JBL Northridge E Series E100 Floor-Standing, EC35 Center Channel, E50 Surround Speakers, and E250P Subwoofer November, 2004 Brett Johnson
When I was asked to do the review of the revised JBL Northridge E series
speakers, I was interested in having a large floor standing speaker in my
system for a change. I believe I mentioned to my wife, as I left town on a
business trip, that their might be a “couple of boxes” showing up from JBL.
I was a bit surprised when I looked in the garage a few days later, and I could not see the other side of the pile of boxes. This was definitely not a one person job, nor would it be something that you would pick up in one load at your favorite JBL dealer. Unless of course you were driving a full size pickup truck or large SUV.
This is a big system, and it is capable of moving a lot of air. The fine folks at JBL sent me seven speakers and two subwoofers. I felt like a roadie moving all of these boxes around, and after about 5 hours of serious aerobic activity I took a break and started looking over the included specifications.
The intent of the Northridge series is to provide Pro Sound quality at a moderate price, whether they are a stereo pair or a full blown seven-channel surround system. It was my goal to put them through their paces in both environments and see how they held up.
JBL chose to send me two E100’s for left and right fronts, four E50’s for surround service, and the EC35 for center channel duty. The bottom end was handled by a pair of E250P subwoofers. This is where I have to throw out a few caveats:
Setting up a room with this many big speakers and two subwoofers is a time consuming process. Just the two subs are tricky to get placed, and when you throw in the large floor-standing E100’s, it is important to take enough time to experiment a bit with placement.
The extra time in this case was spent moving the two subwoofers around the room to get them to blend well with the bottom end on the E100’s. I used the Goldline Audio Toolkit, and a couple of other favorite discs to get the Boom outta the Room.
The Northridge Series are three-way designs - except for the E10, E20, E30, and EC25 which are two-way - utilizing the same ¾” tweeter, midranges, and woofers. This allows the speakers in the family to be combined in systems that provide a lot of flexibility and choice for the consumer.
The anchors of this system are the large E100 floor-standers. They have a pair of 10 inch drivers for bass, a 4 inch midrange, and a ¾” tweeter. In a stereo pair, they are capable of very high output. Combined with the rest of this system they allow for the very realistic reproduction of both high energy musical performance and demanding movie sound tracks.
The EC35 center channel speaker was very similar in size to my current center, so it was not a problem to locate it in the same spot. In my room, the center channel speaker sits above the screen on a stand that is aimed at the seating area and allows the speaker to be firmly clamped to the mount. The speaker is about 2 ½ feet from the ceiling and about 7 ½ feet from the floor. My room was designed for this placement, and it works very well even with floor-standing left and right speakers. The EC35 uses two 5 1/4” woofers spaced outside of a ¾’ tweeter mounted above the 3” midrange. This speaker was impressive in its ability to support the rest of the system, while having the smallest driver array.
The E50’s are designed to be a stereo pair and are asymmetrical. They use a single 8” woofer mounted alongside the stacked ¾” tweeter and 4” midrange driver. This speaker also makes use of two tuned ports rather than one.
I put the E50’s on 1 meter tubular steel stands. I chose to start with one pair at 900 and 2700, and the other at 1350 and 2250 from the front of the room.
The E250P subwoofers are not huge, but they are not compact either. They use a 12” version of the PolyPlas driver, powered by a 250 watt Class D amplifier. The sub uses an auto-on-off function that actually seemed to work without shutting off inadvertently. The back panel has a full complement of controls including crossover points for speaker-level and line-level (but not LFE) inputs, phase correction switching, selective crossover bypass (LFE switch), and output level adjustment. Stereo inputs for line-level signals are high quality gold plated RCA’s, and the speaker-level inputs use the same five-way binding posts as the other speakers in the series.
Technically I think that the Northridge series provide a good sounding system with the material costs focused where they belong. The cabinets are sturdy, and while very plain looking, are finished reasonably well. The focus here seems to be on the drivers and internal components, which are combined wisely producing good sounding speakers at a good value to the consumer.
JBL used ports in all of these speakers with the E50 having two, and the rest of them having a single port. This helps to boost the bass output, but also adds to cabinet volume.
Except for the E10, E20, and EC25, the Northridge speakers use a four-terminal, rectangular cup, five-way binding posts. They have factory supplied jumpers, and easily removable Euro guards. The posts easily accommodated my WTB Banana style connectors and were easy to operate weather bi wiring or stacking connectors. I stuck with Bi-wiring to remain consistent throughout listening sessions.
As I mentioned the speakers are reasonably efficient, having a specified sensitivity of 90 dB for the E50’s and 91 for the E100’s and the EC35. Good sensitivity combined with the 8 ohm nominal impedance makes these speakers perform well with even lower powered components. Pump them up with a large amplifier and they will give you as much sound as you can handle without breaking up much below 100dB.
The initial setup was using only the 80 Hz crossover
in my receiver for the surrounds and
center channels. The subs were fed the LFE and the summed bass from those
channels crossed over at 80 Hz. The front left and right were set to Large
and run full range.
I did not use any other equalization or signal manipulation for any of the listening sessions other than the 80 Hz internal crossover.
I put a disc in the player and let the speakers run overnight on repeat, for break-in.
Now I have to say that it is really coincidence that JBL was sponsoring Eric
Clapton’s concert tour. I purchased tickets two months
before these speakers showed up, and I had been listening to a lot of his
discs and DVD’s to get myself into the spirit of a big coliseum style show.
The Live at Hyde Park DVD is a favorite, and I popped it in and sat down to
listen a bit.
I usually start evaluating a new set of speakers after about a week of listening. I will go through a laundry list of music, movies, and familiar material to get acquainted with the differences between what is new and what is similar to my regular system. I think that we are broken-in to a new speaker rather than the other way around. I usually keep the SPL meter close by to get a feel for the way the speakers sound at different levels.
The thing that I noticed right away about this system was that they were very easy to listen to. Acoustic guitar, harmonica, and Clapton’s inevitable low neck work on the Strat, were all sounding familiar and tight. They sounded well balanced in surround modes and worked very well on stereo material. The speakers as a group are very efficient and will work well with even modestly powered receivers or amplifiers.
The thing that is undeniable is the JBL Pro Sound roots of the Northridge Series. These speakers are classic rockers and I put them to the test with a variety of material.
I love to use my system for watching concert performances. It is my favorite type of source material. I recently found one of my favorite live CD’s on DVD, INXS’s Live Baby Live. If you like the CD, go buy the DVD now! It is fantastic. If you don’t like the band you will still get chills when the set starts with the big tom tom booming from the drum kit, and as the camera pans over a sea of screaming people, you are there!
The feeling of being there is critically enhanced by the quality of the sound; in this case the JBL’s do their part well. The EC35 center channel did not wither when pushed up into the mid to high 90’s on the SPL meter. The surrounds filled the room so well, it was hard to imagine that they weren’t all E100’s.
I think that the E50 is the surprise of the group. They have good bass response, and engulf the room with sound that belies their small size. (I did experiment with a 5.1 setup using just the four E50’s with the EC35 and the two subs, and it sounded great.)
I spent a little time tweaking and made some positive improvements. The first was to swap the two rear speakers placing the tweeter facing towards the back wall. This created a mirror image on each side and eliminated the little bit of localization that was happening.
I also set all of the speakers to be crossed over at 80 Hz (Ooh! Ooh! Buuuurn Him He’s a Witch), because I know from past experience that this works well. I will not use the space to explain this, but rest assured you can find a ton of opinion about it on many websites.
I had a dinner party that evening, and the system was going to be entertaining kids with Finding Nemo, while the parents ate dinner, and the evening ended with a bunch of 40ish air guitar players jamming to AC DC Live at Donegal. The defining moment was the exuberant shouting of two of my guests that, “THIS SOUNDS JUST LIKE A CLUB”.
I had to agree that it was really reminiscent of a live club performance. The interesting thing was that these speakers did just as good of a job with the bubbles in Finding Nemo, and with flute sounds from the wheat field scene in Gladiator.
I listened to a few of my favorite David Chesky recordings including the SACD of Bucky Pizarelli’s Swing Live. Throw in one of my favorite voice tests, the Persuasions' acapella version of "8 Days a Week", from the Chesky Ultimate Surround Sampler DVD.
I think that JBL has hit the nail on the head with regard to price point and performance. The Northridge Series will not be the source of buyer’s remorse for those of you who give them a try. And you will have some money left in your wallet to add a few other gadgets to your system, or some new cables to connect all the gadgets up.
- Brett Johnson -