JBL Control NOW AW Speaker System

Price: $2,144 At A Glance: Doughnut-shaped speakers fit just about anywhere • Withstands tough environments • Wireless sub makes your life one cable less complicated

Cornered and Wireless

Fade up on an open box of doughnuts. Are they Krispy Kremes or Dunkin? Leave that to the product-placement department.

Reverse-zoom to reveal the conference table where the doughnut box is sitting. It’s littered with half-empty cups of coffee. Zoom back farther to reveal tired people seated around the table. Their sleeves are rolled up, and the men need a shave. One of them says: “We need a fresh design for the Control NOW, something we haven’t done before. It has to work with lots of different wall mounts. Oh, and it has to fit into corners. What can we do?”

Someone reaches into the doughnut box, grabs one, and eats three-quarters of it. He deposits the remainder on the table, on a napkin. Slowly zoom in on the one-quarter doughnut resting on the napkin. Off-camera, someone else says: “I have an idea.”

Rider on the Wheel
Maybe that isn’t really how the JBL Control NOW was born. I could just be imagining things. Perhaps I’m just hungry. But there’s no denying that it looks like one-quarter of a doughnut.

The Control NOW looks as though it has been cut out of a wheel. (Of cheese? Sorry, I’ve got issues with food.) With its curved baffle and rubber end panels, it certainly looks like no other speaker. It has a beauty that is peculiar, idiosyncratic, and geometrically rich.

Behind the braced enclosure’s nondetachable grille are a titanium laminate tweeter that’s set into a biradial horn and two woofers made of PolyPlas, a polymer-coated wood fiber. Two slot-shaped ports are located at top rear, but they aren’t so far back that a wall mount would block them.

The woofers don’t aim in the same direction. Instead, they’re offset at an angle of 53 degrees. According to the designer, “The angle between woofers on a single speaker is 53 degrees. This makes the angle between adjacent woofers from separate speakers in a multi-unit array 37 degrees, which is close to 0.7 of the first angle. This spacing helps reduce interference between woofers and also works with single speakers in a corner or two speakers on a wall.” This unusual woofer arrangement has a couple of implications.

The speaker seems to be less susceptible to the lobing effect that can plague conventional woofer-tweeter-woofer arrays. Normally, the two woofers would sum and cancel at different listening angles. This would lead to uneven midrange and bass response throughout the listening area. But the Control NOW’s offset woofers, in conjunction with high-order crossovers, appear to disperse sound more evenly over a wider area. Perhaps that’s another part of what inspired the shape.

JBL designed these speakers to work with a wide variety of configurations and placements. A promotional video shows them wall-mounted vertically and horizontally around a flat-panel display, set up on stands, pushed into corners, and even suspended from the ceiling in groups of three or four. A set of four would, of course, complete the wheel shape and would therefore be roughly omnidirectional. JBL even offers optional pole-mounting hardware that’s compatible with ceiling fan mounts. The grille logo pivots, so the speaker won’t look silly in whichever position you choose.

The all-weather (AW) version, reviewed here, also fits nicely under the eaves of a porch. As JBL notes on its Website, the Control NOW AW is an all-weather outdoor speaker, but it isn’t waterproof. You should keep it from direct exposure to ice, snow, and sustained moisture.

Wireless Sub Numero Uno
Amid all the talk of sugary, deep-fried dough and cheese—don’t forget the cheese—I’ve neglected a second newsworthy event. The ES250PW subwoofer that I reviewed with the Control NOW is the first wireless subwoofer I’ve ever reviewed. The back has an antenna that receives an input from a tiny transmitter. The latter, of course, has an LFE input that takes a cabled connection from any A/V receiver or surround processor. Note that, while the sub can receive the signal wirelessly, its internal electronics still need a power connection (and cord).

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