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JBL XPL90 Speaker Review

amirm

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#1
This is a review of the JBL XPL90 bookshelf/stand-mount speaker. It was purchased by a member and kindly had it shipped to me from Japan. He is an expert on these older JBL speakers so I am sure he will fill us in better than I can. Form a bit of research I did, I think the speaker came out in late 1980s and cost US $699. It is of course discontinued now but apparently the series is sought after.

I must say, this an attractive looking speaker with its grill off:

JBL XPL90 two-way bookshelf speaker audio review.jpg


There is some kind of fabric/valuer material that surrounds the tweeter area. It looks better in person than the picture above, giving a feeling of professional but nice attention to detail.

The back panel is interesting:

JBL XPL90 two-way bookshelf speaker rear connectors binding post monster cable audio review.jpg


Can you see it? Let me zoom in:

JBL XPL90 two-way bookshelf speaker Back Panel.jpg


Yes, they used monster cable inside! Given the popularity of monster cable then, it kind of makes sense given JBL's aim to sell these as hifi speakers.

Speaker is quite dense and solid by the way.

Measurements that you are about to see were performed using the Klippel Near-field Scanner (NFS). This is a robotic measurement system that analyzes the speaker all around and is able (using advanced mathematics and dual scan) to subtract room reflections (so where I measure it doesn't matter). It also measures the speaker at close distance ("near-field") which sharply reduces the impact of room noise. Both of these factors enable testing in ordinary rooms yet results that can be more accurate than an anechoic chamber. In a nutshell, the measurements show the actual sound coming out of the speaker independent of the room.

Spinorama Audio Measurements
Acoustic measurements can be grouped in a way that can be perceptually analyzed to determine how good a speaker can be used. This so called spinorama shows us just about everything we need to know about the speaker with respect to tonality and some flaws:

JBL XPL90 two-way bookshelf speaker CEA-2034 Spinorama Frequency Response Measurements.png


The response starts well with nearly ruler flat to above 1 kHz. But then it gets some ups and downs including around crossover region of 3 kHz. Lack of a waveguide causes some directivity error there as well (on-axis response varying from off-axis). There is also some peaking above 10 kHz.

Early (important) reflections are more or less the same:

JBL XPL90 two-way bookshelf speaker CEA-2034 Spinorama Early Window Frequency Response Measure...png


Giving us a predicted in-room response that we could have guessed:

JBL XPL90 two-way bookshelf speaker CEA-2034 Spinorama Predicted In-Room Response Frequency Re...png


A bit of room gain as noted, may help push up the region before a few hundred kilohertz and hence, make that not stand out.

Directivity response in horizontal plan shows rather even response until 10 kHz but then the tweeter "beams" (its response becomes narrow):

JBL XPL90 two-way bookshelf speaker Horizontal directivity measurements.png


So if you don't toe in the speaker, it can bring down the peaking of above 10 kHz.

Vertical directivity is not good (fairly typical) but you better keep the tweeter at your ear level because it gets worse otherwise:

JBL XPL90 two-way bookshelf speaker Vertical directivity measurements.png


I could not hear much stress at 96 dB SPL at 1 meter so I thought distortion was under control but it was not:

JBL XPL90 two-way bookshelf speaker THD distortion measurements.png


In hindsight, I should have also tested it at 86 dB but I didn't. Here is the same data but as percentage:

JBL XPL90 two-way bookshelf speaker THD distortion Percentage measurements.png


Finally, here is the impedance and phase:

JBL XPL90 two-way bookshelf speaker CEA-2034 Spinorama Impedance and Phase measurements.png


The 6 ohm rating from the company is optimistic.

Speaker Listening Tests
I must say, the first impression was positive! And it got better from there as I disabled my single filter for my room mode. It added good bit of nice clean bass. I think the positive impression was the result of smooth and flat response to above 1 kHz. I listen for detail and bloatedness in that range and the flat response kept that in check.

I experimented with a few filters based on spin data. Only the first filter was successful across all content:

JBL XPL90 two-way bookshelf speaker Equalization.png


This filled that hole in the frequency response, resulting in better detail.

As I noted, I dealt with toe-in to tame the brightness. Quick filters to do the job was were too crude so I gave up on them. Ditto for filling in the crossover error.

Overall, the strength of the speaker was in vocals, and simpler instruments. You know, the classic audiophile tracks :). So I can see why it has the popularity that it has.

Conclusions
I think this is the first speaker I have liked that has some clear response errors. What it gets right must be what I pay attention to and in that regard, this was an enjoyable speaker.

If you want to go back to the times were speakers were built in US without trying to squeeze every penny out of the cost as we have today, these may be your best bet.

Overall, I am happy to recommend the JBL XPL90 speakers.

-----------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

My back is killing me from digging ditches after ditches to plant tomatoes (some 60 plants). Could take some drugs for it but I am thinking I should higher someone with soft feet to walk on my back and set it straight. Looked that up online and such people are available but cost money. So please donate what you can using : https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 

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MZKM

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#3
Form a bit of research I did, I think the speaker came out in late 1980s and cost US $699.
Stereophile reviewed the XPL 160 and stated in 1991 it had an MSRP of $2500, and one forum post stated the XPL 200 was $3400. I have the XPL 90 down as $1750, as that is what I can find from the preview text via a Google search, but the link doesn't work.
Going off this, I’ll change it to $1300.

I could not hear much stress at 96 dB SPL at 1 meter so I thought distortion was under control but it was not:

What in the world is going on at 3kHz?
 
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Trouble Maker

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#4
About a filter a 3kHz crossover point not working, is there an indication why in the spins e.g. directivity error around 3khz?

I'm also trying to understand the difference between the on axis response in the spin and the fundamental in the distortion response. I think there must either be something I'm not understanding about the measurements or the speaker behavior differences at these 2 levels, especially at that 3khz mark. Does the rise in distortion basically 'suck out' the energy at the fundamental so the fundamental response in the distortion test is much lower than in the spin test?

Anyway, it seems like there is all sorts of interesting/nasty stuff going on around that 3khz mark. But it's also interesting that the horzonital problems are at 3kHz and the vertical problems are a bit above 3kHz. Anyone have any ideas about that?
 
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thewas_

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#5
Nice to test some classics, measures quite well for an almost 30 year old 2 way loudspeaker and on the other hand comparison with some current good ones shows the progress of those years, especially in terms of directivity (waveguide design) and non linear distortions (driver engineering).
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #6
Did you also try any filter to bump up the response around 3khz? If so, did it not work and is there an indication why in the spins e.g. directivity error around 3khz?
I did. But did not have time to optimize it. And subjectively it sounded both better and worse so I left it alone. :)
 

Dj7675

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#7
A fun read. Appreciate the owner taking on the expense to ship it to have it tested. I have had a few of the older JBL’s and have enjoyed them. In my main 2.1 system I have the 250ti and also had the JBL L212 which predated this and a couple others. Except for the 250ti I have moved on to revel M106 and M16 but the older speakers can sound quite good. It is a great snapshot to compare it with the M16 for example. The quality you can get for relatively little money is pretty amazing these days.
 

RichB

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#9
I had the XPL-160's and they were great. The titanium dome midrange was very dynamic and, subjectively, had great dispersion. These speakers were dynamic.

I bought a used pair of XPL-200's and spent weeks looking for a center channel. My fiancé (who a later married) bought me a Revel Voice. After we got married, I bought the Salon1 and Studio1's to fill out the system.

My brother has them now, but not listening to them as far as I can tell. I think they took some damage from the days when his kids were young.

- Rich
 
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GXAlan

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#12
Conclusions
I think this is the first speaker I have liked that has some clear response errors. What it gets right must be what I pay attention to and in that regard, this was an enjoyable speaker.
This is also my speaker (along with the 4319). The XPL-200 was JBL’s “audiophile” flagship at the time with both a Titanium tweeter and a titanium midrange. The XPL-90 was supposed to offer a similar sound at lower SPLs and Bass. For a bookshelf, it was surprisingly rated to peaks of 400W although it was nominally 100W continuous handling. Among many JBL fans, the XPL-200 is their favorite as it is more “forgiving” (less accurate) than the M2. Amir has listened to a lot of very high end speakers so the fact that he likes it, is saying a lot. Here is one discussion of the XPL-200.
https://www.audiophilenirvana.com/audiophile-equipment-reviews/jbl-xpl-200a-holy-grail/

The original retail was $650 each ($1300/pair.). This has the tweeter and mid bass from the XPL200. The titanium midrange was the signature feature for the series which this one is missing.

You can occasionally find beat up ones on EBay for $250. This one cost more since it was in better cosmetic condition.

The tweeter uses ferrofluid which MAY have dried out. This was also one of JBL’s first attempts to control diffraction by using the neoprene around the tweeter to deaden some of then effects of the enclosure. With the official stands the speakers were slightly tilted back.

For midrange accuracy, the XPL90 was Stereophile’s most impressive in its era:
https://www.stereophile.com/content/ja-loudspeaker-measurements-table-1-loudspeaker-reviews

Cabinetry on this line was considered to be exceptional, on par with the K2 and Everest line, and some even say that it was better than the S4700 and 4367.

Brochure attached.
 

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#13
A lot of the U.S.-built JBL stuff from the pre-Spinorama late 1980s was surprisingly good. The two-way models are often described as having deficient midrange response and an aggressive, "metallic-sounding" high end, but my surmise is that there was a deliberate voicing decision to have the tweeters comes through a couple of dB hotter than the woofers that in essence created both those impressions. With some trial and error and rudimentary arithmetic, I came of with cheap solution that -- at least to my ear -- eliminated any semblance of those issues. I simply put together a voltage divider from 3 watt resistors and ordinary .250" slip-on connectors (to make the mod easily reversible) and connected it between the crossover and the tweeter. Being neither an astute technician nor an engineer, let alone a speaker designer, I was fairly surprised at how well that idea worked.
 

pozz

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#14
I'm really happy to see older speaker measured. Fills in the missing historical perspective, which is the only way to judge the value of current knowledge and work as I see it. Thanks @GXAlan and @amirm.
 

bigx5murf

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#15
I currently own JBL LX55, from the same era, and also shares designs cues such as titanium tweeters, and neoprene front baffle.

I've found them subjectively great since I've got them. I found them at a thrift store for $30, and they were in great condition. I opened them up to check it out quickly, and was surprised the capacitors were film.
 

laudio

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#16
A preference rating of 3.8 but still enjoyable. That's JBL. Think I have many speakers like that.
 

GXAlan

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#18
I'm really happy to see older speaker measured. Fills in the missing historical perspective, which is the only way to judge the value of current knowledge and work as I see it. Thanks @GXAlan and @amirm.
Here’s my two cents;
- these historical measurements really help us understand the “dogma” of tweeters are ear level and the toe-in vs. toe out of various speakers. Modern speakers with wider dispersion are more forgiving in placement which makes them “better” for lifestyle audio.

- taken as a whole and considering pricing, it is fair to say that we get more bang-for-the-buck with globalization. The high end JBL 4319 and XPL90 don’t measure as well as a Revel M16 in many scientifically proven high-value metrics such as dispersion. For speakers, as opposed to critical infrastructure such as medications or PPE, it’s probably a reasonable trade off. My estimates are that we are looking at 3X price factor to have speakers made in the USA as opposed to elsewhere when looking at Harman.

- distortion/phase are tricky. <speculation on>
distortion and time alignment/phase are not heavily emphasized with modern designs. Research has shown that it isn’t “that audible” for “most people.”

Therefore for any given $ amount, investment in bass response, dispersion and cosmetics help sell speakers the best. There are products like the Genelec which can give you all of the above.

The XPL-90 did not have the best distortion measurements but Amir still found it pleasant to listen to with his usual audiophile-type recordings (solo vocals, simple instruments). It is good from 200-1000Hz where voices live both in terms of flatness and disrtortion.

The 4319, Amir didn’t like very much (although the tweeter was hot). The distortion measurements were very good though. With the 4319 back with me and correcting the treble dial, I have found that the tilt of the speaker is flatter in room than “Harman preference” which means it sounds “thinner.” Science says that most people don’t like that. BUT, one area where the 4319 is incredible is with intermodulation distortion/effects. In the speaker IMD thread, I mentioned two tracks that ARE NOT classic “audiophile“ music which sound incredible on the 4319.

“Another Day of Sun” - La La Land Soundtrack
“Echo Game” - House of Flying Daggers Soundtrack

There are portions of those tracks where there is so much activity going on that it becomes a jumble on many speakers, especially at high volumes. The 4319 doesn’t have any problems. House of Flying Daggers
is nice in that the movie mix with 5.1 channels provides a good references to the stereo soundtrack. Before the 4319, I thought the sound track was a bad mix compared to the 5.1 movie. With the 4319, I realize that it takes a very good speaker to match the clarity that an entire 5.1 setup can do.

When the XPL 90’s make their way back to me, I will put it through the IMD gauntlet and update this thread.</speculation off>
 

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#19
A lot of the U.S.-built JBL stuff from the pre-Spinorama late 1980s was surprisingly good. The two-way models are often described as having deficient midrange response and an aggressive, "metallic-sounding" high end, but my surmise is that there was a deliberate voicing decision to have the tweeters comes through a couple of dB hotter than the woofers that in essence created both those impressions. With some trial and error and rudimentary arithmetic, I came of with cheap solution that -- at least to my ear -- eliminated any semblance of those issues. I simply put together a voltage divider from 3 watt resistors and ordinary .250" slip-on connectors (to make the mod easily reversible) and connected it between the crossover and the tweeter. Being neither an astute technician nor an engineer, let alone a speaker designer, I was fairly surprised at how well that idea worked.
Adding series resistance, even without a voltage divider, tends to shift the whole response down fairly evenly. The driver integration is going to differ either way. Certainly you can get away with a broadband 3db attenuation.

It honestly bothers me how few audiophile speakers allowed for some simple mid and treble tuning. Totally required for room compensation and can be accomplished with minimal cost. Don't even need l pads or anything, just a few switches.
 

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