Ok, great. No bias here. Another micro sized speaker with a so called ‘full range’ driver to review. Whooptie doo, right? Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much. I’ve been there and done that (small full range driver) more times than I care to count. Were they all horrible? No – but most were nothing to write home to mom about either. Again, no biases, right?
Enter the JB3.
Fit and Finish
The pint sized JB3 come out of the box in a high gloss, piano finish in your choice of three ‘doable’ colors for most listening (or living) rooms. Red, White and Black. The shine and depth of the finish is super impressive for a speaker sold for a notch less than four Franklins a pair. There is no bad on the cosmetic front, but the good and the ugly showed up to this gunfight. The ugly – the grilles. Little thought went into them apparently – they are simple, and straightforward – the frame is almost a half inch thick and drastically changes the sound when they are place. That being said, I never cared to put the grilles back on anyway, once they were removed. These little speakers are sexy. The good – the binding posts and the mounting plate they are attached to. It’s more along the lines of something I would expect to see on an offering from Sonus Faber or the like, not a speaker that a working man could actually afford.
Just Another Pretty Face?
The JB3’s arrived new in the box, so break-in began with Prodigy’s ‘Fat of the Land’ on repeat for five to six hours a night over the course of a week and half. I didn’t critically listen to them until I passed the 60 hour mark, but I did notice that low end extension increased dramatically – and the more time they got, the more articulate the bass became. Not just extension, but overall tone.
Did he just say bass? Believe it or not, yes, I did say bass. Not roll around the room type of bass that could make you mess your flat hat – but I’ll be damned if the JB3 doesn’t have useable, tuneful low end extension. That, and it’s not an expensively engineered back loaded horn, it doesn’t require super cautious, specific placement, or nonsensical tweaks – it’s a well crafted, tuned port enclosure. Simple. The low end was a real surprise - so much so that during track 3, ‘300 m.p.h. Torrential Outpour Blues’ off ‘The White Stripes - Icky Thump’, I was literally sitting there in shock. It was attention grabbing for sure. I’d be surprised if the low end isn’t the first thing most would notice when first listening to these little speakers.
The shock quickly turned to joy on track 12 – ‘Catch Hell Blues.’ How many times can I use the word tuneful in a review? The JB3 offers up tight, tuneful bass with good attack and pace. The downside? Dynamics. Don’t get me wrong, they do have some range – but they quickly become their own worst enemy – the more I listen, the more I want to put the spurs to them. They don’t run out of gas as quick as some other small speakers I’ve listened to, but moderate efficiency (87db) and low power handling (30 watts continuous), and a small transducer (3 inch paper cone, treated woven cloth surround with a plastic bullet plug and whizzer cone) put that brick wall not too far out there, if you follow me. Obviously, your room and listening habits will determine if that ‘wall’ is pertinent to you or not. For me, it isn’t an issue. The speakers play extremely well, within their power curve – and I don’t find that to be a fault – the simple fact is the JB3's aren’t going to play at rock star levels, period. Are we clear? Good, carry on Montesquieu.
Enter caveat emptor. Let’s talk about the whizzer cone for a bit. It’s made out of a thin; almost film-like (photographic) material. Think 35mm film negative. It was hard to reproduce, but I swear there was a ring at certain frequencies – especially with solo guitar work – but as soon as it surfaced, it was gone. Maybe that’s the demon lurking in this design – honestly, it really did vanish as soon as it reared its ugly head – perhaps it’s amp related, but with Dodd and Manley on the back end – I’ve got to point the finger at the JB3.
Tuneful bass. There is that word again. I popped in Beck’s ‘Guero’ – one of his better compositions in my opinion. Good, strong bass lines – toe tapping, and a killer selection for imaging and placement in the soundstage. Tracks seven ‘Hell Yes’ and ten ‘Go it Stone’ were very coherent in both imaging and layering. The music had great left to right separation and good depth front to back, while still maintaining excellent pace and attack as mentioned earlier.
Ok, time to change it up a bit. Let’s get out something special. Something really special. Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane on Jazzland 20 bit K2 Super coding. Some might consider this extended arrangement at the Five Spot in 1957 to be one of the most important Jazz fusions ever recorded – and we are lucky that it was - as they were both signed to different record labels at the time. Tracks two and four, ‘Trinkle Tinkle’ and ‘Nutty’ show Coltrane coming into his own as the beat pulses.
This recording is a great example of being on the cutting edge, without going over to the bleeding edge. The JB3’s brought forth a real live sound – and gave a real sense of how great a combination of what I would call a ‘seat of the pants player’ – Coltrane, and a musical ‘thinker’ – (like) Monk could be together. The synergy is amazing on the right speakers. Put the JB3 in the ‘right’ column. Sure, the K2 Superbit recording doesn’t hurt – but the little JohnBlue speakers put the synergy in my room. MY room. Monk and Trane in MY room. Articulation, Focus, and Air were pretty much spot on – the overall resolution was amazing, especially for a tiny little, single driver speaker.
Again, we have to touch on female vocals, and again, I refuse to review the status quo or flavor of the month in that department. I love them all, but no Jones, no Krall, no Barber, no Warnes. How about some Lambert?
Who? Miranda Lambert. She’s a Country singer. (crickets chirping now?). Stay with me. The self titled track of her 2005 release ‘Kerosene’ is a selection worth hearing. It’s an upbeat track, with a good beat and a fair bit of dynamics. What draws me in is her voice, and it’s unique tonal signature. Take Loretta Lynn, Liz Phair, blend well over ice with a generous portion of Kentucky’s finest, and a hit it with a splash of southern twang to finish, serve. No, it’s not my first choice for the type of music, nor the style of music – but she really does draw me in. She works. It works. The JB3’s work. The voicing and balance – paired up with the point source imaging was a real treat. I’m familiar with how Miranda sounds, and the JB3 did her justice. Not a whole lot of speakers in my listening experience can make the same claim.
All right, so next I pull one out of the vault – Sarah McLachlan – The Freedom Sessions. Is this cheating? It’s not Natalie Merchant in a big church – work with me, can I get a bye on this one? Track seven, ‘Ice Cream’ shows the JB3’s true colors. The timbre and articulation was nothing short of stunning. It was recorded in her basement studio between her North American and European tours in 1995. It’s an intimate recording to say the least, and that shines through in the little JohnBlue speakers. Subtle details in the voicing give a real sense of articulation, and soundstage is on par with a live performance as was intended.
So what is the JB3 in a nutshell? It’s the full range driver speaker for the audiophile that hates full range drivers. I’ve heard back-loaded Fostek, Lowther, etc etc. I’ve built the ‘gimmie’ ratshack 40-1354 5.25 inch full range drivers in a tuned quarter wave. They all did some things very well, but nothing overall in spades. The JB3 shines in the near field and I would ecstatically recommend it for a computer, office, or spare room rig. Pair them together with a subwoofer that has a brick wall crossover around 80hz, and really open them up. The JohnBlue JB3 offers what others in its category don’t – USEABLE bass response, and believable top end extension.
Preamplifier – Melos SHA-1
Amplifier – Manley Labs 100 Monoblocks / Dodd Audio One-Off Battery Tripath Amplifier
Source – Marantz SA8260
Power Cables – Signal Cable Magic Power
Speaker Cables – Signal Cable Ultra Bi-wire
Interconnects – Cardas 300B
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