Retro is cool once again. There are retro bands like Greta Van Fleet and Dirty Honey, there are retro cars like the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro, and in the world of audio there is the JBL L52 Classic.
There is more than what meets the eye with retro inspired JBL bookshelf loudspeaker. Externally, the speaker brings back memories of the golden era of home audio and the 1970s, but internally, the L52 Classic employs modern components, and the company’s latest audio engineering concepts.
Sending me a pair of the L52 Classic loudspeakers, along with JBL’s companion L10cs Subwoofer, I tried the components as a standard stereo solution, and later as a 2.1 speaker system.
JBL L52 Classic and L10cs Subwoofer Features and Setup
The products shipped to my home in two boxes. After pulling the bookshelf speakers from what was essentially a double boxing that had boxes within a box, and then the subwoofer, I was quickly able to integrate the speakers into my stereo system.
Before getting into the setup, it is important to point out the L52 Classic loudspeaker utilizes a two-way design that is highlighted by 5.25-inch pure pulp cone woofer and ¾-inch Titanium tweeter that’s mounted within a proprietary JBL waveguide. The popular Harman brand crosses the drivers over at 2.8kHz, and JBL also includes a high-frequency control dial on the speaker’s front baffle. This control allows integrators or homeowners to attenuate the tweeter’s output by 3dB; they can leave the tweeter at its normal, zero dB setting, or the tweeter control can be set to add 3dB to the speaker’s top end output.
Externally, the speaker provides JBL’s classic industrial design, along with a satin-walnut veneer finish, and a choice of three Quadrex grille colors.
The L10cs Subwoofer is a complementary small-footprint product that features a 10-inch downward firing woofer that is powered by a 250-watt RMS amplifier that’s capable of 500-watt peaks. The sub’s rear panel incorporates a pair of ports that are tuned with the L10cs’ enclosure to help the sub extend down to a rated frequency of 31Hz.
Helping with the setup of the sub, the rear panel also provides an RCA subwoofer input, controls for the sub’s crossover setting and volume, as well as a phase switch, and an auto signal-sensing switch. Additionally, the rear panel includes a status LED indicator, a removable power cord terminal, and the power on/off switch.
JBL offers the sub in a choice of natural walnut or black veneer finishes.
Circling back to the setup, once I pulled the speakers and the sub from their boxes, I set the L52 Classics on a set of 24-inch stands. I then placed the L10cs sub in between the speakers, which were flanked about eight feet apart and nine feet from my listening position.
Next, I ran a set of Straight Wire speaker cables from my Bryston amplifier to the speakers, and I set the high-frequency tweeter dials to their “0dB” settings. I wanted to start my listening of the speakers without the sub, so the initial setup was simple. Later I did run a subwoofer cable from my Bryston preamplifier to the RCA sub input of the subwoofer. After that connection was made, I set the sub’s phase switch to “normal;’ the power switch to “auto;” I set the crossover to 80Hz, and the volume to about 11 o’clock.
All of that took a matter of minutes.
CE Pro Features
- The L52 Classic is a two-way design that includes a 5.25-inch pure pulp cone woofer and ¾-inch Titanium tweeter positioned within a waveguide.
- JBL incorporates a high-frequency control dial on the L52 Classic’s front baffle.
- Aesthetically, the L52 Classic features a walnut veneer finish and Quadrex foam grille
- Rated frequency response is 47Hz to 24kHz +/-6dB, a sensitivity rating of 85dB, and a 4-ohm impedance rating.
- MSRP for the L52 Classic speakers is $1,000 per pair.
- JBL L10cs Subwoofer features a 10-inch, downward firing woofer.
- Internally the L10cs sub also includes a 250-watt RMS amp that’s capable of 500-watt peaks.
- The L10cs is offered in a choice of black or walnut real-wood veneers.
- MSRP for the L10cs Subwoofer is $700
Performance and Final Thoughts
If you cheated and looked at the “Pros and Cons” first before reading the review, then you saw that I stated JBL hit a home run with these speakers.
I absolutely loved the speakers and later I thought the sub was a great complement to the retro-inspired bookshelf speakers. I started my listening as a straight two-channel, stereo system with the Bryston gear, and source components such as my MacBook Air to stream my Apple Music account into a Meridian DAC.
“The speaker delivers detailed, wide dynamics from a small footprint that harkens back to the days of gas-guzzling land yacht cruisers and CRT televisions.”Robert Archer
Initially, just to get a sense of the speakers’ sound I streamed content from AC/DC, Paramore and Alice in Chains. Listening to this mix of classic and modern rock, I was thrilled with the low frequency output of the speakers. The speakers were producing much more mid-bass than I was expecting, and the speakers’ midrange clarity and warm top-end extension were also on full display for me to hear. I’ll emphasize the speakers driven by my Bryston electronics seemed so effortless in their reproduction of music it made my music listening so much fun.
Continuing my listening I started to stream content from Rage Against the Machine and Avenged Sevenfold and was stunned at the amount of space and resolution the L52 Classics delivered. I wrote in my notes while listening that I could not believe these speakers are just $1,000 per pair.
Diving into Extreme’s catalog and songs such as Rust in Peace, Get the Funk Out, More than Words and the band’s new single Rise, I could really hear how the heavy mastering of the new content—Rise, which was one of three songs the band released ahead of the full album release of new Extreme record, Six were so dramatically different. The new songs sounded squashed compared More than Words for example, which sounds big and dynamic through the speakers.
In more listening sessions with just the L52 Classic speakers I thought the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song, Tell Me Baby was presented with a nice midrange warmth that complemented the guitar parts nicely. Flea’s slapped bass line was prominent and it had a nice level of sponginess to it that helped it sit well within the mix of the song. Interestingly, the hi-hat accent in the song’s chorus was played back with a little less emphasis than I am used to, but it was still musical and well balanced. I could also detect a slight emphasis of upper midrange frequencies.
With the addition of the companion L10cs I felt the sub blended seamlessly with just about no effort on my part to integrate the sub into the system.
On songs such as Boston’s Longtime and an acoustic version of Heart’s Alone the sub added more girth, richness and impact to the songs without taking over the listening experience. Trying the tweeter adjustment on the speaker’s front panel, I tried all three settings. Ultimately, I settled on the 0dB setting, which is where I had it set as a default. The negative -3dB setting I felt took too much top end away, while the +3dB setting added some unwanted high-frequency energy to Ann Wilson’s vocals for example.
Moving on to some other forms of media, I listened to several “period-correct” LPs from the early 1970s, including David Bowie’s, Aladdin Sane, The Rolling Stone’s Exile on Main Street, and Deep Purple’s Machine Head. What really impressed me about my vinyl listening sessions was the transparency of the L52 Classic speakers and L10cs sub. That transparency allowed me to hear the Beatles-like production of the song Lady Grinning Soul from Aladdin Sane. Bowie sounded big with the band filling the soundstage. On the classic Stones record, I thought the speakers placed Charlie Watts’ raw drum sound more out front of the mix, and when I listened to Machine Head I thought this record highlighted the integration between the speakers and sub. Jon Lord’s organ sits heavy in the record’s mix and Roger Glover’s bass adds a solid low frequency foundation that was augmented by Ian Paice’s drumming.
Circling back to what I had stated earlier, JBL absolutely nailed it with the development of the L52 Classic loudspeaker. The speaker delivers detailed, wide dynamics from a small footprint that harkens back to the days of gas-guzzling land yacht cruisers and CRT televisions. Adding the sub into the equation provides more bottom end without detracting from the system’s performance to further augment what may be one of the best sounding and best looking fun 2.1 system to hit the home audio market in a long time.
My only small grievance came with the setup of the sub. I would have like to have seen more setup options with the sub. Line-level and speaker-level connection options would be nice, but my guess is that JBL is trying to keep the L10cs Subwoofer cost and user friendly.
I cannot emphasize this enough … kudos to JBL for developing a retro-looking, high-performance speaker system at a price that is approachable for a wide range of users.
CE Pro and Cons
- Retro style of the L52 Classic speakers look fun and make for nice talking points.
- Small footprint of the L52 Classic and L10cs Subwoofer allow the products to live in a variety of home interiors.
- Fantastic high-value sound quality and the integration between the L52 Classic speakers and L10cs subwoofer is just about seamless.
- There are no “cons” with the L52 Classic, JBL has hit a home run with this product.
- The inclusion of more connection options would provide greater system installation flexibility with the L10cs Subwoofer.
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