JBL L82 Classic review: This retro ride will knock your socks off with its amazing sound

Exceptional dynamics, authoritative bass, a huge sound stage, and uncanny musicality headline the sonic strengths of this outstanding monitor.

jbl ls82 classic grille on off
JBL

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At a Glance

JBL is on a retro kick. The speaker manufacturer introduced the $4,000-per-pair L100 Classic loudspeaker at CES in 2018. Those were a nod to JBL’s best-selling speaker of all time: the iconic L100. The company now has a downsized and more affordable follow-up in the form of the L82 Classic, which promises to deliver much of the L100 Classic’s performance from a smaller footprint and at a considerably lower price of about $2,500 per pair.

But don’t let the bookshelf label mislead you into thinking the L82 Classic has anything in common with the typical mass-market speaker you’ll encounter at a big-box store. This is an audiophile product featuring state-of-the-art components and design. And it probably won’t fit on the average bookshelf, since each 28-pound cabinet stands just shy of 19 inches tall and is 11 inches wide by 12 inches deep, including its foam grill.

The JBL L82 Classic is a two-way, bass-reflex, front-ported design with an 8-inch pulp woofer and 1-inch titanium dome tweeter. Titanium is one of the premier materials for tweeters thanks to its light weight, rigidity, and being less resonant than aluminum. All this helps titanium tweeters produce high frequencies more accurately than many other materials. The L82’s tweeter is recessed inside an acoustic lens wave guide.

Detail view of the JBL’s eight-inch woofer. Theo Nicolakis / IDG

Detail view of the JBL’s 8-inch pulp woofer.

The tweeter’s crossover frequency is set at 1.7 kHz. The L100 Classic, in comparison, has a larger 12-inch woofer plus a 5-inch mid-range. The larger speaker uses the same tweeter, but its crossover frequency is set at 3.5kHz.

Detail view of the L82 Classic’s titanium tweeter and waveguide. Theo Nicolakis / IDG

Detail view of the L82 Classic’s titanium tweeter and waveguide.

The L82 Classic is outfitted with a tweeter control that allows you to boost or attenuate the volume of high frequencies coming from each speaker to your preference. The default/neutral position is marked 0dB. These dials are important—not just for tweaking the sound to your room—but also if you choose to play the speakers with their grilles on.

etail of the JBL’s throwback grille Theo Nicolakis / IDG

A detailed shot of the JBL’s throwback grille.

The grid-patterned, quadrex foam grille is as thick in person as it looks in the photos. A JBL representative confirmed that the speakers are voiced in typical critical-listening fashion—with the grilles off—and that leaving them on will reduce the high-frequency output by about 1dB starting at about 4kHz. If you plan to listen to the L82 Classic with the grilles on, I’d recommend turning the HF dial midway between 0dB and max; otherwise, the highs will sound a bit softer with the grilles on. I wish JBL would have printed markings on the dial, so you could dial the settings in precisely on each speaker.

Speaking of the L82 Classic’s grille, it attaches to the speaker cabinet with pegs and sockets—after all, it wouldn’t be a throwback design if JBL used magnets. Some peg-mounted grilles—even those paired with speakers costing thousands of dollars—are pain to take on and off. These aren’t. I was surprised how easy it was to remove and put the grilles back on. JBL offers the grilles in your choice of flat black, an electric blue, or a 1970s orange, and all three colors complement the L82 Classic’s gorgeous walnut veneer perfectly. The cabinet’s smooth satin finish prevents any distracting glare from room lights or sunlight coming in through a window.

Detail view of the L82 Classic’s pegs Theo Nicolakis / IDG

Detail view of the L82 Classic’s pegs.

Optional stands are a perfect match

For my review setup, JBL shipped me a pair of the optional, matching JS-80 floor stands, and I loved them. They’re fabricated from heavy, 14-gauge steel but are trimmed with foam padding to prevent scratches on the L82 Classic’s veneer. In addition to elevating the speakers so their tweeters are at ear height, they tilt the cabinets back so that the sound is directed at the listener’s head. They weigh 13.5 pounds each and are extremely sturdy, with a wide base that matches the speaker’s footprint, but they manage to make the speakers seem thinner—and therefore more spouse-friendly—than their dimensions would suggest.

A blissful listening experience

I tested the L82 with grilles off in two different rooms with two different sets of electronics. A Naim Uniti Atom drove the first setup. An Anthem AVM 60 pre-pro with dual Benchmark AHB2 power amps (configured in bridged mono) and an Oppo UDP-205 powered the second. My Roon Nucleus music server integrated with Tidal served up all source music via native RAAT protocol to the Roon-ready Naim and Oppo.

I found the L82 Classic very easy to drive. This is an 8-Ohm speaker with a sensitivity of 88dB. The Naim Uniti Atom’s 40-watt-per-channel amplification took firm control of the L82 Classic. If you’re just getting into the audio hobby, there’s absolutely a quality difference between the Naim Uniti Atom’s 40 watts and a budget A/V receiver claiming to deliver 700 watts. Using high-quality amplification and electronics and the L82 Classic will reward you in spades. The L82 Classic is a revealing speaker and won’t make any effort to euphonize low-end audio components.

Detail view of the L82 Classic’s high frequency dial. Theo Nicolakis / IDG

A detail view of the L82 Classic’s high-frequency control.

Within seconds, L82 Classic put me on notice that they are exciting, musical, and dynamic speakers that dared me to crank up the volume.My emotional engagement with them went deeper the louder I played them.

The 8-inch woofers and front-ported design delivered a crazy amount of bass that will quickly disabuse you of any notion that monitors cannot deliver dynamic, chest-punching bass. Bass was consistently tight and pistonic regardless of the track or genre. Only when the L82 Classics tried to render bass notes beyond their range did they start to lose their grip.

The L82 Classic delivered superb bass lines on Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” and Lorde’s “Royals,” with near room-shaking satisfaction, consistently performing way beyond their size. On “Hair Up,” from the Trolls soundtrack—a fun track I like to use to test a system’s bass performance—the L82 once again delivered authoritative bass with serious gravitas. It didn’t matter what I fired up: Araron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” Katie Melua’s “Love is a Silent Theif,” Dido’s “Northern Skies,” or Holly Cole’s “Train Song.” Sarah McLachlan’s “Ice,” from Mirrorball, betrayed how the L82’s bass could be pushed into some minor bloom and bloat. But firing up James Blake’s iconic “Limit to Your Love” proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that JBL’s speakers can deliver incredible bass performances.

But that’s just the opening act. The L82 Classic have an uncanny knack for making music come to life with their superb dynamics and musicality. They aren’t designed to seduce you with their warmth, they are meant to deliver a knock-out blow with their dynamics. The musical soundstage of Kate Voegele’s “Inside Out” burst to life. Drums snapped, guitar riffs danced, and the JBL’s set Ms. Voegele’s vocals free.

The top end on these speakers is also superb. The titanium tweeters and wave guide reproduced extended, smooth, and refined sax lines on Steely Dan’s Gaucho.

The L82 Classic come with high quality, gold plated, five-way binding posts. Theo Nicolakis / IDG

The L82 Classic come with high quality, gold plated, five-way binding posts.

The speaker’s penchant for dynamics is complemented by its ability to throw a huge, deep, layered sound stage. The L82 Classic conjured large, lifelike audio experiences with Diana Krall’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and Patricia Barber’s “Postmodern Blues” that I more typically associate with floorstanding tower speakers. Piano notes played large and recessed at the beginning of Lana Del Rey’s ethereal, “Mariner’s Apartment Complex.” Del Rey’s haunting vocals sat perfectly sculpted, dead center. As the song intensified, the sound stage followed suit with the speakers superbly delineating each voice and instrument. On Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” I heard the blending of individual voices discernible in space and time as opposed to the smeared mess that lesser speakers render.

The L82 Classic taunts you to play them loudly—and wow, do they reward you for it. These speakers played cleanly at reference volume without harshness or bloat. Forget the 10-mark on your volume knob, these JBLs want to play at 12. Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Tin Pan Alley” burst from these speakers without a hint of strain.

Detail view of the high quality wood veneer’s statin finish. Theo Nicolakis / IDG

A detail view of the JBL L82 Classic’s high-quality walnut veneer’s satin finish.

I could go on and on about how enjoyable my listening sessions were. Best of all, the speakers got out of the way and let me focus on the music. There’s lots to love and minor quibbles to nitpick about for the asking price.

A fitting nod to a classic

The JBL L82 Classic deliver a nostalgic, retro design with all the trappings of a state-of-the-art, modern speaker. These monitor speakers throw a huge, deep soundstage with bass performance well beyond their size. For $2,500 you get a dynamic, musical speaker whose addictive sound will put you on notice that high end audio lives.

If you love the retro look of these speakers and are committed to pairing them with some equally spectacular electronics, then find a way to audition the L82 Classic. I loved them and would include them in one of my setups in a heartbeat.

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At a Glance
  • The JBL Synthesis L82 Classic loudspeaker hits a near perfect high note.

    Pros

    • Outstanding dynamics and musicality worth of the asking price
    • Expansive, detailed, and layered soundstage
    • Bass performance beyond its dimensions
    • Premium build quality, materials, and finish

    Cons

    • HF dial lacks numerical markings or even tick marks
    • Playing with grilles on impacts HF performance
  
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