Northridge E90 / E35 / E10 / E250P
Home-Theater Speaker System
|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.
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
Five years on speakers, one year on subwoofer electronics
System Price: $1844 USD
- 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
JBLs 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 JBLs
The subjects of this review are models from the
budget-priced Northridge series, named for JBLs 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 (JBLs figures). Every speaker in the Northridge line has what JBL calls a
Straight-Line Signal Path (SSP) crossover. According to JBL, the SSPs 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
EC35s 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
E250Ps amplifier is rated by JBL to produce 250W, with peak dynamic power of 550W.
Despite the Northridge systems plain looks, it was no
wallflower. Its refined sound was far better than anything Id expected at the price.
For instance, its 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 Hawkes voice was quite clear, and Laurence Fishburnes
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 films 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
didnt 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 Ive used, but they didnt 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 subs 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 didnt hit as hard as with $2000 subwoofers Ive heard, it was still
very startling through the E250P.
A good system to compare with JBLs Northridge rig was
Paradigms 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 theyre 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 Clooneys 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 EC35s bass response, Clooneys voice was more forceful
as well. Score a hit for JBL.
In terms of surround envelopment, the JBL E10s
couldnt 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 E250Ps quantity of bass could not
match the Paradigms, the tightness of its bass was a lot better than the
Paradigms. 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.
I was thoroughly impressed by JBLs 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 systems street price can be ridiculously low. The Northridge E90
systems ratio of value to performance is off the chart. It should well suit the
budget-conscious home-theater enthusiast.
|Receivers - Outlaw Audio
Model 1050, Sony STR-DA5ES
- JVC XV-721 DVD player, Pioneer Elite PD-65 CD player, Sony DVP-NS650V SACD player
|Cables - Sonic Horizons,
TARA Labs, Nordost
- JVC 32" direct-view TV, InFocus X1 front projector