In our experience, few products are as divisive as JBL’s 4349 Studio Monitors. Whether you’re talking about the appearance or sound quality, it seems these speakers inspire love and hate in equal measures, sometimes both at the same time.
These JBLs are something of an oddity in the world of high-end standmounters. For starters, they’re huge, measuring 74cm high and a whopping 45cm wide – that’s pretty much the frontal area of a decently sized fridge.
In relative terms, the cabinet depth doesn’t seem so excessive at 34cm, but there’s no denying that the 4349s are going to be a dominating presence in all but the largest of listening rooms.
Type 2-way monitor loudspeaker
Impedance 8 ohm
Frequency response 32Hz - 25kHz
Dimensions (hwd) 73.6 x 44.5 x 32cm (with grille)
That massive frontage is put to good use with enough space to fit a chunky 30cm woofer, two large reflex ports and perhaps most strikingly, a carefully shaped horn for the equally unusual treble drive unit.
This tweeter is a world away from the conventional dome designs we normally see. It’s JBL’s D2415K dual-diaphragm compression driver, borne of the D2 designs first developed for high SPL (Sound Pressure Level), high power PA use.
At the heart of this unit is a pair of 38mm ring diaphragms made of Teonex polymer. Look at the cross-section of the diaphragm and you’ll find it’s V-shaped, something that’s claimed to reduce break-up modes, lower distortion and minimise time smear.
That distinctive horn is made of Sonoglass – a fibreglass-based composite – and is carefully shaped to control dispersion without adding much in the way of the usual horn-induced distortion.
The tweeter crosses over to the 30cm pulp-coned bass driver at a lowly 1.5kHz. This bass unit is impressive, with a huge magnet assembly and a cast rigid chassis. It’s built to generate high sound pressure levels and, thanks to a 75mm long-throw voice coil and carefully engineered suspension, delivers just that. Add two forward-facing reflex ports, and the result is a low-end that’s claimed to extend down to an impressive 32Hz (-6dB).
There’s little to complain about when it comes to the cabinet unless you have an issue with the retro styling. This is a braced MDF box with 25mm thick sides and is available in a choice of walnut or black walnut finishes. Either way, you have the company’s classic blue baffle and a grille to match the wood finish chosen.
The 4349s are rated at 91dB/W/m sensitivity and have an 8ohm nominal impedance. It should be possible to get good volume levels from most price-compatible amplifiers, though we would recommend something with a bit of poke to make the most of the speaker’s dynamic and high volume capabilities.
We use our reference Burmester 088/911 Mk3 pre/power to good effect, though swapping to a Dan D’Agostino Progression Integrated, Technics SU-R1000 or even the considerably cheaper Naim Nait XS 3 doesn’t throw up any particular issues.
You will need stands though. JBL makes the JS-120 open frame supports and they work well enough, even though they edge towards looking a little small with the 4349s perched on top. There’s no harm in trying alternatives, as the JS-120s aren’t the most rigid design we’ve come across. Just make sure that the stands are rigid and position the tweeter horn at ear height.
Any speaker at this level requires suitably talented sources. We have our Naim ND555/555 PS DR music streamer to hand as well as the Technics SL-1000R record player with a Kiseki Purple Heart moving coil cartridge attached.
These are large speakers and work best when given a decent amount of room to breathe. Aim to have them at least half a metre away from any wall to avoid the presentation being swamped by the bass. It’s worth playing around with the toe-in angle towards the listening position – get it right and the imaging snaps into focus. But no matter what we do, we can’t get the 4349s to fully render the depth and space in our recordings. If you’re after holographic stereo imaging, these are not the speakers for you.
However, if you crave excitement above all else, dive right in. They deliver much of the high-octane energy that’s present when you go to a live gig. It’s an upfront and direct listen, one takes no prisoners with bright or poor recordings.
It helps that the 4349s come fitted with two-tone controls to govern treble output. These offer adjustments in small 0.5dB steps within -1dB to +1dB limits. The first tone control operates in the 1.5 - 6kHz range, and the second from 5kHz upwards. JBL has taken a great deal of care to ensure that these controls don’t harm signal purity, and we certainly don’t notice anything negative when they are switched into use. With careful use of these settings, it’s possible to tame some of the speaker’s forwardness. But don’t go too far or the results become a little closed-in and dull.
Feed the JBLs a good quality signal and they thrill with explosive dynamics and a truly wonderful bass performance. As we listen to Massive Attack’s Angel, it’s hard to think of another speaker that can render lows with such power and articulation.
Low notes stop and start with ease, and are layered with care; every bass sound is crisp, taut and agile. No matter how highly engineered smaller rival speakers are, ultimately it seems there really is no substitute for large drive units and large cabinets if you want truly excellent deep bass.
As the music builds to a crescendo we can’t help but notice just how easy it all seems for these JBLs. Their sound is packed with attack, drive and the kind of punch that hits squarely in the chest. We’re playing the music loudly, yet there’s no cracking the 4349’s composure and no loss of control. They sound unstressed even when pushed hard, and that’s deeply impressive.
When we switch to something that requires a little more delicacy, such as Debussy’s Clare De Lune or Leonard Cohen’s Thanks For The Dance set, the JBLs don’t sound so much at home. Here, we become aware of a lack of finesse at high frequencies. They sound a little crude, falling short in both purity and sweetness.
Further down the range, we notice that Cohen’s voice lacks its usual solidity and natural warmth. There’s plenty in the way of detail resolution, but we can’t help but feel that the JBLs would rather we get back to playing Springsteen or Nirvana.
If that’s your bag then we doubt you’ll find better speakers for the money. The 4349s may be uneven performers, but they’re pretty much unassailable in the things they do well. If you’re looking for the ultimate party speakers, you’ve just found them.
- Sound 4
- Compatibility 4
- Build 4
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Read our JBL L100 Classic review