JBL 250Ti loudspeaker An Opposing View

Sidebar 1: An Opposing View

J. Gordon Holt's review puts me in a bit of a quandary: I agree with many of his general observations, but not with his description of the speaker under review. I also don't like the sloping highs inherent in the "Boston sound." I have never liked any of the Boston Acoustics speakers, and have long felt that the Allisons and most ARs lack upper octave energy, life, and excitement. While Polk is a distinctly "South Boston" manufacturer, I have generally been disappointed in their highs as well.

This kind of upper octave response may suit the Hafler or Japanese mid-fi transistor electronics with which such speakers are most likely to be used. They may also meet a legitimate need, since most Far-Eastern manufacturers seem to cut corners to keep prices low and retain their market shares, and their upper octaves have recently grown harder and more unpleasant. It is nevertheless hard to take most of these speakers seriously as statements of what can be done to reproduce music with good high-end electronics and front ends.

I'd even argue that the "Boston sound"'s defects go far beyond its high frequencies (footnote 4). One has only to compare Richard Vandersteen's designs to those of Jim Thiel to realize that speakers with major differences in apparent upper octave energy can sound extremely natural and musical. Vandersteen's designs are distinctly softer in the upper octaves than Thiel's, but both are extremely natural and musical.

Yet, having agreed with Gordon on the "Boston sound," I simply cannot square my auditions of the JBL 250Tis with Gordon's review. I agree completely with his comments on the bass, and possibly with his remarks on the top octaves. Like Gordon, I set the level of the top tweeter down, although I opted for –2 rather than –1. Unlike Gordon, I set the mid-tweeter down –1. The result was what I regard as a pleasantly flat speaker with good midrange life and dynamics. I grant that the JBL 250Ti's did not then have a great deal of midrange "sock," but they sounded quite natural in overall timbre and dynamics. Quite frankly, I don't like exaggerated presence, and I insist that midrange timbre and dynamics be coherent with the bass and treble.

I concede that, even with my crossover settings, the 250Tis did not give me the smooth blend, coherent timbre, and "life" of the Thiels, the best Infinities, and the Vandersteens. My general impression is that work is still needed on the 250Ti's crossover design and/or driver integration. Nevertheless, I feel the 250Tis' exceptional dynamics, outstanding radiation characteristics, and ability to float an image make up for their comparatively limited weaknesses.

Further, my criticisms focus on minor irregularities in the areas where the drivers cross over, and minor bumps in midrange frequency response. I'm scarcely making the kind of killer criticism you see above. Admittedly, I'd greatly prefer a pair of Infinity RS-1bs to the JBL 250Ti's, but the Infinities are a much more expensive speaker.

Part of the difference between our reviews may be my preference for moving-coil cartridges, which add more apparent life in the midrange. Part of it may be the differences in our listening rooms, and much of it may be a fairly serious difference over power amplifiers. Gordon likes the Eagle 2; I, in the fairly limited auditions I've given it, do not. Like the Belles designs, it produces a slightly dry and reticent midrange, and live but slightly hard highs. The JBL 250Ti does much better with Audio Research or Conrad Johnson tube electronics than with this kind of transistor amplifier, and I would prefer the PS Audio and Adcom amplifiers to the Eagle precisely for what I regard as their more natural midrange dynamics.

I would suggest, therefore, that you approach the JBL 250Ti's with tolerance and an open mind. No speaker, no matter how expensive, is without serious flaws in its ability to perfectly reproduce the sound of live music. My experience with large, complex speaker systems indicates that they require a great deal of trial with different amplifiers and cartridges. For example, the Infinity IRS-1bs, Apogee Duettas, and Quad ESL-63s are all extremely sensitive to electronics, sounding bad to mediocre with the wrong amplifiers.

I cannot call the JBL 250Tis a bargain at $3400/pair, but, with the proper drive and crossover settings, I believe them to be competitive.—Anthony H. Cordesman

Footnote 1: Much of that harshness has since been proven to have been the fault of early power amplifiers. Some of those old studio monitors sound remarkably good with modern high-performance power amps.—J. Gordon Holt

Footnote 2: It has been argued that the only way to hear a recording the way it was "supposed" to sound is to listen through the same kind of loudspeakers used to monitor the recording session. The audiophile has greeted this proposal with his usual blithe disregard for common sense.—J. Gordon Holt

Footnote 3: Some researchers have concluded that most self-inflicted hearing damage from excessively loud music at home is done while the victim is flying blind on drugs or booze. Stupefaction suppresses caution and dulls the awareness of high volume, and fatigue eventually causes the ear's sensitivity-control muscles to give up, losing their ability to protect the cochlear nerves.—J. Gordon Holt

Footnote 4: It should be pointed out here that JGH's big problems with "Boston bland" stem from their polite midrange rather than their reticent top end.—Larry Archibald

JBL Consumer Products
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Elkhart, IN 46517
(516) 594-0300

remlab's picture

His "ideals" ultimately kept him from enjoying the high end audio he did so much to popularize. To bad he never learned to loosen up.

JohnnyR's picture

I think he was very down to earth and the best editor Stereophile ever had or will have.

"JBL did their homework, all right. In their bid for the perfectionist audiophile market (and who else would pay $3400/pair for loudspeakers?)"

He would be spinning in his grave to know what passes for "perfectionist" in cost today and the trinkets that go with the "high end" that do nothing yet cost more than a lot of amplifiers.sad

remlab's picture

Getting a musical "fix". His ideals ultimately kept him from getting that fix. It stopped being fun for him. Maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe all reviewers eventually get to that point.

Psychedelicious's picture

This is the sort of article that keeps me coming back and reading Stereophile!

Mark aka "imagic"

phat jbl's picture

By my user name one could deduce I am a JBL speaker fan, if you did that well done. Now days JBL have lots of competition in every sector of the loudspeaker market. Also there are plenty of critics who have heard JBL speakers with the wrong amp to match, as most astute readers here know matching components from source to speakers is as important as the components. 

My first JBL experience was hearing Dire Straits at Sydney Entertainment Centre back in 1986, wonderful. Then a bad experence of hearing some low end domestic JBL in a hifi shop with an amp not up to the task. So I put this argument up, hear some true JBL monitors like the now ancient 4320 with a worthy amp cables and source and be prepared to reset your views. The smaller L100 century that entered the market later on was the same- bad amp and source=disaster. I have tinkered with these two "studio monitors" for years and swear by them. 

The 250Ti, yes at last. To silence or tone down the critics JBLhave made adjustments to the fiestiness of their design. In many modern pop recordings-not audiophile stuff the JBL studio monitors of old find themselves screaming the mistakes at you, this is fatiguing. As the standards of run of the mill music pushed to the masses falls it is hard to enjoy the potential of a true or hard core monitor system. Having heard the 250Ti a while ago on some good equipment I will say they meet the market while keeping the house sound I love. It is very hard to get four drivers working together without too much overlap of frequencies, their drivers are proven performers so its a matter of getting the box and the mix of those components right. Here JBL have a winner for the average punter.

The price is certainly reasonable, there are many speakers out there costing way more being too delicate to wind up the volume on your favourite songs and not fear the fall out. I concur with the 400 per channel rating stated. Even though these speakers are quoted at 91db they along with all the JBL monitors I have listened to since love all the clean unclipped power they can get. My little 4208 monitors used for high level listening without massive bass at night for the sake of neigbourhood harmony have a handling of 75 watts, they have had 250 watt amp working hard on them with no drama, now a vintage Rotel 1412 makes them sing. Perfect match.

If your going to audition them take an album like Paul Simon's Graceland along and ask for a suitably powerful amp to drive them, Paul Simon and many other notable acts mixed down on JBL.  By the way the Beatles used JBL4320's to mix down their later works. 

Biased review perhaps, I Like Wilson speakers for all the same reasons as JBL only they are beyond my budget and are even fussiier when it comes to amplification and source. JBL have gone down market to get market with all of these ipod speakers etc, this is understandable but it takes the sheen of their pro heritage a little. Other makers have done the same but that is business in the 21st century.

JBLMVBC's picture

After reading this JGH review, talking about respectability, one truly wonders why most professional studios were using JBL studio monitors!crying

The line about "aliveness" is truly collector for someone claiming to search for high fidelity reproduction... With such perfectionists in charge no mystery the high end is still a niche market...

Don't waste money in JBL consumer products, listen to a 4343 for a real professional sound experience, and find their latest generation of monitors: they are much more affordable than the overpriced stuff that passes for high end.

AVGUY's picture

I typically don't intervene on a perfectly good conversation however a few issues with the discussion, i believe, need to be revisited. I'm not familiar with your format, possibly it is discussed elsewhere.....

Placement with the 250ti is critical. I dare say more so then my beloved B&W 800's. As you very well know, it would be a exercise in futility to detail how one must set up these speakers, as room acoustics play an all important part. I will tell you that, something as easy as a 2 degree swivel, or a jog to the L or R, or the thickness of your carpet, where your mate wants to install a mirror, or the ceiling fan height, will make or break your sound stage. The critics, were not specific about how or what was done in this arena, so it makes little difference the conclusion.

Pertaining to power, as with any JBL more is always better. Over the years I have incorporated Adcom, Crown, Levenson, Mcintosh and Nakamichi. It is my belief, the tube amps were a bit "bland" yet not Boston Bland. My favorite was the Crown Macrotech, though only 500 WPC, 20-20k @ 0.005%, not the best specs to be sure. This amp is clean. This amp has power, in the form of "balls." Transient response, off the chart. The Levenson was just wonderful though. Second favorite was the PA-7, wonderful sound but not enough power, 200 WPC as I remember.

I purchased my Teaks in 1984, San Antonio, along with several Naks, PA-7, one B460, two ADC towers, and I don't remember it all, but the point is, placement and care.

I have reconed them every 5 years whether they need it or not. Oiled, lemon oil, once a month, kept them away from sun light, tried to keep little fingers from mischief, and removed countless beer cans from top. If I had to choose from all that I possess, what i would sell absolutely LAST, it would be my 250ti's. They are simply too heavy to carry as a homeless man.

If you have a chance, and now and again, the speaker system does come along, buy it. (Not the black special edition unit, they don't really count. Not that their bad, just I've had no experience with them.) Don't even listen to them, No. You are buying a project, the box, the driver baskets, and of course, one of the coolest crossovers ever. Did you know, in the beginning, each one was hand built with participation from "Golden Ears."
Crossovers look like all hell, but thats ok. You can find the x-over specs online. Verify tolerance, replace as little as possible, but if you have to replace a cap or coil or resister or something, do it in both boxes. Recone the drivers. Easier said then done, but take your time. You will find old JBL lovers everywhere. I remember most driver screws are 10-32. You may have to rethread or replace a t-nut or two. I could go on forever. One more thing though. A positive voltage, typically RED wire, connects to BLACK speaker terminal to achieve a forward motion.
JBL for ya!