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Old January 15th, 2015, 06:33 PM   #1
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Studio Monitors: JBL LSR305

Last night I picked up a pair of JBL LSR305 5-inch studio monitors. Here's a quick review:

For many years, I've been mixing on some large, main monitors. I've wanted some nearfield monitors as well, but could never justify them. The nice ones were quite expensive and there was just too big of a gap between the bass extension I had with my mains and what small, nearfields could offer. Last night, I went to a local brick&mortar store, listened to their last pair of LSR305s, and bought the open-stock items for a 10% discount ($270/pair). After a short listen at home, I knew I had made a great choice.

You can hear them compared to the Yamaha HS5 and KRK RP5G3 monitors here:

The above comparison is iconic. On one end, we have the reserved Yamaha which has little bass. This follows the family line of the classic NS10. On the other end we have the hyped KRK. IMO, the JBL shames them both.

The Yamaha not only lacks bass, it has a large mid peak around 1K. (See the attached thumbnail at the bottom of this post.) Some describe the sound as "boxy", likely due to this 1k resonance. We can see that this is not likely a room effect as the other speakers have totally different responses in this range. Some say that the HS5 sounds a bit ugly yet revealing, allowing them to cut unwanted frequencies, but I think they're just hearing and compensating for this unwanted peak.

The KRK sound is quite the opposite. It's scooped. The bass isn't all that deep, so there's a big peak at 125 Hz (boom, boom, boom), and troughs at 1k and 3k. Frankly, it sounds like somebody threw a blanket over it.

The JBL sounds natural and reasonably deep without being boomy. Looking at the chart, the three competing monitors do their own thing from about 600 Hz to 12,000 Hz, so the room is likely not affecting things here. The JBL is clearly the flattest in this region. Below 600 Hz, we have to look for correlations to mentally remove the effects of the test room. Common points are the peaks at 400. 250, 175, 125, and 60 with troughs at 500, 300 and 100 or so. If you mentally adjust for these, the JBL appears to be really flat and really deep with only a slight mid-bass emphasis. (BTW, the peak above 16kHz could be hype or hiss. I can hear some slight noise when I put my ear close, but not at normal listening distances.)

When I got home, I listened to a variety of music, including various classical, rock/pop and some Simon & Garfunkel, Thelonious Monk, and Dark Side of the Moon. The imaging is excellent, the bass compelling, though not intestinal-deep, and the mids/highs are clear and open.

The speakers are rated down to 43 Hz, though I'm not sure that this is at -3dB. They don't publish a tolerance at this price point.


I was able to A/B the monitors with my custom-built mains, which are based on the JBL 4430 design and drivers, which were state-of-the-art in the mid 80s.
Jon's Speakers

It was great to compare these as the bass of my mains has never been punchy or boomy, but it extends quite low. I get a bit more punch from the 5-inch monitors, but the low stuff simply fades away. My mains have a higher midrange response, but it's fairly broad and not resonant. The LSR305s are very slightly scooped in comparison. I think the truth is somewhere in between. The highs extend further with the small monitors, which isn't a surprise as the mains are -3dB at 16kHz.

Regarding the image, the LSR305 are "locked in". When you locate an instrument, it doesn't move about the soundstage as it plays higher or lower notes. I get a broader and deeper sound stage from the mains, but the comparison isn't quite fair. I sit close to hear the nearfields and push my chair back for the mains in order to keep an equilateral triangle for both. Room reflections likely expand the image from the mains. Both speakers use complex wave guides for the highs with the LSR305s having the more stable image as I move my chair left to right. Again, it's not fighting the room quite as hard.

For cost-constrained video production, I give these monitors multiple thumbs up. They're affordable. They're reasonably flat. They present a stable, trustworthy image. The sweet spot is quite wide and forgiving, which is important when reviewing sound with a team. The bass is neither missing, nor overly hyped. It's smooth and reasonably deep for the $150 5-inch class. The physical size is "just about right"compared to a pair of bulky 8-inch monitors on the desktop - hey, we're mixing for video, not club dance mixes here! If you eventually want the deep stuff, you can always add the matched LSR310S subwoofer. While you can hear hiss with your ear next to the speaker, it doesn't affect normal use, which is all we can ask as this price point.

There's no excuse to mix audio for video on cheap computer speakers or with headphones (except late at night) anymore. I'm glad that I waited for these speakers - and I should have bought them when first introduced in late 2013.

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Studio Monitors: JBL LSR305-jblyamahakrk.png  
Jon Fairhurst
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Old January 17th, 2015, 12:04 PM   #2
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Re: Studio Monitors: JBL LSR305

The new generation of JBL monitors is *very* good. Across the board from the smaller 5" to the big M2 system. They're doing something right. I'm actually looking at a set of these guys to use as my B-Rig compared to my big PMCs that I will be using for my new mix space.

The M2s are rather expensive, but they are an impressive system by any set of standards. I just heard a colleague's system that he uses for mixing music for major motion pictures (he's been mixing Pitch Perfect 2 for several months now) in surround. I was blown away by the sound stage and the transient response as well as frequency response of that system.

Benjamin Maas Fifth Circle Audio Signal Hill, CA
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Old January 19th, 2015, 12:32 PM   #3
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Re: Studio Monitors: JBL LSR305

JBL has focused on HF waveguides and ported for decades now. I heard one of their big systems at NAB a few years ago, and it was stunning. They've really refined the technology.

After more hours of use with the LSR305s, I have a better feel for the shortcomings (which are very minor at their current price point.)

First, the 5-inch monitors simply don't have the "body" of my mains. One really needs larger speakers or a sub to get close to feeling that the source is right there in the room. I can change between systems with the simultaneous push of two buttons, and with single sources, you get the subharmonics with large units. This isn't as noticeable with full mixes. The 5-inch speakers give you enough bass guitar and kick drum to work just fine for a lot of cases. It's way more than enough for mixing video dialog with library music.

The second shortcoming is very subtle. I've been playing a sampled/synthesized French horn with a breath controller.

Sample Modeling | French Horn & Tuba
USB MIDI Breath and Bite Controller

This is a really picky application. The sounds are already "fake" (though they are very good.) If there is any nasal resonance - or a lack of response in the nasal EQ range - a clear sound can sound raspy like a bassoon or overly clear like a flute. As it is, I have about 2/3rds of an octave that sound more like a sax or woodwind than a brass horn.

The lack of deep bass might have something to do with it. On my mains, it sounds much more like the instrument is in the room rather than a reproduced recording. But I think there might be a touch of compliance in the cabinet. I might open the cabinets and add some cross-members - especially from the front baffle to the back of the box. (Because of the baffle cutouts and the energy of the woofer, that's usually the weakest point.) I might also look at the corner construction and pour a bit of wood glue on the joints. I could also do some subtractive notch EQ work in the audio domain, but that wouldn't fix sympathetic vibrations in the monitor.

But I'm being really, really picky here. Voices sound good and natural. There's no rattle or looseness to the overall sound. My feeling is that if the wood is resonating a bit, that's exactly why I'm hearing a touch of woodwind. :)

Regardless, I remain quite impressed with the quality of these monitors at this price point.
Jon Fairhurst
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Old January 19th, 2015, 12:43 PM   #4
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Re: Studio Monitors: JBL LSR305

Thanks Jon. Useful and interesting test!
Andy K Wilkinson -
Cambridge (UK) Corporate Video Production
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Old January 19th, 2015, 02:14 PM   #5
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Re: Studio Monitors: JBL LSR305

FWIW, here's an interesting test of the HF waveguides:

Note that as one moves their head left and right, the soundfield necessarily changes. The phases change and this affects the perceived image. The room effects change, so there is a bit of comb filtering.

The important thing to hear is the overall frequency response. As you move off axis, do the highs fall off from the furthest speaker? In the case of well-designed monitors, the general frequency response should remain stable. The LSR speakers do quite well in this test - and in person.

...and, the video shows a cool use for a slider. :)
Jon Fairhurst
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Old January 19th, 2015, 05:03 PM   #6
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Re: Studio Monitors: JBL LSR305

I've been a user/owner of JBL Pro products since the 80's, including the 4311WXA control monitors. The JBL near field monitors were my "go to" monitor until a lightning strike wiped out 5 - LSR25P's a few years back. They were a little under powered (strange to say that about any JBL speaker), and I replaced them with DyneAudio BMP5A's, and KRK surrounds. The sub is still a JBL B460 system that is not only powerful, it is musical. It is powered by a Crown xTi4000 power amp with equalization.

Over the years, the emphasis with JBL has changed from "that JBL sound" (which was awesome) to the contemporary "no sound of it's own." Whatever it was, JBL combined the best transducers, solid cabinetry designs that were beautiful, and engineering expertise and factory resources on the largest scale at the most prestigious venues, whether it was California Jam or the Kennedy Center.

The factory in Northridge is gone, JBL had the best anechoic testing chambers, and still under Harmon has engineering expertise and broad manufacturing resources. It was that combination that saw them through the times.

People often don't understand the concept of near field speakers, spatial response, and indeed they are sterile sounding because they don't color the sound with their own. But they have to play loud faithfully and accurate, for extended periods, with dynamics and transient response. Active speakers and waveguides solve the problems of phasing, keeping the sound field coherent. There are lots of good audiophile speakers, and lots of good control room speakers including Genelec, Mackie, Adam, KRK, Yamaha, but overall, JBL in my opinion still retains the broadest pro-expertise (by a landslide really), and it all showcases in the M2. Those transducers, integrated with the bi-amped Crown amplifiers and crossover, with all of JBL's waveguide and imaging, that's what's going into my control room, period. The M2, and K2 S9800 before it, and I guess you could go all the way back to the Paragon or the L220's, JBL had it before and has it now, "that JBL sound."
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