JBL Studio L Series Home Theater Speaker System

Speaker maker JBL is just one part of the Harman International family, but for a brand that makes up only a single slice of a large pie, it has an incredibly diverse product mix. Along with home theater speakers, JBL makes systems for music-recording and film sound-mixing studios, movie theaters, concert halls, computers, and cars. So many different speakers coming out of one lab is bound to lead to some crossbreeding - a theory that helps explain the Studio L series. JBL's newest creation takes the robust build quality of its professional studio monitors and mixes it with the flat-TV-friendly installation options we've come to expect from home theater speakers. The result is an unusually rugged wall-mountable system - one that makes other recent entries into the field look fussy and feminine in comparison.

What We Think
The Studio L successfully combines powerful sound with a compact, no-nonsense package.
The exceptionally sturdy cabinets - JBL ensures maximum rigidity by using 1-inch-thick MDF for the front baffles - make Studio L speakers heavier than most. Good thing, too: the testosterone rush I worked up by heaving them out of their boxes put me in the right frame of mind to appreciate the blunt, unembellished design. The slab-like L820 and L810 left/right satellites and LC2 center speaker have rounded edges and are surprisingly slim (5.5 inches deep with the grilles on) given their overall heft.

The L8400P subwoofer echoes the look of the sats, although its silvery, molded-plastic feet add a slight flourish. If your domestic partner is a Martha Stewart-like design fascist, you might want to check out some of the sleeker, sexier options on the market. But if your normal scene consists of buddies, brews, and a networked PlayStation alongside the home theater gear, this rig's for you.

SETUP Each woodgrain-finished JBL sat has keyhole mounts for a wall installation. Not wanting to break out the drill, I placed the L820s on 24-inch-high speaker stands at either side of my plasma TV and the L810s on higher stands slightly behind and at either end of my couch. The LC2 is one of the biggest center speakers I've ever tested - its higher-than-normal cabinet makes it a better candidate for wall-mounting than TV-stand installation. On the plus side, the LC2's dual 6-inch woofers make it an excellent sonic match for the L820, which sports a similar array of drivers. Fortunately, JBL also offers the matching LC1 ($499), a conventional horizontal center speaker that will fit the shelves of most TV stands.

Like the larger L820, the L810 that I used for the surround channels is a substantial, direct-radiating satellite speaker with better-than-average bass. After listening to the pair's focused, muscular delivery on a few multichannel tracks, I decided to angle them back about 45°, bouncing the sound off my rear wall for a more diffuse, dipole-like presentation.

The L8400P, like most subwoofers, did its best work placed in the right front corner of my room. An LFE (low-frequency effects) setting on the sub's back panel let me bypass its internal crossover to avoid overlap with the one in my preamp/processor, which could muddy the bass. The L820's specified 55-Hz bass rolloff meant that I could have used a lower than normal crossover, but the system sounded fine with the standard 80-Hz THX cutoff, so I ran with it.