Let's get right to it rather than my usual goofing around, shall we? I heard the JBL LSR308 during my computer-source setup event. Since then I've been stalking bargains on them and their little brother, as speakers I don't need but want (and will have to find a place for). It so happened that the regularly $149.99/per LSR305s went on sale in a special red version at Guitar Center. At $99.99 per, how could I pass up such a deal (now sold out)? The LSR305 is regularly available at some discount, but not that low.
The LSR 308 is an active 8" two-way with a waveguide loaded soft-dome tweeter, and the 305 is the 5" little brother. These are the most trickled-down version of JBL's M2 reference monitor available, with the 7 series occupying the middle ground boasting compression drivers to the 3 series domes, and better driver tech. The 3 series boasts the same "Image control" waveguide design as the M2s, which relies upon a distributed diffraction behavior to get excellent dispersion. I'm not convinced that it's better than a simpler, lower-diffraction horn, but I've not heard objectionable coloration, so it's not like the slot-horns of yore. Polars from these designs are impeccable, so pattern control is not in question at all. They also have JBL's updated port technology, Slipstream, which is a flare profile designed to maximize port performance and minimize extraneous noise. In the M2s, dual front-firing ports are there, in the 3 series it's a single, rear-firing port. The actively bi-amped 305s sport 41Wx2 via class D amps on the back panel, with TRS and XLR inputs, gain control, and +/-2dB bass and treble adjustment switches.
The obvious question is, why would a man spend any time with speakers that cost less than anything else in the rig? It's clearly out-of-balance and absurd, I've always held the belief (and still do) that speakers should always be the most expensive part of a system (with the occasional display taking precedence in value-oriented home theaters). But the low end of the budget has come a long way, baby. Spectacular measured performance and a great design go a LONG way to compensating for an inexpensive enclosure (fortunately small panels are easier to manage than large) and components (cheap but solid).
These are a lot like the Behringer 2031P/ 2031A series speakers- they were 8" waveguided two-ways with very impressive performance, in a DI matched 2 way design (just like my reference system but that's 15" and full-scale horn with expensive drivers and fancy enclosure yadda yadda). The 2031s have been my go-to speakers for budget/space conscious people looking to get into hi-fi for several years now. I'm going to make you keep reading for my conclusions about how the 305s perform....
Hears the sound of a thousand mice scrolling to the bottom.
I hauled out my coated cinder block stands from the garage to set these up on, the size and shape is about perfect for these, and certainly the budget-oriented speakers should have inexpensive stands to work with! I initially used a set of adaptors to convert from 1/8" stereo out of a lowly iPhone, into RCA cables, then into the 1/4" TRS inputs. They performed fine but obviously that's not an acceptable configuration to really see what they can do. I wired up some 10' XLR cables with inexpensive but quality Belden cable and my preferred DH Labs XLRs to run them off the McIntosh MX-121, where I could then try with multiple sources. So, cheap speakers, cheap stands, pro but affordable cable with fancy-pants connectors and a McIntosh. Real consistent....
I started my time with Netflix content while working on a rather cool speaker project, to give them an opportunity to break in and get familiar with their sound in a loose way. They were, at their worst, reasonable performers. Bass was good for a tiny speaker, as were dynamics, but not top-of-class even amongst very small systems. More importantly, however, the LSR305s exhibited a clean, non-fatiguing sound with very fine vocal quality. Intelligibility and tonality were very good, which is quite a feat for a small, plastic-baffled speaker. LBL's LSR305s didn't call attention to themselves at all, a trait I seek out in loudspeakers. Speakers that "jump out at you" tend to do so because they are doing something unnatural, often a peak in frequency response or a resonance, that at first can seem compelling but gets worse every time to listen. Imaging held up well across a wide listening position, and the speaker locations never drew attention to their location, the hallmarks of a well-designed, low diffraction, constant directivity design.
They were not at the level of clarity, dynamics, bass, presence, or output capability of my reference system, but I'd put them up against a lot of speakers at several times their price. There are poorly designed speakers at all manner of price, including some that are audiophile darlings, but these would hold up well to many good lines at substantially higher prices. All that without having to pay for a separate amp- pretty sweet! Such is the nature of pro-oriented gear- highly price competitive and no room for poor performers, though the occasional junk slips through.
Switching to music, I threw everything at them I felt like listening to, and they played along nicely, always making an engaging and enjoyable experience, though without quite the vitality of really great designs executed without such serious challenges on budget. Most of this time was spent with my squeezebox touch streaming to the MX121, and I took full advantage of the nice library I've built up to get a feel for them on different types of music. YoYo Ma's Cello playing Bach's suites 1, 5, and 6 had an appropriate sense of richness and coherence, though lacking somewhat in passion and scale. I spun some nice David Bowie 192kHz/24-bit from The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (2012 Remastered Version) and the layered production of this great album was easy to hear into, with multi-tracked vocals coming through distinctly and cleanly, a feat beyond other speakers I've heard at this price point (with the exception of the occasional budget full-ranger... which always means no bass or treble).
The basslines of Crash Test Dummies "Give Yourself A Hand" were well served despite the small size of the LSR305, clearly rendered but without as much authority or depth as I'm accustomed to with my other, much larger, systems in the house. Content with horns, like the excellent Ebony Brass Quintet: Brand New Bag from Mapleshade recordings exposed their slightly soft top end somewhat, and while the treble switch made them brighter tonally, it did not give the horns that full "bite" that makes them believable- a minor critique, given that the vast majority of recordings are better with a little softness up top to limit high-frequency artifacts coming through and irritating my delicate ears.
I attribute their qualities to careful balancing of design and cost, exceptional economies of scale, and the advantages of waveguides and active bi-amplification. While some passive crossovers perform very well indeed, at moderate cost. The costs associated with decent crossover parts are an Achilles heel in loudspeaker designs, particularly the inductors. At the low price point, an active setup like this one has the advantage of not having to pad the tweeter down with cheap undersized resistors, nor will have to suffer distortion from cored inductors, or have Zoebels or bass management that SHOULD be in place but can't be for cost reasons. My reference rig has inductors that cost as much as these entire, active, speakers, and they're not even the most esoteric out there (10 AWG aircores from Solen).
The feature-set is limited but appropriate, lending itself to quick setups appropriate to the budget range where these would find their homes. More refined installations would beg for more adjustment, but that's not what these are about- they're about getting a nice linear monitor in place for home studios, hobbyists, computer setups, and other applications where quality is key but cost and size are critical limitations. Additional equalization can be applied at the source, which is generally the better option anyway. If the small-format bass is a critical limitation, the matching sub LSR310 is supposedly excellent or one could go with the larger LSR308. If more resolution is needed, move up the line to the 7 series, or go full in with a five figure price tag for the very cool M2. JBL's done an excellent job of trickling down their Image Control waveguide from the lowest to highest price points.
Ultimately, the LSR305 promised a lot- many raving customer comments and reviews are available for this system, and I'll throw my lot in with them, though with caveats. They're not full-bird reference speakers, lacking the utmost in resolution, dynamics, frequency extension, output capability, and other factors. What they ARE is the greatest $300 (if you pay full price) that you can buy in audio for amp and speakers together. Active crossovers with two 41W mean that they can deliver more audio power into typical use than a 100W single-channel amp (and depending on spectral content, sometimes quite a bit more), and there's no painful budget decisions about crossover component costs. It's surprising to think it, but with Harman's buying power, decent quality class D modules and active operation are not really an economic disadvantage relative to a well-made crossover, and have serious performance advantages over all but the very best passive crossovers. The combination of power and performance would take quite some doing at two or even three times the price to pull together with a passive-crossover home hi-fi speaker and a commercial, higher-powered amp.
I'm looking forward to playing further with these, in test setups as center channels, as computer speakers, and other applications. What I'm less enamored with is a concern that these and the M2 may be the last hurrah of JBL. There are still some excellent and talented people working there, but under the Harman brand, JBL has shuttered most US production, lowered standards and availability of replacement drivers for classic systems, expanded the release of silly toy junk to compete with Beats and other "lifestyle" audio, and even gave the legendary designer Greg Timbers his pink slip after 43 years- his efforts there have been crucial for the company and he's designed many legendary systems in his time there. Is the tiny price tag of these the fruit of their business decisions to streamline things? Probably- but more importantly, products like this take skilled, dedicated designers to make happen, and if those are no longer valued, I hate to see what the future looks like from this mighty brand. Sorry for the buzzkill, yet the JBL LSR305 powered monitors are my new budget reference and will be recommended to many people over the next few years, despite my concerns about the "new" JBL.
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