We freely admit that JBL’s 4309 standmounters aren’t going to appeal to everybody. How could they with a distinctive face like that? But as divisive as these speakers look, there’s no denying that little else at this level comes close to their sound if you prioritise excitement and drama above all else.
In many ways, these look like they’re just scaled-down versions of the £6995 ($7500, AU$11,449) JBL 4349 we tested in early 2021, and that’s no bad thing given just how talented those high-end standmounters are.
It’s the use of a horn-loaded tweeter that sets both of these speakers apart from their more conventional rivals. The high-frequency compression driver used in the 4309 is less elaborate, using a single, smaller diaphragm of 25mm rather than the dual 38mm arrangement in its pricier sibling. That diaphragm is still made of Teonex polymer, though, and keeps the V-shaped cross-section that’s claimed to reduce break-up modes, lower distortion and minimise time smear.
JBL is also pretty proud of that distinctive curved horn profile, claiming it is carefully shaped to control dispersion without adding much in the way of the usual horn-induced distortion.
The tweeter crosses over to the 16.5cm pulp-coned mid/bass driver at 1.6kHz, which is relatively low by conventional standards. The speaker’s bass output is augmented by a pair of front-facing reflex ports.
Overall build quality is nice and solid. These are premium speakers and certainly feel it. The cabinets are available in two finishes – walnut with blue speaker grilles or black walnut with black grilles. Either way, regardless of finish, there’s no denying that visually these standmounters are a bit of an acquired taste. Some will love the retro studio monitor vibe and others won’t.
The 4309 perform best when driven by an amplifier that has a bit of grunt. A sensitivity of 87dB/W/m is pretty standard but the claimed nominal impedance of 4 ohms suggests that something with a bit of muscle might work best.
While we use our usual reference Burmester 088/911 Mk III pre/power amplifier for some of the testing, it’s the partnership with Naim’s more price compatible, and let’s not forget multiple Award-winning, Nait XS3 integrated that really clicks. The front-footed sonic signatures of the two products dovetail beautifully.
We play with the front panel high-frequency tone control and find that it’s possible to make subtle adjustments to the overall balance. At just + or -1dB you can’t alter things too much, but it’s enough to help in fine-tuning the performance without changing the speaker's overall character much.
Type 2-way standmounter
Mid/bass 16.5 cm paper pulp cone
Tweeter 25mm horn-loaded compression
Nominal Impedance 4 ohms
Dimensions (hwd) 42 x 26 x 23cm
These JBLs work best around 80cm out into our test rooms, and away from the side walls, firing pretty much straight ahead. Placed this way, on solid stands, we get a nice even tonal balance with layered and crisply focussed stereo imaging.
When we listen to a well-produced recording, such as the Jurassic Park OST by John Williams, the soundstage is a little concentrated and less airy than some, but we're pleased to note that each instrument is precisely placed, and that doesn’t waver as the music becomes more demanding.
These JBLs excel at conveying dynamics; large-scale shifts grow with authority while low-level nuances are treated with all the finesse they deserve. The 4309 are bold performers that deliver a degree of muscularity that not only belies their relatively modest dimensions but also sets the standard at this level.
It helps that the bass performance is full-bodied and punchy. While the lows don’t quite match the mid and higher frequencies when it comes to outright precision, they’re still taut and tuneful by most standards. Integration between the two drive units is pretty good, too.
We switch to Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes set and these JBLs sound right at home. They have the attack to make the most of Ghost Of Tom Joad and are pleased to work at high-output volumes. When pushed hard there’s little sign of stress or strain at anything that can be described as reasonable levels. If you need something to go louder than these, you either have a very large room or very understanding neighbours, or probably both.
Springsteen's voice comes through clearly and is rendered with all the grit and passion it deserves. Things are good rhythmically with a fine, strong sense of drive. Yet when the pace slows with The Wall, the 4309 are happy to calm down. Here we become more aware of their clarity and fine musical cohesion.
By the highest standards, it’s possible to point to a lack of sonic refinement. The high frequencies could certainly be sweeter and the midrange is on the leaner side of neutral, which robs the sound of a little natural warmth. None of these things are deal-breakers provided care is taken with system matching.
We’re inclined to forgive any shortcomings simply because these JBLs are just so much fun to listen to. With appropriate music, they offer an intense emotional hit that most rivals just don’t get close to. You’ll have to accept that less than perfect recordings will be exposed, as will less capable partnering equipment, but do that and you have one of the most entertaining speakers it’s possible to buy at this price.
- Sound 5
- Compatibility 4
- Build 5
Also consider the JBL L82 Classic
Read our review of the ATC SCM 19
Read our KEF LS50 Meta review
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