine that with the matched
center speaker, this system would sound awesome for the price range we are
dealing with here.
These speakers will also fit very nicely into a party environment. They can
play very loud with minimal distortion, and the bass driver keeps up very
well. However, at these high volumes, the midrange seems to fall slightly
behind the upper and lower frequencies. The higher frequencies seem to be a
bit harsh at high volumes, while the bass becomes more boomy than musical.
While these conditions are not ideal for the individual listener, they are
minor flaws that will not be apparent at normal listening levels, and
definitely would not be noticed in a party atmosphere. Rather, the clarity
that remains at these high levels would be a positive for such a situation. I
played various Rap and Dance CDs at reference levels, and the JBLs
exquisitely reproduced the beats. The bass extension is excellent, and at
standard listening levels, it balances well with the rest of the audible
Overall, I was impressed with the value for the money that the JBL S310IIs
provide. They are suited to a variety of environments, from the college frat
house to the home theater in your basement. In fact, I would rate them quite
favorably for the home theater application. Detail and the ability to play
loud while maintaining quality are the two best traits these speakers have to
offer. If your budget is tight, and you don’t want to sacrifice the benefits
of having full range left and right channel speakers, these JBLs should be on
your list to audition.