JBL has proven to be a leading driver of audio-industry loudspeaker innovation for 70 years – a legacy that spans hundreds of patents, countless category-defining products and a global reach of more than 130 countries. To celebrate this milestone date of 2016 – the diamond anniversary – we asked the team at JBL to come up with a list of iconic, market-defining designs, one from each decade of the company’s existence (and one for luck, in the later decades). This is what they came up with…
Even before JBL was founded in 1946, originator James B. Lansing (born James Martini, in fact) developed pioneering products that would lay the foundation for future innovations to come (for the Lansing Manufacturing Company and Altec Lansing, for instance).
Lansing started out creating components for the world’s first cinema standard loudspeaker, and by 1937 had developed the Iconic System – a loudspeaker system designed to meet the needs of film and audio production control rooms. Comprising a 2-way, 15-inch woofer and compression driver high-frequency section, the Iconic is noted as the world’s first studio monitor and set the standard for studio monitor systems today. The Iconic System was so influential that it was inducted into the TEC Hall of Fame on January 15, 2011 at the NAMM show in Anaheim, California.
JBL D130 is the loudspeaker that defined the sound of the 1950s. Originally released in 1948, the D130 15” cone speaker was personally designed by James B. Lansing, using cutting-edge materials and production methods. In order to achieve the sensitivity, range and dynamic response Lansing was looking for, he incorporated state-of-the-art Alnico V magnets, an aluminum diaphragm and a 4” flat wire voice coil attached to a curvilinear cone.
The distinctively pure sound of the D130 first found its place at home, defining the home hi-fi phenomenon by appearing in more systems than any other speaker of that era. The D130 went on to become the driver used in some of JBL’s first commercial systems. And as the electric guitar was revolutionising music, Leo Fender offered JBL D130 speakers as a factory upgrade for many amplifier models. The applications for the D130 continued to grow throughout the ’50s, and it became the most famous of all JBL speaker components.
As smaller, independent studios explored new ways of recording, the need for more compact monitors became crucial. JBL worked closely with prominent New York studio owner, Bob Fine, to create the 4310 – a studio monitor that would facilitate the latest eight-track recording techniques. The compact form factor of the 4310 allowed producers and engineers to install a monitor for each individual track (a total of eight units) in one control room, which yielded more accurate mixes.
The JBL 4310, and later its 4311 version, also informed how studios dealt with room acoustics by giving engineers a way to directly mount speakers on the console bridge as nearfield monitors. This configuration delivered higher proportions of sound straight from the monitors with vastly lower levels of reflected sound.
Inspired by the popularity of large-scale rock touring and festivals, JBL set out to provide the sound quality of large tour sound systems to bourgeoning musicians. The Cabaret Series was launched at the 1979 NAMM show in Chicago, establishing one of the first full lines of portable PA systems for musicians and music stores. In addition to providing PA elements specifically designed for guitarists, bass players and vocalists, the Cabaret Series featured an early line array configuration.
The Cabaret Series 4680 was an updated version of the 4682 thermoplastic “strong box” and featured four K110 10” speakers and dual 2402 bullet tweeters in a line array configuration. Just as the JBL 4560 bass bin and radial horn elements formed the basis for tour sound systems, the Cabaret Series established the portable PA market segment that continues to grow today.
The 1980s saw JBL take studio monitor technology and installed cinema sound to new heights. Introduced in 1981, the 4430 and 4435 studio monitors delivered constant directivity control with Bi-Radial horn technology. The advent of Bi-Radial horns allowed JBL to develop products with specific coverage angles that optimized sound for given applications (90 x 40-degree horns were used for theater applications, while the wider 100 x 100-degree models were used as studio monitors). The Bi-Radial horn technology set the tone of professional sound systems for nearly two decades and is employed in some of the most successful professional loudspeaker systems ever produced by JBL.
As the 4430 and 4435 monitors led the charge in music and cinema studios, another JBL product was changing how theatergoers experienced sound. The JBL 4675 Cinema System, which also used the Bi-Radial horn, improved on existing systems by providing a smaller form factor, increased performance and a more manageable price. Due to the quality of the new design, the 4675 system was installed in the Motion Picture Academy’s Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, the industry’s reference theater. Eventually, the Harman engineers who developed the 4675 system received a Scientific and Engineering Award from the Motion Picture Academy “for the concept, design and engineering of the modern constant-directivity, direct radiator style motion picture loudspeaker systems.”
Musical trends were shifting throughout the ’90s. The arrival of portable CD players and an influx of independent bands playing popup venues meant music was on the move. In 1995, JBL introduced the EON line of portable products to provide small-scale music and speech reinforcement for people on the go.
The EON molded-enclosure, fully integrated powered sound system revolutionised the portable PA market. The high performance and ultra-low weight of the EON series continues to provide bands, DJs and business professionals with audio that reflects the quality of JBL tour sound systems.
JBL made a splash in the new millennia with a landmark contribution to line array systems – the VerTec Series. By implementing JBL-patented Differential Drive transducers and a new structural design, VerTec provided a safer, more lightweight way to suspend arrays in public places.
VerTec also gave users a way to observe estimated directional response and build systems according to their needs with its associated design modeling program. The new series was quickly adopted by the professional audio community and deployed at a variety of events, including the 2000 Democratic convention, 2002 Super Bowl, 2002 GRAMMY® Awards and a host of international music tours.
While VerTec was touring the world, JBL continued to expand the Control Contractor Series product line of smaller installation speakers with multiple sizes and configurations for restaurant and retail background and foreground applications.
Addressing the growing need for high dynamic range and reference-monitor accuracy in a broad range of studios, JBL released the M2 Master Reference Monitor (it was championed by JBL veteran Peter Chaikin). The M2 represents the next generation of JBL innovation and features a host of new patents and advanced technologies, including the D2 dual-diaphragm compression driver and low-TCR voice-coil Differential Drive dual-coil woofer. Also using the D2 and Differential Drive transducer technology, the VTX Series was introduced as JBL’s latest line-array development. And there’s plenty more to come in 2020 and beyond…
Pictures: Top: VTX in Rock in Rio. Second: JBL flightcase. Third: The factory machine room in the mid 1950s. Fourth: JBL 4300-Series Monitors (mid 1970s). Fifth: Jazz legend Barry Goodman with a Paragon speaker. Sixth: An early image of the JBL factory anechoic chamber. Seventh: Linkin Park on tour with JBL VTX. Eighth: The Grateful Dead's Wall of Sound, featuring over 500 JBL speakers! Last: VerTec at the Academy Awards earlier this year.