What Hi Fi Sound and Vision Wed, 12 Nov 2008, 11:00am

JBL ES20

Tested at £200
60100
3

These JBLs will put a rocket up your recordings whether they like it or not

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For

  • Nicely curvy cabinet
  • energetic, upbeat sound

Against

  • Tiring high-frequency clamour
  • they look a bit low-rent in this company

Unlike a game of football, say, it's mighty difficult to refer to a ‘speaker of two halves' and make the analogy stick. Bear with us, though; we're going to give it a go. If ever the was a speaker of two halves, you see, the JBL ES20 is it.

First of all, there are the looks. The ES20 is a bewildering combination of interestingly swoopy, thoughtful cabinet design that wouldn't look out of place on a speaker at 10 times the price, and the sort of indifferent micro-system finish that's more appropriate to, well, a micro-system.

The picture doesn't show it, but the micro-system vibe is even stronger when the nasty grilles are in place. There's nothing amiss with the way the JBLs are made, you understand, it's just that no other speaker seeks to make quite such a virtue of plastic painted silver.

These are the least expensive speakers here, sure – but not by such a pronounced amount as the ES20s' looks might suggest.

Sometimes a speaker can be quite enigmatic at first listen, taking some time to reveal its true nature and signature. That speaker is not an ES20.

The ES20s lay their cards on the table from the first note of Harlem Underground's Smokin' Cheeba Cheeba: they're lively, enthusiastic, and upfront. Tempos are fleet thanks to this high-octane, caffeine-rich presentation, and there's a sense of exhilaration absent from most rivals in this test.

High levels of excitement
The soundstage the JBLs present is rigid and plausible, and the taut bottom end well controlled. If it's shoot-me-from-a-cannon levels of excitement you crave from your music, the ES20s could be right up your street.

The downside to all this bug-eyed energy, of course, is fatigue. No one should find a listen to John Martyn's Couldn't Love You More exhausting, but there isn't a song yet recorded that the JBLs couldn't render wearing.

The main culprit is the elaborate tweeter arrangement, which is claimed to deliver high frequencies up to 40kHz but which we're adamant delivers high frequencies ahead of and more fervently than the
rest of the frequency range.

But, of course, these are somebody's ideal speakers. Somebody who has Red Bull on their Golden Grahams of a morning, we'd imagine

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