I decided to finally sit down and listen to the JBL Sessions album that I bought on eBay a few weeks ago. I’ve a fair amount of sound effects and super-duper-stereophonic-bam-wow-oh-man-look-at that-what-is-that-sound-spewing-like-blood-from-the-speakers records but they are always pretty hokey and turn out to be more hype than actual high fidelity. However, this JBL album has turned out to a bit more serious, if a tad corny and antiseptic, but it’s proved to be a good buy so far. Actually both of those aspects add a touch of credibility. If anyone has read any articles from any “hi-fi” stereo equipment magazines from, well, any time you’d find them pretty self righteous, almost to the extent of piety. But anyway, I digress.
First, I’d like to share a list of the equipment that I’m using to check this out. There really wouldn’t be any point to reviewing the album if I was playing it through this:
The speakers that I’m using are a pair of JBL 4311B Control Monitors I picked up two years ago from a guy in the West Side that had posted them on Craigslist.
I’ve been through a lot of speakers at an alarming pace, from Sansui to Polks to Pioneers, to EPIs to Bang and Olufsons and a little bit in between. Every other speaker gave the music it’s own coloring or, even worse, just made the music sound lumpy and required gobs of equalization to iron them out. These 4311B’s just seemed to give me the music I’d been searching for; sound reproduction precisely how the sound engineer intended. You can find information on them here: http://www.jblpro.com/pub/obsolete/4311b.pdf
For my amp I’m using monster-turned-songbird Luxman L-100 which, according to the creepy foot fetishist from the now closed local amp repair shop, was owned by many African American NFL players in the 70′s. If you ever have the chance to pick up some Luxman equipment do not hesitate–it’s truly amazing gear. You can check out info on the L-100 from one of my favorite websites, the Vintage Knob, at this address: http://www.thevintageknob.org/LUXMAN/L100/L100.html# The Vintage Knob is currently down. Let’s pray it comes back soon.
Finally, to spin the damn thing I’m using my recently acquired Technics SL-10. It’s been a huge upgrade from my Technics SL-212, which is somewhat similar to the 1200 in certain aspects. The SL-10 is a linear tracking turntable, which means that it doesn’t have a conventional tonearm. The cartridge travels on a track situated over the record and travels in a straight line from the outer ring inward as opposed to an arcing pattern followed by a conventional cantilever tonearm. Also, it can be played vertically which is pretty neat. More detail can be found at: http://www.thevintageknob.org/TECHNICS/SL10/SL10.html
Anyway, now that’s out of the way we can get back to the record. I think one of the excerpts from the narrator’s monologues best sums upthis entire album.
The function of high fidelity loudspeaker (sic) is to reproduce recorded music. A good loudspeaker will reproduce music with clarity, detail, separation and definition…qualities that can’t be reduced to a set of tabulated numbers on a piece of paper. That’s why some of our friends got together with us at Capital Records to make an album you could use as a standard of reference.
We’ll take each section of this record apart and let you hear each instrument individually; then we’ll put them back together again so you can make a valid comparison between louspeakers.
As you will hear on Sides 3 and 4, the sound of a record depends greatly on the monitor loudspeakers used in the studio. Most of today’s records are monitored on JBL loudspeakers just as this one was. List to this music on our speakers to see how we intended it to sound–then listen on any other speakers.
After making your comparisons , we think you’ll prefer ours for the same resons that most of the major studios in the world prefer them–clarity and definition. However, if you find that another is more to your l iking, we’d like to think of it this way: We’d like to think of it this way: We’ve profvided a basis for comparison, you’ve made the choice that pleased you m ost and we’ve contributed to your pleasure.”
It’s a big advertisement for JBL but it fits like a warm glove. The narrator makes several references to the JBL Dealer that the previous owner of this album must have visited to get this copy for review. This, however, is the only advertisement that I would never turn off. It’s just too fab.
I accidentally played side two first but I’m glad I did because it started off with a series of tone tests that are designed to check the limitations of both your loudspeakers and your ears. The narrator explains that because of methods of analog recording, remember this is 1973, many tones will sound different, much different from how they are originally recorded if not played through true high fidelity loudspeakers.
He also explained that the majority of frequencies reproduced by conventional recording instruments–the guitar, bass guitar, drums, piano, etc.-do not, for the most part, delve deeper than 50hz. Now with any speaker or amplifier that you see online on eBay or audio forums you’ll notice often that the tonal ranges are listed along with many of the specs. A typical higher quality amp will play from 20 hertz to 20,000 hertz without any significant change in volume while a quality speaker will claim to play roughly in the same range. It was also fun to sit down through the high frequency test which revealed the acoustic ceiling of myself and the three others that I auditioned this album with. (My limit was 18,000 hertz through the speakers but 20,000 hertz through my enclosed Sony Studio headphones. I’m going to chalk that up to the continual white noise generated by the intersection of McMillan and Vine outside my window.)
Mainly, this album professes that any company can throw all sorts of numbers and jargon at you that, unless you are a trained mechanical or sound engineer, isn’t worth a hill of beans. What really matters is how things reach your ears.
To give you a real world test of your speakers JBL takes the time to show you different instruments and describe how they should sound in your listening room. I’d like to go into detail on how each 12-string guitar and 9-foot harpsichord should tickle your ears but the narrator of the album does a much better job with his exquisite technical jargon.
Disc 1 is mainly a dissection of instruments and tonality that comes together in a sweet buffet of high fidelity recordings. The songs at the the tail end of side one are surprisingly good; not just in sound reproduction but even more so in the musicality. They’re just bitchin tracks.
Disc 2 delves deeper into explaining the actual recording process as opposed to the reproduction process. It goes into length about the actual recording session and 16-track recording. It’s pretty neat listening to the discourse between the sound engineers and the musicians from a session over 30 years ago.
Side 3 (sounds a bit worn)
I hope you enjoy.
On a side note, it appears that JBL’s marketing campaign has decided to take corny to the next level. I feel like this is something they would have played on the tv screens perched above the roller coaster lines at Kings Island when it was owned by Paramount.