I’m inherently cheap. I normally don’t troll the waters of speakers above the price of a few thousand dollars per pair lest I incur the wrath of my financial auditor via matrimony. However, the JBL 4349 speakers may cause me to test those limits…
So what makes me attend the JBL 4349 Studio Monitors to such a degree? First, they’re compact (or at least they appear compact compared to the large towers I’ve been using). Even with their stands, and even in black, the studio monitors seem far less imposing than my usual coffin-sized towers. Second, the JBL 4349 Studio Monitors (despite their smaller size and 12-inch driver) manage to energize my room with crisp, tuneful, and deep bass and do so without the need for equalization. JBL’s specifications for these speakers claim bass response to 32Hz which (for most of us) is low enough to eschew the use of a subwoofer. If you’re a pipe organ or rap fanatic, the sub may still be welcome, but in the interest of simplification, I’m trying to omit subs from my system. The JBL 4349s allow me to do this. Third, whatever resources audio giant Harman International (JBL’s parent company) has thrown at the 4349 Studio Monitors they seem to have been successful in preventing any audible transition between the relatively huge 12-inch woofer and the horn midrange/tweeter.
JBL 4349 Studio Monitor Loudspeaker
- Compact but inert cabinet
- Available in walnut or black
- 12-inch woofer, two-way design
- Inaudible crossover
- Can bi-wire or bi-amplify if you choose
- Deep, articulate, and fast bass
- VERY clean, fast, and extended treble
- Amazing dynamics across the audio spectrum
- JBL quality ensures a long and reliable service life
- Orders of magnitude better sound than traditional studio monitors
See – that was an easy-to-write JBL 4349 Studio Monitor review! Of course, there’s so much more to be said about these unusual speakers that I can’t just stop here.
Back in the 1970s, the last time that I even heard a 12-inch two-way speaker, the consistent flaw was always the crossover. You either got a speaker that had bass and treble with nothing in between, or a speaker that beamed its midrange from the 12-inch woofer so much that you had to sit on-axis or the midrange did a disappearing act.
With those prior experiences, I was expecting exactly the same from the JBL 4349 Studio Monitor. But, to my pleasant surprise, JBL was dishing out absolutely nothing of the sort. I got the speakers and stands unboxed (with extensive grunting and mumbling of “the plumbing words”) and set up without incident. I recommend having assistance for the unboxing process – just sayin’. By the way, the stands I received are not the ones recommended by JBL for these specific speakers, but they were in stock and the right height (and JBL was kind enough to send them since I had none that height). All’s well that ends well.
Once set up and wired, I fired up my amp and my jaw dropped. This was a HORN speaker? What I saw and what I heard created extreme cognitive dissonance. Without any speaker positioning, I was getting amazingly wide and deep imaging and absolutely no indication of a crossover dip. I listened carefully and for quite a while trying to find flaws where the woofer and horn crossed over, and just couldn’t do it. Eventually, I was able to identify a narrow (very narrow) frequency just at the lower sibilance range where I could (very rarely) hear a slight blur – but not consistently. I tried changing amplifiers to see if my tube amp was contributing that blur, but it persisted even with my solid-state monoblocks. Even now, I can’t say for sure if the blur is in the speaker or in the way my room is interacting with the 4349s.
And the ONLY reason that the slight blur is noticeable at all is that the rest of the sound (from top to bottom) is so startlingly clear and open. I’ve never heard such a clear and detailed presentation in my listening room. Don’t think that the detail from the speaker is bright and etched either; it isn’t. JBL provided both a lower treble and higher treble adjustment on the front of the speaker (just below the horn), but the balance was so perfect that after trying them out, I decided that the most neutral position was at the factory-supplied zero mark for both.
The second amazing thing about the JBL 4349 Studio Monitor speakers is their complete lack of what I call “horn honk.” Over the decades, horn speakers have excelled at two things – high sensitivity and strong dynamics. But with those virtues, you also got the constant reminder that you were listening to horn-loaded speakers because of a midrange honk specific to the mechanics of the horns themselves. Some have compared this to the sound of voices through cupped hands about the mouth. The JBL engineers have created a horn in this 4349 Studio Monitor that delivers the horn virtues in spades without any of the traditional honking sound. This is miraculous in that one can now enjoy the wide dispersion, high detail, and strong dynamics of the horns without any trace of the traditional horn sound. This alone makes the JBL 4349 Studio Monitor one of the most startling speakers on the market at any price.
D2415K dual 1.5-inch (38mm) compression driver mounted to a high-definition imaging horn cast in sonoglass
12-inch (300mm) cast-frame, pure (paper) pulp cone with 3” voice coil
HF & UHF tone controls
Dual, bridged gold-plated terminals with shorting straps
Walnut with a blue grill or black ash with a black grill
25-200 watts per channel
91dB @ 2.83 Volts (One Watt)
32Hz to 25kHz (-6dB)
-6dB @ 20kHz = 80×70 degrees (Hor x Vert) / -6dB @ 10kHz = 100×100 degrees (Hor x Vert)
V-braced, front-ported cabinet
83 lbs (37.7kg)
29″ H x 17.5″ W x 12.5″ D (736.6mm x 444.5mm x 317.5mm) Note grille thickness is 1-inch (25.4mm)
$7,500 / pair
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First and foremost, these puppies are HEAVY! JBL says that the 4349 Studio Monitors weigh only 83 pounds each, but their size makes that load awkward to lift and position. My floors are hard so I can slide the speakers on their stands around fairly easily, but if I had carpet, things would be more difficult. The good news is that the speakers image really well even if not ideally placed, but if you’re going to spend this much on speakers, you probably want them optimized to your room.
Second, the bass of the JBL 4349 Studio Monitors sounds much deeper than the specs would indicate. This is contrary to manufacturers who sometimes publish optimistic numbers for their speakers’ bass response. The 12-inch woofers of the 4349s also can energize my room with bass in a way that multiple, smaller-diameter bass drivers just can’t. I understand the theoretical concept of having more nimble, smaller bass drivers in multiples, but my room just isn’t buying it. The big drivers of the JBL 4349 Studio Monitors sound as if they go at least a half octave below the 32Hz -6dB spec.
And, most delightfully, the 4349’s woofers don’t lose pitch definition or speed despite their size and weight. But as good as the bass is, it is NOT their best feature – that would be the midrange and treble! JBL’s horns put out a dynamic, clear, open, and extended midrange and treble. Again, I was highly skeptical about the 38mm horn driver – surely it couldn’t have the high-end sparkle and extension of a smaller driver of lighter mass? But from the first listen, the squinched-up-looking horn and its driver just astounded me. Not only did it disappear as being a discreet sound source, but the dispersion provided a holographic-sounding image with more clarity than I’d heard in my room before.
So, I hear you thinking, “great bass, great treble – what about the midrange?” To which I reply – “No worries!” You’ve got to WORK to hear the crossover, and even then, you can’t hear it the vast majority of the time. The JBL 4349 sounds just as open and clear in the midrange as it does at both ends of the frequency spectrum. This is just an astounding performance from a 12-inch, two-way speaker. Really!
JBL did a good job with the packing of the 4349 Studio Monitor speakers. The boxes have unpacking instructions on the outside, and if you follow them, it is a straightforward experience. My set (being a review pair) lacked the owner’s manual, but the internet sufficed instead. The bridging straps are already installed, and any wire works fine (I used Kimber Kable and was very pleased with the results). The JBL 4349 Studio Monitors instantly revealed a problem with my system that I’d previously been unaware of. Something in my streaming system (Ethernet switch?) was causing a low-level repetitive noise about every seven seconds. I suspect a leaky capacitor in the Ethernet switch’s wall-wart. When I switched to wireless streaming, the issue resolved itself. But it took the resolution of the JBL 4349 Studio Monitors for me to even hear the issue in the first place.
Being a tinkerer, I immediately began fiddling with the HF and UHF adjusters on the front of the speakers. But I decided quickly that the 4349s sounded most neutral with those tone controls at their zero positions, and left them alone after that. I placed the speakers about nine feet apart and about 10 feet from the listening position. After moving them in and out, fore and aft, I left them where I started.
ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT USED IN THIS REVIEW:
- USB HDD feeding Roon 1.8 on a Mac Mini – connected via Wi-Fi to
- AURALiC Aries Mini streamer/DAC controlled by Roon Remote on an iPad
- Kimber Kable interconnects and speaker cables
- Black Ice Audio F22 tube integrated amplifier
- Audio-gd HE-1 solid-state preamplifier
- Emotiva PA-1 solid-state monoblock amplifiers
- Room absorbers & diffusers from ATS
- Amazingly tight, tuneful, and deep bass from the 12-inch paper cone woofer.
- Inaudible transition from the woofer to the midrange/treble horn.
- Clearest and most dynamic midrange and treble I’ve ever heard.
- Sturdy cabinet in your choice of walnut or black finish.
- Bi-wire and Bi-amp capable.
- JBL quality assures durability over the decades.
- More family-friendly price
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, “Schöne Tanz Klassik für die Kleinen”
From the album “Schöne Tanz Klassik für die Kleinen” comes this selection of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. This is a good (not great, but good) performance of this perpetually popular warhorse. With the JBL 4349 Studio Monitors, you get a good soundstage of the players with a particularly vivid sense of the instruments. Some speakers blend the sound of the instruments too much, but these speakers maintain separation.
Nouveau Flamenco, “Barcelona Nights”, Otmar Liebert
From Otmar Liebert’s “Nouveau Flamenco” comes the ever-popular “Barcelona Nights.” This cut calls into vivid perspective the speakers’ ability to portray a solo instrument without boxiness and with convincing fidelity to the original sound. A similar test might be any of the acoustic music on, for example, the Joni Mitchell album “Clouds”. In these tests, the JBL 4349 Studio Monitors displayed one of their very few flaws – their inability to avoid sounding boxy in comparison to speakers such as the Magnepan LRS.
Now some will claim that ANY box speaker would sound colored compared to the Magnepans, but I’d dispute that. The Alta Audio Alec speaker, for example, managed to sound pretty boxless for only a 50% price increase above these JBLs. But the fact remains that at least some box coloration is evident in the JBL 4349 Studio Monitors. Is this a crippling problem? It depends on your taste. The boxy sound is pretty minimal, but it is audibly there. I didn’t find that it impeded my ability to enjoy the performance, but you might. For this reason, I’d definitely recommend an audition prior to the purchase of the JBLs. And that said, I’m probably seriously overemphasizing the boxiness issue – it isn’t normally audible at all, and unless you’re specifically listening for it, it will never be noticeable. So don’t let this comment dampen your enthusiasm – the multiple virtues of the JBL 4349 certainly overcome any shortcomings. This is a world-class studio monitor speaker!
Josephine (Featuring Anduze – 1930 version), “The Demon Diaries”, Parov Stelar
Having been introduced to Parov Stelar via YouTube, I availed myself of one of their studio CDs. It was a mistake. Parov Stelar, like another of my favorite bands, Pink Martini, is SO much better live than they are in the studio. Nevertheless, I enjoy their music despite the slower and less enthusiastic performances inherent in their studio works. For this review, I listened to Parov Stelar’s “Josephine (Featuring Anduze – 1930 version)” from the CD “The Demon Diaries.”
The JBL 4349 Studio Monitors played the music with great fidelity to the original recording so far as I could tell, but despite the dynamics, despite the great bass, and despite the enjoyment of the music itself, it painfully lacked the enthusiasm that the YouTube performance was able to provide. Of course, this isn’t the speakers’ fault, but the JBLs were sufficiently good to highlight the differences.
Italian Concerto for Solo Keyboard in F Major (Clavier Übung 1/1) BVW 97 (BC L7): III Presto), “Bachbusters”, Don Dorsey
The opening bass impact of “Italian Concerto for Solo Keyboard in F Major (Clavier Übung 1/1) BVW 97 (BC L7): III Presto)” from Don Dorsey’s “Bachbusters” CD should gobsmack you. If it doesn’t, then you can be sure you’re NOT listening to the JBL 4349 Studio Monitors. This track vividly exhibits the very best things about these speakers – dynamics, bass extension, bass pitch control, treble neutrality, and did I mention dynamics?
This isn’t any Magnepan sound! The sounds of the synthesizer jump out of the image with startling impact and HUGE sound staging. Even if you’re a fan of planar panel speakers, I’ve never heard any that can do what the JBL Studio Monitors can do with Synthetic music like this. As soon as Bachbusters finished, I just had to put on Krafterwork’s “The Mix” album and listen to the extended version of “Autobahn” again. That’s how well the JBLs handle this music. I’m in love!
“All I Want To Do In Life”, J. Clement
Now I’ll warn you that you may have trouble finding a CD-quality copy of this music. I wasn’t able to find one online (other than in a reduced-quality YouTube version). I was also unable to find a copy of the source album (All I Want To Do In Life) in CD form. So I purchased a copy of the original vinyl album, then persuaded my audio amigo, Russell Coco, to rip the vinyl to CD-quality digital.
The result is one of the best-sounding tracks in my library. And the JBL 4349 Studio Monitors definitely do it justice. The whispers in the background are crystal clear and sound “right” without sibilance and with a good sense of the girl’s voice (despite being mezza voce). One of the local stereo stores used this specific track back in the 1970-1980 time frame to demo speakers, and I never forgot it. I’m so glad that it’s back in my library, and I routinely use it to wow visitors when I want to show off my stereo.
The Whistling Gypsy, “Simple Song of Freedom”, Leo & Patrick McGuire
From the Time-Life Series “Folk Years” comes the box set “Simple Song of Freedom.” One of the tracks from disc eight of the set is “The Whistling Gypsy” by Leo & Patrick McGuire. This is another of those relatively simple songs, performed live, that has the potential to out any tendency toward boxiness that a speaker may have. Despite this, the Whistling Gypsy on the JBL 4349 Studio Monitors sounds far more open and uncolored than the previously mentioned Otmar Liebert and Joni Mitchell music.
In fact, the whistling and singing complement each other in a soundstage of wonderful openness until the final verse and the audience applause that sound so real you’ll think you’re there in the audience yourself.
Here is JBL’s frequency response curve for the 4349 Studio Monitor Speaker:
JBL comments: Notice that the design actually intentionally includes the slight dip in the sound power near crossover, as it helps accentuate and make the high frequencies sound more detailed without actually raising their level (as in our older studio monitors).
I concur with the design choice and think that the effect is exactly what is needed.
The JBL 4349 speakers offer unique and unrivaled clarity, detail, and dynamics. Perfect for not only studio monitoring but also home audio. Highly recommended!
The JBL 4349 Studio Monitor speakers, at their $7,500/pair list price, won’t appeal as an audio bargain – until you listen to them. These speakers have more clarity and dynamics than any other speaker pair I’ve ever heard and they deliver those virtues without any trace of the historic “horn sound.” The JBLs are sensitive enough to drive with low-powered amplifiers including tube equipment, and they sound great almost regardless of the front end of the system. Perfect for studio monitoring? Absolutely! But don’t think that these speakers are not equally suited for stereo or home theater use – they sound amazing! If your priorities are dynamics and clarity without glare or brittleness, then you owe it to yourself to hear these speakers. Even if you can’t afford them, the experience of hearing the JBL 4349 Studio Monitor speakers will show you what is possible with modern horn technology!