PROS / Outstanding bass performance that is better than manufacturer specs would suggest.
CONS / Speakers clearly reveal deficiencies created by low powered, lesser quality amps.
VERDICT / These speakers are a great home theater or stereo choice if given enough power.
The JBL ES80 speaker system can be at home as the main speakers in a high-quality home theater setup or as stereo speakers for excellent music reproduction. They aren’t in a class with JBL’s legendary studio or audiophile speakers, but they are more than sufficient for the large majority of consumers. For objective reviews and side-by-side comparisons of other highly rated products in this category, please see our floor standing stereo speakers review site.
In consumer electronics, we place a lot of value on specifications. While they’re generally strong indicators of a product’s performance, they can, at times, be deceiving. That is never truer than in the case of audio speakers.
JBL’s frequency response specs for the ES80 floor standing speaker indicates 45Hz to 40kHz. The figures indicate exceptional treble performance but drop off sooner than they should in the lowest range. That’s rather surprising for JBL, a manufacturer that is known for exceptional bass performance. More significant is the fact that it doesn’t extend quite low enough to reproduce the lowest notes that common musical instruments produce.
But this is where the specs are deceiving. The bass performance of these speakers is superb. It’s powerful throughout the range, doubtless due to the dual, high-quality woofers and strong output from the rear-firing bass reflex port. While we expected the bass to be powerful, we were pleasantly surprised at just how tight it was as well. This is likely due to the overall stiffness, and therefore quick response, of the drivers.
Mid-range and treble response is also excellent. It’s clear and bright without being overpowering. The upper frequency limit of 40kHz represents a frequency far higher than the 20kHz that people can typically hear, but adds immeasurably to the spectral presence of the music due to the overtones that, though not heard, are perceived.
The ES80 is a reasonably efficient speaker with a sensitivity rating of 91dB. That puts it in line with the Polk Audio TSi400 but a bit less efficient that either the Klipsch Reference Series RF-52 or the Infinity Primus P362 that are also featured on our floor standing speaker site. We found them to be virtually silent when not conducting signal.
These speakers, however, perform best when driven rather hard. That’s a characteristic typical of JBL loudspeakers. While they’re sensitive enough to sound good at low volumes, they really come alive when cranked up. An extension of this characteristic is that they aren’t very forgiving of entry level receivers or amplifiers. The speaker’s hunger for power tends to exacerbate the limits of the power source.
JBL doesn’t provide a recommended minimum input wattage but rates maximum average input at 100W per channel with the ability to handle transients up to 400W. The maximum recommended amplifier power is 200W.
To create the exceptionally broad frequency response that this floor standing speaker achieves, there are five drivers within the enclosure. Most notable are the two 6-inch PolyPlas woofers. The term PolyPlas denotes a proprietary cellulose fiber cone coated with a special polymer, which adds to their stiffness and ultimately results in the tightness of the bass response.
The lowest frequency crossover is set at 700Hz which directs a wider-than-usual range of frequencies to the woofers. At 700Hz, signal is directed to a 4-inch mid-range driver which is also polymer-coated. It provides most of the musical information, including vocals. There’s another crossover at 3600Hz where a 0.75-inch titanium-laminate dome tweeter takes over to create the majority of high-pitched audible signal. It’s mounted in a JBL Elliptical Oblate Spheroidal waveguide which the manufacturer claims improves frequency response and imaging. We’ll have to take their word for the claim but the sound is terrific.
A final crossover is set at 12kHz feeding the highest frequencies into a 0.75-inch polyester-film super tweeter. It’s this driver that is largely credited with the excellent overtone presence, but on some source material, it seems to overwhelm the next lower frequency group slightly. Some ability to manually attenuate here would have been helpful.
The JBL ES80 is a very musical speaker with great detail in the high ranges and surprisingly tight bass. We were particularly pleased with the powerful and tight bass performance. These speakers need to be fed high quality power, so they don’t pair very well with lower-end receivers. With the right power source though, they’re great for home theater use or as standalone speakers in a good stereo system.