Strother Bullins on JBL 3 Series LSR308 and M-Audio BX8

Affordable overachievers
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JBL 3 SERIES LSR308 ACTIVE STUDIO MONITORS

In January 2013, JBL Professional unveiled its large reference studio monitor—the M2—to intrigued pro audio types at the Winter NAMM Show. In private listening sessions, the M2 certainly was impressive to me, due to a number of new JBL technologies. One of which, its patented “Image Control” waveguide, provided truly superb imaging plus flat and even frequency response across a wide listening area, creating a very pleasing, smooth listening experience.

On the opposite end of the price spectrum, JBL soon after unveiled its 3 Series of powered nearfield studio monitors with a very familiar-looking waveguide for its soft dome tweeter—one that, to my eyes, was clearly influenced by the successful M2’s “Image Control.” I wondered, would the 3 Series be anything like its large and pricey ancestor, especially considering the largest 3 Series monitor, the LSR308, costs well over $9,000 less than the M2?

For this review, I received a pair of LSR308 monitors ($249 street, each) and its accompanying subwoofer, the powered LSR310S ($399 street). And what I discovered over the next few weeks was surprising.

JBL’s 3 Series powered monitors are available in two sizes: the aforementioned LSR308 with an 8in. woofer and the LSR305 ($149 street, each) with a 5in. woofer (a 41W/41W Class D biamped design). The LSR308 features biamped Class D power (56W/56W for LF/HF, respectively), a 37Hz-24kHz frequency range, 112dB SPL (C-weighted) maximum SPL, and a ported design. Inputs include XLR and ¼in. TRS with switchable +4dBu/-10dBV input sensitivity, and the cabinet weighs in at a comparably light 19lbs. Rear panel adjustments include three-position LF and HF Trim parameters, each with -2dB, O, and +2dB settings. The front of the speaker is made of attractive polypropylene while the rear-ported cabinet is constructed with a lighter weight MDF.

The LSR310S is a down-firing powered subwoofer featuring a heavy-duty 10in. driver, 200W of Class D amplification, and a low-frequency range of 27Hz with a maximum SPL of 113dB. It features a compact design (less than 18”x15”x16” and 35lbs. in weight), the patented rectangular “Slip Stream” double-flared front panel port “for accurate bass response at low playback levels,” and JBL’s proprietary XLF Extended Low Frequency—a 10dB boost at 60Hz engaged via switch; XLF is essentially a custom frequency response to simulate club/large PA playback, especially helpful in modern-leaning music productions and for catching very low-frequency rumbles and disruptions commonly occurring in large commercial facilities, such as house-of-worship sanctuaries thanks to noisy HVAC systems, etc.

Overall, 3 Series build quality is impressive and attractive even if a bit spartan, yet refined. In a business overly aware of brand names, these monitors also have the value-added benefit of being “JBL”—a name associated with professional studio monitors for decades.

The LSR308 pair satisfied my low-end needs by themselves in most applications. Yet, while I don’t typically use a sub during production, the LSR310S came in handy, like when listening to an ultra-low frequency sound source in a mix—a bass “drop” for emphasis, sound design-based effects added when producing comprehensive A/V presentations, etc. The sub allowed me to accurately gauge where these extreme low-end elements sat in the mix. But largely, I didn’t notice the sub, and that’s to its credit; the transition between the low-end from the LSR308 pair and LSR310S was seamless. I expect that the sub would be more crucial/useful when paired with the smaller LSR305s, or when working less in traditional studio monitor applications—e.g., pop/rock—and more in soundscapes ranging from video soundtracks, electronic dance music, and even orchestral/chamber music.

I’ve auditioned many solid nearfield studio monitors during the past 15 years, most in the 8in. woofer category, used within my own workspace. That said, the 3 Series truly impressed me. I could use them as my main monitors indefinitely.

Knowing their low price points before starting this review, I was suspecting to hear things I wouldn’t like, based on its composition (of largely materials such as MDF, plastics, and low-cost Class D amplifiers). But I discovered that the design trumps materials. To me, the Image Control waveguide obviously makes the LSR308 a low-cost marvel of detailed imaging and controlled frequency response across horizontal and vertical planes, as the tweeter itself seems to be a rather common soft dome. The fact that a budget-conscious A/V content creator can own a pair of large JBL near-fields, clearly borne from M2 R&D and this good sounding, for under $500 per pair makes the LSR308 perhaps the best bargain available in powered studio monitors today.

M-AUDIO BX8 CARBON POWERED STUDIO MONITORS

M-Audio’s BX8 Carbon studio monitors arrived while I was reviewing the JBL 3 Series LSR308 studio monitors, as previously mentioned. I’ll start off by saying that either of these competing products are solid choices for discriminating A/V producers, though different enough in both specifications and performance to represent two decidedly different experiences.

The BX8 Carbon is a two-way powered monitor featuring an 8in. Kevlar woofer and 1in. silk dome tweeter with a 38Hz to 22kHz frequency response; a BX5 Carbon model with 5in. woofer is available, too ($149 each, street). Rather than Class D, the BX8 Carbon is powered by Class A/B amplification with 70W and 60W power ratings for its low- and high-frequency drivers, respectively, thus weighing in at a comparably weighty 26.4 lbs. On the rear panel, inputs include balanced XLR and balanced/unbalanced ¼in. TRS and an acoustic space switch, compensating for placement near walls and corners. Cabinetry is made of vinyl-laminated MDF with, for a lack of a better word, muscular front panel gray-on-black styling.

I used the BX8 Carbon pair alongside LSR308 pair during the latter half of the review period, routing through the Dangerous Source Monitoring Controller. I also matched the pair with the LSR310S subwoofer, utilizing the speakers both with and without sub-frequency support.

The BX8 Carbon monitors impressed me right off the bat. The past few years, I have noticed a markedly notable increase in apparent quality and features within the M-Audio studio monitoring lines, and the BX8 Carbon is proof of the company’s dedication to this affordable segment of the market. Like the LSR 308, the BX8 Carbon performed beyond what you would assume for the price point. Bottom end is nicely full and smooth, yet with notable “punch” response; as with the LSR 308, I didn’t rely on the subwoofer that much. To my ears, it reminded me of a “tighter” KRK Rokit 8 ($249 street, each) with the detailed, open, and more “imaging-friendly” top end of the KRK VXT8 ($599 street, each)—the 8in. powered monitor I had depended on for nearly a decade. As such, I find the BX8 a true bargain and worth serious consideration for those shopping in that “Kevlar woofer” category of powered studio monitors.

Strother Bullins is NewBay Media’s reviews editor, AV/Pro Audio Group, active musician, recordist, and club-level sound reinforcement wrangler. sbullins@nbmedia.com

PRODUCT SUMMARY

COMPANY: JBL Professional | www.jblpro.com
PRODUCT: 3 Series LSR308 8in. Two-way Powered Studio Monitor
PROS: Accurate performance; “trickle-down” technology from JBL’s M2; respected JBL studio monitor pedigree at an affordable price point.
CONS: Largely comprised of lightweight MDF and plastics (though its design trumps materials)
APPLICATIONS: Studio/recording, HOW and institutional/internal-use media production, pro-project/home recording.
PRICE: $249 each, list

SPECIFICATIONS

SPEAKERS: 8in. woofer and 1in. soft-dome tweeter with JBL’s Image Control Wave Guide
AMPLIFIERS: Class D 56W RMS + 56W RMS for LF and HF, respectively
FREQUENCY RANGE: 37Hz–24kHz
CONTROLS: Detented level control, HF and LF trim controls (+2, 0 and -2dB)
I/O: Balanced XLR and ¼in. TRS inputs with -10dB/+4dB selectable input sensitivity
DIMENSIONS: 16.5”x10”x12.1” (H x W x D)
WEIGHT: 18.9lbs.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

COMPANY: M-Audio | www.m-audio.com
PRODUCT: BX8 Carbon
PROS: Accurate, balanced performance yet with notable, useful LF “punch”
CONS: Largely comprised of lightweight MDF and plastics (though weightier due to heavier Class A/B amplification)
APPLICATIONS: Studio/recording, HOW and institutional/internal-use media production, pro-project/home recording.
PRICE: $249 each, list

SPECIFICATIONS

SPEAKERS: 8in. Kevlar woofer and 1.25in. natural-silk dome tweeter
AMPLIFIERS: Class A/B 70W RMS + 60W RMS for LF and HF, respectively
FREQUENCY RANGE: 38Hz–22kHz
CONTROLS: Detented level control, Acoustic Space Switch
I/O: Balanced XLR and ¼in. TRS inputs with -10dB/+4dB selectable input sensitivity
DIMENSIONS: 16.5”x10”x12.1” (H x W x D)
WEIGHT: 26.4lbs.

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