It’s in the treble where I found the Studio 180’s greatest strengths — and the one place where I felt it could stand improvement. Overall, the treble was stunning, and I use that word carefully: I was literally taken aback at how clear it sounded. Not only did the castanets in “Sentenza del Cuore: Allegro” from the Chesky Records CD of The Coryells sound clear; I could actually hear them echoing off the high walls and ceiling of St. Peter’s Church in Manhattan, where the CD was recorded. The fact that a recording I’ve heard on at least 1,000 different audio products, from iPod docks to $500,000 supersystems, impressed me so much through the Studio 180 speaks volumes.
However, super-high-frequency percussion instruments, such as the glockenspiel on “Shower the People” from James Taylor’s Live at the Beacon Theatre and the bell tree in “Once I Wished a Tree Upside Down” from Trilok Gurtu’s Living Magic, sounded overly crisp and a bit distorted. Given more money to spend on a tweeter, I expect JBL’s engineers could have corrected this flaw, but considering how few recordings I (and probably you) have that feature glockenspiel or bell tree, it’s not a major concern.
The other flaw in the Studio 180 is simply what it is: a full-range speaker. I’m used to hearing bass reproduced through perfectly positioned subwoofers. With any full-range speaker, the bass is compromised because you have to position the speakers primarily for the best midrange and treble reproduction — and the position that’s best for mid/treble is never going to be the optimum position for bass reproduction. While the Studio 180 delivered even deep synthesizer bass notes with ease, the low bass didn’t sound as even as I’m used to. There’s an easy fix for that, though: add a sub.
I’ve heard some amazingly good, relatively inexpensive tower speakers of late, including the Mordaunt-Short Aviano 6 and the NHT Absolute Tower, but I can’t think of a better value in a tower speaker than the Studio 180. This new JBL is iron-clad (well, actually fake woodgrain vinyl-clad) proof that it’s possible to improve a speaker’s looks without screwing up the sound.
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