HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



October
2005

Reviewed by
Vince Hanada
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2005


JBL
Northridge E90 / E35 / E10 / E250P
Home-Theater Speaker System

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: E90 floorstanding speaker
Price: $798 USD per pair
Dimensions: 40.25"H x 9.8"W x 14.5"D
Weight: 48 pounds each

Model: EC35 center-channel speaker
Price: $349 USD
Dimensions: 22"W x 7.25"H x 10.4"D
Weight: 22 pounds

Model: E10 surround speaker
Price: $198 USD per pair
Dimensions: 10.125"W x 10"H x 5"D
Weight: 26 pounds each

Model: E250P subwoofer
Price: $499 USD
Dimensions: 19.75"H x 14.375"W x 16.5"D
Weight: 43 pounds


Description (cont'd)

Warranty: Five years on speakers, one year on subwoofer electronics

System Price: $1844 USD

Features

  • 0.75" titanium-laminate dome tweeters
  • PolyPlas bass and midrange drivers
  • Elliptical Oblate Spheroidal waveguides
  • 12" PolyPlas subwoofer driver (E250P)
  • Bottom-mounted flared port (E250P)
  • 250W amplifier (E250P)
  • Phase and Volume controls (E250P)
  • Auto On/Off (E250P)
  • Gold-plated, five-way binding posts
  • Black ash, beech, or cherry vinyl finishes

The long history of American audio company JBL spans seven decades, from the 1940s to the present. Founded by audio pioneer James Bullough Lansing in 1946, JBL was acquired by Sidney Harman in 1969. Today, Harman International is a huge manufacturer of consumer and professional loudspeakers and electronics, with offices and factories all over the world.

JBL’s history in movie-theater sound is also long and impressive, and is where the company first made its mark. In fact, chances are that the soundtracks you hear at your local movie theater are played through JBL professional speakers. Speakers for home theaters would thus seem to fit right in with JBL’s expertise.

The subjects of this review are models from the budget-priced Northridge series, named for JBL’s headquarters in that Los Angeles suburb. The Northridge line includes several models each of tower, center-channel, and surround speakers, as well as subwoofers. The system reviewed here comprised the E90 tower, EC35 center, E10 surround, and E250P subwoofer, and costs $1844.

The Northridge series

The Northridge E90 is a fairly large three-way speaker that stands about 40" high. With its grille on, the speaker is a plain-looking box, only a slight rounding of its front edges providing some visual character. Under the grille are four cool-looking drivers. The 0.75" titanium-laminate tweeter sits on top, recessed within a flared structure that JBL calls an Elliptical Oblate Spheroidal (EOS), which reportedly helps provide wide dispersion. The 4" midrange sits below, and below that, two 8" woofers. These cones are all made of what JBL calls PolyPlas -- paper coated with polymer, which (JBL claims) gives the drivers low weight for fast transient response, and high stiffness for low distortion. Below the drivers is a large port. The rear panel is clean looking except for two five-way, gold-plated binding posts. The E90 should be an easy load for any receiver, with a sensitivity of 91dB/W/m and a nominal impedance of 8 ohms (JBL’s figures). Every speaker in the Northridge line has what JBL calls a Straight-Line Signal Path (SSP) crossover. According to JBL, the SSP’s small number of components reduces resistance and noise in the audio signal.

With its grille on, the EC35 looks like any other horizontal center-channel speaker, but underneath is a driver configuration seldom seen at or near this price. Instead of the usual lateral woofer-tweeter-woofer array, the EC35’s 3" PolyPlas midrange driver is directly below its 0.75" titanium-laminate tweeter, at the center of the speaker. On either side of these is a 5.25" PolyPlas woofer. The rear of the speaker has a small port and two five-way, gold-plated binding posts.

The half-octagonal E10 surround speaker looks like a bipole or dipole speaker, but its front face has only two drivers: a 0.75" titanium-laminate tweeter and a 4" PolyPlas woofer. On the angled side panels are small ports, and on the rear is a single set of five-way, gold-plated binding posts. There are holes in the back for wall mounting.

The E250P subwoofer has a single 12" PolyPlas woofer set into its front panel, and a large port on the bottom. The sub can be set to turn on automatically; when it senses a signal, an LED on the top of the cabinet turns from red to green. Around back, the E250P can be hooked up with either speaker-level or line-level connections from your surround-sound processor or receiver. It also has a built-in, low-pass crossover that can be varied from 50 to 150Hz, or can be bypassed altogether by means of its LFE/Normal switch. There are also controls for Volume and Phase. The E250P’s amplifier is rated by JBL to produce 250W, with peak dynamic power of 550W.

Performance

Despite the Northridge system’s plain looks, it was no wallflower. Its refined sound was far better than anything I’d expected at the price. For instance, it’s rare to find a center-channel speaker costing $349 whose tweeter is placed above its midrange driver. In my experience, this arrangement provides more intelligible dialogue, and the EC35 was no exception. When I watched Assault on Precinct 13, Ethan Hawke’s voice was quite clear, and Laurence Fishburne’s had good weight. Dialogue that usually sounds rolled off with conventional woofer-tweeter-woofer arrays was intelligible from both ends of my listening couch.

The E90 main speaker sounded smooth and relaxed, never harsh, and with a neutral midrange and adequately weighty bass. This was evident with the DVD of Team America: World Police. The film’s many musical sequences were nicely conveyed through the E90s, orchestral strings sounding especially sweet. The timbral match among the front three speakers was also quite good, and matched the rest of the system. In Team America, there are scenes in which voices jump from the mains to the center-channel. These transitions were tonally very closely matched, giving the sonic images real credibility.

The E10 performed its surround duties well. Although it didn’t match the E90 and EC35 in bass weight, your surround-sound receiver should be able to redirect the bass to the fronts or the subwoofer, as did mine. The E10 was especially good with discrete sound effects. In some scenes of Assault on Precinct 13, gunshots transition to the surround speakers. These sounds were firmly anchored by the E10s. In terms of envelopment, the E10s did not perform as well as the bipole or dipole speakers I’ve used, but they didn’t disappoint either. In Team America, the team headquarters is in the large, hollowed-out heads of Mount Rushmore. The E10s convincingly conveyed the vastness of the space.

The E250P subwoofer filled my room with strong bass when called for. Using test signals, I was able to get large volumes of bass from it down to 25Hz. In real-world listening, this level of performance provided authority to DVD soundtracks such as that of Sin City, which is bass-heavy and makes ample use of the LFE channel. The sub’s bass production was spread low and evenly throughout my room, and, as with all good subs, was not easy to locate. Although it lacked the wall-shaking, visceral bass of much more expensive subwoofers, the E250P provided far better performance for $499 than I had expected. Although the crash scene in chapter 1 of Punch-Drunk Love didn’t hit as hard as with $2000 subwoofers I’ve heard, it was still very startling through the E250P.

Comparison

A good system to compare with JBL’s Northridge rig was Paradigm’s System Three.2 ($1676), based on their Phantom v.3 main speaker. It includes the CC-270 v.3 center-channel with a conventional midrange-tweeter-midrange driver array, ADP-170 v.3 dipole surround speakers, and the PDR-12 subwoofer.

Both the JBL and Paradigm systems had warm tonal balances. This worked especially well with the cheaper electronics with which they’re likely to be paired. In terms of bass response, however, the E90 went lower than the Phantom v.3.

One difference I noted was between the two center-channels. When listening to voices, such as George Clooney’s in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the off-axis performance was slightly better with the JBL EC35 than with the Paradigm CC-270 v.3. And with the EC35’s bass response, Clooney’s voice was more forceful as well. Score a hit for JBL.

In terms of surround envelopment, the JBL E10s couldn’t match the Paradigm ADP-170 v.3s. This was to be expected -- the ADP is a dipole speaker. The Paradigm worked especially well with atmospheric effects, such as the underwater scene in Unbreakable. The JBL E10, however, was better with discrete sounds, such as the flying bullets in Assault on Precinct 13.

The JBL and Paradigm subwoofers had different strengths. The Paradigm PDR-12 excelled in sheer volume of bass -- it could really pump out the jams when that was called for. Although the JBL E250P’s quantity of bass could not match the Paradigm’s, the tightness of its bass was a lot better than the Paradigm’s. For example, the foot stomps in Dinosaur filled the room more through the PDR-12, but had less overhang through the E250P.

JBL and Paradigm have each put together a remarkable speaker system for very little cash. Each system had its strengths; if I were putting together a budget home theater, I could easily live with either.

Conclusions

I was thoroughly impressed by JBL’s Northridge home-theater speaker system. The E90 tower is an easy load to drive for a budget receiver, and worked well with my Outlaw Model 1050. The E250P subwoofer provided ample bass for a room of small to medium size. The EC35 center-channel speaker was a revelation, providing clear, weighty dialogue that belied its low price. Although I prefer dipole surround speakers, the E10 performed fine, and is wall mountable to boot. An Internet search revealed that this system’s street price can be ridiculously low. The Northridge E90 system’s ratio of value to performance is off the chart. It should well suit the budget-conscious home-theater enthusiast.

Review System
Receivers - Outlaw Audio Model 1050, Sony STR-DA5ES
Sources - JVC XV-721 DVD player, Pioneer Elite PD-65 CD player, Sony DVP-NS650V SACD player
Cables - Sonic Horizons, TARA Labs, Nordost
Monitor/Projector - JVC 32" direct-view TV, InFocus X1 front projector
 

Manufacturer contact information:

JBL Consumer Products
8500 Balboa Boulevard
Northridge, CA 91329
Phone: (818) 893-8411

Website: www.jbl.com


PART OF THE SOUNDSTAGE NETWORK -- www.soundstagenetwork.com

All contents copyright Schneider Publishing Inc., all rights reserved.
Any reproduction, without permission, is prohibited.

Home Theater & Sound is part of the SoundStage! Network.
A world of websites and publications for audio, video, music and movie enthusiasts.