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JBL L52 Classic review

JBL’s baby L52 Classic standmounters are entertaining listens Tested at £999 / $1000 / AU$1899

Standmount speakers: JBL L52 Classic
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

If the retro styling appeals, there's much to enjoy in the L52 Classic. They’re fun and entertaining, though lack a little sophistication

For

  • An enthusiastic and entertaining presentation
  • Pleasing punch and attack
  • Small in size

Against

  • Finish bettered by rivals
  • Not the last word in sonic insight, refinement or detail

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

If the retro styling appeals, there's much to enjoy in the L52 Classic. They’re fun and entertaining, though lack a little sophistication

Pros

  • + An enthusiastic and entertaining presentation
  • + Pleasing punch and attack
  • + Small in size

Cons

  • - Finish bettered by rivals
  • - Not the last word in sonic insight, refinement or detail

JBL’s L52 Classic standmounters are the entry-level model in the company’s three-strong Classic series of speakers. This range is built on the foundations laid by the huge success of the retro-themed L100 Classic, with subsequent introductions echoing the appealing 1970s styling but packaging it in smaller, ever more affordable portions.

The success of the L100 Classic isn’t just down to nostalgia though, as there’s real substance provided by thoroughly modern engineering, which delivers the sound quality to match. It’s with this in mind that we unbox the L52 Classic. 

Build

Standmount speakers: JBL L52 Classic

(Image credit: Future)

These are small, standing just 33cm tall. The walnut veneer-covered box is decently made, and solid with it, though it lacks the aesthetic class and outright quality of something like KEF’s similarly priced LS50 Meta. Put the two speakers side by side and it’s fair to say that the JBLs look like they belong in at least the next price class down. As with the other speakers in this range, there’s a choice of colours when it comes to the foam grilles – black, blue and a highly distinctive orange.

The L52 Classic are a two-way design with a 20mm titanium dome tweeter mated to a 13cm paper pulp mid/bass unit. The crossover point is set at a fairly typical 2.8kHz and there’s the option of adjusting high-frequency output level via a control dial on the front panel. While we leave this on the default flat setting for our testing, we think this feature becomes a useful tool if your recording, system or room isn’t properly balanced. A front-firing port is tuned to augment the speaker’s lows, too.

Compatibility

Standmount speakers: JBL L52 Classic

(Image credit: Future)

Take a look at the specifications and it becomes clear that the speakers need an amplifier with a bit of grunt. The claimed sensitivity is low at 85dB/W/m and the nominal impedance is 4 ohms. This is the price of trying to get a decent amount of bass from a small box.

We suggest something like the Cambridge CXA81 or Rega Elex-R would work well from both a price and performance perspective, though in either case it’s best to avoid forward or aggressive sounding sources. The JBL’s tweeter isn’t the sweetest or most forgiving around.

JBL L52 Classic tech specs

Standmount speakers: JBL L52 Classic

(Image credit: Future)

Type Two-way

Sensitivity 85dB/W/m

Impedance 4 ohm

Tweeter 20mm titanium dome

Mid/bass 13cm paper pulp

Biwire No

Dimensions (hwd) 33 x 20 x 22cm

While the L52’s small size may encourage people to put them right up against a rear wall, we found them to perform best when given a little room to breathe – starting around 40cm into the room – and positioned well away from room corners. We also prefer firing these JBLs straight ahead rather than strongly angling them towards the listening position, though there’s no harm in trying that if necessary to get a properly focussed and solid stereo image.

These speakers produce enjoyable results once up and running. There’s a good degree of overlap between these and the bigger models in the range when it comes to sonic character. The L52 Classic are outgoing and enthusiastic performers. They sacrifice a degree of sonic sophistication and refinement compared to class leaders such as KEF’s LS50 Meta, or even cheaper alternatives such as the B&W 606 S2, but offer partial compensation with a lively and punchy presentation that entertains.

Sound

Standmount speakers: JBL L52 Classic

(Image credit: Future)

We listen to Nirvana’s Nevermind and the L52 Classic sound right at home. They’re happy to charge along full throttle delivering Come As You Are with real verve. There’s a good amount of attack and enough ability to organise the song’s various musical elements into a cohesive and musical whole. The sound is fun, and can even be thrilling when the music demands. Even the bass performance is pleasing, sounding more powerful and punchy than the speaker’s compact dimensions suggest. 

Cobain’s vocals are rendered in an appealingly forthright manner, and the overall presentation is far more full-bodied and muscular sounding than we’d expect from something that’s barely bigger than a shoebox. Rhythmically things are precise enough to convey the momentum of the music, though not in a class-leading way.

Do the L52 Classic deliver the most detailed sound we’ve heard at this price? Not even close, as we find out when we listen to Mahler's Symphony No. 2. Instrumental textures aren’t so intricately drawn, nor are low-level dynamic nuances tracked with as much skill as the class leaders are capable of. Still, these JBLs manage a nicely balanced presentation that communicates the essence of the music well. The music makes sense to us even if some of the finer elements are overlooked.

Verdict

Standmount speakers: JBL L52 Classic

(Image credit: Future)

If you’re looking for a fun-sounding small speaker then these are well worth a listen. While the appeal for many will be the retro vibe, there’s more than enough ability in the L52 Classic to still satisfy in the long term. They’re not perfect, but we like them anyway.

SCORES

  • Sound 4
  • Compatibility 4
  • Build 3

MORE:

Read our KEF LS50 Meta review

And our reviews of the L82 Classic and L100 Classic

Also consider B&W 606 S2

These are the best hi-fi speakers for every budget

What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.


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