Retro hi-fi isn’t just limited to the use of tubes and room-filling horns. Some other loudspeakers – such as some models from JBL Synthesis – also bring back memories of the “golden age of hi-fi”. The youngest member of the Studio Monitors series, the JBL 4309 (2,000 euros/pair), also plays with the image of the good old days.
The full-bodied characteristics with a bass that is surprisingly powerful, substantial and physically perceptible at high volumes for the size is not entirely unexpected. But I am surprised by the quality of the implementation: I did not expect the JBL 4309 to play so precisely, dryly and agilely in the bass. Ironically, with the intro to the TV series Seinfeld – dominated by a funky slap bass that grooves very fast pitch slides – I also noticed that the JBL reproduce the bass range exceptionally “tunefully”. With the JBL 4309, every beat of the thumb is reproduced precisely and “in time” by the bass and tweeter on the eardrums, I have rarely been able to understand the tone sequences of the bass so simply and clearly – not even with the very disciplined ones Sehring M801 (2,000 euros). The Berlin cubes play a little more tonally neutral in the bass – in the upper bass and fundamental tone, the JBL 4309, depending on the setup, are sometimes more, sometimes less, more muscular or fuller. For example, they give Tools ‘ unbelievable epic “Invincible” (album: Fear Inoculum) a comparably punchy … no, downright lustful drive in the bass. Please keep this thought in the back of your mind for a moment, I will come back to it later.
The lower end of the frequency range that the JBL 4309 transmit is also significantly lower than one would expect given their physique. Okay, the deep bass rumbling in the sofa doesn’t really come from the two 16s and the four bass reflex tubes , but acoustically I hardly miss anything.
Likeable figure – fundamental and middle tone
The JBL 4309 don’t really play hyper-neutral in the fundamental and midrange either, but that’s okay. Kurt Wagner sounds great in Who Can Resist from Rodrigo Leão ‘s phenomenal album A Estranha Beleza da Vida a little fuller than the Sehring M801 or the ATC SCM11 (1,900 euros). The Brits from ATC also reveal the upper midrange slightly more transparently, while the Sehring M800 remain more factual and neutral overall – the JBL, on the other hand, appear sympathetically jovial, less academic, even if this word doesn’t really apply to either the ATC or the Sehring. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that neither one nor the other box is able to keep up with the dynamic weightlessness, looseness and the effortless start of the 4309 in the vocal range – even starting from very high basic volumes. If you value clean maximum dynamics in the mids, the JBL 4309 is the best choice – and the best in this three-pack.
However, the orientation of the loudspeakers towards the listening position is important for the tonality of the JBL. Because even if the tweeter radiates broadly and evenly, the mids – most of which fall within the working range of the woofer – can be more strongly influenced by the angle. That means: If the JBL are angled too much, the tonality changes and a subtle restraint in the mid-midrange may push the very slight fullness of the lower midrange a tad too far into the limelight. A slight angling towards the listening position ensures better linearity and incidentally improves the spatial imaging – more on that later.
Dash and boldness – the highs
The lively but not overemphasized presence and treble range of the JBL 4309 shoots out of the compression drivers extremely quickly, precisely and certainly not with false (!) restraint. The ATC SCM11 looks comparatively more settled, darker, and the correct-factual Sehring M801 also does not achieve the liveliness and radiance of the JBL tweeter – it almost reminds me of the super-swift upper room of the Grandinote Mach 2R (6,600 euros) with its super tweeter. The bell-like metal percussion on How Fortunate the Man with None from the amazing Dead Can Dance album Live from Orpheum Theateris very succinct and realistic – one wonders whether classic tweeter domes, especially those with textile membranes, do not add a more or less generous dose of fabric softener in 98% of cases.
For comparison, I have to reach up to the comparison shelf: The group colleagues Revel Performa 328Be (18,000 euros) with their beryllium domes can also achieve this effortless realism of the transient response in the treble. And of course, they do this even more convincingly, because they are finer and more articulated at the same time and with more air in the super treble – for nine times the money.
My ATC SCM50PSL (14,580 euros) also play silkier and more detailed, with more subtle shading on distinguished pieces than the JBL 4309. But the (not exaggerated!) metallic shine, the sparkling liveliness that the compression drivers of the JBL 4309 give to the metal percussion, seems to me, depending on the piece and genre, even more appealing from time to time.
Of course, I tried to elicit annoying tones from the JBL, because such a bluntly jagged conciseness in the treble is often accompanied by a certain risk of listening stress. But I was able to enjoy even long, loud listening sessions with quite exhausting material like Wiedegood’s mega-album There’s Always Blood at the End of the Road (not due out until January 2022, but I was allowed to preview it for review purposes) without any problems. The clarity of the Americans is not at the expense of long-term suitability, because the tweeter does not play too dominantly or loudly, but is dynamically superior, lively and very clean. Nevertheless: Rather bright playing amps like a Technics SU-R1000I would rather not recommend pairing in the sense of a good sound balance.
As already indicated, a little care should be taken when setting up the JBL 4309. Also, to optimally adjust the spatial image, because if the angle is too strong, the room looks a bit narrower and unnecessarily constricted, without any real advantages in terms of image precision and outline sharpness becoming apparent. But if everything is correct – that means at a distance of almost 3 meters and a base width of 2 meters about 10 degrees inwards, starting from the parallel setup – then the JBL will display sufficiently three-dimensionally, sharp-edged and relatively precisely on or slightly in front of the box base; However, it doesn’t really go that far behind and if it does, then with spatially emphasized deep recorded music material. The Sehring M801 and the ATC SCM11 certainly score points here, but I’m not afraid to say
… the best comes last
I’ll be right on target: the JBL 4309 are incredibly fun, especially if you listen much louder with them than the ear doctor and property manager recommend. It’s best to treat the little jacks of all trades to a stable amp with an output of around 150 watts at 4 ohms and leave them alone for three minutes on a workday morning with the staccato guitar middle part from Tools “Invincible” starting at around 7:58 minutes to fly …
In the majority of cases, for people who have already heard various other compact loudspeakers, this will go something like this with the JBL 4309: The electric guitar begins to play the staccato motif. You turn the volume up to the usual maximum because it already sounds pretty full. Then Maynard enters James Keenan with the vocoder. You notice that even now nothing is distorting or hurting and add some more juice. A smile. Then the percussion kicks in and it still feels like there could be more. The adrenaline rush slowly increases, because you know what is about to happen to you and the loudspeakers. Nevertheless, you give more material, after all, you only live once.tool can be unleashed so efficiently driving. And action! Because you can, make it even louder. And then, for ten, twenty, thirty seconds on the sonic high, you close your eyes, shake your head in disbelief, feel the goosebumps, and maybe you’ll think, “Why haven’t I listened to music like this for so long and had so much fun had with you?
The thing is: The JBL 4309 hold together the pressure and the concentrated energy of the band even at these almost brutal volumes for a compact box equipped with a 16-piece speaker. Nothing frays or compresses, the image isn’t flatter, and the treble isn’t tugging or annoying in the least. Grandiose sound pressure cinema.
Conclusion JBL 4309
I like the JBL 4309 because of their shape and design. Although they don’t play 100% neutral tonally, they sound complete, earthy, substantial and bluntly lively at the same time in a very charming way. Apart from the necessary care during installation, they are also quite easy to use. They didn’t reveal any real weaknesses to me in a good four-week test period. When listening to music in my almost 25 square meters, I don’t miss either (deep) bass, treble resolution, dynamics or limit levels without direct comparison to more voluminous speakers. The JBL 4309 shines in the last two subjects in particular, appearing effortless, unbridled and also clean and composed.
Lovers of deep stages will find boxes that better suit this requirement, as will high-frequency phobics or mid-range transparency fetishists. When it comes to electronics and cables, tonally neutral, preferably high-resolution and fast equipment in the three-digit performance range certainly fits best. Emphatically warm amps could perhaps place too much emphasis on the earthy, powerful bass and fundamental tone, and with very bright-sounding electronics, the balance in the treble could well tip over.
Fans of wind instruments, percussion, rock, funk, drums and any music with strong impulses and transients will find it difficult to find a less compromise-prone speaker for rooms between 15 and 30 square meters in this price range. And when it comes to party levels, not anyway.
The JBL 4309…
- can play unbelievably loud and outrageously full-blown in terms of gross dynamics, without appearing strained. The fact that you only have to make a few compromises in terms of tonality and virtually no compromises in terms of coherence is quite unique in this price range.
- need a lot of power for high levels – the efficiency of the 4309 is average despite the tweeter horn.
- have a very deep, well controlled, crisp and powerful bass range that is a touch stronger than neutral.
- appealing with an earthy, grippy base tone.
- play the charmer card with a minimally heated midrange and leave maximum transparency in this area to other loudspeakers.
- let the adrenaline level rise just as quickly as the mood of the listener with their open, fast, concisely sparkling and yet never annoying high tone.
- are almost monkey-like fast and just as strong in impulses as in transients.
- form on and just in front of the box base – depth gradation is only possible with material that has been recorded spatially.
- adequately satisfy the demands of a three-dimensional projection for their price range, but also grow in this respect with very good electronics.
- can be adjusted in the treble.
- Model: JBL 4309
- Concept: passive two-way compact speaker with bass reflex housing and horn tweeter
- Price: 2,000 euros/pair
- Dimensions & Weight: 419mm x 260mm x 227mm (HxWxD), 11kg/each
- Efficiency: 87dB/2.83V/1m
- Nominal Impedance: 4 ohms
- Versions: walnut with dark blue covering, black with black covering
- Miscellaneous: bi-wiring terminal, adjustable tweeter horn
- Guarantee: 5 years