JBL L100 Century Speaker

Even before I heard the JBL L100 Century I knew it was going to be great. It was 1970, when hi-fi speakers all had drab cloth grilles, the L100 sported a brilliant orange "waffle" pattern grille, and when every other speaker had grey or black woofers, the L100's was white. I'll never forget the first time I heard a pair, and the big JBLs lit up my Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix LPs, it really was the ultimate "rock" speaker of the day. The L100 sold for $273 each, way too pricey for me.

JBL's president Arnold Wolf played a strong role in creating the fresh, new look. The drivers and crossovers were all built in Glendale, California, and the gorgeous oiled walnut cabinets were crafted in another California JBL factory. It was a fairly large design—14.25 by 23.5 by 13.25 inches—and the shipping weight per speaker was a hefty 55 pounds.

The L100 was the consumer version of JBL's 4310/4311 pro monitors, the speakers shared the same 12-inch woofer, 5-inch midrange and 1.4-inch cone (not dome) tweeter. All of the drivers had large Alnico V magnets. The midrange and tweeter relied on a very simple crossover network, but the woofer had a direct connection to the amplifier. Some say that minimalist crossover played a part in the speaker's lively dynamics, the L100 epitomized early 1970s West Coast sound. JBL tried to discontinue the L100 a number of times, but popular demand wouldn't let it go silently into the dark night, and more than a million were sold over the years. The L100 lives on as the 4312 E, which is sold in Japan, but sadly not here in the U.S..

Thanks go out to JBL's Greg Timbers for the information and the photo used in this report.

fufanuer's picture

I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a hi-fi conversation with an older family friend. He saw my enthusiasm for good sound and mentioned that he had two pairs of speakers from his day which were just sitting in boxes. Without much prodding he ended up giving me 4 like new JBL 100 speakers. WOW! That was my first taste of good sound. They were in my system for almost 5 years until I just recently upgraded. They now provide music in a different room.

The waffle grills, while they looked in good condition, just crumbled at the slightest touch. I ended up taking out the waffle grill part and installing black speaker fabric. I also replaced the binding clips with banana posts.

Thanks for covering this timeless speaker.

Rob Sabin's picture
Back in the mid-70s when I was in my teens and first became an audiophile, these were the speakers I and everyone else lusted for. Just beautiful to look at, thoroughly hip with the foam grilles (not your father's Oldsmobile, so to speak). And they became even more sought after later when Maxell used them for the classic "Blown Away Guy" ads of the early 80s.

I couldn't afford a pair, though, so I decided to build my own speakers; Radio Shack sold similar foam grilles in those days. One of my friend's dad had a woodworking shop in his basement and helped me with the project, but they ended up not sounding great. Neither one of us knew from speaker design, and though the enclosure's cubic volume was correct for the selected woofer driver, the sealed boxes weren't really well braced and they resonated like a tuning fork when I played them. But it was the beginning of my love of hifi and ultimately a career writing about both the business of selling these types products at various trade magazines, and then the products themselves at the different consumer magazines and websites I've worked for. In part, I suppose I have the JBL L100--a speaker I couldn't afford to buy as high school junior--to thank for it.

nivek's picture

It seems many were in awe of the Century 100 speakers. I to came to hear them from a dorm mate in college in Southern Illinois who in the 70's had a Rabco turntable, Dynaco pre amp, home made separate power amps and New Riders of Purple Sage blasting through the JBL L100's. I wanted them, but they to were too expensive for my non budget. Fast forward to the 80's and through a major market broadcast radio station, I came into possession of brand new studio L4311's and later the L4312's. Still have them. The 4311's in my family room, and the 4312's in the living room. My dream came true. Thanks JBL.

tgkunz's picture

I still own a set of JBL 166s (4312s?) that I bought way back in the early 1970s for music listening. They cost $800 for the pair. The cones and walnut cabinets are still in great shape. I added a JBL center and two JBL surrounds a few years back for home theater use. The system sounds awsome to this day.

cundare's picture

Although, if $273 was a sticking point in 1970 (when used ESLs popped up for under $500), $4000 is an even stickier price point for the new 2018 version (when new Harbeths are around $3K).

IAC, I'm hardly a big fan of the "boom-and-tinkle" JBLs of those days, especially the overrated studio monitors. I've always suspected that one reason why so many 70s LPs were midrange-heavy wasn't due solely to a desire to keep needles in grooves or because of a misguided belief that boosting the presence curve sold units -- it was because those records were mastered through JBL speakers.