Review: JBL Studio 180 tower speaker

On my first gig as an electronics journalist, way back in 1989, the magazine’s senior editor introduced me to the technical editor with the explanation, “He’s in charge of all the black boxes.” Twenty-two years later, little has changed. Browse this website and you’ll see that audio and video gear still generally takes the form of black boxes that make this look like a radical piece of industrial design.

Into this aesthetic wasteland strides JBL with its new Studio series. View the Studio 180 from any direction but the front and you’ll see yet another banal black box. But when you stare the Studio 180 in the face, you confront a distinctive geometric design. The front baffle and grille incorporate the Weave concept found on many other pieces of JBL gear, even low-priced fodder that seems purpose-built for playing Katy Perry MP3s.

When I saw the picture of the Studio 180 included with the introductory press release, I immediately thought, “There’s no way that thing can sound good.” But as I looked closer, I realized I was wrong. The Weave design cleverly conceals the tweeter, midrange and woofer while mostly getting the hell out of their way so they have a chance to perform properly. The gray areas of the Studio 180’s face are speaker grilles, while the dark areas are solid. The top grille hides a 4-inch midrange and a 1-inch tweeter and the bottom grille camouflages a 6.5-inch woofer.

You can expand the Studio 180 into a full 5.1 or 7.1 surround-sound system by adding the Studio 120C center speaker and one or two pairs of Studio 130 bookshelf speakers — plus a subwoofer if you so choose.