JBL is an iconic source of loudspeakers for both home and professional use. The company has been around since the 1940s and its products are well known in recording studios, concert halls and the listening rooms of folks with a lot of money to spend on cool gear. While bookshelf speakers aren’t as likely to be the stuff that legends are made of, the JBL ES 20 is, nonetheless, a terrific speaker that will be a great addition to many home systems.
The JBL ES 20 provides remarkable rich and satisfying sound that covers just about the entire audible spectrum. Cosmetically, they give the look of bookshelf speakers that are substantially more expensive than their moderate price would suggest. They also have the distinction of being the only entry in our survey of entry level bookshelf loudspeakers that includes a separate super tweeter.
Despite a price that will be affordable to a very wide range of consumers, the JBL ES 20 reflects a rich heritage that is clear in the bass presence. Indeed, the low-frequency presence is impressive enough that it tends to belie the fact that the lowest tones produced aren’t quite as low as those of most of the speakers we’ve rated more highly. Another characteristic that is typical of JBL speakers is the need for strong input from the amplifier or tuner. The stated average power handling of 60W and maximum input wattage of 125W tends to mask the fact that high-quality input is extremely important for these little bookshelf speakers. The shortcomings of budget electronics will be emphasized by these speakers.
The most obvious distinguishing feature between these bookshelf speakers and all of the others that we’ve reviewed is the presence of a super tweeter, or an ultrahigh-frequency transducer, in JBL parlance. It, combined with the tweeter, is responsible for the terrific treble response that we observed.
The bookshelf speaker’s 86dB sensitivity specification makes it relatively inefficient among products we’ve compared on this site. The characteristic is typical of speakers from this manufacturer and is likely the main reason that they tend to reveal deficiencies of low quality electronic components. In short, that is to say that these are great bookshelf speakers if your amp can drive them properly but that there are better choices if the electronics can’t make the grade.
JBL states that the maximum recommended amplifier power for these bookshelf speakers is 125W. They don’t quote a minimum input figure but, as we’ve pointed out above, they’re rather power hungry. They can withstand transients up to a very respectable 240W.
The JBL bookshelf speakers are magnetically shielded so they can be placed in close proximity to a CRT television without causing interference. The five-way connectors are gold-plated to prevent corrosion.
The JBL ES 20 is the only 3-way speaker featured in these reviews. The majority of the sonic content is handled by a single 5-inch low-frequency driver made of a polymer-coated cellulose that JBL calls PolyPlas. It reacts quickly and smoothly across its frequency range creating smooth, accurate sound.
The first crossover is set at 3,300Hz sending content to a 3/4-inch version of JBL’s recognizable titanium dome affixed to a waveguide. There’s a second crossover at 12kHz routing the highest frequency signals to a 3/4-inch polyester-film ring super tweeter with a deeper waveguide.
The JBL cabinetry has the look of more expensive bookshelf speakers. The front surface curves into a dark gray vinyl. The sides are available in black ash or cherry wood grain vinyl. The speaker is of the bass reflex design with a rear-firing bass port.
JBL customer support can be contacted by email or toll-free telephone. The company’s website includes a good FAQs section as well as a section that includes owner manuals, quick start guides and other valuable information about bookshelf speakers and more.
The JBL ES 20 is an excellent all-around bookshelf speaker that we particularly like for music reproduction with the single caveat that it has a tendency to reveal shortcomings in other electronics within the system. It’s also well-suited for use in a home theater setup as front speakers or teamed with a great pair of floor standing speakers such as the JBL ES80.
The super tweeter makes treble response exceptional. Bass surpasses expectations.
The speaker tends to reveal shortcomings of other components in an audio system.
This is an awfully good small speaker that performs better than its specs suggest.