JBL Northridge E90 Floor-Standing Speakers December, 2004 Adrian Wittenberg
JBL is one of many brands in the Harman International Group that benefits from Harman's huge research and development department and testing facilities. You can find JBL audio products being used everywhere from movie theaters to concert stadiums under their professional line, and also in living rooms all across the country. They have built a reputation with the public for creating quality loudspeakers that work well with music or movies and have developed quite a fan base over the years.
JBL's Northridge series is designed around the thought that performance can be delivered at a moderate price, and the line includes bookshelf speakers, floor-standing speakers, center channel speakers, and subwoofers. Recently, we reviewed a complete Northridge system. The present review focuses on the E90s in a two-channel listening setup.
The E90 floor-standing speakers are a three-way design, featuring dual 8” bass drivers, a 4” midrange driver, and a ¾” titanium laminate dome tweeter. The bass drivers cross over at 300 Hz, and the mid driver crosses over at 4 kHz. The mid and bass drivers use PolyPlas™ technology for their cone material. This consists of a fiber-based cone that is reinforced with a polymer, which enhances the rigidity of the cone. The increased rigidity of the cone will act more like a unified piston and also move the breakup point of the cone to a higher point in the frequency spectrum (higher than the crossover frequency).
The ported enclosure is made of MDF and is covered with a wood veneer finish available in black, cherry, or beech. These speakers are about forty inches tall, weigh 48 pounds, and come with spikes for the feet. I love the look of real wood, and the rich cherry finish of the review models just glowed with warmth in my living room. The rear of the speaker has dual, gold-plated, binding posts, making bi-wiring for the lows and highs possible. These speakers are rated at 8 ohms nominal and 91 dB sensitivity, so they are perfect for medium powered receivers.
I reviewed these speakers entirely in two-channel mode, although they certainly would work well in a home theater environment. The bass extends down to 34 Hz, so they can stand by themselves for most musical and movie listening. If you want that real deep impact though, pair them up with JBL's Northridge E150 or E250 series subwoofers, which are in the same price category. I played these speakers continuously for three hours at a time at mid-level volumes for about two weeks. After that time, the speakers started to loosen up and the real warmth of the midrange started to come through. I found they worked very well placed about six feet apart and toed inwards about 100.
I tested these speakers using a Yamaha 5760 receiver, and a Panasonic CP-72 DVD player.
Glenn Gould's 1955 performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations (Columbia House) is considered by many to be a landmark performance for classical piano. Gould's technique and timing are impeccable and his stylish contributions to the piece are astounding. The JBL E90s have the performance to bring this piece to life. For example, the sound has good projection and clarity in all the tonal ranges and is especially warm in the midrange, which makes listening that much more relaxing.
Some of the passages in this recording are incredibly fast and require good definition in the upper range, which the E90s also deliver eloquently. It is a shame that some of the great classical performances were recorded under less than ideal conditions. That doesn't keep me from enjoying the music though. It was a pleasure to listen to this older recording on these speakers.
I used Steve Reich's Triple Quartet album to test for imaging. In "Electric Guitar Phase", four electric guitars play a repeating melodic pattern in unison with each other and then slightly offset from each other in varying ways. This creates new melodies and rhythms with each variation. The E90s created a very nice soundstage with good separation of instruments. I was able to hear the guitars separate from each other and move within the soundstage as they panned from left to right and faded in and out with volume. The guitar notes could also get high in pitch and the E90s always projected the treble cleanly with a tone that was never shrill, which made listening enjoyable.
My new favorite jazz album is The Roy Haynes Trio, with Danilo Perez and John Patitucci. It features studio and live performances of their tributes to many of jazz's most influential musicians. I greatly enjoyed listening to this album on the E90s. They have the crispness to bring the drums alive, and their warmth just makes John Pattitucci's bass sing. Roy Haynes' drum set was accurately reproduced with crisp authentic cymbals, deep melodic tom toms, and authoritative kick drum notes.
A piano, bass, and drum trio has the dynamic range to give any set of speakers a run for their money and the E90s created a musical experience that had me looking for the remote's repeat button.
I down-mixed all surround sound material to two channel stereo mode, which is the way to go if you don't have a center, subwoofer, and surrounds. These work great by themselves for movie viewing with lots of dialogue. The human voice needs to sound natural, and it certainly does with these speakers. The E90s also work well by themselves because they are able to project sound into the whole living room. The sound doesn't skimp on any of the frequency ranges, and thus makes it suitable for the music soundtrack or the dynamics of intense action scenes. These speakers are versatile enough to play movies on their own, but would really shine with the rest of the setup.
The JBL E90 floor-standing speaker is a great value for a full-range speaker with good performance. Their neutrality makes them suitable for a wide range of music and movie listening, and they have good bass extension. They have excellent tonal range with no skimping on any band, and they are exceptionally warm in the midrange, which makes for an entirely musical experience. I would classify these as a workhorse speaker because they are versatile enough for refined listening, intense action movies, or a house party. They are definitely a solid performer in this price range.
- Adrian Wittenberg -
Yamaha 5760 Receiver
Panasonic CP-72 DVD Player
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