JBL L75ms Wireless Speaker Review
- Effortlessly powerful and room fulling sound
- Good wireless and wired connectivity
- Solidly made
- Not the last word in subtlety
- Very large
- Looks are going to divide opinion
Introduction - What Is the L75ms?
The JBL L75ms is…
Imagine the carefully crafted universe of For All Mankind. The relentless pace of technical development means that domestic technology advances faster than it did in ‘our’ universe. One of the things that arrives much earlier in this timeline are flat screen TVs (perhaps using a rougher round the edges take on plasma tech or the like). The move to thinner chassis has the same effect on the space available for speakers that happened in our universe over the last fifteen years. Where once there was plenty of room for conventional speakers to be mounted at the side, this is no longer the case.
Some premium offerings make use of electrostatic technology to keep a slim profile (albeit one with electricity consumption up there with a welding rig) but this is expensive and fragile technology so, as was the case for us, many less expensive TVs simply get by on smaller and less capable speakers. This drives a boom in devices you can attach to your TV for better sound. Only this is the 1970s so the aesthetic practices of the time are the order of the day and the speakers are also designed to work with the audio format of the day which is still vinyl.
If you were to idly envisage this incredibly niche bit of set dressing, the end result would probably look a lot like the JBL L75ms.
I have the standard journalistic hang ups about the use of the word ‘unique’ but I think that this realistically qualifies for the term. The thing is, this is 2022 and the world we inhabit is not one supercharged by an extended space race but the same trying, expensive and unpredictable one where the less… unusual… forms of the Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation and Sonus faber Omnia exist as competition. Is this gift from another timeline able to compete?
Specification and Design
Something that is important to stress about the JBL from the outset is that, whatever the aesthetic does or doesn’t do for you, the specification is both comprehensive and competitive. The JBL is fitted with Chromecast, AirPlay2 and Bluetooth (although, like a few products from Harman international, this is a fairly bare bones implementation using v4.2 with no extended codecs). The L75ms is 32bit /192kHz capable and, whatever notionally more spectacular formats might be supported by rivals, this is generally sufficient for most needs.
As well as connectivity via Chromecast and AirPlay, the JBL can also make use of the Harman ‘Music Life’ app (which we last encountered with the Arcam ST60). This provides some useful native streaming support and also means there is no need to revert to a third party app to access any of your own music on a ripped library. As I noted in the ST60 review, Music Life isn’t spectacular but it does work in a completely stable and intuitive way and it allows for other Music Life devices to be collated in one place. At the time of testing, the JBL was not Roon certified but, the fact it appears in Roon does suggest that JBL does intend for it to be added.
As well as the wireless functionality, the JBL has a selection of physical inputs and these are somewhat random. There is an HDMI ARC connection for bolstering your TV which is absolutely ideal but after that, things get a bit weird. Like the Sonus faber Omnia which passed through at the same time, the JBL has a moving magnet phono stage for direct connection of a turntable. Unlike the Omnia, on the L75ms, this is permanently set as a phono stage. A more conventional line in is fitted on a 3.5mm connection but there’s no optical connection which could potentially be handy. I’m going to make the same comment about the phono stage that I did with the Sonus faber; I love vinyl but I suspect that the overwhelming majority of turntables that come within wiring distance of the JBL will have a phono stage on board already and that the RCA input would be better as a line level device or a switchable one.
Internally, the JBL is a slightly different proposition to most of the designs we’ve looked at before. It is still a stereo device that uses DSP to generate a level of stereo width that would be tricky from a single chassis but it mixes this approach with some more ‘route one’ engineering. Each stereo channel is formed from a 5.25-inch mid bass driver with 1-inch aluminium tweeter (complete with JBL trademark waveguide) and these channels are angled slightly outwards to improve dispersion. Both channels get their own front firing bass port too.
Between these channels is a 4-inch paper midrange driver that uses the DSP feed to take elements of the left and right channel and create the fill required to avoid the sense that the two channels are being beamed outward. The exact nature of the information being sent to the central channel varies in response to the material being played. I’m not aware of having tested anything with this specific configuration before but, on paper at least, it feels like an interesting alternative to the Sonus faber Omnia (which has both channels fire straight forwards but then uses DSP controlled speakers to add width). You can also adjust the influence of this central speaker via a button on the remote.
So, we’ve discussed the specification of the L75ms like the sane, measured adults that we are (on the outside anyway) and it’s now time to discuss that aesthetic. In its own way, the JBL is completely logical. If you showed me a pair of L52 standmount speakers and said ‘design a wireless speaker that mimics that look’ it would probably look a lot like the L75 Classic but the caveat to this is that, on asking me to draw such a thing, my immediate response would be to ask ‘are you sure?’ For starters, the use of more conventional drivers means that this is a big device. The 80 centimetre width is significant but its actually the 21 centimetre height that really makes the difference in the perceived mass. The JBL is going to need a significant piece of real estate to be parked on (although, as all drivers and ports face forward, that space doesn’t have to be free in all directions).
Combine this size with the styling that the JBL uses and the result is never going to hide away. Like other members of the Classic range, the L75 is finished in a very particular shade of ‘walnut’ that belongs to a specific era in history. The large central grille uses the same ‘Quadrex’ finish as the stereo speakers (although I do question why JBL won’t let you have a blue or orange one) and the texture does help to make the speaker look more interesting. If you are one of those couples that pops up in the Sunday supplements who combine an unusual name and an occupation that earns you an inexplicable amount of money (‘Malvolio restores 00 gauge locomotives. His partner Grizelda owns a tantric car rental agency and between them they bring in half a million pounds a year’) and your house is finished in achingly cool period furniture, this is going to sit in that space better than any rival.
On a more day to day level, the JBL gets a fair bit right. It’s very well made and easy to use. I don’t think that the integration of the input panel into the top is truly elegant but it does make the speaker easy to adjust on the fly. Whatever your view on the appearance, nothing has really been sacrificed in usage terms to create it.
Internally, the JBL is a slightly different proposition to most of the designs we’ve looked at before
How was the L75ms tested?
The JBL has been connected to an iFi Powerstation and run over a wireless network, reading a library on a Melco N1A NAS drive. It has been controlled and tested with AirPlay and Google Cast using a 2021 iPad Pro while Bluetooth testing has been via Oppo Find X2 Neo smartphone. An elderly Sony Bravia LCD has been connected to the Aux input to briefly test TV viewing. Material used has been FLAC, AIFF, Tidal, Qobuz and some on demand TV services.
More: Audio Formats
You know the saying ‘there’s no replacement for displacement’? Well, it certainly applies here. At no stage testing the L75ms have I got anywhere near half volume. More than this, the JBL behaves differently to the svelter and more intensively DSP’d rivals. One aspect of this is engagingly simple. The bass extension of the JBL is the result of two reasonably stout drivers with a reasonable amount of throw being allowed to do their thing. It feels very natural in no small part because it largely is.
There is processing at work though but it is gratifyingly light touch. Listening to the joyously ballistic Need Some Mo by Ko Ko Mo and the presentation feels much closer in behaviour to a pair of bookshelf speakers that are close together than a single speaker. The effect of that central driver is pleasantly and appreciably subtle too. It simply ensures that the L75ms feels ‘wide’ without being dispersed. The combination of the vast reserves of headroom and this useful dispersion means that the JBL will effortlessly fill rooms that most rivals will be working very hard in.
The manner in which it will do that filling is not too far removed from the L52 Classic. Is this a wilfully inaccurate speaker? No. Does it have its own very definite take on proceedings? Oh yes. There will an element of subjectivity to this but I can’t see you listening to the L75ms with something that has a bit of tempo behind it and not finding the whole experience a thoroughly engaging one. This is a device that has that intangible ability to grab you with a time signature or rhythm and have you engrossed in it. Within this performance, you can point to some vocals or a piano not sounding absolutely tonally perfect but the chances are that you won’t care that much.
By the same token, if you play something on the JBL where the tonal realism is what matters, you might not find the result quite so convincing. It’s hard to pin down exactly what the L75ms is doing because the driver handover is good and it is commendably hard to provoke but, some side by side tests with the Sonus faber Omnia suggest that if you need Poppy Ackroyd’s piano to sound like Poppy Ackroyd’s piano, the Italian speaker is the better bet. It’s also not impossible to provoke the L75ms into sounding a little hard and unforgiving with compressed and poor quality material. Generally, this is easy enough to avoid in 2022 but that limited Bluetooth fitment is something that can trigger it.
The JBL is a convincing partner for TV work though. On the understanding it isn’t possible to test HDMI ARC here at the moment, the results I did get out of it are not wildly dissimilar to the performance with music but none the worse for that. Explosions and other silliness have a weight to them that’s makes events on screen sound more believable. In terms of soundstage, the JBL can’t quite match the side firing driver cleverness of the Sonus faber but it would be a stretch to call it constrained. Something that is also worth noting is that the JBL still manages to sound big when being used at relatively low levels. Those physical dimensions are helpful at delivering actual scale rather than a sort of ‘massaged by electronics’ take on scale.
The combination of the vast reserves of headroom and this useful dispersion means that the JBL will effortlessly fill rooms that most rivals will be working very hard in
JBL L75ms Wireless Speaker Review
It is perhaps just as well that behind that striking façade is a speaker that offers a huge slice of real world ability. I don’t think it is possible to be ambivalent about how the JBL looks but, on the assumption that you are rather taken with its parallel universe appearance, you can rest assured that it is a capable and appealing listen.
The more loaded question as to whether it is better than the more conventional Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation requires a longer answer. The Naim is effortlessly good at what it does. It sounds good, it looks good (and can have the appearance tweaked to suit your surroundings) and it has some very useful connections. It’s the safe pair of hands and still likely to the one I’d recommend to someone I didn’t know that well. If I know that the styling and general bonhomie of the JBL is going to appeal to you though, I’d have no difficulty encouraging you to give it a try because this potent and entertaining speaker offers something genuinely different to the mainstream. The JBL might look like it has come from a parallel timeline but it will sound good in the present and for that reason it comes enthusiastically Recommended.
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